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Southwest Overhauls Rewards Program

It’s said that perfection is obtained through simplicity. The good folks at Southwest Airlines might agree to disagree.

Rapids Rewards program gets a faceliftSouthwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program was among the simplest to follow for frequent flyers: Fly 16 one-way trips, earn a free round-trip ticket anywhere Southwest flies.

No more.

You’ll need your reading glasses and a calculator to figure out Southwest’s new, more complicated rewards system, which went into effect this week.

The new program isn’t based on how many flights you take but on how much you spend to fly. You earn points toward a free flight instead of credits.

Southwest will give you points based on your rewards level (Base, A-List, A-List Preferred) — determined by how much you fly — and the pricing group from which you buy your ticket (Business Select, Anytime, Wanna Get Away).

To make this as simple as possible, see the chart below that explains how points are earned. I’m basing the points earned on a $200 ticket for each of the three ticket options and three rewards levels:

Business Select 2,400 3,000 4,800
Anytime 2,200 2,500 4,000
Wanna Get Away 1,200 1,500 2,400

When it comes time to redeem your points for free flights, there may be some headaches. Depending on the cost of the flight and the type of the flight, Southwest will determine how many points must be used.

This time around, your rewards status level does not change the points needed. A $200 free flight will cost the following amount of points:

  • Business Select (120 points per $1 of ticket) — 24,000 points required
  • Anytime (100 points per $1 of ticket) — 20,000 points required
  • Wanna Get Away (60 points per $1 of ticket) — 12,000 points required.

Travelers who have the airline’s credit card, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card from Chase, also will face some changes. Cardholders will now earn increased points for flights they purchase using their Southwest credit card.

Cardholders will earn two points toward free flights for every $1 spent on airline tickets and one point for every $1 spent on everything else.

Cardholders can also earn frequent flyer points on select purchases from Southwest-approved merchants; however, the card will no longer earn points on all purchases.

While the system for earning rewards and redeeming flights has changed, it’s important to note the 14.24% variable purchase APR (prime plus 10.99%) and the $59 annual fee are unchanged.

Anyone who has credits toward a free flight in the old rewards system will be converted to the new system. No one will lose the rewards they’ve earned so far.

I’m hopeful Southwest will find a way to easily explain this big change to one of the simplest rewards programs out there. Good luck to all Southwest credit cardholders.

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