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Southwest Rapid Rewards cheat sheet: Great ways to use and earn points

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® points are great. They’re easy to use, with no checked bag or change fees, but if you’re not careful you could be getting less than half the travel savings that are possible. Whether you’re looking to earn or use Southwest points, this guide will show you the best options to get the most out of your Rapid Rewards points and stretch your travel further. 

Where to search for awards

This is easy. You can search for awards at Southwest.com without logging in. Make sure to select ‘Points’ when looking to search for an award, and you’ll see prices displayed in points. You can also switch to viewing prices in dollars anytime by clicking the ‘Dollars’ button at the top of the results.

If you have a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you can also search for flights to places Southwest doesn’t fly using a special program. It’s not a great deal, but you can learn about it here.

How much do awards cost?

If you only remember one thing about Southwest rewards, it’s this:

If you want to get the most value out of your points, only book Wanna Get Away fares. Your points will stretch much further.

Rapid Rewards award costs depend on the cost of the airfare and the fare class booked.

Southwest has three fare classes: Wanna Get Away (the fares you should pay attention to), Anytime, and Business Select.

Wanna Get Away fares will always give you the best value when redeeming points.

The exact value you will get from your points is somewhat dynamic, but is often around 1.5 cents per point including the excise taxes you save if redeemed toward Wanna Get Away Fares.

You get only about 1.1 cents per point in value if you use points toward more expensive Anytime Fares, and about 0.9 cents per point when using points toward the most expensive Business Select Fares.

Examples of airfare vs points needed

When looking at a one-way award from Detroit, MI (DTW) to Denver, CO (DEN) we can compare the dollar cost of a ticket to the points cost for the same flights.

Looking at the first flight listed, 8,431 points for a ticket valued at $140, less the $5.60 September 11 Security Fee you pay gets you 1.6 cents per point, a little better than the typical Wanna Get Away value of 1.5 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. The taxes and fees can vary quite a bit depending on what country you are traveling to, and each country handles the 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 times will be significantly less than that.

Taxes to fly into Montego Bay, Jamaica are $49.60 per ticket.

If you want to fly to Liberia, Costa Rica, taxes will only cost you $23.25 per ticket.

Award change and booking fees

One of the best things about Southwest Airlines is that they don’t charge a fee to change or cancel reservations. If you change a ticket, you will need to pay the fare difference – whether that be in points or miles. If you cancel a ticket, you will have all of your points refunded and the taxes and fees returned to you in the form of a voucher that is good for one year.

Tip: For example, if your original fare cost 7,560 points and $5.60 and you wanted to make a change to a fare that cost 10,250 points and $5.60, you would own an additional 2,690 (10,250-7,560) points. If the fare cost less points than the originally booked fare, the difference in points would be refunded to you. 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 that is worth $5.60 and good for 12 months.

When are awards made available?

Most airlines make their schedules available 330 days ahead of time, but this is not the case with Southwest. Every couple of months Southwest extends their schedule by a few more months. For example, as of early June 2016, the Southwest calendar is open for reservations through January 4, 2017.


Can you book Hawaii or international flights?

At this time Southwest does not fly to Hawaii, but they do fly to a number of international destinations. At the time of writing, those destinations include:

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

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

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

It is good practice to always subtract the cost of taxes from the price of the cash ticket when calculating the value of your points for a redemption, but the more significant the taxes are, the more important it is to do this. In this case, the value is still above the floor and approximately the same as the value when using points in the domestic example we looked at earlier.

Tip: If you have a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, you can use Southwest points to book flights to Hawaii and other international destinations Southwest doesn’t serve via the More Rewards program. You can also use your points for rental cars, hotels, and cruises. 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 points?

It is possible to redeem your Rapid Rewards Points for gift cards. Southwest has a number of different gift cards that you are able to get including Amazon, Best Buy, Avis, and many more.

You can redeem as little as 3,000 points for a $25 gift card, which is a value of 0.83 cents per point. Redeeming for a higher value gift card can get your value up to about 1 cent per point. Either way, you are much better off redeeming your Southwest points for flights instead of using them for gift card.


What is a Southwest point worth?

Southwest points are worth about 1.5 cents each when you use them to book Wanna Get Away fares, factoring both the airfare and excise taxes saved when you use points to book a flight, though the value can vary depending on the flight. More expensive fare categories like Business Select and Anytime get you lower values per point.

What is a Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the greatest deals in domestic travel. If you earn 110,000 Qualifying Points with Southwest within a calendar year, you are eligible for the Southwest Companion Pass.

The Southwest Companion Pass gives you the ability to designate a companion that can fly with you on all paid and award tickets for only the cost of taxes and fees. This can be hugely valuable if you travel domestically and to Central America and the Caribbean as it is essentially a two-for-one ticket that is good for up to two years.

Read our full guide to earning and using the Southwest Companion Pass to find out more.

Earn points with credit cards

The fastest way to earn Rapid Rewards points is to get a new credit card with a good sign on bonus.

There are three cards that can earn you full value Rapid Rewards points:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: ($99 annual fee, Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: $69 annual fee, Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: $99 annual fee, $99

If you already have a Southwest card, another way to earn is via the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card. Both cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you can transfer directly into your Southwest Rapid Rewards® account at full value, anytime.

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 send it back to your credit card account. It’s a one way street.

Earn points for flights

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)

To check your point earning, use the calculator on Southwest.com.

If you use the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase you earn another 2x points per dollar you spend on tickets.


Earn points for hotels 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.

You can also earn points when you grab a ride with Lyft for the first time if you live in certain Southwest markets.

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
  • Carlson
  • Choice
  • Hyatt
  • La Quinta
  • Marriott®
  • Mlife
  • Starwood Preferred Guest®

If you book your hotel on Southwest.com you earn an extra 150 points, but beware that can prevent 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.

Again, you can earn more Southwest points with Rocketmiles, but you may lose the ability to receive benefits from your hotel’s loyalty program.

Earn points for dining at restaurants

You can earn 3 points per $1 you spend a restaurants that are part of the Rapid Rewards Dining program.

You can enroll and see a list of restaurants at rapidrewardsdining.com.

Earning the points is automatic once you register.

Rapid Rewards Dining just asks you to register up to 5 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. Any credit or debit card works, not just the Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit cards.

Earn points for online shopping

One of the most lucrative ways to earn Rapid Rewards points is to visit the Rapid Rewards Shopping site before you do your online shopping.

You can search for the online store you are planning to use, 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 deals 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.

When do points post?

Southwest Points take different amounts of time to post depending on how they are earned.

Points SourceTime to Post
Flight24-48 hours after completion of entire ticket
Credit Card SpendingDay after statement close
Hotel TransferGenerally 7-10 days
Ultimate Rewards TransferInstant

Points that transfer to Southwest miles

As mentioned earlier, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest Rapid Rewards®. There are also a variety of hotel points that transfer to Southwest. As a general rule, the only hotel transfers that are good values are Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages.

Tip: Note that transfers are all only one way. Southwest points cannot be converted into Ultimate Rewards, and the hotel transfer rates listed in our guide are not a valid way to turn Southwest points into hotel points.

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, as there are no fees involved in booking a ticket for someone else. If you do need to transfer your points to someone else’s Rapid Rewards account the cost is $10.00 per 1,000 points.

If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the rules for transfers vary depending on whether you have a personal or business account. If you have a personal account, you can transfer to another person’s Chase account or Rapid Rewards account, but there are a few rules you need to follow and they are different depending on where you are transferring to. If you want to transfer to another Ultimate Rewards account, it must be a household member, but if you want to transfer to a Rapid Rewards account, it must be a household member and an authorized user of the credit card.

Tip: If you are transferring from a small business account the rules are slightly different. If you are transferring to another Ultimate Rewards account, you must be transferring to another company owner. If you are transferring to a Rapid Rewards account, it must be a company owner and an authorized user on the credit card. You can also transfer to a company employee’s account as long as they are traveling for business purposes.

Can you book awards for other people?

It is very easy to book awards for other people when using your points. Just find the flights you want and enter their information for the traveler. This is the best way to share points with others as there are no fees involved.

When do Southwest points expire?

Southwest points expire 24 months after no activity in your account. There are many easy ways to keep your Southwest Points from expiring without paying for a flight, but beware some ways of using points like donating to charity won’t reset the clock on expiring points.

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.

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