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Southwest Airlines is known for its low-cost domestic fares, free checked bags, and — admittedly — a somewhat 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 for frequent fliers that allows a free companion on every single Southwest flight.
But if you’re new to Southwest or are just getting into the world of points and miles, don’t worry. In this article, we’ll walk through all of the ways you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points and highlight which tend to offer the best bang for your buck (or point). The good news is that it’s relatively simple, though there are a few quirks of which you need to be aware.
Let’s dive in!
Redeem on Southwest Flights
Redeeming Southwest Rapid Rewards points on Southwest flights is simple: the more a paid flight costs, the more points it costs. 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, it can be yours using points (though be prepared to pay up).
TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents per point. I performed my own research too and found that this valuation is very similar to the real-world redemption value of Rapid Rewards. To do this, I simply looked up the cash and points prices of four Southwest Wanna Get Away fare flights and calculated their cents per point rate.
Here are the four example flights I used:
- Chicago-Midway (MDW) — New York-LaGuardia (LGA), April 12, 2019: $99 or 6,145 Rapid Rewards points (1.6 cents per point)
- Newark (EWR) — Oakland (OAK), April 15, 2019: $137 or 8,902 Rapid Rewards points (1.5 cents per point)
- Atlanta (ATL) — Nashville (BNA), July 15, 2019: $73 or 4,259 Rapid Rewards points (1.7 cents per point)
- Chicago-Midway — Orlando (MCO), August 1, 2019: $119 or 7,596 Rapid Rewards points (1.55 cents per point)
Average value: 1.581 cents per point
This same award scheme holds true for international flights Southwest operates to Caribbean and Central American destinations like Aruba (AUA), Cancun (CUN) and San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO). The carrier is also working to launch flights to Hawaii later this year, though the government shutdown may delay that plan.
The booking process is quite simple. Fire up Southwest.com and enter your flight search parameters. Be sure to check the Points radio button at the top right to see the results for award flights:
The results page will then display all of the available flights using points. Simply 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.
It’s worth noting that Anytime and Business Select fares can also be purchased using Rapid Rewards points, but you’re redemption value tends to be lower. As a result, we recommend sticking to redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares whenever possible.
Free Award Ticket Changes and Cancelations
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 flight — if the cost of an award flight you’ve already booked goes down, you can actually rebook your trip at the lower rate and you’ll receive a refund of the difference. How cool is that!?
And if plans change and you cannot make a flight, you can cancel your flight for free. If the flight is booked with Rapid Rewards points, they will simply be refunded back to your account without penalty (even on Wanna Get Away fares), though note that you can’t simply no-show for the flight. You must cancel at least 10 minutes before the scheduled departure.
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 truly is an incredible perk. Once you earn 110,000 qualifying points or complete 100 qualifying flights on Southwest, you’ll receive the Companion Pass for the rest of the current year and the entirety of the next year.
In short, this perk lets you nominate a companion on all of your flights during that time period. You can then bring this friend or family member on all Southwest flights you take, whether you used cash or points for the ticket. This effectively doubles the value of your Rapid Rewards flights when you’re traveling with your designated companion.
Redeem Rapid Rewards Points on International Flights
One of the downsides to using Rapid Rewards points is the fact that Southwest Airlines has zero domestic or international airline partners. This means that you’re (mostly) limited to using your Rapid Rewards miles on Southwest-operated flights. Currently, Southwest operates an extensive US domestic network and a limited number of flights from the US to Central America and the Caribbean, though if you want to get to Europe, Asia, Africa or South America, you’re generally out of luck.
There is one workaround for this, though: the Southwest international booking portal. This portal essentially lets you book international (and Hawaii-bound) 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.
But are these redemptions a good deal? Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves. Like with the Southwest redemptions above, we performed three searches on the Southwest portal, compared them with the same flight booked with cash, and found the value per point. Here’s what we found:
- New York-JFK — Barcelona (BCN) in April on Aer Lingus: $984.09 or 114,470 Rapid Rewards points (0.85 cents per point)
- Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) — Prague (PRG) in July on LOT Polish: $1,311.19 or 131,123 Rapid Rewards points (1 cent per point)
- Los Angeles (LAX) — Hong Kong (HKG) in September on American: $503.52 or 50,353 Rapid Rewards points (1 cent per point)
Average value: 0.95 cents per point
As you can see, redeeming through the Rapid Rewards international portal effectively shaves a half cent (or more) off the value of your Rapid Rewards points. We always advocate for getting the most value from your points, so we highly recommend either paying cash or using other points to cover your international flights, saving your Rapid Rewards points for a better redemption down the road.
Redeem Points on Hotels, Car Rentals or Merchandise
Like most airline mileage currencies, you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for hotel stays, car rentals and merchandise like electronics and magazines. At TPG, we rarely recommend using your points for these types of redemptions, as they usually yield a poor point value — but do Rapid Rewards points fall in the same boat?
We priced out a one-night stay at the CitizenM Bowery in New York City on the Rapid Rewards portal and on the hotel’s site. Currently, you can book a stay in April for 28,050 Rapid Rewards points or $264, giving you a value of 0.94 cents per point. This is vastly lower than if you used your Rapid Rewards points for a flight on Southwest Airlines. Since we’re huge proponents of getting the most value from your miles, we can’t recommend using your points for hotels, rental cars, or merchandise.
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. While there are ways to redeem for international flights, you’ll typically get the most bang-for-your-point when using your points for Southwest fares — especially if you have the carrier’s famed Companion Pass.
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