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Southwest, like many other airlines these days, has dropped a traditional award chart in favor of a fare-based award system. For travelers, that means the number of points you’ll need for a flight can fluctuate depending on the fare type, demand, destination and other factors.
So what does that mean for you if you’re trying to figure out how many points you’ll need for your next trip? We’ll help demystify Southwest Airlines’ award system in this straightforward guide on how to use Southwest Rapid Rewards points for flights.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards: The complete guide
Southwest's fare-based award system
While some airlines use a distance- or zone-based award chart dictating how many points you’ll need to redeem an award flight, Southwest Airlines doesn’t. Instead, the redemption rate is tied directly to the cost of the fare. Take a look at the Low Fare Calendar below to see what we mean.
As you can see, the lowest number of points required for an award flight on a given day is based on the lowest cash price of the same flight.
Are you getting a good value out of your Southwest points?
If your travel plans are flexible or you catch one of Southwest’s fare sales, you can get a pretty good deal on award travel. If not, you might get stuck shelling out a lot more of those hard-earned points than you anticipated. For reference, NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each. So, if you’re able to extract a value greater than the valuation, it's a good deal.
How to book a Southwest flight with points
Head over to Southwest’s website and you will see a search box allowing you to book various types of travel.
Let’s use the preceding example of flight search from Seattle to Orlando on Feb. 1, 2022. You’ll want to select the "Flight" option, enter your trip details, choose the "Points" option and then select "Search."
You will then see a list of flight options on that date.
Select the flight you’d like. In our example, we’ll choose the Wanna Get Away fare on the flight leaving at 7:05 a.m. and arriving at 7:40 p.m.
Once you choose the flight, you will see an option to log in to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account. If you don’t already have a loyalty account with Southwest, you’ll want to sign up. After you’ve logged in, select “Continue” and you’ll be taken to the payment page.
Once you’ve confirmed your flight details, choose “Continue” to book your flight. If you don’t have enough Southwest points, you’ll be prompted to purchase them. Note, you can also transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards® to Southwest.
» Learn more: Where does Southwest fly?
Other ways to redeem Southwest points
If you’re wondering about all the other ways you can use your Southwest points, take a look at our detailed guide.
What you need to know about Southwest Airlines awards
You can fly with two free checked bags
Even if you’re flying on the airline’s cheapest ticket, a Wanna Get Away fare, you’re entitled to bring two free checked bags. This is a big perk considering that most airlines charge to bring even one bag on a domestic flight.
It can be argued that although Southwest points are worth 1.5 cents each, their intrinsic value can be higher if you’re a heavy packer.
There are no blackout dates
Southwest Rapid Rewards has no blackout dates or capacity controls on award flights. That means you’re more likely to find a seat on the flight you want, when you want, no matter how many award seats have already been sold. If a flight can be purchased in cash, it can be reserved with points.
No change or cancellation fees
Whether you’re booking with points or cash, Southwest allows free changes. All you have to do is pay the fare difference, if there is one. If you cancel a Wanna Get Away cash ticket, your fare will be refunded in the form of travel dollars that must be redeemed within 12 months. Business Select and Anytime cash fares can be refunded to the original payment form.
There are four fare types
Southwest offers three fare types: Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus, Anytime and Business Select. All four include two free checked bags and charge no fees to change your booking.
Wanna Get Away fares require fewer points and seem to fluctuate in cost more than Anytime fares.
Business Select comes with additional benefits like priority boarding, a priority security lane at select airports and complimentary premium drinks.
If you want to book Southwest flights with Rapid Rewards points
While Southwest Airlines’ lack of award chart doesn’t allow for a lot of room for planning and can fluctuate greatly where the cost of award travel is concerned, the airline does offer a lot of other benefits. And thanks to off-peak travel and frequent fare sales, travelers can still find decent deals on award travel with Southwest.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card