The Pros and Cons of the Southwest Loyalty Program
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Southwest Airlines has a legion of fans because of its low fares and simple loyalty program. Southwest Rapid Rewards members can earn points by flying, spending on co-branded credit cards, shopping online and more. Points are most notably redeemable for any Southwest flight that has a seat available.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of the Southwest Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program to help you decide if it is right for you.
The pros of the Southwest loyalty program
Southwest Airlines has lots of benefits for travelers, winning it the TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards for the best airline in North America for 2020. Here are the highlights. Unlike other airlines, there are no award restrictions in terms of eligible seats or limited award space.
Redeem points for any available seat
As long as Southwest has a seat for sale on your preferred flight, you can book it with either points or cash.
Fixed value of points
Your points have a relatively fixed value of 1.5 cents each for most redemptions. This means that you won't find award prices significantly higher than what it would cost if you paid cash for your flight.
» Learn more: An in-depth look at the value of Southwest miles
No blackout dates
You can book any Southwest flight on any day of the year with Rapid Rewards points. Unlike other airline loyalty programs, like the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Delta Air Lines SkyMiles, there are no blackout dates for holidays, spring break or other popular travel periods.
Points never expire
Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire, even when there is no activity on your account. Some airlines require you to earn or redeem points in order to keep your account active.
No fees to change or cancel a flight
If you need to change your flight, you'll just pay the difference in the ticket price — there are no fees. When the fare is lower, you'll get a refund or a credit toward a future flight.
Canceling flights is just as easy. There are no fees and, depending on what type of ticket you bought, you'll receive either a refund or flight credit.
Two free checked bags on every flight
While other airlines often charge around $35 each way for the first bag, Southwest Airlines allows each passenger to check two bags for free.
Free in-flight entertainment
To keep passengers entertained, Southwest offers free movies, free TV and free texting on its Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft. However, you'll need to bring your own device to watch it on. Internet access is also available for $8 per device.
Unlimited use of the Southwest Companion Pass
Some airlines offer opportunities to earn a companion ticket, but it is a one-time use. The Southwest Companion Pass can be used an unlimited number of times whether you are using cash or points to book the primary ticket. You can change your designated companion three times each calendar year.
» Learn more: The pros and cons of the Southwest Companion Pass
A-List elite status benefits
Rapid Rewards members rise to the status of A-List members by completing flight segments or earning points. The benefits include priority boarding, bonus points on paid flights, free same-day standby and priority check-in. Top-tier A-List Preferred status includes a 100% bonus on paid flights and free Wi-Fi.
Credit cards earn elite benefits
A Southwest credit card, like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, can help you earn A-List status and the Companion Pass quicker. For every $10,000 you spend each year, you'll earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points towards A-List status (up to 15,000 points). Plus, the welcome bonus currently includes a Companion Pass when you meet the minimum spend.
The cons of the Southwest loyalty program
Although there's a lot to love about Southwest Airlines, there are a number of reasons why many travelers prefer other airlines.
Not enough nonstop flights
Some travelers complain that Southwest's flights often include a layover on the way to their destination. Nonstop flights can be harder to find when flying long distances.
No partner airlines
Southwest is not part of any airline alliance, so it does not have partner airlines whose flights you can redeem your points for.
» Learn more: The basics of airline partnerships and alliances
Limited international footprint
Travelers on Southwest are limited to the U.S. and select cities in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. If your dream is to travel to Asia, Europe or other distant international destinations, Southwest is not the right airline for you.
No business or first class options
Southwest planes are configured as 100% economy seating. You won’t find business or first class seats, nor will you find any lie-flat seats so you can sleep comfortably on the plane.
» Learn more: When should you book basic economy?
Fixed value of points
The fixed-value points of the Southwest loyalty program have a downside as well: You can’t find outsized deals when cash fares are high because points fares rise along with them.
Members of some other airlines’ travel rewards programs love finding premium cabin flights for a fraction of the cost using their travel rewards — these are often called "sweet spots." It's not as easy to find these with Rapid Rewards.
» Learn more: Southwest Airlines sweet spots
'Cattle call' boarding process
Southwest's boarding process is quite different from other major airlines’. Instead of boarding by status or cabin, Southwest assigns passengers into three groups and into boarding positions numbered from 1 to 60. Your assigned number is based on your ticket type, your elite status level and when you checked in to your flight.
Some people pay extra for EarlyBird Check-In to ensure that they get a lower boarding number.
No assigned seating
All Southwest flights have open seating; there are no assigned seats. While some passengers appreciate not having to pay for a particular seat, those who board toward the end may have difficulty seating their party together, and they may be more likely to get stuck in a middle seat.
If you’re thinking of joining the Southwest Airlines loyalty program
Southwest Airlines has many benefits that travelers love, such as no blackout dates, free changes and cancellations, and no checked bag fees. Travelers who primarily fly economy class within the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean can get good value from Southwest.
However, it is not the right airline for everyone. If you prefer to fly in business or first class or take trips to Europe, the Middle East and other distant destinations, Southwest Rapid Rewards points won’t get you there.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card