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How to Use Southwest Rapid Rewards Points for Flights and Travel

16 minute read 25 June 2024
Southwest Airlines plane in the sky
Written by: Sarah Cash

Why do so many people think that “frequent flyer” programs are exclusively for frequent flyers?

Oh wait, we hear it now.

As it turns out, though, frequent flyer programs aren’t just handy for those who spend more time in the clouds than on the ground. And Southwest’s loyalty program is no exception. Even if you don’t fly Southwest with regularity, you should enroll. It’s free, after all, and earning and redeeming points is effortless — and it can save you a bundle on your future travels too. 

Here’s how Southwest Rapid Rewards works and the best ways to use Southwest miles for travel.

Why Join Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program

Southwest Airlines is renowned for customer-friendly policies that make flying more accessible, thanks to comparatively low prices, and less stressful, thanks to virtually unprecedented customer-friendly policies.

One of the standout features of flying with Southwest is the lack of change fees. Regardless of the fare type you purchase, passengers can change their flights without any extra charges, paying only the difference in fare if applicable. You can even change and cancel your fare (for Southwest credit) up to 10 minutes before takeoff.

Additionally, the airline offers two free checked bags per passenger, a rarity in an era in which most airlines charge for any checked bags — and continually seem to raise bag prices. This generosity significantly reduces the total travel cost and is a big win for families.

Southwest’s route network is primarily U.S.-based, with comprehensive coverage from coast to coast — even including Hawaii. Beyond the domestic scene, Southwest also flies to several international destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, such as Cancun, Montego Bay, and Costa Rica. 

As we’ll cover, the Rapid Rewards program stands out for its ease of use and straightforward rewards structure. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when redeeming points. Plus, your points never expire as long as you have a flight or partner-earning activity every 24 months.

How to earn Rapid Rewards points

Southwest offers a wide range of options to rack up points toward free flights.

Flying

The most straightforward way to earn points is by purchasing and completing Southwest flights. The amount of points you’ll earn depends on your fare type, elite status, and the price of your flight. Here’s what you’ll earn based on your elite status and fare class. 

Wanna Get AwayWanna Get Away+AnytimeBusiness Select
Member6 points per dollar8 points per dollar10 points per dollar12 points per dollar
A-List status (25% bonus)7.5 points per dollar10 points per dollar12.5 points per dollar15 points per dollar
A-List Preferred status (100% bonus)12 points per dollar20 points per dollar20 points per dollar24 points per dollar

If you are in fact a frequent traveler, these points can add up quickly, especially during promotions when Southwest offers additional points on certain routes or during specific times.

Credit cards

Using a Southwest co-branded Chase credit cards is, hands-down, the fastest way to accumulate Southwest points. These cards offer substantial welcome bonuses after meeting minimum spending requirements — and you’ll earn points for everyday purchases, too. Plus, having certain Southwest credit cards can get you additional perks, like anniversary points, which are awarded each year on your cardmember anniversary.

Transfer partners

Southwest is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. You can convert the rewards you earn with cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and Ink Business Preferred credit card, to ​​Southwest at a 1:1 ratio. This feature is incredibly useful to boosting your points balance, as Chase credit cards offer an excellent return on common purchases.

Beyond Chase points, you can also transfer certain hotel points to Southwest at varying rates:

  • Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 ratio (3,000 Marriott points = 1,000 Southwest points). You’ll also get a bonus 5,000 Southwest points for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points you transfer. In other words, 60,000 Marriott points = 25,000 Southwest points.
  • World of Hyatt: 5:2.4 ratio (5,000 Hyatt points = 2,400 Southwest points).
  • Choice Privileges: 6:1.8 ratio (6,000 Choice points = 1,800 Southwest points).
  • Best Western: 5:1.2 ratio (5,000 Best Western points = 1,200 Southwest points).
  • Radisson: 10:1 (10,000 Radisson points = 1,000 Southwest points).

It’s almost always a bad idea to transfer hotel points to Southwest, as hotel points are typically more valuable for free hotel stays.

Dining and shopping

A couple of under-the-radar methods for earning Southwest points are the airline’s Rapid Rewards Dining and Shopping programs. By linking your credit card and dining at participating restaurants, you can earn points every time you eat out. The earning rate varies, but promotions routinely offer extra points per dollar spent.

Similarly, the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal allows you to earn points when shopping online at thousands of retailers. Before you make any online purchase, log in to the portal to see if your retailer participates — and just like that, your everyday shopping can help fund your next vacation.

How to book Southwest flights using Rapid Rewards points

Booking a flight with Southwest Airlines using Rapid Rewards points is a breeze — seriously. Its simplicity puts many other airline programs to shame. Here’s how you can book your next flight on Southwest using points.

First, head over to Southwest’s website and log in with your Rapid Rewards account number and password. This is where all your hard-earned points are stored.

Southwest

Once you’re logged in, start your flight search just as you would if you were paying with cash. Enter your departure city, destination, and travel dates. Then click the “Points” button in the top right corner of the screen. This switches the view from dollars to points, showing you exactly how many points you’ll need for your flights.

Southwest

You can also choose Southwest’s handy “Low Fare Calendar” to quickly scan prices for the entire schedule. This is extra helpful for those who are willing to let the deals dictate their travel dates.

Southwest

If you’re short, you can always pay the difference with cash or top up your points through other means, like a points purchase or transfer.

Southwest’s generous cancellation policy also applies to award bookings. When you cancel your award flight up to 10 minutes before departure, your points will redeposit into your Rapid Rewards account without any fees. This flexibility is a huge advantage, allowing you to book without stress — and even speculatively, for future trips you’re not even sure you’ll want to take.

The fare types available on Southwest

Southwest Airlines offers four fare types with various flexibility and benefits:

  1. Wanna Get Away: This is the most economical option. Though technically non-refundable (that is, your credit card won’t be refunded), it still offers travel credits for cancellations made at least 10 minutes before departure.
  2. Wanna Get Away: Building on the base fare, this option adds benefits, like transferable flight credits and free same-day confirmed changes.
  3. Anytime: This fare is fully refundable and includes automatic early check-in and priority lane access.
  4. Business Select: As the premium fare option, you’ll get priority boarding, a premium drink, and all the flexibility features of an Anytime fare.

Redeeming Rapid Rewards points to get the best deal

The value of Southwest points is directly proportional to the cash price of each ticket. This means the lower the cash price, the fewer points you’ll need.

Each Rapid Rewards point is typically worth 1.4 cents each — though that can vary by a few tenths of a cent, depending on your route. Because of this, there’s no real way to “maximize” your points. They’re worth what they’re worth.

That said, you should keep an eye out for Southwest’s frequent sales and promotions, which can significantly reduce both the cash and points prices.

Another way to get the most from your Southwest points is to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, which is considered to be one of the absolute best deals in travel (more on that gem below).

Flying business class using Rapid Rewards

If you’ve never flown Southwest, you may assume that its business-class experience is similar to other airlines. It’s not. Southwest planes don’t actually have a business-class cabin. All seats in the plane are exactly the same.

So how do they get away with advertising a “Business Select” fare? The extra price is solely for the additional perks you’ll get — it’s got nothing to do with the seat itself.

Business Select customers board before everyone else. That’s a big deal, as Southwest seats are first come, first served. You’ll have your pick of seats as a Business Select customer.

You’ll also get free inflight internet, a free premium drink (as long as your flight is traveling at least 176 miles), and priority and express lanes. Plus, the fare is totally refundable.

Using Rapid Rewards points with transfer partners

As much as we’d like to tell you it’s possible, you can’t actually transfer Rapid Rewards points to partners, so you’ll need to use them to book a reward flight on Southwest instead.

What is a Southwest Companion Pass?

The most exciting feature of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is the Southwest Companion Pass. This lets you choose one person to fly with you for just the cost of taxes and fees — every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight. Even if you were to take three flights per day for the next six months, you could bring a companion for free.

To earn the Companion Pass, you need to either complete 100 qualifying one-way flights or accumulate 135,000 qualifying Southwest points in a calendar year. Once earned, the Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which it’s earned, plus the following full calendar year — potentially providing up to two years of benefits if timed correctly.

The easiest path to a Companion Pass is by opening a co-branded Southwest credit card. The welcome bonus counts toward the 135,000-point threshold. Plus, Southwest credit card holders will receive a 10,000-point Companion Pass boost, meaning they really only need to earn 125,000 points in a calendar year.

Just note that if you transfer points to Southwest, they don’t count as qualifying points. In other words, any Chase points you convert to Southwest points won’t get you closer to the Southwest Companion Pass.

Other ways to redeem Rapid Rewards points

Beyond flights, Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed for hotel stays, car rentals, and even unique experiences, like wine tastings and spa packages. These options provide flexible ways to use your points, although they typically don’t offer as much value as redeeming for flights. The redemption value is often less than you’ll get when using your rewards for Southwest flights, so it’s not usually a good deal.

You can also use your points for flights on other airlines through Southwest’s “More Rewards” program, though that’s not a great use for points either, as you’ll tend to get a value around 0.8 cents each for non-Southwest travel.

Tips for finding Rapid Rewards award seats

Finding award seats with Southwest involves a few strategies:

  1. Book early, as more seats are available at lower point costs when the booking window first opens.
  2. Check frequently, especially if your travel dates are flexible. Southwest doesn’t charge change fees, so you can rebook if a better deal appears.
  3. Use tools like Southwest’s Low Fare Calendar to see an overview of the cheapest fares across a range of dates.

Let point.me help you book Southwest flights

The Southwest website is the best place to search specially for Southwest flights. But if you want to compare fares across airlines or need help with the actual booking process, such as transferring Chase points to Southwest for your flight, point.me can give you a hand.

To redeem Southwest points for flights through point.me, first enter your origin and destination into the search box on the home page.

Southwest

If your route is operated by Southwest, you’ll have the option to filter your results to show exclusively Southwest-eligible flights. You don’t have to use this filter; Southwest awards will still appear throughout the search results.

Each eligible flight will display a Southwest logo. It also shows how many points you’ll need. Choose the flight you want.

Southwest

At this step, point.me will show you eligible Southwest transfer partners if you don’t have enough rewards for your flight. You can learn how to transfer Chase points to Southwest instantly to lock down your flight. Just note that once you transfer Chase points to Southwest, you can’t transfer them back. So make sure you really want to convert your rewards into Southwest points.

Of course, you can also have a points professional handle everything for you. No matter your level of comfort when it comes to travel-hacking, point.me can help you close the deal on your travel dreams.

Frequently asked questions about using Southwest points for flights and other travel

What are Southwest’s airline partners?

Southwest Airlines does not have traditional airline partners, as it’s not a member of any major airline alliance. This means you cannot earn or redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points on other airlines, except through Southwest’s More Rewards program, where you essentially use your points to buy airfare on other airlines at a low rate.

What are Southwest’s transfer partners?

Southwest’s primary transfer partner is Chase Ultimate Rewards. Points from Chase credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, can be transferred to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.

What are Southwest’s status levels?

Southwest has two status levels within its Rapid Rewards program: A-List and A-List Preferred. Benefits include priority boarding, bonus points on flights, free same-day standby, and, for A-List Preferred members, free in-flight Wi-Fi.

How do I earn points with Southwest Rapid Rewards?

You earn points by flying with Southwest, spending on Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards, purchasing with Southwest’s partners (like hotels and rental cars), and through everyday spending via the Rapid Rewards Shopping and Dining programs.

How do I redeem points with Southwest Rapid Rewards?

Redeem your points by logging into your Rapid Rewards account on Southwest’s website, searching for flights, and selecting the option to pay with points. The number of points needed is directly tied to the ticket price in dollars.

What’s the best way to earn a Southwest Companion Pass?

Earn a Companion Pass by flying 100 qualifying one-way flights or accumulating 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Points can be earned through flights, using Southwest credit cards, and through partner activities.

How much are Southwest Rapid Rewards worth?

Southwest Rapid Rewards points typically have a value of about 1.4 cents each when redeemed for Wanna Get Away award flights, though this can vary based on the flight cost and timing.

How many Southwest Rapid Rewards points do I need for a free flight?

The number of points needed for a free flight varies based on the price of the flight. More expensive flights require more points, and vice versa.

Do Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire?

No, Southwest Rapid Rewards members’ points do not expire as long as your account remains open and active.

Can I transfer or give my Southwest Rapid Rewards points to someone else?

Yes, you can transfer points to another member, but there is a fee to do so. It’s often more cost-effective to book a ticket for someone else directly from your account.

Can I book a flight for someone else with my Southwest Rapid Rewards points?

Yes, you can use your points to book a flight for anyone else without any additional fees or restrictions.

Can I book a Southwest flight using a combination of points and cash?

No, Southwest does not currently allow bookings to be split between points and cash. You must choose to pay either entirely with points or entirely with cash.

Can I book hotels with Southwest points?

Yes, you can book hotels with Southwest points, but this is a rarely a good use of your points because the redemption value is low. To book a hotel with your Southwest Rapid Rewards points, simply go to Southwest’s hotel booking portal and browse the 400,000+ hotels available.

How much does it cost to buy Southwest Rapid Rewards points?

The cost to buy points varies, but you’ll typically pay around 3 cents per point, which is generally higher than the average value you’d get when redeeming them for flights. Purchasing points usually only makes sense if you need to top off your account for a specific flight.

Read more about airline loyalty programs and how to use points

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