10 Ways To Make Southwest Rapid Rewards Better

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards will never be the stuff dreams are made of. There are no first class upgrades (Southwest has no premium cabin). You can’t redeem your miles to the Maldives or Seychelles (no partner airline redemptions). And as a mostly-fixed value revenue-based program you aren’t going to get outsized value for your points, either.

Still, it remains a very useful program to be a part of.

  • Flight awards are fully refundable. Many times I’ve been facing American Airlines delays and book a Southwest Airlines alternative as a backup with points, and when I make it out on American I’ll cancel the award and redeposit the points.

  • Companion Pass offers great value. Earning a companion pass and being able to bring someone along on your travels – whether paid tickets or award – is a really unique benefit of the program.

  • A-List status is useful. It really just gets you two things of value – earlier boarding, so you choose your preferred seat, and priority check-in which can be helpful when checking bags. However that’s the first tier of status and A-List Preferred doesn’t get you that much extra value on top.

Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier in my home airport. It makes for me to fly them, and A-List status makes that a lot easier (I don’t worry about seat assignments, boarding before people paying extra for ‘Early Bird’ check-in). And I’ve had a Companion Pass for the past year and a half. I was one of the very first people to earn one in 2020. Now that it’s coming to an end in a few months I’m plotting to earn my next one.

There are several things that I think would make Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards a more attractive program. Here I’m not talking about pipe dream items, but things that I think make sense for the program as well as for members.

Many of these suggestions center around ‘A-List Preferred’ or top tier status which requires 50 flights or 70,000 qualifying points in a year and really just gets higher-priority boarding, a bigger bonus for flights, free wifi and better standby privileges..

There’s not much real benefit to their base elite level at just 25 flights or 35,000 qualifying points – but it could be really differentiated and serve as a reason to continue stretching the airline’s best customers, and to keep airlines that do offer upgrades from poaching these travelers.

  1. Elite member bonus or discount purchasing points for A-List Preferred members. Give them better pricing for more points, still above cost to the airline.

  2. A list preferred fee credit on the airline’s Chase co-brand credit cards. United used to do this with 1K members. Keep your best customers in the ecosystem and doing more than just flying the airline.

  3. Exempt A-List Preferred members from Chase’s 5/24 rules that make it hard for otherwise-qualified and credit-worthy customers to get the co-brand. There is nothing worse for a top customer than being declined for the cobrand of the program you’re loyal to. It’s similarly short-sighted for United Global Services and Marriott Ambassador members to get declined for Chase cards when they have strong income and credit scores.

  4. Let A-List Preferred members who earn a companion pass use it for themselves to reserve an empty middle seat next to them. This would mean companion pass gets used more, but makes sense when restricted to top customers.

  5. Offer priority baggage handling for elites. This is operationally complex, but something airlines do every day.

  6. Let A-List Preferred members gift 2 annual ‘Business Select Upgrade’ passes for family or friends. That way their friends can get priority airport service and early boarding like they do.

  7. Improve Southwest’s Chase co-brand contribution towards elite status. You earn 1500 qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on the cards, capped at 15,000 qualifying points (21% of points needed for top tier after $150,000 spend on the card). For the back half of 2020 Southwest removed the cap on qualifying points earned via card spend, and doubled the rate at which those points were earned. That change should be permanent.

  8. Offer a hotel tie-in with Hilton or IHG (Marriott partners with United, Hyatt with American). IHG might pay to market to Southwest elites with their platinum status which is a benefit A-List members or Southwest could just trade status matches (reciprocal points earning gets expensive to offer).

  9. American Express and Chase offers could be a model, or brand tie-ins like Chase with Door Dash and Peleton or Amex with CLEAR and Equinox, where members receive a benefit in the form of a credit – with the partner company basically advertising and covering the cost.

  10. Partner airline earn and burn. Southwest doesn’t need to codeshare (though they’ve done it before and have said they could do so again) to have a frequent flyer partnership. It could unlock the potential of miles worldwide, while drawing the business of foreign air carriers to Southwest for their members’ U.S. travels. There are limits on partnerships that some carriers can enter into as a result of alliance membership but there’s a world of airlines with which deals could be done.

None of these ideas are truly pie in the sky. They are all things that may make sense (at least along some margin) for the economics of the program – delivering value to customers and the program both.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary – how would you implement #4? Seat saving is already a sketchy topic on Southwest and I don’t understand how you would indicate that a seat is “taken” if someone were to use this perk?

  2. Count award (points redemption) trips toward A-list and Companion Pass re-qualification, as Delta already does. In accounting terms the airline is paid (by banks and partners) for most of those points, so award trips bring in ample revenue. Reward that revenue properly.

  3. Would love to fly Southwest but I refuse any airline without conformed seat assignments long haul
    Will only fly them for a short haul flight for an hour etc
    Never Hawaii or other when I can go first class or guarantee a comfortable coach seat for many hours in the air
    Seat assignments and I’m there!

  4. Don’t fly Southwest

    Fly AA



  5. As only an occasional Southwest flyer, most of this is not relevant to me. I would, however, get more interested if there were partnerships with overseas non-alliance airlines which fly from cities that Southwest serves. This would be somewhat a niche benefit, since Southwest doesn’t have a major presence (or a presence at all) in some international hub airports and because of existing alliances. I agree with the comment that #4 would not work well for the airline as they fly now. Imagine you are in an aisle or window seat near the front and a couple comes by wanting the other two seats. Unless you are a person of much bigger size than I think, saying the seat is occupied or that you used your companion pass to block them out isn’t going to go over very well. Cue flight attendants dealing with more arguments, not a look Southwest really is striving for.

  6. I fly all the airlines but LOVE SW for the ease of earning points and the ease of cancelling tickets, especially award tickets. Plus, free bags. Just a great airline. When I travelled weekly on business though, I would only fly SW for shorter hauls and a brand carrier like United for long hauls and many free upgrades as I was really a frequent flyer and held top status. I too, love the Companion pass and have had it for decades, either my wife or I. My wife’s is coming to an end and I will get credit cards and make spends to get it with me this year.

  7. @Tim Dunn There has been a lot of speculation that it is labor action to protest the vaccine requirements. I would like to learn about whether this is true and how long the delays are expected to last.

  8. WN has already cancelled 27% of their flights today after 24% yesterday. No other airline seems to be having anywhere the same problem even though they all use the same ATC.

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