How to redeem points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program
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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 that allows you to bring a companion on paid and award flights for just the cost of taxes and fees.
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 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
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.
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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). Southwest began flying to Hawaii last year 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” 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. 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 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 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 a Companion Pass that’s good through February 2021 after meeting the minimum spend requirement. You’ll get the following bonuses after spending $5,000 within the first three months of opening your account:
- A Companion Pass valid through Feb. 28, 2022
- 30,000 Rapid Rewards points
You can also qualify by earning 125,000 points with a Southwest small business credit card. 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: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Related: The best business credit cards
Redeem Rapid Rewards points on international flights
One of the downsides to using Rapid Rewards points is that Southwest 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. 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 (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 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 travel and experiences
Like most airline mileage currencies, you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for hotel stays, car rentals and activities. 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?
Booking hotels with Rapid Rewards points
You can redeem Rapid Rewards points for hotel stays through the Southwest Hotels portal. That said, you won’t get a great deal. We priced out a one-night stay at the CitizenM Bowery in New York City on the Rapid Rewards portal to demonstrate this.
A one-night stay in late April costs 17,365 Rapid Rewards points or $151.53, giving you a value of 0.87 cents per point. This is not a great use of your Rapid Rewards points, so I recommend skipping this redemption if possible.
Pay for car rentals with Rapid Rewards points
You can book rental cars through the Rapid Rewards travel portal too — but you won’t get a great deal. I priced out a week-long rental at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) airport and was quoted 66,674 Rapid Rewards for a prepaid economy car rental with Avis.
When booking directly with Avis, you can get the same rental for $446.24 when you pay in advance. This gives you just 0.67 cents per point in value, which is a terrible redemption value. For reference, this is nearly half the value you get when redeeming Rapid Rewards points for Southwest flights.
Book Southwest Experiences with Rapid Rewards points
You can also use Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book Southwest Experiences. These include things like city tours, cooking classes and organized pub crawls. These are available in many American cities and can be a great way to experience a new city during your travels. Just keep in mind that you won’t get the best deal with these redemptions. For example, this boat tour of Chicago costs 4,953 points and can generally be purchased for well under $30.
Best use of Rapid Rewards points
Frankly, redeeming Rapid Rewards points for Southwest flights is the only way to get great value from your points. You can expect to get near 1.5 cents per point in value on almost all redemptions while redeeming for other travel consistently gets less than 1 cent per point in value.
That said, given Southwest award tickets are pegged to the price of a paid ticket, you’ll rarely get more than 1.5 cents per point in value. Because of this, there are no real sweet spots in the Southwest program. The best way to maximize Rapid Rewards points is to use them for flights you’d rather not pay for.
Remember, there’s no award space or other frills to deal with or keep in mind. This makes Rapid Rewards points great for domestic flyers who want easy-to-use airline points.
Southwest Rapid Rewards FAQ
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.
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.
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®. You can redeem points 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.
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 image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy
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