Southwest Devalues Rapid Rewards Program, More Points Now Needed for Award Flights

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Southwest Airlines just made some unwelcome changes to the airline's Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program. Southwest award flights now require 6% more Rapid Rewards points than before. And unfortunately, this isn't just an error. Southwest has confirmed this devaluation.

Here's what we know about this no-notice Southwest devaluation.

Redeeming Points with Southwest's Rapid Rewards Program

Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is revenue-based. The majority of U.S. airlines have transitioned to a revenue-based mileage program. However, unlike other airlines, the Rapid Rewards program has used a fixed formula for award redemptions for years.

If you're unfamiliar with this term, a revenue-based frequent flyer program ties earning and redemption rates to the flight price as opposed to the distance of the flight or the region(s) you're flying between.

Before this devaluation, Southwest priced Rapid Rewards award flights based on the following formula:

  • Wanna Get Away: 76-78 points per dollar of base fare
  • Anytime: 78 points per dollar of base fare
  • Business Select: 78 points per dollar of base fare

Now, as a result of this Southwest devaluation, you'll need approximately 6% more points for award travel.

Award flight search results showing the required number of Rapid Rewards points for flights between St. Louis and Dallas after the devaluation.
Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards program is revenue-based, pegging award rates to the base fare for each flight

This isn't the first time Southwest Airlines has devalued its Rapid Rewards program. Southwest made similar changes to its Rapid Rewards program in 2018. At the time, Southwest also devalued the value of Rapid Rewards points by about 6%.

Southwest's New Rapid Rewards Award Rate Formula

After this week's devaluation, here's how many points you'll need for Rapid Rewards award flights:

  • Wanna Get Away: 81-83 points per dollar of base fare
  • Anytime: 83 points per dollar of base fare
  • Business Select: 83 points per dollar of base fare

For example, let's take a flight from Atlanta (ATL) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL):

ATL-FLL Flight ExampleWanna Get AwayAnytimeBusiness Select
Total Cash Price$92.98$130.98$160.98
Base Fare$73.10$108.45$136.35
Points Required6,0689,00211,318
Points Required per $1 of Base Fare838383
Value of Rapid Rewards points1.44 cents1.39 cents1.37 cents

The same Wanna Get Away fare previously would have required no more than 5,702 Rapid Rewards points. Now, it costs 6,068 points.

example after the Southwest devaluation

This may not seem like a big increase. However, when revenue-based programs are devalued, the devaluation can be more significant than we initially think.

Devaluations should not be needed when an airline already pegs the value of its points to cash flights through a revenue-based model. Things like fare inflation and market forces will naturally raise or lower the mileage price of award flights. The airline doesn't need to devalue the formula for calculating the award price.

Though this devaluation is said to have happened overnight with no warning, The Points Guy spoke with Southwest's Director of Marketing, Johnathan Clarkson. Clarkson told The Points Guy, “This week’s 6% hike isn’t directly related to the pandemic — there hasn’t been in adjustment in three years, so it could have happened around this time either way.”

The Bottom Line

Whatever the reason for this devaluation may be, it isn't great for the Rapid Rewards program. Now, travelers will need to pay at least 6% more points than they previously needed. Aside from Southwest's Companion Pass tier, I find the Rapid Rewards program to be one of the least lucrative programs offered by any U.S. airline. And this devaluation is further proof of the decreasing value of the Rapid Rewards program.

What do you make of these changes? If you're loyal to Southwest Airlines, do these changes motivate you to consider other frequent flyer programs?

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Comments

  • I didn’t know about this devaluation until I saw the link to your recent buy points promo. Bummer.

  • I have alot of Southwest miles, chase saphire, aa and another. Even though this news is a bummer, Southwest is still the best airline IMO, and their RR program is still fantastic.

  • While, I know saving points/miles rather than using them always runs the risk of devaluation, this one strikes me as at least partially unfair, as one of the people who agreed to turn unused vouchers into points. While the risk for devaluation for points gained through flying is always there, it seems that those agreeing to transfer the vouchers into points have an understanding that those points would be worth the same amount until used. That said, it seems the more appropriate approach would have been, while devaluing the value of points that SWA would have proactively told those of us who had transformed vouchers into points that we would be receiving bonus points to compensate for the devaluation. Any chance they might still do so?

    • Unfortunately, I’m not sure any argument based on fairness, however legitimate, applies in the land of point devaluations, as they are, by nature, an inherently unfair act. Even with a well-regarded program like RR, I’d have to say your chances of compensation are a smidge above zilch, unfortunately.

  • Andrew R Cross says:

    The airlines hold the outstanding points as a liability on their balance sheet. Now with a wave of a magic wand, that liability is reduced overnight. Other industries would kill for this kind of financial leverage.

  • I think all the airlines are looking for ways to devalue points.

  • So many different ways to devalue points these days. Next step, reduce the points earned on flights.

  • Looks like we booked our award flights just in time.

  • I’m not going to get upset because they did what others do. At point it’ll happen again. I didn’t have enough miles to use them before either so no biggie for me. Would I still redeem on them? I think I would have to look at using miles and what it would be if I just redeem points from MR or UR to cover the cost of the flight. If I did that at some point I would need to redeem miles though or a person would sit on a large number of SW miles.

  • Should this 6% hike be seen as the “cost” of points not expiring? I’m imagining that with the price fluctuations, the more in the future you try to project the value of points, the more impossible it becomes. If fares fall 6% because they are trying to stimulate travel post-pandemic, then you are breaking even compared to before. It would only be points earned from flying now that would be devalued (but you’re benefiting from a cheaper cash fare)

  • Second WN devaluation in 3 years, even though points have a generally fixed value. Disappointing.

  • Nathan Hagan says:

    Sad indeed, but I don’t tend to fly WN due to lack of convenient routes.

  • I now understand why travel experts always say to use them as you earn them and don’t save them up. It’s hard to do that but lesson learned.

  • Nope, there policy of not nickel and diming travelers like no penalty for canceling flights, bags fly free, no seat assignment keep me loyal

  • I am looking to get a SW credit card bc we have a big hub at Baltimore area. Should I sign up now or wait?

  • Is it worth it to get the southwest credit cards now or wait?

  • Wow, devaluation of points is very disappointing. I love Southwest, however I don’t think I will ever apply for another credit card. Not worth the trouble!

  • Since I live in California I fly Southwest more than any other airline but I would never use their SW CC for everyday spend. Purchases on the Amex Platinum card on southwest.com have a much higher value. And with no business/first class seats there is really no point for high value/point redemptions. I have a few friends that have this card and talk about how much they love it and I try to keep my mouth shut but I am judging.

  • Well, we were wondering when SouthWest would join the party.

  • Disappointing for sure, Southwest used to provide more value than other ailrines.

  • Super disappointing! I was considering their credit card but not as appealing now.

  • It’s a shame. I like SW’s no-fee bag policy and I have a lot of miles. I guess they will just be used-up faster.

  • “And this devaluation is further proof of the decreasing value of the Rapid Rewards program.” <– Very well said, I couldn't agree more.