Southwest Airlines offers new payment options

ConsumerAffairs

Worth it or not? A travel awards expert offers their opinion.

The next time you fly Southwest Airlines, you’ll be presented with a new way to pay for your flight: Cash + Points. 

The new payment method is designed to allow Rapid Rewards Members the ability to combine points with other forms of payment to purchase flights. The point redemptions come in five sizes starting with as few as 1,000 points.

The new offer, however, comes with a number of caveats. For example, members who book using Cash + Points can make changes to their reservation, but Cash + Points cannot be used for any fare increase related to a modification. 

Here’s how the airline says the new perk works:

Good idea or bad idea?

When you break down the new Cash + Points program, it appears to be a mixed bag of pros and cons.

People who don’t fly Southwest a lot, but have some unused miles sitting around will get more use out of their lower point totals rather than saving up for a free trip for the whole family. 

For another thing, it offers more ways to use your points, so even if you don't have a lot of points racked up, you can still use them to ease the cost of your flights. You can think of it sort of like a discount.

Tyler Glatt at AwardWallet says that last “plus” isn’t really all that much of a plus. “That's all well and good, but this practice has several pitfalls. Simply, it's generally worth avoiding,” Glatt said.

Glatt says where things fall apart is that the value of Cash + Points disappears if you care about earning Southwest A-List, A-List Preferred, or Companion Pass status. Based on all the minutiae he read in the program’s rollout, Glatt says that while Cash + Points bookings do earn qualifying flights, they don't earn Rapid Rewards points or tier qualifying points.

“Cash + Points bookings are generally unrewarding,” he said. “That's primarily because you get poor value from your points and won't earn Rapid Rewards or tier-qualifying points on your travel.”

Is there a better idea?

What does Glatt think you should do instead of going the Cash + Points route if you're a few points short of booking a reward flight? 

Pay for your booking wholly in cash. “You'll earn Rapid Rewards and tier-qualifying points by avoiding Points + Cash. If you use a Rapid Rewards credit card, you can also earn points on your purchase for later use,” Glatt theorizes.

Purchase the differential amount of Rapid Rewards points outright. Glatt notes that, on occasion, Southwest travelers can buy points with a bonus, which he thinks makes the all-points booking more cost-effective than paying for everything in cash.

Make a purchase through Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Shopping. “Depending on the number of points necessary for your award, knocking a few items off your online shopping list could put you over the threshold,” was another Glatt suggestion.

Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards. That’s an a-ha! moment for Chase credit card holders. This way, you can convert your Chase points to Southwest points at a 1:1 ratio.

The bottom line on all of this is that the program won’t go down as the best airline deal ever, but it offers some extra flexibility for using your Southwest points. 

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