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What are Southwest Rapid Rewards Points Worth?

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What are Southwest Rapid Rewards Points Worth?

Southwest Rapid Rewards: The basics

Southwest Airlines is known for its friendly service, free checked bags and efficient boarding process. If any of those pique your interest, then you’ll LUV the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.

Southwest Rapid Rewards has three loyalty tiers beyond general membership:

A-List: Earn this status by flying 25 qualifying one-way flights or earning 35,000 Tier Qualifying points* in a calendar year. As an A-List status member, you get:

  • Priority boarding
  • 25% earning bonus on flights
  • Standby priority
  • Priority check-in and security lane access
  • Dedicated A-List member phone line

A-List Preferred: You reach this status when you fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 Tier Qualifying points* in a calendar year. As an A-List Preferred status member, you receive:

  • The standard A-List tier benefits
  • 100% earning bonus on flights
  • Free in-flight WiFi (when available)
  • Dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line

Southwest Companion Pass: Receive this status by flying 100 qualifying one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. The Companion Pass entitles a designated traveling companion to fly free with you for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earned the status and for the entire calendar year immediately following.

*Tier Qualifying points are earned from revenue flights or through the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Points earned via Rapid Rewards Partners, purchased points, bonus points or points earned via a promotion don’t count toward A-List and A-List Preferred qualification.

Cards that earn Rapid Rewards points

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Get 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List and A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 in purchases
  • $99 annual fee

How to get more Rapid Rewards points

You can earn Rapid Rewards points a few different ways:

  • Flying: Depending on which fare type you purchase, you can qualify for higher rewards earning. For example, non-refundable economy Wanna Get Away?® fares earn 6 points per dollar spent, refundable economy Anytime fares earn 10 points per dollar spent, and Business Select® fares earn 12 points per dollar spent.
  • Shopping and dining: You can earn Rapid Rewards points by shopping with partners, which include hotels, online retailers, restaurants, gift cards and select utility companies. You can also join Southwest’s free Rapid Rewards Dining program. As a Dining member, you can earn 3 points per dollar spent with any major credit card, plus bonus points for submitting restaurant reviews.
  • Diners Club: If you have a Diners Club credit card, you can convert your Diners Club Rewards points to Rapid Rewards points at a 1.5-to-1.2 ratio.
  • Purchasing: You can buy Rapid Rewards points at a rate of 2.75 cents each. Sometimes, Southwest offers a promotion to give you bonus points when you purchase. However, the Nerds value Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1.1 cents each, so buying points probably isn’t worth the cost.

How to redeem Rapid Rewards points

Good redemption options

You can redeem Rapid Rewards points for free flights with Southwest Airlines at a rate of 1.1 cent each, on average. When we crunched the numbers, we found that an international Wanna Get Away?® fare will give you the best value at 2 cents each. The value of international Business Select® seating is estimated at 1 cent per point. If you’re flying domestically, Wanna Get Away?® seating is your best option, with points estimated to be worth 1.1 cents each.

Bad redemption options

If you want to redeem your Rapid Rewards points for a domestic flight, you may want to go with a Wanna Get Away?® fare. This is because the value of Business Select® seating is estimated at 0.9 cents per point, according to the Nerds’ calculations. However, it’s important to understand the trade-off between the lower point value and the perks you get with Business Select® seating, which include priority boarding, preferred check-in and security line access, and special in-flight treatment.

You can also choose to redeem your Rapid Rewards points for gift cards and goods through Southwest’s More Rewards platform. Values vary, but we estimate them all below 1 cent per point. For example, you can redeem your points for gift cards at 0.83 cents per point or for an Apple iPad Air at 0.65 cents each.

Transfer partners

Southwest doesn’t have any direct transfer partners. But you can use your points to book international travel for flights with other airlines, hotel stays, cruises, car rentals and vacation packages through its More Rewards platform. The point values vary depending on how you use them, so be aware of this if you’re interested in booking travel beyond Southwest flights.

Fine print

Southwest Rapid Rewards points don’t expire as long as you have flight or partner earning activity every 24 months. Your account expiration date will be extended 24 months from the date of the last qualifying activity. Unlike some other airlines, Rapid Rewards has no blackout dates or restrictions.

Top cards that earn Rapid Rewards points

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a solid choice for frequent flyers. It boasts a respectable sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. For ongoing rewards, you can earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has a $99 annual fee that isn’t waived the first year like other airline cards’. But the fee is partially offset by a 6,000-point bonus every year on your account anniversary.

International travelers will love the card’s EMV chip technology and no foreign transaction fees. However, Southwest’s international presence is limited to Mexico and the Caribbean (as of May 2015). While you can use Rapid Rewards points to book overseas travel with other airlines through More Rewards, the redemption value varies. Plus, the card has no luxury perks to speak of, which can be a deal-breaker if you like preferred status.

Methodology

For our calculations, we sampled 10 round-trip airline routes — five domestic and five international — for both Wanna Get Away?® and Business Select® flights. These are the routes we used:

  • LGA to FLL (New York LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale)
  • SFO to LAX (San Francisco to Los Angeles)
  • MDW to LGA (Chicago Midway to New York LaGuardia)
  • LAX to JFK (Los Angeles to New York Kennedy)
  • FLL to ATL (Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta)
  • SFO to SJU (San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • DAL to MEX (Dallas to Mexico City)
  • PHL to MBJ (Philadelphia to Montego Bay, Jamaica)
  • MCO to PUJ (Orlando to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic)
  • SLC to CUN (Salt Lake City to Cancun, Mexico)

For domestic flights, the points value ranged from 1.1 cents each for Wanna Get Away?® to 0.9 cents each for Business Select®. For international flights, the points value ranged from 1.6 to 2.4 cents each for Wanna Get Away® to 0.9 to 1 cents each for Business Select®.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100 or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cents per mile

Last updated on May 15, 2015

Ben Luthi is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter @benluthi and on Google+.


Image of Southwest 737 taking off from Las Vegas via iStock.

  • Trish

    I don’t think you can redeem your points on anything other than airfare if you don’t have their credit card. :/

  • Matt Romero

    I just got the rapid rewards card and want to earn the companion pass. Is buying business class and then redeeming them on wanna get away fares the best way to maximize the point system? Verses buying wanna get away and redeeming wanna get away.

  • joeboosauce

    Hi Anisha, thanks for this great info! I don’t see the date of this article so just want to know if the above info is current as I was told by another cardholder that SW changed their conversion rate a few months ago.

  • sfosri123

    I was looking at a round trip fare from Sacramento to Las Vegas. The wanna getaway fare was around 250 for a round trip and needed 15000 points. This gives you almost a 1.7 cents per miles. One of the best ways to use your points is to use the Chase Sapphire card since you can book a ticket using your points on any airline (sadly Southwest excluded) or transfer your points to Southwest and use them. Using points on the anytime fares on southwest is not a good value.

  • Pat Smith

    If anybody is interested..
    I
    have an offer from Southwest for the Plus Credit Card. You will get 50000 bonus
    points. The annual fee is $69.00. There is no blackout dates and you can use
    the points to book someone else a flight if you want. This offer is good till
    Sept 30, 2014. Please email me at
    patomaha@yahoo.com
    and I will email you the
    offer. 50k is good for two round trip tickets to most places.

  • Bill

    Another way to generat points it to pay your Gas and Electric, Cell Phone and Cable Bills with the Card each month on Auto Pay. Then just remember to pay your card off each month.

  • iamright

    The quoted value shown above for Wanna Get Away fares is incorrect. Southwest applies this factor against the ‘fare’ – however the total expense is ‘fare’ plus taxes. By reducing the ‘fare’ the tax portion which is a proportion of the fare is also reduced. I did some sample calculations from the website and saw that the actual ratio is about 1.7.

  • Cashbackalltheway

    I really don’t like any point system. They can manipulate the points to be any value they want. I first seen this card and thought man it would be nice to earn extra points. Until you do the math and figure out it’s not as good as it seems. Say a $250 flight. Double points equals 500 points. Times 1.43 cents. Gives you $7.15. Now on a $250 flight using my Citi Double Cash card I get $5 back. So you would have to book 50 flights to even make up the $100 annual fee. Before your card is working in your favor. So unless you are flying 6 times every month it’s not worth it. And it gets worse. Say you spend 250 on something other than a flight you are only looking at $3.50 back. While I still get $5 back with the Double Cash card. So with this in mind you will need to book even more flights to make up the difference. So I think it’s best to stick with good simple no fee cash back cards. I use amex blue cash preferred for groceries. 6% cash back. And 3% cash back on gas. Then citi double cash card for everything else. 2% cash back on that one. Sometimes I will use my freedom card if they have a category I like. Say gas stations and I will use that for 5% cash back.

    • Willie

      they give you 6,000 annual bonus points so that above 1.43*6000= $85.80. So most of the fee is covered by this.