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On Southwest’s stealth devaluation, and it’s almost booking time for the holidays!

Living squarely in flyover country where we’re an afterthought to legacy carriers (that’s another post), Southwest is our favorite airline for flights to most of the destinations they serve. Unlike legacy carriers who open up placeholder schedules each day that they have no intent to actually keep, Southwest opens up their schedule a couple months at a time and rarely changes their schedule once published.

Currently, you can book Southwest flights through November 4, 2016. Tomorrow, May 19, they will open up two more months and flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays will be available. As I’ve written before, if you have any Southwest points, you should book as many different flights as you’re able to ASAP. Usually the new dates are bookable sometime between 6:00 and 8:30 AM Central Time. If there’s a chance that Southwest flights will work for you, be ready!

Southwest devaluation time – spring of every year?

In spring of 2014 and 2015, Southwest devalued their points. In 2014 all points went from about 1.67 cents per point value toward the base fare only, to 1.43 cents per point. (Note that comparing to the total cash price adds an additional .20 cents per point or so in value.) In 2015, they changed from that fixed value to a variable value based on the fare class. The value of each point for the lowest fare classes remained 1.43 cents, but as the flight fills and prices rise, point values go down to as low as 1.25 cents per point. You can find the full details and methodology in this Flyertalk thread, but the concern many people expressed last year was that Southwest would be able to do unannounced, creeping devaluations without anyone noticing, since they no longer had a set value for points. Well, guess what?

They devalued again, with no warning or notice of any kind this time! This post by NSX at Flyertalk was the first report I saw of this new value [Edit: it was first reported on FT by ScroogeMcflyer here], but I can’t find another reference to it anywhere in the blogosphere. Maybe we’re too jaded due to drastic devaluations literally all over the map. Or maybe this one is too small to notice. Or maybe it’s better for the bottom line to wait until after the 50,000 point affiliate offers dry up before pointing out the reduced value of those points. Maybe it’s not the latter, but you can be sure it’d be a stop-the-presses moment if the points value had gone up!

All of the fare classes that used to be 70 points per base fare dollar now require 72 points per base fare dollar. The devaluation is incremental, to be sure, but it can add up. Especially if you’re booking a lot of tickets! The new best value of a Southwest point is 1.39 cents toward the base fare.

Is this .04 cents worth noting? Will it change the value proposition for Southwest points? It probably won’t for us, and I plan to book a New Years trip to San Diego tomorrow. But I think Southwest should hear from us just like anyone else would when they pull stealth devaluations!

– Kenny

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • julianna May 19, 2016, 10:53 am

    How is it on the morning that the schedule opens, there are no wanna get away fares on any flight on the sunday after thanksgiving (out of SLC)? That looks like total blackout of lower points/fares to me. I traveled on that day 2 years ago (out of LGA) and did not have that problem at all. We are Southwest junkies in flyover country too, and I’ve never seen that before. Have You?

    • Kenny May 19, 2016, 12:59 pm

      I’m pretty sure I saw that last year. We try hard to avoid the Sunday after Thanksgiving – last year we returned from Australia (and got home from LAX on Southwest) on Monday instead.

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