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Southwest Points vs. Southwest Credits: When Transferring Makes Sense and How to Check Availability

by on July 24, 2013 · 15 comments

in AirTran, Southwest

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Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.

In early 2011 Southwest announced significant changes to their Rapid Rewards program. Under the old Rapid Rewards program you qualify for an award flight after roughly every 8 roundtrip flights, and those award flights were capacity controlled, meaning you couldn’t redeem points for any flight, like you can now.

The new Rapid Rewards instead awarded points for every dollar spent on their three types of fares and then when it came time to redeem, you could pick any flight, but points would become less valuable when redeeming for business select and anytime fares vs. Wanna Get Away Fares. Additionally, credit card earning changed as well, moving towards a flat 1 point per dollar spent vs. 1 credit earned per $1,200 spent in the old program.

While you can no longer earn Southwest credits vis spending or flying, you can turn existing Southwest points into credits by first transferring them to Airtran A+ Credits and then from there into Southwest Credits. The risk in doing that has been that you can’t see availability for the old Southwest credit award flights, but Southwest recently just changed that.  Now, when you log in to your Rapid Rewards account and go to the certificates page, even if you don’t have any awards available, there is a link to view “Standard Awards Availability.”

If you are thinking of getting in on the 50,000 points for the Southwest Visa products when you spend $2,000 in 3 months, each bonus plus the points for hitting the $2,000 in spending requirements are worth over 43 Credits, or nearly enough for 3 roundtrip flights. Every AirTran/Southwest credit = 1,200 Southwest points, so 52,000 points from the credit card = 43.33 credits. One-way flights are 8 credits each, so you have enough credits for 5 one-way flights and nearly half way to the sixth.

A Better Value?

Where this becomes important is that under the old Southwest Rapid Rewards credits system, one roundtrip award flight cost 16 Southwest credits (or half that for one-ways), regardless of the price of the ticket.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 8.35.58 AM

While Airtran and Southwest are still in the process of merging, you can still transfer current Southwest Rapid Rewards points to Airtran A+ Rewards and then transfer those back into old Southwest Rapid Rewards credits. Check out this post for details on how to do so, but the short version is:

1,200 Rapid Rewards Points = 1 Airtran A+ Rewards Credit

1 Airtran A+ Rewards credit = 1 old Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit

16 Southwest Rapid Rewards Credits (for a roundtrip award) = 16 Airtran A+ credits or 19,200 current Southwest Rapid Rewards points

So as you can see, in order to end up with the 16 old Southwest Credits you would need for a roundtrip award, you would  need to transfer 19,200 current Rapid Rewards points to get 16 A+ Credits then transfer those to old Southwest Rapid Rewards.

The break even point, where it makes more sense to use old credits instead of new Rapid Rewards points is if there is Standard Award availability on roundtrip airfares of $320 or higher since Wanna Get Away fares require 60 Rapid Rewards points per $1 in base fare.

An Example Itinerary

Just to test it out, I searched for Standard award availability on flights from St. Louis to San Juan over Labor Day weekend for a fun beach trip to the Caribbean.

After you log into your account, click on the button that says “Where Are My Old Awards?”

Old Awards Southwest

And then the following screen where you can click on “Standard Awards Availability”:

Clicking on the Standard Awards Availability button should pull up the following flight search:
Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 8.51.12 AM

I put in my dates and could then select the specific itineraries with Standard Award Availability:

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 10.16.36 AM

Now because I don’t have the old credits in my account, it won’t price it out for me, but I know that because it’s a Standard roundtrip award, it’ll be 16 Credits (or the equivalent of 19,200 points).

That same itinerary using Rapid Rewards points would have cost me 23,604 points:

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 10.18.29 AMSo I ended up saving about 4,400 points  on this itinerary, which I can redeem for ~$79 in Wanna Get Away fares on future redemptions.

It takes a little bit of playing around since Standard Award availability can be tight on popular routes and is often calibrated for itineraries that are close to or at parity with the value you’d get from your Rapid Rewards points instead of old Credits, but in certain instances, like the one above, you can end up saving thousands of points.

For more information on Rapid Rewards, check out my recent Top 10 post “Reasons To Like Southwest Rapid Rewards.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jamel

    I usually use my Chase ultimate points and transfer them to Southwest at 1:1 when needed.
    The benefits of the southwest card other than the sign up bonus are very weak compared to other cards.

  • Max

    Also note that with the old credit system, you can standby for an earlier flight for free, whereas you cannot on the new points system unless you’ve purchased an Anytime fare.

  • mbcca2300

    Can anyone confirm this is true for a one way with 8 credits? Also, can then the one way award be used with the companion pass?

  • Ricky

    Can you go the other way (Southwest points –>Chase Ultimate points?)

  • thepointsguy

    No

  • tassojunior

    Nice to have the $320 guide. I always wondered.

  • clayd333

    16 pts gets you 2 one ways, you can use them separately, miss match them (it automatically uses oldest award) and companion pass works on all of them (one way or rt). If you live on a corner coast or do last minute travel this is one of the best hidden secrets in ff travel.. I am surprised it doesn’t come up more. I have saved tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of miles over the last few years w/ this trick and companion pass. It may work from my home (JAX) more than others but it works for me 75% of the time.

  • Kim K

    is it worthwhile signing up for the Chase Air Tran card, assuming you still can? Do the sign up bonus of credits work the same way? Is there any benefit to having the companion pass with those credits?

  • James

    The old awards also were much better if you needed to change flights. This could be done at no cost if another flight is available. The new system allows you to change without penalty but you need to pay the going price for the new flight. So if you are in the middle of a trp, the new return fare will be much greater than the one you had originally.

  • Ricky

    Thanks for replying, I am new to this but really enjoying reading TPG! I am trying to get the Southwest companion pass after getting both 50K sign up bonuses (I already have one sign up bonus), could I cover the remaining 10K points I need for the companion pass by transferring in 10K Chase Ultimate Rewards points? I’ll try to earn the remaining 10K points the good old fashion way but I’m projecting that I’ll be 3K short.

    THANKS!

  • Indy

    can you use the companion pass to get a free ticket with a ticket purchased using standard award credits?

  • Pingback: Southwest 50,000 Point Offer Is Back- But Why You Should Wait Until October to Apply | The Points Guy

  • confused

    i have a credit card with 55779 pts and my husband card has 58,590, SW will not let us transfer one to his towards the companion pass. I thought from what i read you could. Now I am so confused.

  • Josh Josh

    when will southwest credit card start giving out 7,000 pts on anniversaries, to be in line with the old concept of their annual fee being actually worth its weight in points?

  • Ashly

    Is it still possible to do this (transfer from RR points to Air Tran Credits & back to RR Credits?) There is a flight I want to book on Southwest to Cancun in October but it is 40,000+ points, the transferring back and forth would be more worth it if I could book it for half that amount in points, but not sure if it is still possible to do?

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