Southwest revamps Rapid Rewards by lowering thresholds for status – The Points Guy

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At a time when frequent flyer programs are making it harder to reach status and pulling down benefits, at least one airline is bucking the trend.

Southwest Airlines announced Monday that it will lower the requirements to reach the A-List and A-List Preferred elite tiers of its Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.

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Starting in 2024 (so for the 2025 qualifying year), passengers who take 20 one-way flights — or 10 round-trips — will qualify for A-List, dropping from the current requirement of 25 flights. Alternatively, passengers can still also qualify by earning 35,000 tier qualifying points.

For A-List Preferred, the requirement will drop from 50 one-way trips to 40, while earning 70,000 tier points will continue to automatically qualify travelers for the higher status level.

The airline will also speed up how many tier points members earn from everyday spending on their Southwest co-branded credit cards. Every $5,000 spent will earn a bonus of 1,500 qualifying points, down from the current rate of 1,500 points after $10,000 in spend. That change, which takes effect on Jan. 1 and has no cap or limit, is in addition to the Rapid Rewards points that cardholders earn from spending.

Southwest is also adding a new perk for A-List Preferred members. Starting on Nov. 6, those status holders can get two free premium drinks on every flight with drink vouchers that will be loaded into customers’ accounts and accessed through the Southwest app.

Finally, the airline will make a major change to Rapid Rewards redemptions this coming spring by introducing a new option to use a combination of points and cash. The exact timing and other details — like points valuations — are still being determined, an airline spokesperson said.

Overall, the status qualification changes, along with the changes to qualification point earning, stand in sharp contrast to other airlines’ program changes in recent years, such as Delta’s controversial revamp of the SkyMiles program, which made status significantly harder for many customers to achieve.

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The reasoning behind it is a change in the typical profile of customer that Southwest would consider to be a frequent flyer, said Jonathan Clarkson, Southwest’s vice president of marketing.

“There’s been a shift from business to leisure travel” following the pandemic, Clarkson said, “so these changes are more in line with what we’re seeing from those leisure passengers.”

“There’s also more spend on our co-branded credit cards, so these changes seemed to make sense” as a way to reward further spending at all levels, he added.

Clarkson noted that the airline was not concerned about the possibility of its ranks becoming over-inflated, a problem that other airlines — like Delta — experienced in the wake of the pandemic.

“We’re always judicious with these changes, we don’t think that it would cause a problem,” he said.

Airline frequent flyer programs have become increasingly important parts of their business models, both in terms of customer retention, as well as generating revenue through credit card partnerships with banks.

Southwest’s changes come at a time that mainline carriers are leaning more heavily into “premium leisure,” rewarding big spenders who may travel less but spend and engage with the brand more.

Southwest, which does not have a premium cabin and brands itself as more of a hybrid mainline-budget airline, appears to be expecting to find value in leaning into its brand and rewarding customers who travel often, not just those who spend the most.

For now, for those who tend to fly Southwest a lot, 2024 has a lot to look forward to.



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