Your complete guide to maximizing Southwest Rapid Rewards
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Known for its "transfarency" model, it's no wonder why Southwest Airlines is the carrier of choice for many travelers.
The airline charges no change fees, each passenger can check two bags for free, and its Rapid Rewards points are easily redeemed online. That said, Southwest had a major meltdown over the holidays, leaving many travelers stranded. In response to its meltdown, Southwest gave vouchers and points to affected travelers. Southwest also extended the Companion Pass expiration for some elite members.
Today, we’ll walk you through the best ways to earn and redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
Southwest Rapid Rewards program overview
Like Southwest Airlines itself, its Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program has amassed a loyal following. Despite not having a standard award chart or international partners, its promise of no blackout dates and the ability to earn Southwest’s famous Companion Pass make Rapid Rewards an excellent choice for couples, families and those with not-so-flexible schedules.
Like JetBlue’s TrueBlue program, all Southwest award tickets are priced based on the ticket’s cash value. This means the more expensive the ticket you want to book, the more points you’ll need. TPG currently values Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents per point, meaning 10,000 points should give you around $150 in value. However, depending on your ticket's value, you may get more or less value.
Related: Southwest provides points; extends elite status and Companion Pass for select travelers
Southwest elite status
In addition to the Companion Pass, Southwest offers two elite status tiers: A-List and A-List Preferred. Given its unique nature, we'll cover the Companion Pass in its own section.
Southwest A-List elite status
To qualify for A-List status, you must fly 25 Southwest flights or earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year.
Tier-qualifying points include those earned from paid flights booked through Southwest or by meeting spending thresholds on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card (1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 in eligible net purchases on that card). Purchased points and points earned from Rapid Rewards program enrollment, credit card bonuses, tier bonus points, flight bonus points and partner points do not count toward A-List or A-List Preferred status.
With Southwest A-List status, you’ll get the following:
- Priority boarding.
- 25% bonus on points earned from paid flights.
- Free same-day standby.
- Free same-day changes.
- Priority check-in and security lane access.
- Dedicated A-List member phone line.
Southwest A-List Preferred elite status
A-List Preferred status requires you to fly 50 Southwest flights or earn 70,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year. You’ll receive all the benefits of A-List status, but this tier comes with additional perks:
- 100% bonus on points earned from paid flights.
- Free inflight Wi-Fi.
- Dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line.
Related: What is Southwest elite status worth?
How to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points
There are a few ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points — many of which don’t require flying.
Earn Rapid Rewards points by flying
As you might expect, you can earn Rapid Rewards points every time you fly on a paid Southwest Airlines flight. The number of points you’ll earn on every trip depends on the cost of your flight, your A-List elite status and the type of ticket you purchased.
Southwest has four ticket classes. Each includes different benefits, with the highest fare — Business Select — including priority boarding and a free alcoholic drink on board. Here’s how many points each fare class earns:
- Wanna Get Away: 6 points per dollar.
- Wanna Get Away Plus: 8 points per dollar.
- Anytime: 10 points per dollar.
- Business Select: 12 points per dollar.
You'll earn points on your ticket’s base fare. The base fare is the ticket’s cost excluding any associated taxes — think things like the $5.60 September 11 Security Fee and $21.10 International Departure Tax. When you purchase a Southwest ticket, you can view your flight’s base fare on the airline's website.
So, if you purchased a Wanna Get Away fare with a $100 base fare, you’d earn 600 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you take your flight. On the other hand, a Wanna Get Away Plus ticket would earn 800 points, an Anytime ticket would earn 1,000 points, and a Business Select ticket would earn 1,200 points.
As mentioned, Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred elite status earn even more miles on paid flights. Each status tier earns the following bonus on paid flights:
- A-List: 25% bonus.
- A-List Preferred: 100% bonus.
Using the above $100 base fare example, an A-List member would earn 750 Rapid Rewards points on a Wanna Get Away fare, while an A-List Preferred member would earn 1,200 Rapid Rewards points. The mileage bonus is arguably the most valuable perk of Southwest elite status and can help you rack up tons of extra miles throughout your travels.
Earn with Southwest credit cards
Southwest Airlines has a suite of cobranded credit cards issued by Chase. Currently, the airline offers three personal and two business credit cards, each with varying benefits, welcome bonuses and annual fees.
Here’s a look at the full lineup of Southwest credit cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points plus a 30% off promo code after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points plus a 30% off promo code after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points plus a 30% off promo code after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
In addition to an attractive welcome bonus, each card has unique benefits. For example, the Southwest Priority card includes up to $75 in Southwest credit and 7,500 bonus points (worth $112.50 per TPG's valuations). This completely offsets the card’s $149 annual fee and helps you earn more points throughout the year.
Additionally, you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 transfer ratio. If you don’t mind missing out on the Southwest-specific perks, you may consider applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card since it earns 2 points per dollar on travel and 3 points per dollar on dining purchases. There are ways to get more value for your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but transferring points to Southwest makes sense if you need to top up your Rapid Rewards balance for a specific award.
Earn points while you eat with Rapid Rewards Dining
Like many airlines, Southwest offers a dining rewards program you can earn points with. Create a Rapid Rewards Dining account, and link your credit cards to earn Rapid Rewards points every time you dine at a participating restaurant. This is in addition to the rewards you’d earn with a credit card, so link a card that earns bonus points on dining to maximize your points-earning.
Make sure to sign up for email notifications when you enroll in Rapid Rewards Dining. By doing so, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Unfortunately, opting out of email notifications will drastically cut your earnings to 1 point per $2 spent.
The Rapid Rewards Dining program offers an attractive set of welcome bonuses. You’ll earn 1,000 bonus points after you spend $25 and review a participating restaurant in the first 30 days, and you can earn additional points by leaving reviews and performing other tasks. You can search through all participating restaurants on the Rapid Rewards Dining website.
Make purchases through Rapid Rewards Shopping
You can earn bonus points when you shop online with Rapid Rewards Shopping. Like Rapid Rewards Dining, the miles you’ll earn with this shopping portal are in addition to the points you earn with a credit card.
Using Rapid Rewards Shopping is simple: Sign up for an account, find your merchant on Rapid Rewards, and click through its link before making a purchase. Points are usually credited to your Rapid Rewards account within a week of making a purchase, but some merchants may take longer to process.
The number of points you’ll earn per dollar spent varies by merchant and changes frequently. The portal often has promotions that offer bonus points when you spend a set amount of money. Keep an eye on the Rapid Rewards Shopping website to see when these promos are happening.
One last thing: Always check a shopping portal aggregator like Cashback Monitor before you shop through Rapid Rewards Shopping. The merchant you’re ordering from may offer more points elsewhere.
Southwest has partnerships with some of the major hotel companies. That allows you to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points instead of hotel points, but we don't generally recommend that.
You can earn up to 10,000 points per night by booking hotel rooms with Southwest Hotels or Rocketmiles. Compare rates with both, and book with whichever platform, if either, best suits your needs.
The number of points you’ll earn often correlates to the price of your hotel room, and you’ll earn more points when you book Points Plus properties. Remember that you cannot earn hotel points or use hotel elite status benefits on these bookings, and you’ll generally need to book directly with the hotel to use these benefits.
You can book many boutique hotels through Southwest Hotels, so it may be worth booking these through Southwest Hotels if they otherwise wouldn’t earn points. Compare pricing with the hotel’s website to ensure you get a comparable rate through Southwest Hotels or Rocketmiles.
Related: 10 easy ways to earn more Southwest Rapid Rewards points
How to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards
Now that you’ve earned some Rapid Rewards points, let's discuss how you can redeem them.
There are several ways to redeem your points, but you’ll almost always get the most value from your Rapid Rewards points if you redeem them for travel on Southwest flights. Other redemption options like gift cards and merchandise will yield much less value.
The process for redeeming Rapid Rewards points for flights is largely the same as booking a paid flight. Head to the Southwest homepage, enter your search criteria and select the "Points" option. Click the yellow search button, and you'll see flight options.
You’ll see award pricing to the right of each available flight. You can filter flights by the number of layovers and departure times using the buttons at the top of the page. Then, click on the ticket price when you find a flight you’d like to book and follow the on-screen prompts.
What fare type should I choose?
You can redeem points for flights in any of the four Southwest fare types. Wanna Get Away — the least expensive fare type — is best for most travelers.
Wanna Get Away Plus is slightly more flexible, with free confirmed and stand-by same-day flight changes. Additionally, these fares let you transfer flight credit to another person if you cancel your flight.
Anytime fares have the same benefits of Wanna Get Away Plus plus priority security and EarlyBird check-in. Anytime cash fares are refundable, but remember that Wanna Get Away fares are also refundable when booking with points.
Finally, the benefits of Business Select fares are hardly worth the additional cost. These tickets include group A1 to A15 boarding, expedited security at select airports and a free alcoholic drink on board. Usually, they cost more than triple the points cost of a Wanna Get Away fare, so we recommend staying away from them in most cases.
Can I change Southwest award tickets for free?
Like all Southwest fares, you can change or cancel Southwest award tickets for free. If you opt to change a ticket, you’re only liable for paying the new ticket’s fare difference if it’s more expensive. On the other hand, if you switch to a cheaper flight, Southwest will refund the difference in points. With this in mind, we highly recommend keeping an eye on award pricing after you book a flight — if the fare goes down, you can request a refund for the additional miles.
Canceling a Southwest award ticket is just as simple. When you cancel your ticket, the miles you used to book will be refunded to your Rapid Rewards account. There are no additional cancellation fees.
Do I have to pay taxes and fees on award tickets?
You are liable for paying certain types of taxes and fees when you book Southwest award tickets. Domestic awards only charge the $5.60 September 11 Security Fee regardless of the route, but international routes can be more expensive. For example, this Mexico flight is subject to $41.66 in taxes and fees due to the Mexico Tourism Tax.
Related: Top 9 Southwest international destinations for families
Can I redeem for partner award tickets?
As mentioned earlier in the article, Southwest is one of the few airlines without international airline partners.
Related: 10 countries you didn’t know you could fly to on Southwest
Maximize your miles with the Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is undoubtedly one of the most valuable perks. After earning the pass, you can choose a companion to travel with you for just the cost of taxes and fees on Southwest flights booked with cash or miles. You can use the Companion Pass on as many flights as you’d like, effectively doubling the value of your Rapid Rewards points.
You can earn a Companion Pass by flying 100 Southwest segments or — more practically for most — earning 135,000 qualifying points. Qualifying points include Rapid Rewards points earned by flying, spending on credit cards and earned through Rapid Rewards Dining and Rapid Rewards Shopping.
Welcome bonuses on Southwest cobranded credit cards count toward the Companion Pass, so you can make some serious progress by opening one of the Southwest credit cards featured earlier. Additionally, all Southwest cobrand credit cardholders get 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points deposited into their account every year.
Unfortunately, transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count toward the Companion Pass.
Your Companion Pass will be valid for the remainder of the year it’s earned and the entirety of the following year. If you plan on earning your Companion Pass through credit card welcome bonuses, try to time your spending to earn the required mileage at the beginning of the year. This will give you the most time to enjoy your hard-earned Companion Pass since it will be valid for almost two years.
You can only set one companion at a time, but you can change your companion three times per year. You can change your companion by calling Southwest at 800-435-9792. Remember that your companion will not earn Rapid Rewards points on their flight, but you’ll still earn them if you fly on a paid ticket.
Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes
Southwest Airlines customers tend to be polarized in their feeling about the carrier. Southwest Rapid Rewards points are extremely easy to earn and redeem, and the Companion Pass sets Southwest apart from its competitors.
On the other hand, Southwest has had its fair share of operational issues. And its top-tier elite members and full-fare Business Select customers aren't guaranteed a bulkhead or exit row seat, which could make Southwest's transcontinental and Hawaii flights uncomfortable for taller travelers.
Now, at least, you know how to make an informed decision about Southwest's Rapid Rewards program.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.