Southwest Rapid Rewards Program: The Complete Guide

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Known for low fares, no cancellation fees and free checked bags, Southwest Airlines is considered the biggest “low-cost” carrier in the United States. It’s also the biggest in terms of passengers served: In 2018, the Dallas-based airline carried over 163 million passengers — surpassing the individual tallies of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

Today, the airline serves 101 destinations in the U.S. and Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean — all with a dedicated fleet of Boeing 737s. The airline has a major presence in such cities as Chicago, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Denver and Dallas.

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Based on our research, we value Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1.4 cents each. Because of this and the program’s customer-friendly policies — including two free checked bags up to 50 pounds each on every flight and group boarding — Southwest is our favorite loyalty program for families.

But the program isn’t just for families: With tiered rewards for repeat business, which can include priority boarding and the Companion Pass, there’s a lot of value in this program for anyone who frequently flies with Southwest.

In this article

How much Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth

Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.4 cents apiece. To determine the value of reward miles, we compared cash prices and reward redemptions for economy roundtrip routes across several destinations and dates. We divided the cost of the cash ticket by the cost of the reward ticket to determine a “cent per point” value for each flight, then averaged this value across several flights and dates. Read more about how we arrived at these figures.

This is, therefore, a baseline value for Southwest points, based on real-world data collected from hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.4 cents or more in value from your Southwest points.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cent per mile.

How to earn Rapid Rewards points

Instead of rewarding traditional airline “miles,” Rapid Rewards operates on a points system. You can earn points several ways: by flying on Southwest, by shopping and dining with partners, or with a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. Southwest is also a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program. As of October 2019, Southwest points no longer expire.

Earning Rapid Rewards points when you fly

The number of points you earn for a flight depends on the price of the ticket, the type of fare you’re buying, and your status level within the Rapid Rewards program. All fares include two free checked bags up to 50 pounds each, no change fees and reusable funds for up to 12 months if you cancel your flight or fully refundable flights depending on the type of fare booked.

Status level

Status bonus

Points earned per $1 spent, by fare class

Basic

None

• Business Select: 12. • Anytime: 10. • Wanna Get Away: 6.

A-List

25%

• Business Select: 15. • Anytime: 12.5. • Wanna Get Away: 7.5.

A-List Preferred

100%

• Business Select: 24. • Anytime: 20. • Wanna Get Away: 12.

  • Wanna Get Away: The cheapest fares are aptly named “Wanna Get Away.” These fares have no additional benefits from those listed above and earn 6 Rapid Rewards points for every $1 spent in base airfare.

  • Anytime: Anytime fares are a little more flexible than Wanna Get Away fares, because canceled trips can be refunded to the original form of payment or used toward another flight for up to 12 months. Flyers also earn 10 Rapid Rewards points for every $1 spent on base airfare.

  • Business Select: For travelers who want the Southwest "luxury" experience, Business Select fares are the most expensive but offer the most benefits. In addition to the previously mentioned benefits and the flexible cancellation policies of the Anytime fare, Business Select passengers can use the priority security lane at the airport (where available) after checking in. At the gate, Business Selects are guaranteed to be among the first 15 people to board. And in the air, these passengers also get one free complimentary premium drink of their choice. Business Select customers also earn the most Rapid Rewards, earning 12 points per $1 spent on base airfare.

Southwest doesn’t have any airline partners and isn’t a member of an airline alliance, so you can’t earn Rapid Rewards points on other airlines. However, you can use points to book hotels, cruises, rental cars or travel to Hawaii and around the world aboard over 50 airlines through the More Rewards platform.

Earning Rapid Rewards points with a credit card

Southwest offers five co-branded credit cards through Chase: three consumer credit cards and two business cards.

A NerdWallet favorite is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. It offers 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. It comes with a sign-up bonus that can get you part of the way toward earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. The annual fee is $99. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. And each year, cardholders get a 6,000-point anniversary bonus.Other Southwest credit card options may work better for you depending on the features you’re looking for.

Earning Rapid Rewards points through partners

  • Hotels: You can earn Rapid Rewards points at some hotel chains. At most hotels, you earn 1 point per $1 spent, but it’s possible to earn more depending on where you stay. See partner hotels here.

  • Transportation: Car rentals and ground transportation can earn you more Rapid Rewards points. See partner car rental agencies here.

  • Shopping and dining: Earn points at more than 800 retailers through Rapid Rewards Shopping. Meanwhile, Rapid Rewards Dining allows you to earn up to 3 points per $1 spent at participating restaurants, plus bonus points for submitting restaurant reviews.

  • Gas at Marathon gas stations: Rapid Rewards members can earn 1 point for every gallon of Marathon fuel they purchase, plus additional points on select in-store purchases and other specified achievements through the MakeItCount program. To earn, members must sign up ahead of time and select Rapid Rewards as their earning partner.

  • Switching electricity providers: Members in some states can also earn a sign-up bonus and ongoing bonuses when they switch their power service to NRG Home or Reliant. Check the Rapid Rewards website to see if your home is eligible.

  • Taking surveys: Participate in market research and earn points when you share your opinion via the e-Rewards and e-Miles platforms.

Buying additional Rapid Rewards points

Generally, you can buy Rapid Rewards points at a rate of 2.75 to 3 cents each, but it’s not advisable. NerdWallet values Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1.4 cents each, so it’s not likely to be a good option.

Transferring credit card points to Rapid Rewards

Two credit card rewards programs offer the opportunity to transfer points to Rapid Rewards: Diners Club and Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Diners Club cardholders can convert Diners Club Rewards points to Rapid Rewards points at a rate of 1,500 Diners Club points to 1,200 Rapid Rewards points.

If you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® from a Chase Sapphire® Card, you can also convert those points to Ultimate Rewards® at a one-to-one rate. You must transfer a minimum of 1,000 points.

How to redeem Rapid Rewards points

You can redeem points on Southwest’s website for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, gift cards and more. Rapid Rewards points are also redeemable for international flights on other airlines, even though Southwest doesn’t have any airline partnerships.

  • Southwest flights: To book flights on Southwest, go to the booking tool on Southwest's website, enter your travel information and choose the option to see the fare in points rather than dollars. If any fare classes are sold out for a given flight, that will be indicated in the results. While all fare options are available, prices in points are directly tied to their cash price. On Wanna Get Away fares, we value Rapid Rewards at an average of 1.4 cents each, but the value for your flights could be lower or higher than that.

  • International flights: Rapid Rewards points may also be used to book international flights to destinations Southwest doesn't fly to on over 50 carriers. To find which routes and airlines are available, visit the Southwest Rapid Rewards website and explore rewards. When using your miles for international flights on other airlines, expect to get a value of around 1 cent per point for flights, which is a lower value than you get using points for Southwest flights.

  • Hotels: Although Rapid Rewards points can’t be transferred to hotel partners, you can use them to book a hotel award night through the Southwest travel portal. The cost in points will vary based on the hotel location, proximity to attractions, quality, and dates selected.

  • Rental cars: Points can also be used on rental cars. Through the travel portal, travelers can reserve and pay for a rental car using their Rapid Rewards balance. The cost in points will vary based on location and the cash price of rental cars.

  • Merchandise and gift cards: Finally, as with many different rewards programs, you can use your points for merchandise and gift cards. As with other frequent flyer programs, the value of such redemptions is poor: Expect to get a value of 0.6 cent per point.

Good redemption options

  • Southwest Wanna Get Away flights: The best possible way to use points is toward Wanna Get Away fares aboard Southwest. When using points toward flights, Rapid Rewards points’ value is directly correlated with how much the flight costs in actual dollars. On average, when you use your points toward Wanna Get Away airfare, expect to get a value of 1.4 cents per point.

  • International flights: Even though Southwest only flies to 101 destinations in the U.S. and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean, it’s still possible to use points for international airfare on other carriers. If you don’t have any other use for points, this could be a decent use of your Rapid Rewards but at a lower value.

Bad redemption options

  • Merchandise: Even if you can’t use Rapid Rewards points for flights, don’t use them for gift cards or merchandise. When we searched for gift card rewards, values were as low as 0.6 cent per point — roughly one-third of the value of using points for the average flight. This makes getting gift cards and other items from a merchandise store a very bad use of points.

  • Hotels: Although you could use Rapid Rewards points for hotel nights, the value you'd get from your rewards will be low. When we searched for hotels, values were as low as 0.8 cent per point.

Rapid Rewards elite status tiers

You can sign up for the Rapid Rewards program for free, which allows you to earn points toward elite status and award flights. At the A-List and A-List Preferred tiers, you earn more points and can enjoy some additional perks.

Rapid Rewards tiers and benefits

A-List

A-List Preferred

Points bonus

25% more points on each flight

100% more points on each flight

Airport benefits

• Priority check-in. • Priority boarding. • Access to "Fly By" expedited security lanes at select airports. • Free same-day standby through airport customer service agents

• Priority check-in. • Priority boarding. • Access to "Fly By" expedited security lanes at select airports. • Free same-day standby through airport customer service agents.

Additional perks

• Dedicated A-List customer service phone line.

• Free in-flight WiFi. • Dedicated A-List Preferred customer service phone line.

How to earn Rapid Rewards elite status

To attain A-List or A-List Preferred status, you must fly a certain number of “qualifying one-way flights” or earn a certain number of “tier qualifying points” in a calendar year. You gain elite status as soon as you earn it, and it's good through the next calendar year.

  • A qualifying one-way flight is defined as a trip from origin to destination, including any connections. So if you’re flying from Los Angeles to Chicago Midway Airport, it counts as a single one-way flight regardless of whether the flight is nonstop or you have to change planes.

  • Tier qualifying points are counted differently from Rapid Rewards points. Although you can obtain Rapid Rewards points in all sorts of ways (as described above), there are only two ways to earn tier qualifying points: 1. Purchasing tickets for Southwest flights. 2. Using the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. With either card, you earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year.

Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable and sought-after perks of any frequent flyer program. The pass allows a guest to fly with you nearly for free (you'll both have to pay taxes and security fees starting from $5.60 one way) from the time you earn it through the next calendar year. To earn the pass, you must either fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Qualifying points for Companion Pass include points earned from buying Southwest tickets, points earned with Southwest credit cards and base points earned from select Rapid Rewards partners.

Credit cards that earn Rapid Rewards points

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary

  • $149 annual fee.

  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.

  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

  • 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi.

  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 points per year: You’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases up to $100,000 in purchases annually which equal 15,000 TQP. TQPs can be used to count toward qualification for Rapid Rewards A-List or A-List Preferred status.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.

  • $99 annual fee.

  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 points per year: You’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases up to $100,000 in purchases annually which equal 15,000 TQP. TQPs can be used to count toward qualification for Rapid Rewards A-List or A-List Preferred status.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.

  • $69 annual fee.

  • This card does not offer tier qualifying points (TQPs).

  • 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.

  • $199 annual fee.

  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

  • Inflight WiFi Credits.

  • Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • $99 annual fee.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

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