Southwest Airlines now requires more Rapid Rewards points to book award flights. The airline has devalued its frequent flyer program for the first time since 2018, giving customers about 6% less value. 

Key Takeaways

  • Award flight pricing has risen by roughly 6% across the board on Southwest award flights.
  • Loyalty program devaluations are expected over time, and it's not entirely surprising after the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the airline industry. 
  • There have been no changes in the rates at which customers earn Southwest points. 

What the Devaluation Means

Southwest Airlines is a favorite with many travel rewards enthusiasts. Its Companion Pass effectively cuts the cost of air travel in half for people who regularly travel with a plus-one, and its redemption rate on award flights is tied to the cash price of the tickets, making the process more predictable than with competing airlines.

But on April 14, The Points Guy reported that the number of points required to book flights rose by roughly 6%. The airline gave no prior notice. 

The change is sure to be disappointing to Southwest fans. But it's likely a move to reduce the airline's liability associated with the Rapid Rewards program.

Throughout the pandemic, Southwest credit card holders and others earning Rapid Rewards points were earning rewards at the same clip as usual, but they were redeeming at a much lower rate. 

As a result, the airline's liability likely grew exponentially. This downgrade, the first in three years, was presumably designed to reduce that liability on the airline's balance sheet. 

Airlines generally don't reverse devaluations. So even as travel picks back up and Southwest's liability with the program eventually returns to a normal level, it's highly unlikely Rapid Rewards members will get that value back.

In the meantime, Southwest has made no changes to rewards earning rates.