Southwest Rapid Rewards is one of the best frequent flyer programs out there for no-frills travelers who prefer simplicity. That’s largely due to the fact that its points are a delightfully low-maintenance currency.
Rapid Rewards points never expire, and the value of Rapid Rewards points closely mirrors cash prices for airfare; you don’t need to worry about whether you got a good or bad redemption when booking Southwest flights. And though redeeming Rapid Rewards points for airfare tends to be the best redemption, you’re not limited to just that.
There are a handful of ways to redeem Southwest points — but not all redemptions are created equal. While we value a Rapid Rewards point as being worth 1.4 cents, you’ll typically only get that when you redeem your points for Southwest flights. Other redemptions — such as a new pair of headphones or an international flight with a non-Southwest airline — tend to be less than ideal. Here are the primary ways to redeem Southwest points, generally ordered from best to worst.
How to redeem Southwest points
Best redemption: Southwest Airlines flights
One of the most straightforward ways to redeem Rapid Rewards points is by booking Southwest flights — not to mention it’s one of the best values of your points.
Rather than pricing flights using distance-based award charts like some airlines, Southwest’s redemption rate directly correlates to the fare’s cash-price. This means the higher the fare, the more points it will “cost” you.
Southwest airfares are divided into three categories, all of which are redeemable with points:
Business Select (most expensive, higher earning rates, more flexibility).
Wanna Get Away (least expensive, lower earning rates, less flexibility).
All tickets are eligible for two free checked bags and no change fee, and credits are reusable for up to 12 months after issuance if a flyer needs to cancel their ticket.
To redeem your Rapid Rewards points for flights, log in to the Southwest website and make sure the “Points” option is selected on the search (not “Dollars”). You can use your Southwest points to book flights for anybody, not just yourself.
Okay redemption: Booking international flights on Southwest (if you have a Southwest credit card)
While many other airlines let regular members use their miles to book award flights on other airlines, don’t expect that here. Southwest isn't part of an airline alliance and doesn’t have any formal airline partnerships, so most people can only use Rapid Rewards points to fly Southwest.
However, if you have a Southwest credit card, you can use your points to book international flights with non-Southwest airlines via the Southwest More Rewards program. This online shopping portal enables users to purchase products beyond Southwest flights, including international flights on other airlines.
According to our analysis of the Southwest More Rewards program, the cost to book an international flight on points (based on our valuation of Rapid Rewards at 1.4 cents) is still a 50% markup compared with if you just paid for the flight in cash.
But, if you have a ton of Southwest points to burn and don’t anticipate using them on a Southwest flight, this could be an okay option.
Subpar redemption: Redeem Southwest points for gift cards (for cardholders)
The Southwest More Rewards portal also allows Southwest credit card holders to exchange their points for gift cards to restaurants, department stores, retailers and more. You’ll usually find big, nationwide brands like Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Staples, PetSmart and Macy’s on the list.
While it can be pretty fun to poke around on the More Rewards portal, these redemptions typically tend to provide a poor rate of return. Most gift card redemptions cost 15,000 points for a $100 gift card (a 0.6 cent per point value), though you can find the occasional better deal or smaller increments of options.
Unfortunately, Rapid Rewards members are no longer able to redeem Southwest points for an Amazon gift card as they have in the past.
Bad redemption: Physical products (if you have a Southwest credit card)
The worst thing you can possibly buy with your points on the Southwest More Rewards platform — again, only available to Rapid Rewards credit cardholders — is physical stuff. We’re talking electronics, home and garden tools, travel insurance, pet gifts, coffee and sunglasses.
And it’s all generally a bad deal. According to our analysis of More Rewards products, physical items are marked up an astounding 161% on average, versus purchasing them for their retail price.
Unless you're desperate to buy one of the items, short on cash to buy it through traditional means and otherwise not planning to use your points, skip this option.
A redemption that feels good: Give them to charity
Can you donate Southwest points? Yes — Southwest allows you to give your points to one of about a half-dozen charity organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Student Conservation Association.
To donate your Southwest points to charity, navigate to Southwest’s donation page and follow the instructions from there.
As far as what you get out of it, well, let’s say you get some warm fuzzies. Otherwise, there’s not a ton of value, especially since points donated to charity won’t count toward your qualification for improved status in the Rapid Rewards Program. Donated points also won’t count toward any Companion Pass qualification or Southwest elite status designation. Your donation won’t even count toward your account activity.
As far as whether your donation is tax deductible, Southwest says you should consult your tax advisor.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards program: The complete guide
Redeem Southwest points wisely
Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program offers a variety of opportunities for redemption, from straightforward flights to one of Southwest’s more than 100 destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. If you don’t want to fly, you’ve got some other options as well, but in order to maximize your value, it is best to use your Rapid Rewards points on Wanna Get Away fares for Southwest flights.
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 2021, 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