To participate, Rapid Rewards members register up to five credit cards on the Rapid Rewards Dining website. Thereafter, whenever they use a registered card to charge a meal at a participating restaurant, they will earn a quarter credit every time their cumulative expenditure reaches $100. There's also a quarter credit enrollment bonus awarded after the first $25.
Miles-for-dining has been a standard feature of larger airline programs for years. In most programs, the miles-for-dining feature awards five miles for every $1 spent. That means you'd spend $5,000 to earn the 25,000 miles required for a free round-trip domestic ticket. With the Southwest earning rate, you'll have to spend $6,400—28 percent more—to earn the 16 Rapid Rewards credits needed for a free ticket.
That's not the only negative feature of Rapid Rewards Dining. Southwest has also elected to impose a consumer-unfriendly expiration policy on the earnings: "The dollar amount for each transaction expires 365 days after the date the transaction is processed and will no longer be applied toward earning credits." The policy is poorly communicated, as well, buried in the fine print where it's not likely to be read.
This is another example of Southwest's split personality. The discount carrier has taken the high road in some areas. In particular, their refusal to follow other airlines' lead in the current fee-for-all is laudable.
But in its loyalty marketing, Southwest has consistently made decisions that show it views Rapid Rewards more as an expense than an investment. For years, Southwest expired Rapid Rewards credit after just one year. The current two-year expiration policy is still among the industry's harshest. And it was implemented to soften the blow of imposing capacity controls on awards.
There are reasons to be loyal to Southwest. Ironically, its loyalty program isn't one of them.