Overview of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program

by James Andrew Scott on August 16, 2015

in Rapid Rewards, Southwest

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Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Frequent Flyer Program

The pioneer of the low-cost airline model, Southwest Airlines upended the traditional airline business soon after its formation under the name Air Southwest Co. in 1967.  Co-founder Herb Kelleher’s original plan was to avoid Federal regulation by operating exclusively within the state of Texas.  Other airlines sued, but Southwest was eventually vindicated when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving undisturbed the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Southwest’s favor.

A law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1979, just after the airlines were deregulated in 1978, disrupted Southwest’s ability to form a national airline by restricting its operations at Love Field in Dallas.  Called the Wright Amendment, the law restricted flights from Love Field to destinations in Texas and neighboring states (except for aircraft with less than 56 seats).  Southwest grew anyway by expanding its operations to the West Coast from airports in Houston and San Antonio.  Today, Southwest is the largest airline in the United States by number of passengers flown.  Profitable for 42 years in a row, Southwest exclusively operates 737s.  There are currently 679 Boeing 737s in the Southwest fleet.

Southwest formed its first frequent flyer program in 1987, which was re-named Rapid Rewards in 1996.   Rapid Rewards was re-structured in 2011.  Rather than earning credits, members now earn points based on fare amount and type.

Rapid Rewards® Program Basics

Status Tiers. Southwest Airlines has three status levels (called “Tiers”): A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass.

Earning Status.  Rapid Rewards members earn status based on one-ways flights or points earned within a calendar year.

  • A-List:  25 one-way flights or 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points.  Southwest does not count flight segments but rather one-way flights.
  • A-List Preferred:  50 one-way flights or 70,000 Tier Qualifying Point.
  • Companion Pass: 100 one-way flights or 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points.

Tier Qualifying Points are earned based on price and fare type.   Wanna get Away fares (the lowest priced) earn 6 points per base fare dollar. Anytime fares earn 10 points per base fare dollar.   Business Select Fares (the most expensive) earn 12 points per dollar.  Points are awarded according to the base fare without taxes and fees.  Award flights do not earn points.  On Southwest.com, Southwest displays the estimated points earned beneath the fare price.

A-List qualification is based on the calendar year.  Once A-List status is earned, the benefits begin immediately, and you will maintain your A-List status for the remainder of the calendar year in which status is earned, and the next calendar year.

Benefits that Apply to All Rapid Rewards Members:

  • Membership is free.  See our post on how to earn up to 2,000 bonus points by referring your friends to join Rapid Rewards.
  • Unlimited Rewards Seats; if there is a seat available on the plane, you can use your points for it.
  • No blackout dates.
  • Points do not expire with at least one flight or Rapid Rewards Partner earning activity every 24 months.
  • Earn 600 points per stay (not per night) with various hotel partners including Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood, Choice Hotels, Best Western, and more.
  • Earn 600 points per rental with rental car partners including Avis, Hertz, Budget, Thrifty, Dollar, Alamo, and more (a fee will apply).

Additional Benefits of A-List:

  • Earn 25% more points per flight.
  • Automatic Priority Boarding Position.  Southwest will automatically reserve you a boarding position 36 hours prior to departure.  You must be present in the gate area at least 10 minutes prior to departure or your reserved space may be canceled.   Automatic priority boarding is not granted when you book less than 36 hours from departure, or make changes to an existing reservation within 36 hours of departure.
  • Priority Stand-by.
  • Fly By® Priority Check-in and Security lines (where available)
  • Dedicated A-List phone-line.

Additional Benefits of A-List Preferred:

  • Earn 100% more points per flight.
  • Automatic Priority Boarding Position.  See A-List.
  • Priority Stand-by.
  • Fly By® Priority Check-in and Security lines (where available)
  • Dedicated A-List Preferred phone-line.
  • Free on-board WiFi (where available).

Additional Benefits of Companion Pass status:

  • All of the A-List Preferred benefits.
  • A Companion Pass valid for free travel for a named Companion when accompanied by the Rapid Rewards Member (You will still pay the $10 per round-trip September 11th Security Fee).
  • You must designate your Companion and the Companion Pass is not transferable.   However you can change your designated Companion and request a new Companion Pass up to three (3) times within the validity period of the Pass.  This request must be done in writing and accompanied by the current Companion Pass card, which will be cancelled, to: Southwest Airlines, Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36657, Dallas, TX 75235.    You’ll also need to include the new Companion’s name, address, phone number, social security number, and date of birth.  It takes up to 21 days.
  • You and your companion must board with your assigned group(s); the companion is not entitled to reserved boarding privileges unless the Companion is an A-List or A-List Preferred Member.
Using Points:
  • Points are redeemed for free flights at a rate of between 60 to 120 points per dollar.  For example, a $200 flight is (200 x 60 points = 12,000 points) would cost 12,000 points for a Wanna Get Away® fare.

  • There are no blackout dates or limit to the number of award tickets.
  • Can be redeemed for flights, rental cars, hotel stays, gift cards, and more.
  • Can transfer points to various hotel partners.
  • Can redeem points for international flights on most major airlines.

Share your thoughts or reviews on the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program with our readers below.

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  • Rob

    Can tier points earned be used the same way as accrued points through use of the SWest credit card?

    • James Vatne

      Tier qualifying points count toward A-List status, but cannot be used for award travel. According to Southwest, “Tier Qualifying Points are earned from revenue flights or through the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Card from Chase.** Points earned via Rapid Rewards Partners—with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase—purchased points, Bonus Points, or points earned via a promotion are not Tier Qualifying Points and do not count toward tier qualification.

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