Southwest is more lucrative for business travelers than most realize

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Yesterday, The Weekly Flyer shared a witty jab Delta launched in the Atlanta market reminding flyers that Delta has First Class seats and Southwest does not.  Coincidentally, this reminded me that flying Southwest for business travel is more lucrative than most realize.

Being a frequent business traveler based in Chicago, I am often asked why in the world I choose Southwest with no First Class and no International redemption opportunities over the legacy carriers offering both of those amenities.  In total there are many reasons why I like Southwest but what many don’t realize is just how lucrative the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is for frequent business travelers.

As is often the case with business travel, last minute changes are inevitable.  While the legacy players sometimes offer a decent mileage bonus with a last minute full fare ticket, it generally doesn’t amount to anything that substantial for domestic travel. Southwest offers a far more lucrative bonus when business needs cause last minute ticket purchases. These last minute fares book into the Business Select fare type which earns 12 points per dollar, double the standard 6 points per dollar for the lowest fare. As an A-List preferred, the top tier elite of the Southwest program requiring 50 one-way flights, members receive an additional 100% bonus on all points earned. Put these two together and all of the sudden the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is offering huge returns for business travelers compared to what the legacy airlines offer.

Last week, I had a meeting rescheduled so I needed to change my flight at the last minute. The flight was around 600 miles in distance.

Legacy mileage earning on last minute tickets

On a legacy airline , you can expect to tack on 150 dollars to change a ticket plus the difference in fare.  For a 600 mile flight you would likely see mileage earning for that one way flight anywhere from 600 miles up to 1800 miles depending on your elite status.  For comparison’s sake, I will say earning 1800 miles would get a business traveler about 7% of the way to a 25,000 mile domestic award ticket.

Southwest mileage earning on last minute tickets

Being Southwest there was no change fee but the fare difference required an additional 80 dollars to change the short two hour flight.  That one way flight earned 8003 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. As for the burn, you can see below that I redeemed 11161 points for a round-trip flight to LA.  That one way Business Select flight earned me 72% of the way to a round trip domestic flight reward!  To add a further incentive, a full year frequent business traveler on Southwest has a decent shot at obtaining a Companion Pass.  The Companion Pass allows one designated person to fly with you for free including award reservations.  In my example, I added a companion pass ticket to that award so that one way Business Select flight actually earned me 72% of the way to a two round trip domestic flights rewards!


I will admit that Southwest can be an easy target for jokes.  For the record, it is their flight attendants that offer up some of the classics such as “Every seat is First Class”.  I find the common perception amongst frequent business travelers is that the Southwest Rapid Rewards is not designed for business travelers because there are no international redemption opportunities.  While valid, I would argue flying short domestic flights for business travel to earn international awards is a very slow process compared to other earning vehicles like Credit Cards and Hotel stays.  Southwest offers a lucrative earning structure for business travelers that rewards non-legacy flyers with lots of free flights around the good ole’ USA.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at

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  1. Well southwest will more likely in future start to charge for those change in tickets. I believe it is called the GDS system that all the other legacy carriers are on. That is why when you use expedia,orbitz, etc. You won’t see southwest in the listing as right now you can only book on Well if and whenever they do properly merge airtan/sw and with the international travel then sw will be on due to nature of how it works. Enjoy the free bags and no change fees because eventually it will be a thing of the past.

  2. I’m glad you wrote this. One of my bigger pet peeves with travel internet people is the huge bias against Southwest. I’m based in BWI, and whenever my plans allow me to, I fly Delta. Because, yeah, I can redeem them for business class IAD-CDG-FCO/VCE-CDG-IAD. Certainly couldn’t do that on Southwest.

    BUT, that doesn’t mean that WN is worthless, or more to the point, *worthy of scorn*. They supplement my Delta flying very nicely, and allow all sorts of cool travel domestically. Your business travel examples are just more to my point. It doesn’t have to be legacy carrier vs. Southwest. It’s clear they both have their advantages

  3. The lack of free same day changes and sufficient room to work onboard are both big business negatives. If you fly a ton of expensive shorthauls, can get and use the companion pass, and want to ds a lot of domestic travel I certainly see the point and value. It’s certainly not my favorite flying experience, though.

  4. Actually with the Southwest Airlines Chase Visa card, you can infact redeem to international destinations on some 80+ global carriers. So add that with your rapid rewards and it accommodates most travel interests 🙂

  5. I also live in chicagoland and travel domestically a lot… I like the convenience of MDW over ORD any day of the week, and as a Southwest A-list flyer, I get the “Fly-Bye” security line, which is never long and has no body scanners. These are nice perks, and honestly, the last time I flew a legacy I was no more comfortable in coach than on any Southwest flight.

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