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Southwest Freedom Awards Permit Mileage Dilution

Mileage 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 [3]:

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 [4])