Southwest Rapid Rewards – January, 27 2006

Southwest Rapid Rewards – January, 27 2006

Remember when, if he was willing to forego a few blacked-out dates, a Rapid Rewards member could claim an award on any Southwest flight? Indeed, for years, it was at least hypothetically possible that every passenger on a given Southwest flight could be flying on an award ticket.

Well, those days are just about gone. Beginning Feb. 10, all Rapid Rewards awards issued will be free of blackout dates, but will be subject to seat restrictions. According to Southwest, “restricting the number of seats for awards helps us maintain our low-fare leadership and keeps the program lucrative for you.”

Awards issued before Feb. 10 will have no seat restrictions, but are subject to published blackout dates, just like before. Awards issued on or after Feb. 10 will have seat restrictions, but no blackout dates. Members will obviously need to be flexible when choosing times and dates to their destinations as certain holiday or peak travel periods will be in high demand and that makes booking award travel difficult.

Companion travel will still have no seat restrictions or blackout dates.

Response to Southwest’s policy change has been mixed. Some see the changes as a sign of Rapid Rewards’ (d)evolution into a more mainstream, and therefore less valuable program. Others — in fact, the majority of members — are adopting more of a wait-and-see approach.

The biggest concern, of course, is that the ready seat availability for which Southwest had been recognized with many a Freddie Award will cease to exist. “Capacity controls,” at least in common parlance, mean that only a select number of seats on a given flight are available for award use. Members want to get a sense of what that number is before they pronounce judgment.

Southwest won’t say, which is not surprising, as no other program divulges that information either.

A few members have noted that given the rules of Rapid Rewards, capacity controls on Southwest might be more onerous than they are with other airlines. After all, Southwest awards are only good for one year, and a member who can’t get around capacity controls in that year might be up the proverbial creek. In addition, other capacity-controlled programs usually allow members to avoid seat restrictions by “paying” more miles -Southwest doesn’t offer that option.

It’s far too early to announce a verdict. In the meantime, one FlyerTalker probably best summed up the general feeling with this:

“While I’m not running around like a headless chicken regarding capacity control, it’s not unreasonable to expect Southwest’s implementation to be similar to the other airlines. In which case, I will be saddened by the fact that free spontaneous trips for the family will not be so easy anymore, and Southwest’s award tickets are not as valuable to me as they were before the controls. If not, I’ll be pleasantly and happily surprised.”

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