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Southwest Rapid Rewards – Devaluation Coming April 17?

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Southwest sent its Rapid Rewards members an email yesterday, and posted the following announcement on their website (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.

As an active Rapid Rewards® Member, you know first-hand about the great benefits of our frequent flyer program including:

  • Unlimited reward seats
  • No blackout dates
  • Points that don’t expire1

You may also know that we’re all about creating flexibility for you to use your Rapid Rewards Points:

  • We don’t charge a fee of any kind if you wish to change or cancel your reward flight at any point2.
  • We don’t charge a fee of any kind for you to use your points, even if you are redeeming at the last minute3.
  • And, there is no minimum point balance requirement to redeem for reward travel.

One thing we’ll never change is our continued goal to bring you the best rewards program in the business.

Southwest Airlines plane from below

My Thoughts

Rapid Rewards has been a very, well, rewarding, program. It actually underwent another devaluation back in September 2013 when it changed the number of points you needed for Wanna Get Away fares from 60 per $1 in airfare to 70 per $1 in airfare (a decrease in per-point value from 1.7 cents to 1.4 cents). However, the fact that Rapid Rewards points are so easy to redeem given their fixed value and no blackout dates, and that the airline is extremely flexible and does not charge a fee for flight changes still made it a great one to participate in it.

Another reason is that it is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus cards, so you can transfer points and book Southwest flights at your convenience without having to actually fly Southwest much. Not only that, but if you get one of the Southwest credit cards, the points you earn on them actually count toward the ultra-valuable Companion Pass, doubling the value of your points or dollars.

Now, however, it looks like Southwest is changing from a fixed-value points program to a variable-value one where they will be charging Rapid Rewards members more points for busier flights. The airline sort of already does this – if an airfare on a certain route, date or flight is higher, the more points you have to pay, just as you would if buying with cash.

Though short on details, the fact that Southwest felt the need to contact its members about coming pricing changes is probably a very bad sign, and one that certain redemptions are going to go through the roof. Hopefully most will remain at the current levels, but if you tend to fly busy routes with variable airfares, you might want to book all the awards possible before April 17 since you can rebook and reprice them at no additional cost anyway.

No mention was made of the Companion Pass, so if you have one of them or earn it this year, presumably your privileges are safe.

However, as with all things points and miles-related, take nothing for granted, and book what you can as soon as you can since programs can change at any minute.