So you nabbed a cheap flight to Maui in a Southwest airfare sale, and now you’re eyeing a brand-new GoPro HERO8 Black for your snorkeling trip in Honolua Bay.
If you paid for your flight with Southwest Rapid Rewards points, go ahead and cheers that in-flight mai tai. But if you’re planning on buying the GoPro with Rapid Rewards points too, you’re making a mistake worse than snorkeling without sunscreen.
That’s because the GoPro comes at a nearly 200% markup if you purchase it via the Southwest More Rewards program instead of directly from a traditional retailer like Target or Best Buy.
Surprised? Here's how we evaluated this deal (and others), as well as a few strategies for making the most of your points if you do choose to shop through the More Rewards portal.
What is Southwest More Rewards, and how does it work?
If you're a Rapid Rewards Credit Card holder, the More Rewards program gives you access to a shopping portal where you can spend your points on items that aren’t Southwest flights (like designer handbags, baby strollers and gift cards), plus non-Southwest travel including international flights and hotels.
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 airline miles valuations, which peg a Rapid Rewards point at 1.4 cents, we found that, on average, items are marked up by more than 100%.
Some items are worse deals than others. Gift cards tend to be marked up the least, yet still aren't the best deal. For example, you can nab a $100 gift card to The Cheesecake Factory for 10,000 points, which we'd value at about $140 for flight redemptions. And a $25 Krispy Kreme Doughnuts gift card costs 3,000 points, which should be worth about $42 in flights.
Physical products — like handbags, perfumes, headphones and even car seats — tend to be the worst deals. According to our analysis, the markup on physical products was more than 160% higher than prices you'd see when purchasing them directly from the maker or major retailers (and we didn’t even factor in other discounts you might have for those products, like in-store coupons or sales).
Here are some of the items you can buy from Southwest’s More Rewards portal and how bad of a deal we found them to be:
Cost in Southwest points
Cash price of item
Super Mario Party for Nintendo Switch
Ray-Ban New Wayfarer Sunglasses
Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
Are Southwest More Rewards sale items worth it?
Occasionally, Southwest puts items on "sale" in the More Rewards portal — but even the sale items can be a bum deal. For example, a promotion for Kendra Scott jewelry put those items at 23% off usual More Rewards redemption prices. We value 7,578 Rapid Rewards points at about $100, but you can buy these items from the Kendra Scott website for less than $70. These prices represent a more than 50% markup over buying jewelry directly from the Kendra Scott website.
Is the Southwest More Rewards program ever worth it?
We’re not going to say you should absolutely never shop with the More Rewards program. Here are some instances where buying items that way might make sense:
You don’t intend to travel on Southwest anytime soon: Shopping through More Rewards might make sense if, say, a pandemic has paused your travel plans. We generally advise against hoarding points, as loyalty programs reserve the right to change the value of their already-made-up currencies at any time in a process called devaluation. If your points become worth less over time anyway, then it might not be the end of the world to buy new Bose headphones now, even with a 130% markup. Be aware, though, that Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire.
You need to make a purchase and want to save cash: There are plenty of situations that can arise where money is tight. You might not have the spare cash to buy a new air purifier, but West Coasters might find it imperative to spring for one to live through wildfire season. Even though you can buy an air purifying fan directly from Dyson for around $400, it's possible to save your cash and spend 56,219 points for this air purifier through Southwest (even though we value that many points at nearly $800).
Gift cards tend to be the best redemption
If you're going to shop with points, try to go for the gift cards, which seem to be the least bad deal. We found that gift cards were marked up 40% to 60% from what we estimate those points would be worth to buy Southwest flights. That’s still not an ideal redemption, but gift cards can also help out if money is tight. Food is essential, but air travel probably isn’t, so putting 6,000 points (which we value at $84) toward a $60 HelloFresh gift card could be a smart financial move.
How to shop with Southwest More Rewards if you want to
If you really want to burn those airline points on stuff (or non-Southwest travel), here’s how to do it. Visit the More Rewards page and under “Redeem for More Rewards,” click “Explore Rewards.”
You’ll be redirected to log in as a Rapid Rewards cardmember; you need to hold a Southwest credit card to spend your points through the More Rewards program. From there, it’s like online shopping. Find an item you like, add it to your shopping bag and enter your shipping details. Just don’t be fooled by the attempt to congratulate you on getting “a really good deal” — you probably didn’t.
The bottom line
A bank account filled with cash is almost always more valuable than a stash of Southwest Rapid Rewards points. With money on hand, you can cover rent, groceries, a new GoPro or even your next Southwest flight. With a pile of Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you can either buy flights ... or shop from Southwest’s selection of items, like overpriced GoPros.
If you find yourself racking up Rapid Rewards points you won't use through credit card spending, it might make more sense to shop with a travel credit card that earns flexible travel rewards. If you’re committed to using your Southwest credit card for a lot of your spending and you want to maximize the value of points you earn, you’re far better off redeeming those points for travel on Southwest Airlines when you’re ready to travel again.
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