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Southwest Rapid Rewards Guide: Great Ways to Use and Earn Points

Southwest Rapid Rewards Guide: Great Ways to Use and Earn Points

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This article was last updated Jan 02, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® loyalty program points are among the easiest to earn and redeem when compared to other carriers. Points are earned based on the price of the ticket and those with elite status earn bonus points.

Under the airline’s Transfarency program, travelers don’t have to worry about paying fees for up to two checked bags or making flight changes and there are no blackout dates on award seats.

But you may not be getting the full value from the points you earn on Southwest Airlines. Whether you’re looking to earn or redeem your Rapid Rewards points, this guide will show you how to get the most out of them and stretch your travel further. Terms may apply to the offers below.

Where to search for Southwest awards

You don’t have to log into the airline’s website to search for awards at Southwest.com. Make sure to select ‘Points’ when looking to redeem them for a flight to see the points value for trip. You can also switch to viewing prices in dollars anytime by clicking the ‘Dollars’ button at the top of the results. Once you’re ready to book,  log in so you can redeem your Rapid Rewards.

How much are Southwest awards valued?

The cost of Rapid Rewards awards depends on the cost of the airfare and the fare class booked. Southwest has three fare classes: Wanna Get Away (the fares that offer the best bargains), Anytime and Business Select.

When it comes time to use your Rapid Rewards, remember to try to book the airline’s lowest “Wanna Get Away” airfares whenever possible because your points will stretch much farther. If you plan properly, these fares are often available up to two weeks before your planned flight.

The exact value you get from Rapid Rewards points is somewhat dynamic, but is often around 1.5 cents per point for Wanna Get Away fares. You get only about 1.1 cents per point in value when you use them for more expensive Anytime fares, and about 0.9 cents per point when using them for the most expensive Business Select fares.

Examples of airfare vs. points needed

When looking at a one-way award from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., we can compare the dollar cost of a ticket to the points cost for the same flights.

 

Looking at the last flight listed, 14,004 points for a Wanna Get Away ticket valued at $216, less the $5.60 September 11 Security Fee you pay, gets you around 1.5 cents per point. In comparison, the Business Select adds up to an anemic 0.5 cents per point.

What are typical taxes/fees on an award?

When traveling domestically, the only fee you will need to pay on a Southwest Award Ticket is the $5.60 per direction September 11th Security Fee.

Southwest does fly to some international destinations in the Caribbean and Central America and taxes and fees will be higher to these locations and can vary depending on what country you are traveling to. Each country handles arrival and departure taxes slightly differently. Some countries charge a tax only on arrival, some only on departure, and some on both arrival and departure.

In general, taxes shouldn’t run you more than $50 per person, per direction, and often will be significantly less than that.

Taxes to fly from Chicago Midway to Montego Bay, Jamaica are $49.60 per ticket.

If you want to fly to Liberia, Costa Rica, taxes will only cost you $23.35 per ticket.

Southwest award change and booking fees

One of the best benefits about flying with Southwest Airlines is that it doesn’t charge fees to change or cancel reservations. But if you do change a ticket, you will have to pay the fare difference – whether that’s in points or cash. If you cancel a ticket, all of your points will be refunded and the taxes and fees are returned to you as a voucher that’s good for a year from being issued.

Tip: For example, if your original airfare cost 7,560 points and $5.60 in taxes and fees, and you want to make a change to a fare that costs 10,250 points and $5.60 in taxes and fees, you would owe an additional 2,690 (10,250-7,560) points. If the fare cost less points than the original fare, the difference in points will be refunded. If you were to cancel the same fare, you would receive 7,560 points back into your account, and a voucher that is tied to your confirmation number worth $5.60 and is good for 12 months.

When are Southwest awards made available?

Most airlines make their schedules available 330 days ahead of time, but this isn’t the case with Southwest. As of press time, the Southwest calendar is open for reservations through Oct. 31, 2019.

Can you book Hawaii or international flights on Southwest?

Southwest Airlines began flying between California and Hawaii on March 17, 2019. It also flies to the following international destinations:

  • Aruba
  • Belize City, Belize
  • Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Grand Cayman
  • Havana, Cuba
  • Liberia, Costa Rica
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • San Jose, Costa Rica
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Turks and Caicos

Remember, taxes will be higher when flying to international destinations, with the exception of Puerto Rico. All these destinations are also eligible for Southwest Companion Pass travel.

When looking at the value of points for an international award, it becomes more important to include the cost of taxes in your calculations as they are more significant than for domestic travel. The cash and points prices listed above are for a sample booking from Baltimore to Aruba. In this case, a $209 ticket value plus $15.60 in taxes for 11,952 points nets you about 1.6 cents per point in value.

It is good practice to always include the cost of taxes to the price of the cash ticket when calculating the value of your points for redemption. Including taxes, which must be paid, is the only way you see the true value of your points.

Tip: If you have a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you can use Southwest points to book flights to other international destinations the airline doesn’t serve via the More Rewards website. Unfortunately, using your points this way will only get you at most 1 cent per point in value, so you’re much better off using your points for a Southwest flight.

Can you buy gift cards with Southwest points?

Yes! You can use your Rapid Rewards points to buy gift cards from 135 retailers, including Amazon, Cheesecake Factory, Kohl’s, National Car Rental, Staples and many more. You can redeem as little as 4,050 points for a $25 gift card, which is a value of 0.61 cents per point. Redeeming for a higher value gift card can get your value up to about 1 cent per point.

If you redeem 6,750 points for a $50 Southwest Airlines gift card, know that it will cost you around 0.74 cents per point. Your Southwest points carry double the value when redeemed for Wanna Get Away flights instead of gift cards.

What is a Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is one of the best offers in domestic travel listed on our site. If you earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights on Southwest within a calendar year, you can qualify for the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass.

The pass allows you to designate someone who can fly with you on all paid and award tickets for only the cost of taxes and fees. This can be hugely valuable, since it’s essentially a two-for-one ticket for the calendar year in which you earn the pass through the following year.

How to earn points with Southwest Airlines

Apply for a new Southwest credit card

The fastest way to earn a cache of Rapid Rewards points is to get a new credit card with a generous sign-up bonus. Southwest has five offers:

Read Southwest Airlines Credit Cards: Which One Is Your Best Option?

If you already have a Southwest card, another way to earn points is via the following Chase cards:

 

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year

Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Earn 3x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services

See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®

More Info

All three cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points that you can  transfer directly into your Southwest Rapid Rewards® account at full value, anytime. You can also receive between 25% more value for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card points and 50% more value for Chase Sapphire Reserve® points when you redeem them for Southwest flights on the Chase Ultimate Rewards website.

Transfers are generally instant, but beware once you make a transfer of points from your credit card account to your Southwest account, you can’t transfer them back to your Chase credit card account.

Read Cheat Sheet: How Long Airline Point Transfers take for Amex, Chase and Citi Points.

Purchase tickets on the airlines

If you’re a general member of Rapid Rewards, you’ll earn points at the following rate for tickets you buy and fly on Southwest:

  • Wanna Get Away fares: 6x points per dollar of base fare (7.5x for A-list, 12x for A-List Preferred members)
  • Anytime fares: 10 points per dollar of base fare (12.5x for A-list, 20x for A-List Preferred members)
  • Business Select fares: 12 points per dollar of base fare (15x for A-List, 24x for A-List Preferred members)

You earn the following with Southwest Airlines’ credit cards:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Earn when you fly, base fares

Book hotel and car rentals

Southwest Rapid Rewards lets you earn 600 points for every car rental you make with these companies:

  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Payless
  • Thrifty

Just provide your Rapid Rewards number when you make your reservation or at the rental car counter.

When you provide your Rapid Rewards number in your hotel reservation, you can also earn 600 points per stay with these hotel chains:

  • Best Western Hotels & Resorts
  • Choice Hotels
  • World Hyatt
  • La Quinta Inns & Suites
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • MGM Resorts International
  • Raddison Rewards
  • Rocketmiles

If you book your hotel on Southwest.com in partnership with Booking.com, you earn an extra 150 points, but beware that can stop you from receiving benefits from your hotel’s loyalty program. If you want even more Southwest points, consider booking via Rocketmiles.com, which offers 1,000 to 10,000 Southwest points per night, but again, you may not receive benefits from your hotel’s loyalty program.

Eating out

You can earn 3 points per $1 spent at restaurants that are part of the Rapid Rewards Dining program when you opt in for emails or 1 point per $2 spent if you opt out. You can enroll and see a list of restaurants at rapidrewardsdining.com. Earning the points is automatic once you register.

Rapid Rewards Dining asks you to register up to five credit or debit cards to track your dining spending, and whenever you use a registered card at a participating restaurant you’ll earn extra points. It can be used with any credit or debit card, not just the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.

Shopping online

One of the most lucrative ways to earn Rapid Rewards points is to visit the Rapid Rewards Shopping site before you do any shopping. You can search for the online store you are planning to visit, click on the store’s link, and you’ll be taken to the store’s site.

You’ll see the exact same site, prices, and items that you would see if you went directly to the store’s site. But instead, a tracking code will make sure you earn Southwest points for your purchases.

Special offerss for even more points are posted all the time, so it’s a good idea to bookmark the page and start at Rapid Rewards Shopping before you shop online.

Points that transfer to Southwest miles

As mentioned earlier, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest Rapid Rewards. You can also transfer your Marriott Bonvoy points to Southwest points at a 3:1 ratio.

Can you transfer miles to someone else?

The best way to share your Rapid Rewards points with someone else is to book a ticket for them, since it doesn’t cost you anything. But if you do need to transfer your points to someone else’s Rapid Rewards account, the fee to do it ranges from $20 per 2,000 points up to $420 for 42,000 points. Unless that person only needs a certain number of points for reward travel, buying more for them isn’t the best option because of the cost.

When do Southwest points expire?

Southwest points expire 24 months after no activity in your account. In order to keep your account active, you can do the following: book a flight; buy something with your Southwest credit card; earn points for shopping or flowers; buy points; book a hotel or rental car; or spend at a Southwest dining partner.

How to recover your account number, username or password

If you lost your Rapid Rewards account number, username, or password, you can use this form at Southwest.com to recover it.

The bottom line

Southwest Airlines is one of the most customer-friendly airlines when it comes to earning and redeeming Rapid Reward points. Members earn points based on the fare they pay — Wanna Get Away, Anytime or Business Select — and get bonus points if they have A-List or A-List Preferred status. They also earn them for shopping, travel, dining, gift cards and by using Southwest-branded credit cards.

The airline also gives members plenty of options to redeem the points they earn, including flights, merchandise, hotels and car rentals. You don’t have to jump through hoops to earn and redeem your Rapid Rewards points. And you’ve got to love an airline that gives you two free checked bags and doesn’t bombard you with an annoying list of fees for everything from calling a reservations agent to cancelling a flight.

If you want to get the best value for your Rapid Rewards points, redeem them for Wanna Get Away fares, valued at 1.5 cents per point. But if you have points to burn, then feel free to redeem them for other things, just know that you’re getting less value for them.

The information related to the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.


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