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How to Make the Most of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Sept. 26, 2016
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
How to Make the Most of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

To get the most out of the no-nonsense Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you need to earn as many points as possible and use your points to book Southwest flights. That’s it.

This is what makes the Southwest Airlines loyalty program far simpler than its counterparts. Southwest’s program doesn’t have ever-changing rewards values or hard-to-follow jargon. Its points are worth about 1 cent each no matter how they’re redeemed, according to NerdWallet valuations. You won’t get much more for your money by redeeming the points differently. And in a way, that’s a relief. It gives you more time to focus on earning extra points, qualifying for Southwest’s top-notch benefits and saving money. Here’s how you can do that.

Apply when there’s a big sign-up bonus

If you don’t already have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, be aware that it has traditionally offered a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points, worth $250, which is decent among airline cards. But during the past few summers, it has boosted the bonus. The current bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

The bonus also makes it much easier to earn a companion pass, which lets one person fly with you for free for up to nearly two years. Which brings us to our next point.

Earn a companion pass

A Southwest companion pass is the most coveted benefit the airline offers. It’s basically a Southwest ID card that lets someone fly for free with you for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it, plus all of the following calendar year. If you manage to qualify for the pass early in the year, that’s almost two years’ worth of free flights for the person of your choosing, a perk that might just make you world’s best friend, sibling or spouse ever.

To get the pass, you have to either earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights on the airline. The sign-up bonus gives you a great start. And if you’re trying to requalify for the status, the card’s generous anniversary bonuses — 6,000 points per year for doing absolutely nothing but carrying the card — can inch you closer. However, some rewards, including purchased points and points earned through Southwest’s partners, don’t count toward this pass.

» MORE: How to get a Southwest Airlines companion pass fast

Rebook if your flight gets cheaper

Unlike most airlines, Southwest lets you reschedule flights for free, with no change fee. If your plans change, you can rebook your flight and get airline credit if the new flight is less expensive than the old one. If the new flight is more expensive, you only have to pay the difference in price.

So after you book your ticket early, keep an eye on the price. (The cheapest time to book airline tickets is 47 days in advance on average, and earlier for holiday and summer travel, according to a 2015 analysis by CheapAir.) If the price on your Southwest tickets drops significantly after you make your purchase, rebook your flight and get some airline credit in return.

Enroll in the dining program

With Southwest’s dining program, members of the airline’s Rapid Rewards frequent flier program can earn 3 extra Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent at certain restaurants, regardless of which credit card is used. To sign up, create an account on the program’s landing page, and link it to your Rapid Rewards account. Next, add your credit card to the account. Use the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card if you’re keen on earning as many Rapid Rewards points as possible.

You can search eligible restaurants in your area by entering your ZIP code at the top of the page. When you use your registered card at these places, you’ll earn those bonus points automatically.

» MORE: The best dining rewards programs

Visit Southwest’s bonus mall

Through the Southwest bonus mall, you can earn extra Rapid Rewards points when shopping with your favorite online retailers — sometimes, as much as 15 extra points per dollar spent.

Here’s how you find the bonus mall: On your Southwest portal, hover over “Rapid Rewards” at the top of your screen, then click “Rapid Rewards Shopping.” This will take you to the bonus mall, which lists deals for hundreds of major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Best Buy. Any member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program can earn rewards by clicking the links, going to those partner websites and making purchases. If you’re new to bonus malls, here’s how they work.

Like the dining program, this bonus mall works with any credit card — but you’ll earn more Rapid Rewards points by shopping with your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

How to redeem rewards on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Once you’ve earned tens of thousands of points with these strategies, you’ll of course want to redeem them. If you don’t earn any new points or take any Southwest flights for 24 months, previously earned points could expire, according to Southwest’s terms.

Although you can redeem points on Southwest’s More Rewards platform for international flights with Southwest partners, as well as for merchandise or gift cards, these options generally get you less than 1 cent per point. You can get a better deal by redeeming for Southwest flights. Here’s how:

  1. Log on to your Southwest.com portal.
  2. Click the “Flight / Hotel / Car” link in the upper right corner, then click “Book a flight.”
  3. Fill out the form on the left with information about your trip, and select the option that lets you see fares in points, not dollars.
  4. Make your purchase as you normally would. You’ll get 1 cent per point by redeeming this way, according to NerdWallet valuations.

One last bit of advice: When flying Southwest, make a point of checking in for your flight online 24 hours before your departure if you can. If you’re quick, you could snag an “A” ticket, which lets you board the plane before other groups without needing to pay anything extra.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.