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The most family-friendly frequently flyer program in the United States has to be Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards. With Rapid Rewards are no blackout dates, no praying award seats are released during school breaks, you can refund or reprice your awards without penalty, you don’t pay for seat assignments, everyone gets free checked and carry-on bags, and I could go on and on before even getting to the tremendous value proposition of the Southwest Companion Pass.
Southwest has three tiers of awards
Rapid Rewards ties the number of points required to fly to the selling price of the ticket. This means that more expensive tickets cost more points than less expensive tickets. Within Rapid Rewards, there are three tiers of awards and fares: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away. Not only do Business Select and Anytime awards cost more with dollars than the more limited availability Wanna Get Away fares, but historically Southwest has also charged more points per dollar for these fares than the Wanna Get Away fares.
Whereas the Wanna Get Away awards were roughly just 72 – 74 points per dollar, the Anytime awards were around 100 points per dollar, and Business Select awards were around 120 points per dollar. This meant you were spending more points and getting a lower return per point spent on those fares. Granted, most leisure travelers were booking Wanna Get Away fares well in advance of their travel dates, but if you are booking on a very popular date or within a week or so of travel, you may have had to select from the much pricier Anytime or Business Select award rates which were generally very poor.
Leveling out the points per dollar required for the three types of Southwest awards
Rapid Rewards is retaining the three-tiered award and fare structure, but they are leveling out how many points per dollar each type of award costs. This means that the Business Select and Anytime awards will get cheaper with points, but it also means that the Wanna Get Away awards get a little pricier. Business Select and Anytime awards will now cost around 78 points per dollar and Wanna Get Away fares will go from 72 – 74 points per dollar to 76 to 78 points per dollar. This means that across the board Rapid Rewards points are worth around 1.4 cents each, give or take a bit.
Let’s look at what this means in practice, using a Houston – Orlando one-way award example. To fly on a Saturday in July from Houston to Orlando, you currently have the following options.
- Business Select: $455 or 31,983 points + $5.60
- Anytime: $433 or 30,386 points + $5.60
- Wanna Get Away: $104 or 6,515 points + $5.60
In this example, your Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.405 – 1.406 cents per point for the two higher fares and are worth 1.51 cents per point on the Wanna Get Away fare. Obviously, 99.99% of us would choose the Wanna Get Away fares in this example and it is irrelevant how many points per dollar they want for the higher fare categories that basically none of us would book.
However, if you need to fly from Houston to Orlando tomorrow, there are no longer Wanna Get Away fares still available. This means you have to choose between Anytime or Business Select awards if you want to fly using Rapid Reward points and/or the Companion Pass. The prices are still $455 for Business Select and $433 for Anytime fares, so the award rates are the same with points as they would be booking in advance for July. Spending that many points to fly Houston to Orlando is not great, but the good news for those who have to book awards at the last minute is that those rates are much lower than what they would have been before these changes kicked in to level out the number of points required for each type of fare.
There aren’t really any tangible benefits for booking Anytime awards over Wanna Get Away awards, but if you do end up booking a Business Select award then you will get a Priority Boarding (A1-15), access to the Fly By Security Lane where available, and a complimentary premium drink onboard. On the handful of times I’ve had to pick between Anytime and Business Select fares, I’ve usually gone for Business Select as the price differential is often minimal and the added perks have been worth it to me.
Wanna Get Away awards get pricier, others get cheaper
Southwest raising the number of points per dollar required to book Wanna Get Away fares is not good news for any of us, but overall this change is far from terrible news. The slight increase in points for Wanna Get Away fares isn’t terrible, and if you ever need to book a last minute Rapid Rewards ticket, you will be glad they have leveled out the number of points required per dollar for the Anytime and Business Select awards.
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Do the math before transferring points to Southwest
While Chase Ultimate Reward points do transfer 1:1 to Southwest, always make sure to do the math on booking the ticket using Ultimate Reward points through Chase as opposed to transferring the points to Southwest to book as a Rapid Reward ticket, especially now that they are raising redemption rates a bit for Wanna Get Away fares. If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you can book travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, which is now a better return than may be available on many Wanna Get Away fares by a small margin. You will have to call Chase to make those flight bookings using Ultimate Reward points as you can’t book Southwest flights via the Chase site, but you will then earn Rapid Reward points on the flights.
Thank you to Gary Leff for first sharing news of this change in how Southwest prices awards.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.