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Southwest Freedom Awards Permit Mileage Dilution

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Southwest Airlines WallMileage dilution is when an airline starts asking for more miles for the same ticket. What used to cost 30,000 frequent flier miles would then cost 35,000 miles. It’s a bit like inflation, secret stealing pennies out of your wallet. I always proudly proclaimed that Southwest doesn’t play those games, it’s 16 credits for a flight and a one-way flight is worth a credit. If anything they make it easier by offering bonus credits out of particular airports.

When I was in college, the Rapid Rewards frequent flier tickets had blackout dates but no seat restrictions. You couldn’t use it on the crazy high traffic times like the holidays or Thanksgiving, but you could use it any other time a seat was available.

Then one day Southwest announced that they would be doing away with the blackout dates and you could have access to a seat if it were available, subject to seat limits on each flight. In other words, each flight had a set number of seats available for Rapid Reward request flier ticket holders and once they were exhausted you were out of luck.

“Freedom Awards”

Freedom Awards, effective November 2007, are simply the old way the program worked except they were twice as expensive as “Standard Awards.” If you had a Rapid Rewards frequent flier ticket, you had a Standard Award. You could convert the entire ticket into a single one-way trip Freedom Award. Freedom Awards aren’t subject to seat limit restrictions on a flight but they are subject to blackout dates.

Frequent flier mile dilution is alive and well. Well, it looks like mileage dilution is alive and well even at Southwest with the introduction of these Freedom Awards. Check out #16 on their rules and regs for the rewards:

Rapid Rewards Standard Awards are subject to seat restrictions, and seats will not be available for Standard Award travel on all flights on all days.

In other words, they can set the number of seats to zero.

I recently ran into this booking a flight from Baltimore to Las Vegas in June. On our itinerary leaving Thursday night and returning Sunday night, not a single Standard reward seat was available. I understand it’s a popular destination but we had to wait until the scheduling window slid to permit booking of flights in June. We were perhaps a day or two in and it’s difficult for me to believe that a slew of Rapid Rewards members snatched up all the seats (unless there were only one or two, which I can believe!).

Since it’s possible that there were zero seats, they’ve effectively, and invisibly, diluted the value of a Rapid Rewards award by a half for that flight.

So, to all the people I sang the laurels of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program to… I take it back (a little). The airline is still great, the service is great, and the people are a treat to talk to, but their Rapid Rewards program is a little less great. I’ll still fly Southwest first, before other airlines, I’ll just have to hope that where I want to get away to isn’t seat restricted. :)

(Photo by bracken)

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7 Responses to “Southwest Freedom Awards Permit Mileage Dilution”

  1. DjFarout says:

    Here is a question…
    Southwest has a credit card that earns miles(or some sort of token)… how do you convert that to Southwest credits?

    • Jim says:

      The card should link up with your Rapid Rewards account and deposit the credits when you earn them. Once you hit 16, they automatically award you the flight voucher.

  2. Eric says:

    Sad to hear but I guess inevitable in this economy. ALL reward programs are suffering somehow.

    • Jim says:

      Well the Freedom tickets have been around for a while, I just didn’t notice the fine print that said they may not always have Standard award seats available. There’s always the fine print…. ugh.

  3. I can understand both sides of this issue. First, the airlines aren’t doing well, and haven’t for a very long time. If they can get someone to pay to fly with them, they’re better off financially than allowing someone else to fly for free. On the other hand, they are alienating their frequent fliers and diminishing the value of their program.

    I’m not sure I would’ve made this call if it were up to me. I think it was a bad move on Southwest’s part.

  4. DensityDuck says:

    Yeah, I just found out about this myself. I’ve been singing Southwest’s praises–low-mileage FF plans! Quick rewards! Good service!

    …except, now, not so much. Good luck flying within +/- two weeks of Christmas!

    I’m pretty sure that the knob for “Standard Award” is going to be slowly turned down, and down, and down, until they can quietly do away with “Standard Award” altogether because of “low interest in the program”. (read: nobody ever redeemed them because they were impossible to use.)

  5. betty says:

    I have had a SWA VISA card for years, and have always sung its praises. Already planned a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale using my two Flight Coupons to get there from Seattle, and just found out I will be paying $480 because of Standard Coupon cannot be used on either of the flights – going or returning. I will be closing my account with SWA immediately and opening it with Alaska. Then at least I will have partner airlines – Delta in particular – and be able to combine miles. There’s the pesky checked baggage issue, but never mind. I mostly earn my flight coupons with purchases, not flights. Sad, SWA, I have loved my Rapid Rewards.


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