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Southwest Rapid Rewards Program: The Complete Guide

March 30, 2018
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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.

Southwest Airlines is known for its low fares and free checked bags. The largest carrier in the U.S. in terms of passengers flown in 2016, Dallas-based Southwest serves about 100 destinations, mostly in the U.S. It offers a limited number of international flights to destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1 cent apiece.
  • Depending on how you redeem points, you could get a value between 0.9 cents per point and 1.6 cents.
  • See how we arrived at these figures

Unlike the other big U.S. carriers, Southwest doesn’t have a hub-and-spoke system that funnels most of its traffic through airports in selected cities. Instead, most of its passengers fly “point-to-point,” taking direct nonstop flights to their destination.

If you fly Southwest often, the airline’s Rapid Rewards frequent-flyer program could offer some perks and points toward your next trip.

How to earn Rapid Rewards points

The Rapid Rewards program operates on a points system. NerdWallet values Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1 cent apiece. You can earn points several ways: by flying on Southwest, by shopping and dining with partners, and by using a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card.

Points don’t expire as long as you make one transaction through Southwest or a qualifying partner every two years. Points earned with a credit card won’t expire as long as your card account remains open.

EARNING SOUTHWEST POINTS WHEN YOU FLY

Earning on Southwest: 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. For example, if you have a basic Rapid Rewards membership, you earn 10 points per $1 spent on Southwest’s popular, flexible Anytime fares. If you have A-List status, you earn a 25% bonus, which bumps you up to 12.5 points per dollar. A-List Preferred offers a 100% bonus, so you earn 20 points per dollar. (More on tiers later, or you can skip to that information now.)

Status level Status bonusPoints earned per $1 spent, by fare class
Basic None• Business Select: 12
• Anytime: 10
• Wanna Get Away: 6
A-List25% • Business Select: 15
• Anytime: 12.5
• Wanna Get Away: 7.5
A-List Preferred100% • Business Select: 24
• Anytime: 20
• Wanna Get Away: 12

You earn points on airfare and qualifying purchases through Rapid Rewards partners. Government-imposed taxes and fees don’t earn points.

Southwest doesn’t have any direct airline transfer partners, so you can’t earn Rapid Rewards points on other airlines. However, you can use points to book international travel for flights on other airlines, hotels, cruise lines, car rentals and more through the More Rewards platform.

EARNING RAPID REWARDS POINTS WITH A CREDIT CARD

Southwest offers co-branded credit cards through Chase.

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 a long 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.

» JUMP AHEAD to credit cards that earn Rapid Rewards points

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.
  • Taking surveys: Participate in market research and earn points when you share your opinion with 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 cents each, but it’s not advisable. NerdWallet values Rapid Rewards points at an average of 1 cent each, so you’ll lose considerable value by purchasing points instead of earning them.

How to redeem Rapid Rewards points

You can redeem points on Southwest’s website for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, gift cards and more.

To redeem for flights, go to Southwest’s booking tool, enter your travel information and choose the option to see the fare in points rather than dollars. Southwest offers three types of fares, and the point value for each class will be shown for each result:

  • Business select: This is Southwest’s most expensive fare. Tickets are refundable. You get priority boarding and access to “Fly By” priority security lanes at participating airports. The fare also includes a premium drink.
  • Anytime: You don’t get any perks, but these flights cost less and are refundable. A spot check in February 2018 found Anytime fares to be around 20% cheaper than Business Select on the same routes. For example, a roundtrip from Los Angeles International to New York LaGuardia cost 73,863 points for Business Select and 58,937 points for Anytime.
  • Wanna Get Away: These are the cheapest fares, but they’re a bit of a gamble because they’re non-refundable. Continuing with the previous example, this flight could cost as little as 6,966 points depending on when and how you traveled. That was only a fraction of the cost of the 58,937 points required for an Anytime fare.

If any fare classes are sold out for a given flight, that will be indicated in the results.

Bags fly free: The first two checked bags are free for all passengers in all fare classes (subject to weight and size restrictions).

GOOD REDEMPTION OPTIONS

We found the highest redemption values on Wanna Get Away fares, both domestic and international, at 1.6 cents per mile.

BAD REDEMPTION OPTIONS

Business Select seating on domestic and international flights is estimated at 0.9 cents per point, according to the Nerds’ calculations.

If you don’t have A-List or A-List Preferred status, 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 merchandise through Southwest’s More Rewards platform. Values vary, but we estimate them all below 1 cent per point.

Rapid Rewards program tiers

You can sign up for the Rapid Rewards program for free. With basic membership, you earn points for flights, and that’s about it. At the A-List and A-List Preferred tiers, you earn more points and you enjoy some other perks.

Rapid Rewards tiers and benefits

 A-ListA-List Preferred
Points bonus25% more points on each flight100% 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 is good through the next calendar year.

 A-ListA-List Preferred
To earn this status, you must EITHER fly: 25 qualifying one-way flights50 qualifying one-way flights
OR earn: 35,000 tier qualifying points70,000 tier qualifying points
  • A qualifying one-way flight is defined as a trip from origin to destination, including any connections. So if you’re flying from, say, Los Angeles to New York, 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:
    • Purchasing tickets for Southwest flights.
    • 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 in any frequent-flyer program. The pass allows a guest to fly with you for free (except for security fees) 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 110,000 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 Rapid Rewards partners.

Credit cards that earn Rapid Rewards points

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases directly with the airline
  • 2 points per $1 spent on purchases with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 7,500-point anniversary bonus each year
  • $149 annual fee
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • Up to four upgraded boardings per year (based on availability)
  • 20% back on qualifying in-flight purchases
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 points per year

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases directly with the airline
  • 2 points per $1 spent on purchases with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 6,000-point anniversary bonus each year
  • $99 annual fee
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 points per year

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases directly with the airline
  • 2 points per $1 spent on purchases with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 3,000-point anniversary bonus each year
  • A $69 annual fee
  • This card does not offer tier qualifying points 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card

  • 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

Diners Club cards

Diners Club cardholders can convert Diners Club Rewards points to Rapid Rewards points. As of February 2018, the conversion rate was 1,500 Diners Club points for 1,200 Rapid Rewards points.

Methodology

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® fares. 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)
  • EWR to SJU (Newark 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 1.6 cents each for economy fares and to 0.9 cents each for business class.

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

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