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To get the most out of the no-nonsense Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you need to earn as many points as possible and use your points to book Southwest flights. That's it.
This is what makes the Southwest Airlines loyalty program far simpler than its counterparts. Southwest's program doesn’t have ever-changing rewards values or hard-to-follow jargon. You won't get much more for your money by redeeming the points differently. And in a way, that's a relief. It gives you more time to focus on earning extra points, qualifying for Southwest's top-notch benefits and saving money. Here's how you can do that.
Nerd tip: NerdWallet values Southwest points at 1.4 cents each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.4 cents or more in value from your Southwest points.
Apply when there's a big sign-up bonus
Sometimes, this card's sign-up bonus goes sky-high for a limited time. If you apply during such a promotion, you could potentially get a lot more value from the card in the first year. The current bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Earn a Companion Pass
A traditional Southwest Companion Pass is the most coveted benefit the airline offers. It's basically a Southwest ID card that lets someone fly for free with you for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it, plus all of the following calendar year. If you manage to qualify for the pass early in the year, that's almost two years' worth of free flights for the person of your choosing, a perk that might just make you world's best friend, sibling or spouse ever. Different terms may apply for a Southwest Companion Pass obtained through a promotional offer.
To get a pass, you have to either earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights on the airline. Certain promotions or limited-time offers may be exceptions to this requirement. And if you're trying to requalify for the status, the card's generous anniversary bonuses — 6,000 points per year for doing absolutely nothing but carrying the card — can inch you closer. However, some rewards, including purchased points and points earned through Southwest's partners, don't count toward this pass.
Rebook if your flight gets cheaper
Unlike most airlines, Southwest lets you reschedule flights for free, with no change fee. If your plans change, you can rebook your flight and get airline credit if the new flight is less expensive than the old one. If the new flight is more expensive, you only have to pay the difference in price.
So after you book your ticket early, keep an eye on the price. (The cheapest time to book airline tickets is 47 days in advance on average, and earlier for holiday and summer travel, according to a 2015 analysis by CheapAir.) If the price on your Southwest tickets drops significantly after you make your purchase, rebook your flight and get some airline credit in return.
Enroll in the dining program
With Southwest’s dining program, members of the airline's Rapid Rewards frequent flier program can earn 3 extra Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent at certain restaurants, regardless of which credit card is used. To sign up, create an account on the program’s landing page, and link it to your Rapid Rewards account. Next, add your credit card to the account. Use the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card if you’re keen on earning as many Rapid Rewards points as possible.
You can search eligible restaurants in your area by entering your ZIP code at the top of the page. When you use your registered card at these places, you’ll earn those bonus points automatically.
» MORE: The best dining rewards programs
Visit Southwest's bonus mall
Through the Southwest bonus mall, you can earn extra Rapid Rewards points when shopping with your favorite online retailers — sometimes, as much as 15 extra points per dollar spent.
Here’s how you find the bonus mall: On your Southwest portal, hover over “Rapid Rewards” at the top of your screen, then click “Rapid Rewards Shopping.” This will take you to the bonus mall, which lists deals for hundreds of major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Best Buy. Any member of Southwest's Rapid Rewards program can earn rewards by clicking the links, going to those partner websites and making purchases. If you're new to bonus malls, here's how they work.
Like the dining program, this bonus mall works with any credit card — but you’ll earn more Rapid Rewards points by shopping with your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.
How to redeem rewards on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Once you've earned tens of thousands of points with these strategies, you'll of course want to redeem them. If you don't earn any new points or take any Southwest flights for 24 months, previously earned points could expire, according to Southwest's terms.
Although you can redeem points on Southwest's More Rewards platform for international flights with Southwest partners, as well as for merchandise or gift cards, these options generally get you less than 1 cent per point. You can get a better deal by redeeming for Southwest flights. Here's how:
Log on to your Southwest.com portal.
Click the "Flight / Hotel / Car" link in the upper right corner, then click "Book a flight."
Fill out the form on the left with information about your trip, and select the option that lets you see fares in points, not dollars.
Make your purchase as you normally would. You'll get 1 cent per point by redeeming this way, according to NerdWallet valuations.
One last bit of advice: When flying Southwest, make a point of checking in for your flight online 24 hours before your departure if you can. If you're quick, you could snag an "A" ticket, which lets you board the plane before other groups without needing to pay anything extra.