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Reminder: Southwest's New Rapid Rewards Starts Tuesday, March 1

Feb. 26, 2011
4 min read
Reminder: Southwest's New Rapid Rewards Starts Tuesday, March 1
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On Tuesday March 1, Southwest officially launches their Rapid Rewards 2.0 program. The key changes, which I highlighted in January, are:

1) You no longer earn a flat 1 credit per 1 way and redeem for a free roundtrip at 16 credits
2) You earn points per dollar spent: 6 points for Wanna Get Away fares, 10 points for Anytime, and 12 points for Business Select
3) You can now redeem for any flight, but the amount of points a flight requires will depend on the fare class available: 60 points gives you one dollar towards a Wanna Get Away fare (a $100 cheapo fare will cost 6,000 points), 100 points gets you a dollar towards Anytime fares (10,000 for a $100 ticket), and 120 points is a dollar towards Business Select fares (12,000 for a $100 ticket).

So is RR 2.0 good for you? It depends on the types of fares you fly and the types of flights you like to redeem. If you buy cheap flights, chances are it will take you much more than 8 roundtrips in order to get a free flight. If you are a business traveler buying last minute fares and attain elite status (with the accompanying 100% bonus) you could rack up serious points.

On the topic of elite status, I am pleased with the new elite program. Southwest has never really bothered with an elite status program, so their new tiers are a welcome addition. Elite status can be earned by one-way flights or qualifying points, which can be earned on a sliding scale by buying flights and using your credit card. New levels:

A-list: Achieved after 25 paid one-way trips rather than 32 or 35,000 TQP within a calendar year. At this level you get all current A-list benefits (priority security & boarding), plus a special phone number for reservations, priority standby, and a 25% bonus on your flight points earnings.

A-list Preferred: Achieved after 50 paid one-way trips or 70,000 TQP within a calendar year. At this level you get all current A-list benefits, plus an extra-special phone number for Reservations, higher priority standby, free Wi-Fi (when the aircraft is Wi-Fi capable), and a 100% bonus on your flight points earnings.

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So what happens to your current credits? You will have a year to use them and if you need more credits to get an award, you can buy them or use 1,200 "new" RR points to convert into a credit. Credits are awarded based on activity date, so you can apply for a credit card or do partner activity until Tuesday and you will get the credits (just keep documentation in case they come through as "new" points.

There are a bunch of other changes, which are outlined in this incredibly helpful Flyertalk thread, as well on Southwest's new site.

Overall, I think Southwest is rolling out a complex new program that will initially bother their frequent flyers who are accustomed to simplicity. Over time people will get used to it, but it will probably be a headache for Southwest for the next year. They are trumpeting the flexibility of "any award, any time," but in my experience they've always had good award availability, so I'm not sure that's such a good change. Since it is slanted heavily towards business travelers and high-fare paying customers, I think Southwest stand to gain incremental business from more premium passengers who haven't looked at Southwest as a viable alternative in the past. I personally think the free wifi is a great benefit and hope Delta matches it for top tier elites.

In the end, this program isn't nearly as lucrative as the other major frequent flyer programs, but it's also not terrible. In my opinion, I think the new program will benefit the Southwest frequent flyer who purchases Business Select fares, but probably be less rewarding than the current program for the average flyer. What are your thoughts on the new Rapid Rewards 2.0?
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