I’ve had a day or so to think about the changes Southwest is making to its Rapid Rewards program in March. I don’t fly Southwest very often, perhaps 2 or 3 times per year, and the changes to Rapid Rewards are not going to impact that. I fly Southwest when it makes really good sense to do so, and only then. I don’t dislike Southwest, I just find that other airlines, and especially other frequent flier programs are more beneficial to me. When Southwest finally comes to DCA, then maybe they’ll work a little better for me. Time will tell.
In any event…on to the changes. In summary, Rapid Rewards is evolving from a flight credit per segment system to a points system based on dollars paid, a system not unlike its fellow “low cost” (as debatable as that term is for Southwest) airlines JetBlue and Virgin America. The more you pay for your ticket, the more points you’ll earn. Customers that purchase higher tier fares get extra points. Business Select fares will earn 12 points per dollar and Anytime fares will earn 10 points per dollar. Lower “Wanna Get Away” fares will net 6 points per dollar. You’ll still be able to earn flights with the popular Southwest Visa Card from Chase. Purchases from Southwest and their Rapid Rewards partners earn 2 points per dollars spent while other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. And in a new twist, holders of the Visa card can use their points to book international flights, which I assume is going to be managed by Chase and handled like their own proprietary points program. Just as before you can earn points from Rapid Rewards partners like hotels, rental cars, etc. Get the scoop on Southwest’s website.
But what about free flights you ask? Well, with the new program, every available seat can be an award seat. However, the amount of points you spend for the seat will vary based on the cost of a ticket on the flight. For example, if a “Wanna Get Away” fare is available on you flight for $100 dollars, you’ll need to spend 60 points per fare dollar or 6,000 points. If you find yourself trying to book a flight where the only seats available are at the Business Select fare, you’ll need to spend 120 points per fare dollar. Anytime fares can be “paid” with 100 points per fare dollar. So a $200 dollar Anytime fare will cost you 20,000 points.
That’s a quick summary of the new program, and there are a lot of other opinions floating around out there about how awful or how great these changes are. From my perspective, there’s nothing awful about these changes. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that Southwest created a program more like its closest competitors, and most notable, one that rewards bigger spenders more than those who always buy the lowest fare. The program can still work for many, just not me at this point in time.