Why I’ll never book Southwest flights with Chase points the same way again

Apr 14, 2021

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Early this morning, we learned that Southwest suddenly dropped the value of its Rapid Rewards points. Effective immediately, all redemptions require about 6% more points.

This is a painful devaluation no matter how you look at it, especially as more travelers are starting to think about planning trips once again. Naturally, those with a large existing balance of Rapid Rewards points may be the ones most impacted. That being said, I don’t anticipate paying more for Southwest awards in the long run. I just need to tweak my earning and burning strategy.

Let me explain.

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Booking Southwest awards through Chase

Whether you’re a frequent or infrequent Southwest traveler, one of the easiest ways to earn Rapid Rewards points and book award flights is by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Rapid Rewards. You can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers typically process instantly.

However, that’s not the only way you can redeem Chase points for Southwest flights — you can also book your awards directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

This is a bit of a hidden redemption option that goes under the radar because Southwest flights don’t appear on Chase’s website, but you can book these flights using Chase Ultimate Reward points redeemed at a fixed value of up to 1.5 cents each by calling the Chase Travel Center at (855) 233-9462.

Moving forward, this is going to be the only way I book Southwest flights with Chase points.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve as I do, your points are worth a fixed 1.5 cents each through the portal. That’s exactly what TPG valued Southwest points at before the devaluation. Meanwhile, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card cardholders can redeem at 1.25 cents each toward travel bookings made directly with Chase, including Southwest flights.

Related: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Southwest interior
(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Aside from being protected from this no-notice devaluation by using your Chase points in a different manner, there are some other benefits to booking Southwest awards through Chase. For instance, although you’re technically using points to book your flights, these are considered paid bookings in the eyes of Southwest. As such, you’ll still earn frequent flyer miles and elite-qualifying credit.

What to do with your Southwest points

Even if you book all of your future Southwest awards through Chase using Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll still rack up Rapid Rewards points over time on your flights since they are counted as paid flights by Rapid Rewards. While hoarding generally isn’t recommended in the points and miles world, since Southwest points don’t expire, my advice would be to save them until a good deal pops up. Since we’ve just experienced a devaluation with Southwest, history shows us we likely won’t have another one for a few years. Put another way, don’t rush to buy or transfer points to top off your balance for a sub-par redemption.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

From time to time, Southwest runs flash sales where you could potentially get outsized value of your points.

For instance, in March, Southwest offered $29 flights for about 1,060 Rapid Rewards points. Even if that award rate was 6% higher, and you subtracted the standard $5.60 security fee, you’d still be getting more than 1.5 cents in value per point.

Bottom line

Today’s announcement is a real disappointment for Southwest Rapid Rewards members.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first devaluation to hit loyalty programs this year — and it likely won’t be the last. While there is a time and place for earning program-specific points and miles, you can best combat devaluations by focusing more on earning on flexible credit card points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points available with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

In this case, you can still use Chase points to book Southwest-operated flights at a fixed 1.25- to 1.5-cent value, depending on your Chase card, but you have plenty of other options, too. Since flexible credit card points aren’t tied to a specific program, you’ll be less exposed to future devaluations and have more flexibility when it comes to redemptions.

Featured photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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