Southwest Rapid Rewards: The basics
Southwest Airlines is known for its friendly service, free checked bags and efficient boarding process.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards program has three loyalty tiers beyond general membership:
A-List: Earn this status by flying 25 qualifying one-way flights or earning 35,000 Tier Qualifying points* in a calendar year. As an A-List status member, you get:
- Priority boarding
- 25% earning bonus on flights
- Standby priority
- Priority check-in and security lane access
- Dedicated A-List member phone line
A-List Preferred: You reach this status when you fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 Tier Qualifying points* in a calendar year. As an A-List Preferred status member, you receive:
- The standard A-List tier benefits
- 100% earning bonus on flights
- Free in-flight WiFi (when available)
- Dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line
Southwest Companion Pass: Receive this status by flying 100 qualifying one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. The Companion Pass entitles a designated traveling companion to fly free with you for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earned the status and for the entire calendar year immediately following.
*Tier Qualifying points are earned from revenue flights or through the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Points earned via Rapid Rewards Partners, purchased points, bonus points or points earned via a promotion don’t count toward A-List and A-List Preferred qualification.
Cards that earn Rapid Rewards points
- Earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases, as well as Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
- Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
- Get 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary
- Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List and A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 in purchases
- $99 annual fee
How to get more Rapid Rewards points
You can earn Rapid Rewards points a few different ways.
Depending on the type of fare you purchase, you may earn more rewards. For example, non-refundable economy Wanna Get Away?® fares earn 6 points per dollar spent; refundable economy Anytime fares earn 10 points per dollar spent; and Business Select® fares earn 12 points per dollar spent.
Shopping and dining
You can earn Rapid Rewards points by shopping with partners, including hotels, online retailers, restaurants, gift cards vendors and select utility companies. You can also join Southwest’s free Rapid Rewards Dining program. As a Dining member, you can earn 3 points per dollar spent with any major credit card, plus bonus points for submitting restaurant reviews.
If you have a Diners Club credit card, you can convert your Diners Club Rewards points to Rapid Rewards points at a 1.5-to-1.2 ratio.
You can buy Rapid Rewards points at a rate of 2.75 cents each, though sometimes Southwest offers bonus points with a purchase as part of a promotion. The Nerds value Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1 cent each, so buying points probably isn’t worth the cost.
How to redeem Rapid Rewards points
Good redemption options
You can redeem Rapid Rewards points for free flights with Southwest Airlines at a rate of 1 cent each, on average. When we crunched the numbers, we found that both domestic and international Wanna Get Away?® fares will give you the best value at 1.1 cents each.
Bad redemption options
If you want to redeem your Rapid Rewards points, you may want to go with a Wanna Get Away?® fare. This is because the value of Business Select® seating on domestic and international flights is estimated at 0.9 cents per point, according to the Nerds’ calculations.
However, consider the trade-off between the lower point value and the perks you get with Business Select® seating, including priority boarding and preferred check-in and security line access.
You can also redeem your Rapid Rewards points for gift cards and goods through Southwest’s More Rewards platform. Values vary, but we estimate them all below 1 cent per point. For example, you can redeem your points for gift cards at 0.83 cents per point, or for an Apple iPad Air at 0.65 cents each.
Southwest doesn’t have any direct transfer partners. But you can use your points to book international travel for flights with other airlines, hotel stays, cruises, car rentals and vacation packages through its More Rewards platform. The point values vary depending on how you use them, so be aware of this if you’re interested in booking travel beyond Southwest flights.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points don’t expire as long as you have earning activity through flights with Southwest or partners every 24 months. Your account expiration date will be extended 24 months from the date of the last qualifying activity. Unlike some other airlines, Rapid Rewards has no blackout dates or restrictions.
Top cards that earn Rapid Rewards points
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a solid choice for frequent flyers. It offers a respectable sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. For ongoing rewards, you can earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases, as well as on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has a $99 annual fee that isn’t waived the first year like other airline cards’. But the fee is partially offset by a 6,000-point bonus every year on your account anniversary.
The card’s EMV chip technology and no foreign transaction fees are convenient for international travelers. However, Southwest’s international presence is limited to Mexico and the Caribbean, as of May 2015.
While you can use Rapid Rewards points to book overseas travel with other airlines through More Rewards, the redemption value varies. Plus, the card has no luxury perks to speak of, which can be a deal-breaker if you like preferred status.
The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.
For our calculations, we sampled 10 round-trip airline routes — five domestic and five international — for both Wanna Get Away?® and Business Select® flights. These are the routes we used:
- LGA to FLL (New York LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale)
- SFO to LAX (San Francisco to Los Angeles)
- MDW to LGA (Chicago Midway to New York LaGuardia)
- LAX to JFK (Los Angeles to New York Kennedy)
- FLL to ATL (Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta)
- SFO to SJU (San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico)
- DAL to MEX (Dallas to Mexico City)
- PHL to MBJ (Philadelphia to Montego Bay, Jamaica)
- MCO to PUJ (Orlando to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic)
- SLC to CUN (Salt Lake City to Cancun, Mexico)
For domestic and international flights, the points value was static at 1.1 cents each for Wanna Get Away?® fares and to 0.9 cents each for Business Select®.
To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket — less any applicable taxes and 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 cents per mile
Last updated on September 11, 2015
Image of Southwest 737 taking off from Las Vegas via iStock.