Southwest's New Frequent Flier Program Rewards Biz Travelers Over Hoi Polloi

If air travel was a multi-player video-game, you would call Southwest’s new “Rapid Rewards” frequent flier program “adjusting the game balance.” In this case, the “Pinstripe” class is getting favorably tweaked at “Joe Sixpack” class’s expense.

Under the old formula, 16 one-way trips got you one free round-trip ticket, no matter how big your wingtips or tiny your bank account.

With the new “Rapid Rewards” program, you earn points based on how expensive your ticket was. Pricier tickets earn more points but also require more points to redeem.

In the examples Southwest Airlines gave in the YouTube videos explaining the new program, it takes “Business Select” and “Wanna Get Away” ticket buyers both 10 flights to earn a free ticket in their respective categories.

“Wanna Get Away”
$100 sample fare
Earns 600 points ($100 x 6 point multiplier)
6,000 points required for free flight

“Business Select”
$220 sample fare
Earns 2,640 points ($220 x 12 point multiplier)
26,500 points required for free flight

Sounds fair, right? Both classes have to fly the same amount to earn a free ticket for their fare class. Aha! But consider that points are interchangeable! So the trick is to quickly rack up points as a Business Select buyer, and then redeem them for a Wanna Get Away fare. Now it only takes a Business Select flyer THREE trips (2.72 repeating, to be exact) in order to earn a Wanna Get Away fare. Meanwhile, Joe Sixpackers would have to fly 44 times to get a free Business Select ticket.

(Note that all passengers benefit from the new policy of no blackout dates, no seat restrictions, and no point expirations on the new frequent flyer program.)

Sure, favoring business class over coach makes good business sense, which is why every other airline has been doing it for years.But the question is whether for Southwest, who made its name by being different from other carriers, it makes good brand sense.

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