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 more premium cards but that means a lot of spend for status with relatively modest benefits (no upgrades, or better baggage benefit!) – the ratio here should be better.

  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. Number one, by a huge margin: stop randomly devaluing the points. With a fixed exchange rate between points and cash, there’s no need to adjust rewards to account for inflation.

    Number two: a co-brand card with no annual fee. I’m not willing to hold onto annual fee airline and hotel cards unless there’s a valuable benefit that I would regularly and reliably use (free checked bags on an airline other than Southwest, for example).

  2. How about allowing points to be redeemed for gift cards like was allowed a few years ago.

  3. I would honestly just take them being available on broader booking engines like Google Flights. I know their route network reasonably well but even so I’m sure I’ve been drawn away from booking them by virtue of not *seeing* them when price comparing for domestic leisure travel. And unlike many, I have nothing against the products for what it is, having held a companion pass for 6 of the past 10 years.

  4. A-list gives you free standby and free same-day confirmed flight change regardless of fare. Plus rapid phone pickup. The other benefits are secondary.

    Rapid Rewards should give tier status trip credit for award travel, like Delta does.

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