Every airline has some sort of frequent flyers program. The one from Southwest Airlines is called Rapid Rewards. For some unknown reasons, the rules for earning points, keeping points, and spending points differ quite a bit from other frequent flyer programs.
You can earn points by flying Southwest, by using the Southwest credit card, and through Southwest partners.
- Flying Southwest: your points are calculated by the fare type and price.
This deviates from standard frequent flyers programs where you earn the number of miles (or points) equivalent to the number of miles flown during your paid flight segments (or a percentage depending on flight class).
- Southwest Credit Cards: 2 points per dollar when you fly Southwest, 2 points per dollar when you spend money at Southwest partners, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
- Southwest Partners: up to 20 points per dollar spent at Southwest partners. For example, teleflora will net you 600 points when you spend $30.
Most frequent flyer programs stipulate that your points with expire after 24-36 months of inactivity. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Program shines in this department.
- No Blackout Dates: you can use your points anytime during the year, as long as a seat is open.
- No Expiration: you can use your points now, next year, or 5 years later. Do bear in mind that the value of the points may change over time.
Southwest deviates greatly from the standard rewards programs. The usual reward tickets through other programs run for 12,500 miles per domestic one way and 25,000 per round trip. Southwest actually determines the cost of your ticket (in terms of points) by your ticket class and price. For each ticket class below:
- Business Select: 120 points per dollar
- Anytime: 100 points per dollar
- Wanna Get Away: 60 points per dollar
This is potentially the best or the worst deal for anyone. For example, you can fly United Airlines on a round trip from San Francisco to Alaska and it will be 25,000 miles even though the face value of the ticket can run $600 to $800. Convert the value of the ticket to miles required, you are paying 24 to 33 miles per dollar. That is roughly twice as valuable as the points from Southwest’s redemption scheme. On the same note, if you were to take a round trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it will still cost you 25,000 miles even though the round trip ticket will cost $150 to $200. Convert the value of the ticket to miles required, you are paying 125 to 166 miles per dollar, worse than any of the Southwest ticket classes!
It is worth noting that Southwest Airlines have the reputation for special ticket pricing. For example, a one way ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Nov. 17th, 2011 starts at $49. This converts to 2,940 points for that flight. This makes a round trip ticket (well in advance for special pricing) cost under 6,000 points. That is a whole lot cheaper than the 25,000 points elsewhere!