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In early 2011 Southwest announced significant changes to their Rapid Rewards program. Under the old Rapid Rewards program you qualify for an award flight after roughly every 8 roundtrip flights, and those award flights were capacity controlled, meaning you couldn’t redeem points for any flight, like you can now.
The new Rapid Rewards instead awarded points for every dollar spent on their three types of fares and then when it came time to redeem, you could pick any flight, but points would become less valuable when redeeming for business select and anytime fares vs. Wanna Get Away Fares. Additionally, credit card earning changed as well, moving towards a flat 1 point per dollar spent vs. 1 credit earned per $1,200 spent in the old program.
While you can no longer earn Southwest credits vis spending or flying, you can turn existing Southwest points into credits by first transferring them to Airtran A+ Credits and then from there into Southwest Credits. The risk in doing that has been that you can’t see availability for the old Southwest credit award flights, but Southwest recently just changed that. Now, when you log in to your Rapid Rewards account and go to the certificates page, even if you don’t have any awards available, there is a link to view “Standard Awards Availability.”
If you are thinking of getting in on the 50,000 points for the Southwest Visa products when you spend $2,000 in 3 months, each bonus plus the points for hitting the $2,000 in spending requirements are worth over 43 Credits, or nearly enough for 3 roundtrip flights. Every AirTran/Southwest credit = 1,200 Southwest points, so 52,000 points from the credit card = 43.33 credits. One-way flights are 8 credits each, so you have enough credits for 5 one-way flights and nearly half way to the sixth.
A Better Value?
Where this becomes important is that under the old Southwest Rapid Rewards credits system, one roundtrip award flight cost 16 Southwest credits (or half that for one-ways), regardless of the price of the ticket.
While Airtran and Southwest are still in the process of merging, you can still transfer current Southwest Rapid Rewards points to Airtran A+ Rewards and then transfer those back into old Southwest Rapid Rewards credits. Check out this post for details on how to do so, but the short version is:
1,200 Rapid Rewards Points = 1 Airtran A+ Rewards Credit
1 Airtran A+ Rewards credit = 1 old Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit
16 Southwest Rapid Rewards Credits (for a roundtrip award) = 16 Airtran A+ credits or 19,200 current Southwest Rapid Rewards points
So as you can see, in order to end up with the 16 old Southwest Credits you would need for a roundtrip award, you would need to transfer 19,200 current Rapid Rewards points to get 16 A+ Credits then transfer those to old Southwest Rapid Rewards.
The break even point, where it makes more sense to use old credits instead of new Rapid Rewards points is if there is Standard Award availability on roundtrip airfares of $320 or higher since Wanna Get Away fares require 60 Rapid Rewards points per $1 in base fare.
An Example Itinerary
Just to test it out, I searched for Standard award availability on flights from St. Louis to San Juan over Labor Day weekend for a fun beach trip to the Caribbean.
After you log into your account, click on the button that says “Where Are My Old Awards?”
And then the following screen where you can click on “Standard Awards Availability”:
I put in my dates and could then select the specific itineraries with Standard Award Availability:
Now because I don’t have the old credits in my account, it won’t price it out for me, but I know that because it’s a Standard roundtrip award, it’ll be 16 Credits (or the equivalent of 19,200 points).
That same itinerary using Rapid Rewards points would have cost me 23,604 points:
It takes a little bit of playing around since Standard Award availability can be tight on popular routes and is often calibrated for itineraries that are close to or at parity with the value you’d get from your Rapid Rewards points instead of old Credits, but in certain instances, like the one above, you can end up saving thousands of points.
For more information on Rapid Rewards, check out my recent Top 10 post “Reasons To Like Southwest Rapid Rewards.” With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.