How to Redeem Southwest Points For Maximum Value

Using your Rapid Rewards points for Southwest flights offers the best value compared with other redemption options.
Meg Lee
Sally French
By Sally French and  Meg Lee 
Updated
Edited by Kevin Berry

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Southwest Rapid Rewards is one of the best frequent flyer programs out there for no-frills travelers who prefer simplicity.

Rapid Rewards points never expire. And since 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 while redeeming Rapid Rewards points for airfare tends to be the best redemption, you’re not limited to just that. Just note that while your points are generally worth the same cash value when you redeem them for airfare, the other redemptions are not all created equal — and they are generally far inferior.

NerdWallet values a Rapid Rewards point as being worth 1.5 cents, but 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 worth far less.

So with that, here are the primary ways to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points, ordered from general best to worst.

★ LIMITED TIME OFFER

Heads up! For a limited time, select Southwest Airlines credit cards are offering a sign-up bonus for new cardholders that's substantially larger than the standard offer — a bonus that NerdWallet calculates could be worth more than $1,200. The offer is good only through June 26, 2024. Learn more and apply here.

Get up to 80,000 bonus points with our favorite Southwest cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best Southwest credit cards and find the right card for you.

1. 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 four categories, all of which are redeemable with points:

  • Business Select (most expensive, higher earning rates, more flexibility).

  • Anytime.

  • Wanna Get Away Plus.

  • 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 indefinitely if a flyer needs to cancel their ticket.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Some types of tickets, such as senior, infant, child, military and government fares, are not eligible to be purchased with points.

How to redeem your Southwest points for flights

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.

Here are the steps for how to redeem your Southwest points for flights:

1. Login to your Rapid Rewards account

Booking flights with Rapid Rewards points is easy. Simply navigate to Southwest's website and click the yellow login button. Once you've entered your credentials, you will be directed to your dashboard.

2. Input your flight details

Enter your dates, destination, number of passengers and whether you would like to book round-trip or one-way. You can toggle to looking at award flights ahead of searching by clicking "Points."

Note that you can also do this on the next screen.

3. Click search and browse flight availability

Deal-seeking travelers know to refer to Southwest's Low Fare calendar if your dates are flexible. If you skipped toggling to the points view in the last step, you can also do that here.

Business Select fares usually cost the most, but come with built-in benefits like preferred boarding. You can also redeem your points for an Anytime, Wanna Get Away Plus or Wanna Get Away fares.

4. Select your flight and input your payment details

Once you've found the right flight for you, navigate to the next page and input your personal travel details. If you are a Global Entry / TSA PreCheck member, be sure to add in your Known Traveler Number so you can get through security faster on your day-of travel.

Since the cost of your trip is covered by your points balance, you will only be on the hook to pay the $5.60 in government taxes and fees. These can be paid for with a credit card, PayPal or a Southwest travel voucher.

Redeem using Cash + Points

In Spring 2024, Southwest launched a new option for redeeming points for flights: Cash + Points.

You'll have to start booking your ticket as a cash fare to have this option, but at check out, you'll be presented with the chance to use points to cover a portion of your fare, discounting the final cash price.

Southwest will provide you with up to five pre-set points-to-cash redemption ratio options determined by a number of factors, including the specific flight and number of passengers. You'll need a minimum of 1,000 poitns in your account to use Cash + Points.

2. 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 1.5 cents) is still around 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.

3. Subpar redemption: Redeem Southwest points for gift cards (for cardholders)

If you're a Rapid Rewards credit cardholder, you can also access the airline's online shopping portal, known as the More Rewards platform. There, Southwest credit card holders can 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.

But, we don't recommend it.

Redemptions on the More Rewards portal 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 sometimes find better deals or smaller increments of options.

🤓Nerdy Tip

We don't generally recommend redeeming your Southwest points for gift cards or other items as you tend to get bad value relative to our estimated value of 1.5 cents apiece.

If these are redemptions you believe you will pursue frequently, bookmark that specific webpage URL linked above as Southwest makes it oddly difficult to find your way to this portal from its website.

Then again, you really shouldn't spend much time on that website anyway, as almost every redemption is abysmally bad. Read more about why we don't suggest Rapid Rewards members purchase gift cards or merchandise with their points in our article Southwest’s More Rewards: A Waste of Points?

4. Ho-hum redemption: Other travel

Beyond international flights that aren't through Southwest, you can also use your Rapid Reward points to pay for other types of travel expenses including hotels, rental cars and experiences. Like gift cards, you'll have to book these things through the Southwest Rapid Rewards portal. Redemption value is hit and miss versus cash rates, but this is for certain: rates are almost worse than booking actual Southwest flights.

Only take this option if you're certain you won't be flying on Southwest anytime soon (like perhaps you've moved to a city that isn't served by Southwest).

5. 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, or you're short on cash to buy it through traditional means and are otherwise not planning to use your points, skip this option.

6. 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.

Redeem Southwest points wisely

Southwest’s Rapid Rewards points are a delightfully low-maintenance currency, and the airline's loyalty program offers a variety of opportunities for redemption, the most valuable being flights to one of Southwest’s more than 100 destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean.

Then again, if you don’t want to fly, you’ve got some other options as well. Just know that — 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 some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Travel Cards from our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more Travel cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.