Last Reviewed: 6/17/2011
On March 1st of 2011 Southwest Airlines introduced its newly revamped Rapid Rewards loyalty program-replacing the older, more complex program, with something that doesn’t require so much deep thought to understand. This required GetDebit to revist its previous estimate of the value of Southwest Airlines points.
Despite its name, Southwest Air actually has quite extensive route coverage in most regions of the US, with the exception of Montana, Wyoming, North/South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia and Georgia-although many of their flights to require plane changes. SWA’s reach was significantly bolstered with SWA’s recent acquisition of AirTran, which strengthened their East Coast routes.
Getting Down To Business: Estimating the Value of Southwest Airlines Points
The math to calculate the value of Southwest miles (they call them points) is quite simple. There are 3 classes of travel on SWA: Business Select, Anytime, and “Wanna-Get-Away” (think Lenny Kravitz “I want to get away…I want to fly…”-would be a perfect promo song for Southwest, but I digress…). Both Anytime and Wanna-Get-Away (WGA) are economy class, it’s just that there are a pre-defined number of WGA seats allotted.
As the table below shows, your best value are WGA redemptions, which yield a pleasant $0.0167 per point.
|Fare Type||Pts Req’d for $100 Ticket||$ Value per Point|
|Wanna Get Away||6,000||$0.0167|
But Are WGA Seats Really Available?
Of course, no matter how good the value for a particular reward ticket, if there are never any seats available, the reward isn’t worth the paper its printed on. So the folks here at GetDebit conducted a quick assessment (by no means exhaustive!) of WGA availability, and our findings were quite positive.
Our method was to examine 5 routes (SFO->BOS; LAX->LAS; Dallas->Seattle; Seattle->Raleigh; LAX->New Orleans) and measure the number of WGA flights where seats were available versus the total number of flights. This is a solid measure of seat availability. Additionally, we looked at bookings 2, 3 and 4 weeks out (as of the writing of this post), with a Thursday departure and Sunday return.
As the table below highlights, WGA flight availability is quite strong. Very short notice bookings (2 weeks out) had the least amount of WGA availability, with only about 60% of flight times having an available WGA seat. However, if you book 3-4 weeks out, availability jumps to around 80%, which is quite excellent.
|Booking Advance Notice||WGA # Available Flights||Total Flights||% Available|
|2 weeks out||41||67||61%|
|3 weeks out||72||88||82%|
|4 weeks out||66||85||78%|
Other Redemption Options for your SWA Points
SWA also allows you to redeem your miles for air travel on most other major airlines, as well as hotel stays at over 70,000 hotels world-wide. We’ll be doing some additional research to get more info here, but we’ve done enough of these analyses to know that your best redemption value will be using your points to redeem for airfare on SouthWest Airlines. Kind of makes sense, right?
How Does the New Southwest Rapid Rewards Program Stack Up Against the Older Version?
We’ve read a lot online about how the new SWA Program isn’t as good as the old (credits-based) program, but we’re not convinced. Here’s why:
It used to take 8 roundtrip flights to earn a free roundtrip ticket. We previously estimated the value of these roundtrip tickets to be around $300.
Under the new program, 8 roundtrip flights at an average fare of $300 would generate (8 flights * $300 per flight * 6 pts/dollar) 14,400 points. As we value points at $0.0167 per point (assumes redemption for WGA seats), this equates to $240. So it seems from the point of view of earning free flights by flying, the older program may have had an edge of around $60 in this example.
However, that’s only part of the picture. We valued the points under the old Southwest Rewards Program at around $0.0140, whereas the points in the new program are valued at $0.0167—a 19% improvement in value. This means that any points earned through the use of the SWA loyalty credit card will be more valuable in the new program versus the old one. You can read our review of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Card from Chase to see how the credit card itself (versus the standalone rewards program) performs.
GetDebit’s Summary Judgment
Like all airline loyalty programs, if you love flying the particular airline, then the exact dollar value per point may not be of huge concern. Conversely, if you can’t stand a partiuclar airline, then even if the value is off the charts, it likely won’t matter to you. But I would say this: if you already are a member of Rapid Rewards, or contemplating joining, you won’t be doing yourself a dis-service. With miles (points) valued at $0.0167 for WGA rewards, and with WGA rewards readily available in most cases, you are well ahead of many other airline loaylty programs.
You can also read GetDebit’s review of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card for more insight.