The largest low-cost carrier in the United States is changing the way that its passengers save frequent flyer miles. Members of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program starting this month will now be able to hold onto miles indefinitely with no set expiration date. By extension, the change will allow passengers who travel less frequently to accrue larger balances over time without the risk of miles expiring due to inactivity.

No positive force in loyalty programs ever comes without some sort of equal and opposite force, and to balance out this news, Southwest is also making changes to its companion pass, an instrument that frequent flyers use to annually bring one friend along free on a flight. Prior to this announcement, passengers needed to earn 110,000 qualifying companion points to earn the certificate; next year, passengers will need to earn 125,000.

Southwest follows United in the removal of expiration dates from its loyalty program. United earlier this year removed expiration dates from its MileagePlus program, while Delta Air Lines has never let its miles expire.

As to the ultimate reason that Southwest and United have reversed course on mileage expiration, the real motivation may be complex. By letting the points expire, airlines were able to take a small liability off the table and prevent some revenue from bleeding out of the system. For every mile that expired though, there was potential for another customer to never return. At this point, airlines may not be willing to take that risk.

— Grant Martin, Business of Loyalty Editor, gm@skift.com, @grantkmartin 

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Grant Martin [gm@skift.com] curates the Skift Business of Loyalty newsletter. He is also a director of product marketing at TripActions. Skift emails the newsletter every Monday.

Photo Credit: Two Southwest Air Boeing 737s. Bloomberg