Changes to Southwest Rapid Rewards Program on April 17th

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In the email that Southwest Rapid Rewards sent out today to their members, there is a link under “News For Our Valued Members” that takes you to what I assume is bad news for the Rapid Rewards program.  The update says (bolding mine):

We created Rapid Rewards® because we think you deserve to actually feel rewarded. And, from time to time we must make some updates to our program. Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors. However, there are still many flights which will stay at the current redemption rate. And don’t forget that when fares go on sale, so do the points needed for redeeming for a reward flight on those fares.

Southwest Changes 2015

I have reached out to Southwest to try and see what this new Rapid Rewards system will look like, but for now we don’t know the details.  I am pretty sure this doesn’t mean awards are getting cheaper….

Remember that Rapid Rewards just devalued their mostly fixed value program about a year ago by 15% for Wanna Get Away fares (from about 1.67 cents per point to 1.42 cents per point), so I’m a bit surprised they are already doing it again unless this primarily has to do with their international flights that have come online in the last year or so.  The last time they made a change they gave six months notice and outlined exact details of the change ahead of time.

The message from today goes on to emphasize that they still offer unlimited reward seats, no blackout dates, no fee to redeem or cancel awards, etc.  That’s all well and good, really, but a variable rate redemption system combined with fixed-ish value points doesn’t sound like a good change for us.  At least the email doesn’t mention Companion Pass changes…

I’ll keep you posted when I learn more, but I would book any Southwest awards that you have had your eyes on before April 17th, especially since you can re-price them if the points price drops anyway.


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  1. Points needed are already tied to price, although not as exactly as the ‘fixed value’ might suggest. It almost sounds like they might be changing the fare structure for paid or points flights.

    I’d hate to see routing surcharges for direct flights, it would seriously change my use of their product. 🙁

  2. This seems eerily silimar to Delta doing away with their award chart. In other words, the number of points needed will not be transparent and will vary at the whim of the airline.

  3. Oh, come on. There are only so many ways to interpret that paragraph. Clearly, SWA is going to start adding some type of surcharge to tickets for popular destinations and/or days. It means some kind of peak pricing, so they can effectively black out the most popular stuff, without calling it a blackout.

    The thing about moving to a rewards program based on the ticket price was that this kind of stuff would be included: i.e.- FFs must use more miles to buy popular tickets because popular tickets are priced higher, offloading the “higher cost of tickets on the popular flights” from the airline to the customer. To add an additional surcharge to the already more expensive flights is a slap in the face to their most loyal customers. What, did they hire the guys from HHonors?

    It doesn’t affect me. I loved SWA, but I stopped flying SWA and stopped using the SWA Visa card when they made their devaluation last year. I haven’t missed them and they haven’t missed me. Perhaps the real loser here is Chase Bank. I cannot imagine what moron will continue to put charges on the SWA Visa card after this news hits.

    • Seems overly pessimistic. Southwest now is among the best FF bargains for short domestic routes. Even if prices increase to be similar to everyone else, miles + companion pass earned from Chase still seems mighty appealing. It’s not like other airlines are getting cheaper…

  4. When a program like SW devalues, you know the airlines have gone too far. They’re literally in an out of control spiral to the bottom. They stamp out more and more miles to pad the bottom line, then it’s “oh crap, people have too many miles” and start devaluing.

  5. Summer:
    Dollars to donuts here is what I predict Southwest will do. As you point out the amount of Rapid Reward points is based upon the dollar amount of the fare at any particular time.
    When Southwest runs their great mileage based 2 day sale for the fall and winter travel season ($49,$69,$99,$149, etc.) its becomes very cheap to redeem Rapid Reward points as well.
    Booking a paid flight allows the airline to utilize the revenue dollars. Not so with RR points and you can cancel at anytime with no penalty.
    My guess is that Southwest will establish a minimum amount of Rapid Reward points needed to redeem for a reward flight on a particular route. Thus when the fare drops below the RR redemption threshold the amount of Rapid Reward points stays at the minimum redemption level.
    For example I fly frequently on Southwest from LAX to RNO. Average wanna get away fare is about $100 for off peak travel days. However the fare can drop to $49 during the great fall sale. My prediction is the amount of Rapid Reward points needed to redeem for an award ticket flight will be based as if it were a $75 fare. Hope it doesn’t happen but let’s see if I am right.

  6. I wish Southwest would have more explicit in the message….it leaves Rapid Rewards members anxious about the devaluation of their points and suggest a decoupling of the dollar value flights and the number of points required. I agree that Members would book RR trips pronto.

  7. SWA just becomes more and more like the others. They are in danger of losing what made people loyal to them (and of course they have already lost some of the loyalty for past ). At least they called it “changes” and not “enhancements”.

  8. Using the Southwest credit already didn’t make sense before after receiving the bonus vs. 2.2 cents Barclay Arrival card unless you were earning the final points needed toward CP or using the card at Southwest or one of its partners. I don’t understand the need to change RR either, but it seems like there are too many points out there. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a change, and SWA keeps the CP and no change fees for a long time!

  9. Based on the description, I decided to go ahead and redeem a trip HOU-SJU for July Fourth weekend and can always cancel or add my CP later. Hopefully the devaluation isn’t too bad and I don’t think I’ll sway away from SW too far, but IAH is seeming ever closer to my home nowadays. I guess now we can say that with last years devaluation along with this years, we definitely won’t have another anytime soon… 😉

  10. My guess is that like the others they will charge more for awards if they think the reward seat is replacing a paid seat – when flights are going to be full anyway. That often would already be the case, since reward seats are linked to cash price, but not necessarily. They do have a certain number of cheap seats early in the process even on flights they know will definitely sell out; now it probably won’t be possible to get those as cheap reward seats too by booking early.

    It’s yet another devaluation, and the most disturbing thing to me is the coy “we’re making ‘changes’ but we’re not exactly telling you what”, which they must think qualifies as notice, but, since they don’t say anything meaningful, is really part of the recent trend (Delta is the prime culprit) of doing things that deflate value without due notice. The email is right in that there still are some features of Southwest that have a positive distinction. Just last night I changed a reward itinerary with no fee, something not possible on some other airlines.

  11. I’ve been singing the praises about Southwest, but this makes me very concerned. I’m not happy about what appears to be a devaluation, but I’m more upset about the vague nature of this so called notice.

    I sent a formal complaint through their website last night. Make your voices heard folks. This is a really crappy way to treat your rewards members.

  12. The frustrations with SW are growing for me. This just tops the list. I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to use my miles for a transatlantic flight to Madrid on Air Berlin, connecting through Dusseldorf. Frustrated with the most user unfriendly website I’ve encountered, I enlisted the help of three different SW agents over the course of three days.

    The flight I selected shows up on the computer, we move through all of the required data entry boxes (including passport information), get all the way down to the final step (seat assignment) and… no seats (Air Berlin shows a nearly empty plane for this flight on their site). Since the Rapid Rewards office is closed for the weekend, I’ve tried all day today, with even worse luck. I log in, see my ample rewards points listed, go to the international flight page, input requested departure, destination and date info, submit, then get to a page that shows flight options…and 0 (zero) points for me!!!

    I can fly with American Airlines using my AA points BUT my SWA points disappear this August!

    • Yvette, I don’t know that I would be using Southwest points to go to Madrid. I would use those on Southwest – you can easily extend them by making a purchase via their online shopping portal or transferring in points from Ultimate Rewards, etc. I would use AA miles and save the Southwest points for something else.

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