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From airplanes using sustainable aviation fuels to search engines showing carbon emissions in flight search results, the aviation industry is taking steps to become more green. In October 2021, Southwest became the latest airline to launch a green initiative — a new carbon offset program.
Southwest is putting money — and points — behind this new initiative. For every dollar that Southwest members spend on carbon emissions offsets, Southwest will match the donation dollar-for-dollar and give members bonus Rapid Rewards points.
Here's what you should know about Southwest’s carbon offset program and how to earn Rapid Rewards points by participating.
How to purchase carbon offsets and earn bonus Southwest points
Southwest has made it straightforward and easy to calculate your carbon emissions and donate to offset your impact. Start on Southwest's carbon offset page and enter your origin airport, destination airport, number of passengers and either one-way or round-trip.
Then click "estimate" to see the estimated carbon emissions and cost to offset those emissions through one of Southwest's partner programs.
For example, I entered a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The Southwest carbon emissions calculator estimates 542 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for this one-way flight. And the price to offset it through Southwest's carbon offset program is $3.18:
To offset this flight, click "add to cart." You can then go back to calculate and add more flights to your cart. Once you finish adding flights, go to your cart to check out.
This carbon offset price includes 40 cents in fees per passenger per leg. That means the net donation is $2.78 for an offset from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Enter your Rapid Rewards number to earn 10 points per dollar for this donation, for a total of 28 Rapid Rewards points. Note that each member can earn a maximum of 500 bonus Rapid Rewards points per month — which you'll reach with a total of $50 in donations (excluding fees).
After completing your donation, you'll get an email confirming your donation. In this email, you'll see that it may take "up to 8 weeks for bonus points to appear in your Rapid Rewards account."
The bonus points posted to my account six days after donation and were not eligible for qualification toward the Southwest Companion Pass.
The carbon offset calculator isn't linked to your Southwest flight history. So, you can offset your emissions for any airport combination you enter. Just note that the origin and destination airports seem to be limited to current Southwest airports. That means you can purchase offsets for domestic flights on other airlines — but not overseas flights on other airlines.
How much are the bonus Southwest points worth?
Southwest rewards Rapid Rewards members with 10 points per dollar donated through its new offset program — excluding any taxes and fees. So, you may be wondering how much value you're getting back from this donation.
According to NerdWallet’s valuations, we found that Southwest Rapid Rewards points have a baseline value of 1.4 cents per point. At this value, 10 points would have a value of around 14 cents.
Unlike other airline loyalty programs, you can't get much more value for your Southwest Rapid Rewards points. That's because Southwest uses a flat redemption rate of 81-83 Rapid Rewards points per dollar of the base fare for that flight. Because of this, you can't ever get a lousy redemption rate on Southwest flights — nor can you get a particularly good redemption rate.
That means the points you get for offsetting flights will be around 13-15 cents in value per dollar you donate. That's a nice little bonus for donating, but it isn't enough to justify donating just for the point earnings.
Which credit card should you use to purchase Southwest carbon offset?
We found that contributions to Southwest's carbon offset program code as "computer software sales" purchases in the test donations that we made.
A few credit cards offer bonus points for software purchases, but purchases of carbon offsets may not qualify for these bonuses. For example, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express earns 1.5x point earnings on "electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers," up to $2 million in purchases per calendar year. However, only purchases made in the U.S. qualify for this new bonus category, and CHOOOSE donations reflect an international address. Terms apply.
That means you'll want to use an everyday spending card to make Southwest carbon offset donations. Even though my purchases appeared to be international transactions, I was not charged a foreign transaction fee on my card.
Carbon offset programs you'll help support
One of the most important aspects of purchasing carbon offsets is how the money is utilized. For its carbon offset program, Southwest is partnering with Norway-based organization CHOOOSE. While the projects may change in the future, Southwest and CHOOOSE are currently supporting three programs:
The Guatemalan Conservation Coast: establishing new nature reserves in at-risk forests on the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala.
Los Santos Wind Power in Costa Rica: building wind power turbines in rural Costa Rica to avoid the need to build new diesel power generators.
Kootznoowoo Improved Forest Management Project in Alaska: supports conserving over 20,000 acres of at-risk forests on Prince of Wales Island.
If you're considering donating through Southwest carbon offsets
Southwest's new carbon offset program offers bonus points and matching funds for all donations made by Rapid Rewards members. Any donation you make through this program will earn you 10 Rapid Rewards points per dollar (after fees).
At the current value of Rapid Rewards points, that's a return of around 14 cents per dollar donated. Plus, you'll earn points or miles through your credit card. While that's not enough to justify donating just for the points, it’s one more incentive to be an environmentally conscious flyer.
Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
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 2022, 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