How to redeem points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program

Oct 21, 2021

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Southwest Airlines is known for its generous ticket change and cancellation policies, free checked bags and — admittedly — a unique boarding process. However, the airline’s Rapid Rewards program is another draw to the airline for some frequent travelers.

The airline has no blackout dates for award redemptions and an awesome Companion Pass benefit that allows you to bring a companion on paid and award flights for just the cost of taxes and fees.

Right now, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you can earn up to 100,000 bonus points — earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and 50,000 after you spend $12,000 in the first 12 months from account opening.

If you’re new to Southwest or are just getting into the world of points and miles, don’t worry. Here, we’ll show you how to redeem your Rapid Rewards points. The good news is that it’s relatively simple, but there are a few quirks you need to be aware of.

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Redeem on Southwest flights

Southwest 737 pulling into gate
(Image by Edward Russell/The Points Guy)

Redeeming Southwest Rapid Rewards points on Southwest flights is simple. The program pegs the number of points required to the cost of paid airfares. The more a paid seat costs, the more points you will need to redeem for it. Southwest promises no blackout dates on any redemptions, so you can use your Rapid Rewards points to book any Southwest Airlines ticket for sale. If the flight has one open seat, you should be able to book it with points (but be prepared to pay up).

TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents each, and it’s quite easy to consistently get that value whether you’re booking domestic flights or those to international destinations like Cancun (CUN) and San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO). Southwest began flying to Hawaii in 2019 and continues to add new routes to the Aloha State.

The booking process is simple. Fire up Southwest.com and enter your flight search parameters. Be sure to check the “Points” button at the top right to see the results for award flights:

(Screenshot courtesy of southwest.com)

The results page will then display all of the available flights using points. Select the one you want, log in to your account (if you haven’t already) and follow the on-screen steps to complete your award.

(Screenshot courtesy of southwest.com)

You can also reserve Anytime and Business Select fares using Rapid Rewards points, but your redemption value tends to be lower for very limited benefit. Business Select fares, for example, include priority boarding and security, a free premium drink (suspended due to the pandemic) and more flexible same-day changes. As a result, we recommend sticking to redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares whenever possible.

Free award ticket changes and cancellations

Another thing that makes Rapid Rewards points so popular is Southwest’s flexible change and cancellation policies.

You can change your Southwest flights for free, and are only responsible for paying the cost difference between your original and new flights. If the cost of an award flight you’ve booked goes down, you can actually rebook your trip at the lower rate and you’ll receive a refund of the difference.

If your plans change and you cannot make a flight, you can cancel your flight for free. Your points will be refunded back to your account without penalty (even on Wanna Get Away fares). You can even opt for the taxes paid to go back to the credit card you used to book the reservation.

There’s just one thing to keep in mind: You can’t no-show for the flight and get your points back. You must cancel at least 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, which is still pretty lenient.

Related: How to reprice a Southwest flight when the fare decreases

The Companion Pass doubles the value of your Southwest points

There’s another way to stretch the value of your Rapid Rewards points even further: By holding the Southwest Companion Pass.

This perk lets you nominate a companion on all of your flights during the time period your pass is valid. You can then bring this friend or family member on all the Southwest flights you take for just the cost of taxes and fees on their ticket, whether you used cash or points to pay for your own ticket. As long as you have a seat on the flight and there’s another open seat bookable, you can utilize your pass for it. This effectively doubles the value of your Rapid Rewards flights when you’re traveling with your designated companion.

You can earn the Companion Pass by accruing 125,000 qualifying points or completing 100 qualifying flights on Southwest in a single calendar year. After this, you will have a Companion Pass for the rest of the current calendar year and the entirety of the following year.

For reference, Companion Pass-qualifying points are earned by flying paid Southwest flights, spending on a Southwest credit card, shopping through the Southwest shopping portal and leveraging Southwest’s other partnerships. Unfortunately, points transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy do not count toward the Companion Pass.

With any of the Chase Southwest personal cards, you’ll earn up to 100,000 bonus points — 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in three months from account opening and another 50,000 after you spend $12,000 in 12 months from account opening. Southwest’s line of personal cobranded credits cards include: the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

The airline has two cobranded small business cards too, including:

Related: The best business credit cards

With these high welcome offers, earning the Companion Pass is relatively easy. Meeting the full minimum spend requirement on one personal card will ultimately net you at least 112,000 points — leaving you with just 13,000 points remaining to earn the pass. You can earn these additional miles by putting more spend on your new card, flying, earning with partners or a mixture of both.

If you’re eligible for a business credit card, you can combine one of the three personal cards with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. Meeting the first tier bonus on the personal card — by spending $2,000 — will earn you 50,000 bonus points. Then, spending an additional $5,000 on the Southwest Performance Business Credit Card will earn you another 80,000 points. In total, you’ll earn 130,000 points from just the welcome bonus — which surpasses the 125,000 points required to earn the pass. Not only will you earn the pass easier, the spend to get there is significantly less.

Although you could use these bonuses to earn the pass in 2021 and through 2022, the more strategic plan would be to hold off on meeting any spending requirements until after your December statement closes (and your points post in 2022) so that you can earn the pass for 2022 and 2023 instead. We recommend the latter so you can maximize the amount of time you have Companion Pass benefits.

Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes

Redeem Rapid Rewards points for international flights

One of the downsides of earning Rapid Rewards points is that Southwest has zero domestic or international airline partners. In turn, you’re (mostly) limited to using your Rapid Rewards miles on Southwest-operated flights.

Currently, Southwest operates an extensive U.S. domestic network and a limited number of flights from the U.S. to Central America and the Caribbean. However, if you want to get to Europe, Asia, Africa or South America, you’re out of luck.

There is one workaround for this, though: The Southwest international booking portal. This portal essentially lets you book international flights on other carriers using your Southwest Rapid Rewards points. These flights are booked the same as cash tickets, so the more your international flight costs, the more points it will cost.

We’ve found that these redemptions generally get you far less value than redeeming for Southwest flights, with a historical average value of just 0.95 cents per point. That said, these redemptions — and other non-flight redemptions — have been offline for a couple of weeks.

Redeem points on travel and experiences

Like most airline mileage currencies, you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for hotel stays and car rentals. Unfortunately, these generally provide a bad value based on our historical analyses. However, these redemptions have also been offline for an extended period of time, so we’ll update this article with numbers when they’re back online.

Southwest travel portal offline
(Screenshot courtesy of southwest.com)

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

Southwest Rapid Rewards FAQ

(Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)

Have questions about Southwest Rapid Rewards? Let’s address them.

How do I join Southwest Rapid Rewards?

You can join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program for free on Southwest’s website. Look at the top of the page and click the “create account” button.

Southwest website header
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest)

Now, fill out the requested information and click the yellow “Create account” button at the bottom of the screen. Your account will be created immediately and you can start earning and redeeming Rapid Rewards points.

Creating Southwest Rapid Rewards account
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest)

When do Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire

Southwest Rapid Rewards points don’t expire so long as your account is open.

Can I transfer points to Southwest?

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 transfer ratio. This means that 10,000 Chase points are equal to 10,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. In my experience, these transfers process instantly.

Note that you may want to book Southwest flights through Chase if you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, specifically. You can redeem Ultimate Rewards points from the card at 1.5 cents per point through the Chase Travel Portal and still earn Rapid Rewards points on your flight. That said, you must call Chase to book Southwest flights since they don’t appear on the Chase Travel Portal.

Further, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 3:1 transfer ratio. 5,000 bonus Rapid Rewards are awarded for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred, so 60,000 Marriott points are worth 25,000 Southwest points.

Related: Cool places you didn’t know you could fly on Southwest

Bottom line

Southwest Rapid Rewards points are a great option for travelers that want flexibility in booking any ticket on a vast domestic flight network. With fee-free changes and cancellations plus two free checked bags for all passengers, Southwest is a favorite among many travelers. Plus, the Companion Pass can double the value of your points when traveling with a friend or family member.

Featured image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy.

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