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Southwest Is Making These Major Changes to Its Frequent Flyer Program

The airline just announced an overhaul that might make it easier for travelers to achieve status.

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It's no secret that your experience with an airline can significantly impact how often you choose to fly them. Some carriers go to great lengths to improve notoriously tricky parts of plane travel, such as the boarding process, to secure your business. However, others see the value in winning back repeat customers by investing in loyalty programs to provide perks and rewards. And now, Southwest is one of the latest airlines to announce it's making major changes to its frequent flyer program. Read on to see how the new system might affect your travel choices.

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Southwest Airlines uses the relatively simple Rapid Rewards as its loyalty program.

Southwest Rewards
Tada Images/Shutterstock

Despite some recent hiccups with planned changes to its unique boarding process, Southwest is one major airline that holds a soft spot with travelers for its built-in conveniences and budget-friendly policies like not charging for a passenger's first two checked bags. This straightforward approach also extends to the carrier's Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program, which forgoes the relatively complicated systems used by other airlines in favor of a two-tier setup split between A-List and A-List Preferred.

Currently, customers who qualify for A-List—which is achieved by taking 25 one-way flights or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points by spending on co-branded credit cards each year—can enjoy priority lines at security in many airports, priority check-in, priority boarding, and a 25 percent rewards mileage bonus on flights, as well as access to same-day flight changes. Travelers who take 50 one-way flights a year or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points reach A-List Preferred status and enjoy the same perks, except they earn 100 percent bonus miles and have access to free WiFi on flights.

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In January, the airline will make it easier to reach frequent flyer status.

southwest service desk
rarrarorro / Shutterstock

But if hitting the required number of flights to unlock perks has always been just out of reach for you, things are about to get a little easier. That's because Southwest announced it would be lowering the threshold required to qualify for Rapid Rewards status, The Points Guy (TPG) reports.

As of Jan. 1, 2024, travelers will only need to take 20 one-way flights before the end of the year to reach the A-List tier. The threshold for A-List Plus will also drop to just 40 one-way flights annually.

And while the number of tier qualifying points required to reach each level will remain the same, it's also becoming significantly easier to earn them. Holders of Southwest co-branded credit cards will now only have to spend $5,000 to earn an extra 1,500 points, marking a 50 percent drop from the $10,000 previously required to achieve the bump. The policy also outlines that there are no limits to how many extra points cardholders can earn through milestone spending, according to TPG.

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Members can also expect a few new perks along with their status.

Southwest Airlines jet shown landing at LAX

Those hoping to stay loyal to Southwest won't just coast more easily into status, either. The airline is also adding some new base perks on top of what it already offers its frequent flyers.

Beginning on Nov. 6, A-List Preferred passengers will be offered two free premium drinks per flight, which includes alcoholic beverages, USA Today reports. The refreshments will be made available via vouchers sent to the Southwest app on travelers' smartphones.

And regular Southwest customers might also find it easier to book free travel. Beginning next spring, Rapid Rewards members will have the option to pay for airfare using a combination of points and cash, a spokesperson for the airline told TPG. The company says it's still working out specific details and rollout dates for the addition.

RELATED: 10 Airport Security Secrets TSA Doesn't Want You to Know.

Delta recently made wildly unpopular changes to its rewards program.

Delta Airplanes sit in a row at Kansas City International Airport

While change is far from a novelty for the airline industry, Jonathan Clarkson, vice president of marketing for Southwest, said the latest updates reflect the new flying landscape that's taken shape in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's been a shift from business to leisure travel," he told TPG. "So these changes are more in line with what we're seeing from those leisure passengers. There's also more spend on our co-branded credit cards, so these changes seemed to make sense."

The move also comes a month after Delta Air Lines received heavy customer backlash for announced changes to its SkyMiles rewards program. The competing airline's updated policies will not only make it significantly more challenging to achieve status but will also remove popular perks such as lounge access for many who currently enjoy the privilege.

Clarkson said the budget-friendly airline workshopped its potential changes ahead of their release. "This is another example of Southwest deciding to zig when everybody else zags," he told USA Today. "We have a program we want people to use and get the benefit of."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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