Dynamic pricing another Rapid Rewards Devaluation

One of the theories behind revenue-based rewards programs is that at least the math is easy. One earns X points per dollar spent and it takes Y points to pay for a dollar of airfare when redemption time comes around. When the current iteration of Southwest‘s Rapid Rewards program launched things were a bit more complicated, but not too much. Rather than one earning level there were three, matching the three fare families the company offers. Higher fares earned even more points. And for redemption there were also three rates; the higher fare families required more points to create a dollar’s worth of travel. One could argue that Southwest already had dynamic pricing built in to the program.


Starting on 17 April 2015, however, Rapid Rewards a bit more confusing. And a lot more dynamic. Rather than redemption rates being tied only to fare families there will now be variation “based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors.” In other words, it is impossible to guess what a redemption will cost until you try to buy it.

This approach appears to follow JetBlue‘s TrueBlue model, where the number of points required is loosely tied to the dollar value of a flight but may vary 10-20% from that mean depending on a variety of factors (JetBlue also does not publish what the specific factors are). The same route on the same date priced in the same fare bucket with the same dollar fare could have different award costs and no one outside the company’s back office knows why.

Read More: Comparing Southwest’s Rapid Rewards 2 and JetBlue’s TrueBlue programs

In Southwest’s case, we are reminded that “there are still many flights which will stay at the current redemption rate,” something to take solace in, I suppose. But without additional details on how the numbers will trend it is hard to know if this is a small change or a massive one. It is almost certainly bad news – a proper Rapid Rewards devaluation – but of an unknown magnitude. Once the new rates are in place hopefully I’ll be able to do some analysis and find trends but it is unlikely the company will make that easy.

We’re just over four years in to the current iteration of program and this is the second Rapid Rewards devaluation in that time. The company chipped ~15% off the value on “Wanna Get Away” fares in late 2013. That changed the landscape a little bit, but at least there was clarity of the magnitude. This time around, not so much. It is interesting to contrast that devaluation (and others in the industry) with JetBlue’s TrueBlue program. TrueBlue point values have, generally speaking, increased over the past four years, not decreased. What is that carrier doing differently to make it work??

Read More: Southwest launches new Rapid Rewards program

Perhaps most challenging for the carrier, especially in this era of 3rd party partnerships driving the value proposition of loyalty programs, is that the redemption rates will skew even lower, and they already teeter close (and probably below) the tipping point for using a cash-back card rather than a dedicated partner card. This change will not help that situation. Yes, the Chase/Southwest co-branded CC is a nice one-time bump, especially if you time it right and get a Companion Pass out of the deal. But putting actual spend on the card (other than Southwest tickets) is unlikely to be a smart approach to maximizing return. Further reducing the value of the points simply pushes that curve further away.

And, in the meantime, we’ll just have to remember that Southwest is all about heart.

Southwest is all about moving People—by helping them travel from one place to another, and by genuinely caring for Employees and Customers.  While we may look a little different, our airline is still built around: amazing Employees, legendary Customer Service, and low fares.

And a loyalty program which is worth just a bit less than it used to be.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. this is thoroughly impressive. first they can actually devalue a dynamically priced scheme by going from 1.7 to 1.4, then now they want to price high demand / last seats even higher ??

    why not just go with random quoting ? at least we won’t pretend there’s a system or logic behind their valuations.

    1. Agree fully – coming on the heels of DL hiding their award charts and basically telling you to trust the pricing engine, comes an eerily similar action from the last airline you’d expect to do something like Delta.

      Compared to how completely transparent RR *was* this is just perplexing. I mean, the existing fare structure already provided an incredibly strong carrot/stick approach to encouraging customers to redeem points early, for the cheapest fares… and now they’re somehow going to penalize those fares that are a bit *too* cheap?

      Very strange.

      1. As I noted on another blog comment, I think their liberal handout of the companion pass and CC signup bonuses bloated the ranks of people who’d effectively get 2x value out of their points. Imagine half the plane (or more) to a vacation destination, in peak season, not paying for their tickets, and using up half the intended miles on top of that.

        They could only make up for this by jacking up their paid fares, which they’ve been doing left and right, but that makes them un-competitive to people who want to pay cash and can fly another airline. So they got screwed twice.

        I suspect the upcoming devaluation will be precisely to curb the benefits of companion passes.

  2. I think they take a hit to their image as a “different” kind of airline. This smells a lot like Delta – making changes willy nilly without proper disclosure, leaving patrons not really knowing what their miles are going to be worth from one day to the next. I’m not sure why they want that “Oh, they’re really just like everyone else” feeling to sink in.

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