Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards is one of the most accessible and easy to use frequent flyer programs around. Because every seat on a Southwest flight is available as an award seat if you can buy it with cash, you won’t have to endlessly hunt for a flight where you can redeem your points. And Southwest’s online low-fare calendar makes it easy to find the cheapest time to fly to any city.
NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.4 cents apiece. However, you can increase that valuation on certain flights by using the low-fare calendar website that Southwest provides.
Finding the sweet spot
If you search hard enough, you can find higher value on flights to almost any destination — but as a rule of thumb, you’ll usually find the best redemption rates for your points on short hop flights between major cities.
To show you just how valuable your Rapid Reward points can be, we spent some time with the Southwest low-fare calendar to find routes that will give you the best value for your points.
All of the prices discussed below are for round-trip tickets. Just like with other airlines, prices on Southwest can vary widely between dates (and change often); if you can’t find these exact deals, it’s easy to search other dates.
Los Angeles to New York
If you don’t mind braving some chilly weather, Southwest will carry you from Los Angeles to New York-La Guardia and back for just $216 or 12,190 Rapid Rewards points in February. This would give your points a value of 1.8 cents each, which is a strong redemption for a cross-country flight.
Atlanta to New Orleans
If you want to party in New Orleans but avoid the massive crowds and high prices of Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day can be a great time to visit the Big Easy. A round-trip ticket between Atlanta and Louis Armstrong International Airport can be had for just $118 or 6,386 points, which again gives your points a value of 1.8 cents each.
Phoenix to San Diego
In May, average high temperatures in Phoenix are consistently in the 90s (or higher). If you need an escape, San Diego’s average highs for May stay in the high 60s. Southwest will fly you out of the desert and have you cooling your heels on a Southern California beach for just $90 or 4,234 points. That’s not only a great cash deal — paying with points nets out at a value of just over 2 cents per point.
Ft. Lauderdale to Cancun
If you want to trade one beach for another, Southwest can fly you between Cancun and Ft. Lauderdale in April for just $234 or 8,112 points (plus ~$87 in fees). This was one of the best redemption rates we could find at a staggering 2.8 cents per point — though you should also consider the additional fees incurred when flying international.
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Among the most popular flights out of LA is the one that carries you from the City of Angels to Sin City — and February’s cool temps make that one of the best times to visit the gambling mecca. Southwest will carry you from Sunset Boulevard to the Las Vegas Strip for a mere $90 or 4,234 points at the end of this month, which is another valuation of just over 2 cents per point.
Earning Southwest Points
Of course you’ll need to have points before you can redeem them, and Southwest makes it easy to pile up your stash. Here’s the lineup of Southwest credit cards and their sign-up bonuses:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (annual fee: $69).
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (annual fee: $99).
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (annual fee: $149).
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. (annual fee: $99).
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first 6 months. (annual fee: $199).
All of these cards but one earn 1 point per $1 on everyday purchases, as well as 2X points on purchases with Southwest Airlines or their Rapid Rewards rental car and hotel partners. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card earns 3 points per $1 on Southwest Airlines purchases and 2 points per $1 on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services.
» Learn more: Chase 5/24 rule explained
The bottom line
It’s clear that finding the best deals on your airfare means you’ll have more money available to enjoy at your destination. While you won’t find the luxury of lie-flat seats or personal toiletry kits on a Southwest flight, the airline does offer a large inventory of high-value award tickets to plenty of in-demand destinations, and they provide you with the tools you’ll need to find the best deals.
As you can see, a single sign-up bonus on one of the Southwest cards can go a long way, especially when you look for those sweet spots that Rapid Rewards points offer.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best airline credit card for you
Benefits of the Southwest Airlines credit cards
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies