Posted: April 22, 2015

Evaluating Southwest Airlines’ loyalty program
Here are some of the pros and cons of using Southwest Airlines loyalty program.

From the occasional free flights and seating upgrades to more exotic prizes such as vacations or hotel rooms, there are a variety of reasons enrolling in an airline company's loyalty program can ultimately pay off. But while some airlines promise lavish gifts in exchange for loyalty, it's often unclear whether joining these types of programs is truly worth the effort, especially depending on how often you travel. One of the airlines that has been making strides in recent years to revamp the accessibility and quality of its loyalty program is Southwest Airlines. Take a look at the types of perks and prizes they offer those enrolled, as well as whether joining is truly necessary:

Rapid Rewards

The loyalty program instilled by Southwest Airlines is called Rapid Rewards, and rewards are only distributed to individuals specifically. After enrollment, a Rapid Rewards member account is active for 24 months, and will continue to be active unless no activity is recorded within that time period. Points can be accumulated through Rapid Rewards by either booking flights through Southwest Airlines or making qualified purchases with any official Rapid Rewards Partners, which include several popular hotel chains, rental car companies, Southwest Airlines credit cards and more.

Using your Southwest Airlines credit card for booking flights online can lead to extra points. Using your Southwest Airlines credit card for booking flights online can lead to extra points.

Point perks

Redeeming points can lead to several types of advantages for Rapid Rewards members, can be used whenever booking a flight. For starters, there are unlimited reward seats for members, meaning that whenever there's an opportunity to upgrade or switch seats on a flight, you can redeem your points before departure for it. There are also no blackout dates whatsoever, so you're free to use your points even on big holidays or peak travel seasons. Points will never expire if you've remained active with your membership within the past 24 months, so you don't have to feel pressured to use them and can save points up at your own pace. Earning points is also possible if you begin using Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card, which can allow users to redeem their points for cruises, international flights, hotel rooms, car rentals and more.

Reward breakdown

How to accumulate points depends on which type of fare you choose to pay with through Southwest Airlines. The three types of fare types start at the lowest, which is Wanna Get Away?, then proceed to Anytime and finally peaking at Business Select. Here's how each fare breaks down in terms of point distribution:

  • Wanna Get Away? – 6 points per dollar ($100 purchase = 600 points)
  • Anytime – 10 points per dollar ($200 purchase = 2,000 points)
  • Business Select – 12 points per dollar ($220 purchase = 2,640 points)

To gain better insight as to how many points you'll need to cover a flight, U.S. News & World Report published that the lowest calculated flight offered by Southwest Airlines is from Dallas to Houston, costing a total of 5,740 points. Every time you use points to purchase a flight ticket or go towards booking, you'll need to spend a minimum of 2,000 points, and the amount of points you'll need to cover flight expenses will fluctuate between fare type, destination and by ticket price. There are also four levels of membership statuses within the Southwest Airline Rapid Reward programs that can boost members' advantages, which include Basic, A-List, A-List Preferred and Companion Pass. The more you fly, the higher a membership you can get. For example, once you've flown 25 times with Southwest Airlines within one calendar year, you're eligible for A-List membership, which features perks such as 25 percent point bonus on top of points earned for flights, priority boarding and seating passes as well as expedited security. 

"Southwest Airlines was voted the No. 2 airline loyalty program."

Bottom line

When it comes down to it, there's certainly no harm in enrolling in Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards loyalty program if you frequently use Southwest as your preferred airline. In a recent report conducted by U.S. News & World Report, Southwest Airlines was voted No. 2 on the publication's list of best airline reward programs, mainly for how easy it is to begin accumulating points. In addition, the recent merger between Southwest and AirTran means that purchases spent through both companies will result in points. However, it should be noted that the L.A. Times reported that Southwest Airlines began to slightly decrease the value of its reward points starting on April 17, 2015, a move that other airlines such as Delta and United have already made. People who tend to travel internationally will also not benefit from the restricted amount of overseas destinations Southwest Airlines provides, which is limited to Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. The bottom line is that those who continue to take frequent flights through Southwest won't do themselves any harm by signing up for the Rapid Rewards program.

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