How to redeem points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program

Feb 7, 2020

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current examples and card offers. It was originally published on Jan. 20, 2019.

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 that allows you to bring a companion on paid and award flights for just the cost of taxes and fees.

It’s especially easy to earn the Companion Pass with the limited-time increased Southwest card current offers (ending Feb. 10, 2020). With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you can earn:

  • 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
  • 35,000 additional points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first six months of account opening

You can earn either or both of these tiers.

Related: The best Southwest credit cards

If you’re new to Southwest or are just getting into the world of points and miles, don’t worry. 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 you need to be aware of.

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 each, and it’s quite easy to consistently get that value whether you’re booking domestic flights or international destinations like Aruba (AUA), Cancun (CUN) and San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO). Last year, Southwest began flights to Hawaii and continues to add new routes to the Aloha State.

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 you can also purchase Anytime and Business Select fares using Rapid Rewards points, but your 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 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 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.

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 truly is an incredible perk. Once you earn 125,000 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 for just the cost of taxes and fees, 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.

With any of the Chase Southwest personal cards, you’ll earn 75,000 points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements:

  • 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
  • 35,000 additional points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first six months of account opening

That’s more than halfway to earning the Companion Pass (offers expire Feb 10, 2020). If you open a Southwest business card in tandem, you can qualify for the Companion Pass straight away. Here are the current small business card offers:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: 70,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening

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 U.S. domestic network and a limited number of flights from the U.S. 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) on Aer Lingus: $984.09 or 114,470 Rapid Rewards points (0.85 cents per point)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) — Prague (PRG) on LOT Polish: $1,311.19 or 131,123 Rapid Rewards points (1 cent per point)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) — Hong Kong (HKG) 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

CitizenM Bowery New York Modular Hotel Room View (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
CitizenM Bowery New York Modular Hotel room view. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.)

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. You can book a sample date 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.

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. While there are ways to redeem for international flights, you’ll typically get the most bang for your points when using your points for Southwest fares — especially if you have the carrier’s famed Companion Pass.

Featured photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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