Southwest Rapid Rewards Program: The Complete Guide

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For people who like low fares and hate fees, Southwest Airlines is one of the best airlines out there — and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Program is one of the best loyalty programs to take advantage of all of its benefits. It's free to join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program — and you should, as it's the only way for you to earn points every time you fly Southwest (which you can turn around and use for future flights). And since points don't expire, even if you only fly Southwest every few years, you'll still eventually rack up enough points to be worth something.

Southwest Airlines is considered the biggest “low-cost” carrier in the U.S. 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. It serves about 100 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. With a huge footprint, it's relatively easy to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points, and to turn around and for future travel.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program has something for everyone. With 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. It's also great if you fly frequently with just one other friend, as you could earn the beloved Companion Pass which entails BOGO tickets (aside from taxes and fees). And with no change fees, it's also great if you're someone who changes plans last-minute and wants that flexibility.

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Based on our most recent analysis, Southwest Rapid Rewards points at  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.

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 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.

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 program.

As of October 2019, Southwest Rapid Rewards points do not expire. However, if you opt to close your account, the points in your account will be terminated.

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.

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 platform — but given the low redemption value, we don't generally recommend it.

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

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A NerdWallet favorite is the . 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: The annual fee is . 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.

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Southwest has a robust list of non-airline , allowing you to earn points for your other spending, whether it's rental cars, hotels, or even a box of fancy pears from Harry & David.

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  each, so buying points at these prices is not likely to be a good option.

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

You can also to Rapid Rewards, though — unless you don't anticipate using those points in their original form — the exchange rate is pretty bad, so we don't typically recommend this.

Anyone who is a Rapid Rewards member can redeem points on Southwest’s website for 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  each, but the value for your flights could be lower or higher than that.

But if you hold a Southwest credit card, you'll also have access to the , where you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for 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.

But here's the thing: spending Rapid Rewards points on anything other than actual Southwest flights is, in most cases, not the best use of your points. We ran the numbers on dozens of redemptions in the More Rewards portal. Using our , which peg a at 1.4 cents, we found that, on average, items are marked up by more than 100%.

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

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.

We performed a of airline elite status programs to determine the value of each tier, including Southwest’s A-List and A-List Preferred status. To arrive at these dollar figures, we made many assumptions about how each status was used. Check the methodology in the link above for a more detailed breakdown.

NerdWallet estimates that A-List status is worth $123, and A-List Preferred status is worth $984. Why so low compared to other airline program elite status programs? In a word: Upgrades. Other airline programs offer complimentary first-class and premium-class upgrades to members, while A-List status only grants early boarding. All of the estimated value from both status tiers comes from the bonus Rapids Rewards Points they accrue.

The 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.

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the , including those best for:

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