Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards is one of the most accessible and easy to use frequent flyer programs around. Because every seat on a Southwest flight is available as an award seat if you can buy it with cash, you won’t have to endlessly hunt for a flight where you can redeem your points. And Southwest’s online low-fare calendar makes it easy to find the cheapest time to fly to any city.
NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.6 cents apiece. However, you can increase that valuation on certain flights by using the low-fare calendar website that Southwest provides.
Finding the sweet spot
If you search hard enough, you can find higher value on flights to almost any destination — but as a rule of thumb, you’ll usually find the best redemption rates for your points on short hop flights between major cities.
To show you just how valuable your Rapid Reward points can be, we spent some time with the Southwest low-fare calendar to find routes that will give you the best value for your points.
All of the prices discussed below are for round-trip tickets. Just like with other airlines, prices on Southwest can vary widely between dates (and change often); if you can’t find these exact deals, it’s easy to search other dates.
Los Angeles to New York
If you don’t mind braving some chilly weather, Southwest will carry you from Los Angeles to New York-La Guardia and back for just $216 or 12,190 Rapid Rewards points in February. This would give your points a value of 1.8 cents each, which is a strong redemption for a cross-country flight.
Atlanta to New Orleans
A round-trip ticket between Atlanta and Louis Armstrong International Airport can be had for just $118 or 6,386 points, which again gives your points a value of 1.8 cents each. Snag yourself a flight for Mardi Gras (yes, it's possible to celebrate Mardi Gras on a budget). Even if you don't make it for the festivities, you can eat a beignet anytime of year.
If you don't mind traveling alone, here's an intriguing proposition: New Orleans was rated one of the top 5 budget-friendly cities to explore solo.
Phoenix to San Diego
In May, average high temperatures in Phoenix are consistently in the 90s (or higher). If you need an escape, San Diego’s average highs for May stay in the high 60s. Southwest will fly you out of the desert and have you cooling your heels on a Southern California beach for just $90 or 4,234 points. That’s not only a great cash deal — paying with points nets out at a value of just over 2 cents per point.
Once there, you might consider taking a giant road trip starting at Anza-Borrego State Park and heading as far north as you please, with recommended stops in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Point Reyes, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park. If you want to mix it up from the usual hotels, there are plenty of glamping spots in California along the way.
Ft. Lauderdale to Cancun
If you want to trade one beach for another, Southwest can fly you between Cancun and Ft. Lauderdale in April for just $234 or 8,112 points (plus ~$87 in fees). This was one of the best redemption rates we could find at a staggering 2.8 cents per point — though you should also consider the additional fees incurred when flying international.
Once there, explore the famous white sand beaches and vibrant nightlife. Check out the nearby Mayan ruins or ecological wonders like the Rio Secreto underground river and crystal caves.
» Learn More: A guide to Southwest flights to Mexico
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Among the most popular flights out of LA is the one that carries you from the City of Angels to Sin City — and February’s cool temps make that one of the best times to visit the gambling mecca. It's a quick flight — you'll barely have time to take a sip of your drink before it's time to put the tray tables back up.
Southwest will carry you from Sunset Boulevard to the Las Vegas Strip for a mere $90 or 4,234 points at the end of this month, which is another valuation of just over 2 cents per point.
Earning Southwest Points
Of course you’ll need to have earned Southwest points in order to redeem Southwest points. Luckily, Southwest makes it easy to pile up your stash. Here’s the lineup of Southwest credit cards and their sign-up bonuses:
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. (annual fee: $69).
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. (annual fee: $99).
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. (annual fee: $149).
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (annual fee: $99).
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. (annual fee: $199).
All of these cards but one earn 1 point per $1 on everyday purchases, as well as 2X points on purchases with Southwest Airlines or their Rapid Rewards rental car and hotel partners. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card earns 3 points per $1 on Southwest Airlines purchases and 2 points per $1 on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services.
» Learn more: Chase 5/24 rule explained
The bottom line
It’s clear that finding the best deals on your airfare means you’ll have more money available to enjoy at your destination. While you won’t find the luxury of lie-flat seats or personal toiletry kits on a Southwest flight, the airline does offer a large inventory of high-value award tickets to plenty of in-demand destinations, and they provide you with the tools you’ll need to find the best deals.
As you can see, a single sign-up bonus on one of the Southwest cards can go a long way, especially when you look for those sweet spots that Rapid Rewards points offer.
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
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best airline credit card for you Benefits of the Southwest Airlines credit cards Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies