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At TPG, we paused traveling to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Local and federal governments around the globe are now debating the appropriate levels of isolation and distancing. Before booking that next trip, we recommend you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions. TPG is continuing to publish deals, reviews and general travel news to inform and prepare you for that trip, whether it is next month or next year.
Given the global coronavirus outbreak, there’s no doubt that now isn’t the time to travel. But this won’t last forever, so now is a great time to start earning miles for when we eventually return to normalcy and can travel without worry.
If you’re planning on taking domestic flights after the coronavirus outbreak is contained, you may want to check out the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. Being based between New York City and Chicago, I frequently fly on Southwest to visit friends and family, so I make it a point to keep earning Rapid Rewards points.
While Southwest Rapid Rewards may not have as many quirks and features as other loyalty programs, it’s one of the best mileage programs to use for domestic flights. We’ll walk you through the best ways to earn and redeem Southwest points.
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Southwest Rapid Rewards program overview
Southwest is a long-time favorite for many U.S. travelers, in large part because of the airline’s consumer-friendly policies. For example, all tickets include two free checked bags, snacks on board and no change or cancellation fees. Plus, many families enjoy the airline’s “seat yourself” boarding process that makes it easy for families to sit together in flight.
Likewise, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program has amassed a loyal following too. Despite not having a standard award chart or international partners, its promise of no blackout dates and the ability to earn Southwest’s famous Companion Pass make Rapid Rewards an excellent choice for couples and those with not-so-flexible schedules.
Like JetBlue’s TrueBlue program, all Southwest award tickets are priced based on the cash value of a ticket. This means that the more expensive the ticket you want to book is, the more points you’ll need to book it. TPG currently values Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents per point, meaning 10,000 points should give you around $150 in value. However, you may get more or less value depending on the ticket you book — for example, I recently got 1.58 cents per point in value when booking an award ticket from Chicago Midway (MDW) to New York (LGA).
Southwest elite status
In addition to the Companion Pass, Southwest offers two tiers of elite status: A-List and A-List Preferred.
Southwest A-List elite status
To qualify for A-List status, you’ll need to fly 25 Southwest flights or earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year. Tier-qualifying points include those earned from paid flights booked through Southwest, or by meeting spending thresholds on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card (1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 in eligible net purchases on that card, up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year). Purchased points and points earned from Rapid Rewards program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points and partner points do not count toward A-List or A-List Preferred status.
With Southwest A-List status, you’ll get:
- Priority boarding
- 25% bonus on points earned from paid flights
- Free same-day standby (note that after Dec. 31, 2020, you’ll have to pay any additional government charges and fees associated with your itinerary change)
- Priority check-in and security lane access
- Dedicated A-List member phone line
Southwest A-List Preferred elite status
A-List Preferred status requires you to fly 50 Southwest flights or earn 70,000-tier qualifying points in a calendar year. You’ll receive all the benefits of A-List status, but this tier comes with additional perks:
- 100% bonus on points earned from paid flights
- Free inflight Wi-Fi
- Dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line
Related: What is Southwest elite status worth?
How to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points
There are a few ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points — many of which don’t require flying at all.
Earn Rapid Rewards points by flying
As you might expect, you can earn Rapid Rewards points every time you fly on a paid Southwest Airlines flight. The number of points you’ll earn on every trip depends on the cost of your flight, your A-List elite status and the type of ticket you purchased.
Southwest has three ticket classes. Each of these includes different benefits, with the highest fare — Business Select — including priority boarding and a free alcoholic drink on board. Here’s how many points each fare class earns:
- Wanna Get Away: 6 points per dollar
- Anytime: 10 points per dollar
- Business Select: 12 points per dollar
Points are earned based on the ticket’s base fare. The base fare is the cost of the ticket excluding any associated taxes — think things like the $5.60 September 11th Security fee and $18.90 International Departure Tax. You can view your flight’s base fare when you purchase a Southwest ticket on the airline’s website.
So if you purchased a Wanna Get Away fare from Chicago Midway to New York with a $100 base fare, you’d earn 600 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you take your flight. On the other hand, an Anytime ticket would earn 1,000 points and a Business Select ticket would earn 1,200 points for a $100 fare.
Further, those with Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred elite status earn even more miles on paid flights. Each status tier earns the following bonus on paid flights:
- A-List: 25% bonus
- A-List Preferred: 100% bonus
Using the $100 base fare example from above, an A-List member would earn 750 Rapid Rewards points on a Wanna Get Away fare while an A-List Preferred member would earn 1,200 Rapid Rewards points. The mileage bonus is by far the most valuable perk of Southwest elite status and can help you rack up tons of extra miles throughout your travels.
Earn with Southwest credit cards
Southwest Airlines has a suite of cobranded credit cards that are issued by Chase. Currently, there are three personal credit cards and two business credit cards available, each with varying benefits, welcome bonuses and annual fees. With so many to choose from, there’s a Southwest credit card for everyone, from the occasional traveler to the frequent business traveler.
Here’s a look at all of the full lineup of Southwest credit card offered by Chase:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 30,000 points after spending $25,000 on purchases in the first six months.
In addition to an attractive welcome bonus, each of these cards has its own unique array of benefits. For example, the Southwest Priority card includes an up to $75 Southwest credit, 7,500 bonus points and four upgraded boardings per year. This completely offsets the card’s $149 annual fee and helps you earn more points every year.
You can also transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 transfer ratio. If you don’t mind foregoing the Southwest-specific perks, you may want to consider applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card since it earns 2x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases. There are ways to get more value for your Chase Ultimate Rewards points too, but transferring to Southwest makes sense if you need to top-up your Rapid Rewards balance for a specific award.
Earn points while you eat with Rapid Rewards Dining
Like many airlines, Southwest offers a dining rewards program you can earn points with. Create a Rapid Rewards Dining account and link your credit cards to earn Rapid Rewards points every time you dine at a participating restaurant. This is in addition to the rewards you’d earn with a credit card too, so link a card that earns bonus points on dining to maximize your points-earning.
Make sure to sign up for email notifications when you enroll in Rapid Rewards Dining. This will give you “online member” status and you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Unfortunately, opting out of email notifications will drastically cut your earning to one point per $2 spent. Make sure to open these emails from time to time or — as TPG Editor Nick Ewen recently found — you may not earn at the online member rate.
Even better, the Rapid Rewards Dining program offers an attractive set of welcome bonuses. You’ll earn 1,000 bonus points after you spend $25 at participating restaurants, and you can earn additional points by leaving reviews and performing other tasks. You can search through all participating restaurants on the Rapid Rewards Dining website.
Make purchases through Rapid Rewards Shopping
You can earn bonus points when you shop online with Rapid Rewards Shopping. Like Rapid Rewards Dining, the miles you’ll earn with this shopping portal are in addition to the points you earn with a credit card.
Using Rapid Rewards Shopping is simple: sign up for an account, find your merchant on Rapid Rewards and click through its link before you make a purchase online. Points are usually credited to your Rapid Rewards account within a week of making a purchase, but some merchants may take longer to process.
The number of points you’ll earn per dollar spent varies by merchant and changes frequently. Even better, the portal frequently runs promotions that offer bonus points when you spend a set amount of money through the portal. Keep an eye on the Rapid Rewards Shopping website to see when these promos are taking place.
One last thing: always check a shopping portal aggregator like Cash Back Monitor before you shop through Rapid Rewards Shopping. The merchant you’re ordering from may offer more points elsewhere.
Book hotels through Southwest Hotels
Further, you can book hotels through Southwest Hotels and earn Rapid Rewards points on all of your hotel bookings. The number of points you’ll earn depends on how much your hotel room costs, and you’ll earn more points when you book Points Plus properties. Do keep in mind that you cannot earn hotel points or use hotel elite status benefits on these bookings, though — generally, you’ll need to book direct with the hotel to use these benefits.
Many boutique hotels are bookable through Southwest Hotels too, so it may be worth booking these through Southwest Hotels if they otherwise wouldn’t earn points. Be sure to compare pricing with the hotel’s website to make sure you’re getting a comparable rate through Southwest Hotels.
How to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards
Now that you’ve earned some Rapid Rewards points, it’s time for the fun part: spending them! There are several ways to redeem your points, but you’ll almost always get the most value from your Rapid Rewards points if you redeem for travel on Southwest flights. Other redemption options like gift cards and merchandise will yield much less in value.
The process for redeeming Rapid Rewards for flights is largely the same as booking a paid flight. Head to the Southwest homepage, enter your search criteria and check the Points option. Click the yellow search button and your flight options will be presented at the center of the screen.
You’ll see award pricing to the right of each available flight. You can filter flights by the number of layovers and departure times using the buttons at the top of the page. Then, click on the price of the ticket when you find a flight you’d like to book and follow the on-screen prompts. It’s that easy!
What fare type should I choose?
You can redeem points for flights in any of the three Southwest fare types. Wanna Get Away — the least expensive fare type — is best for the majority of travelers. We recommend staying away from Anytime fares as the only benefit over Wanna Get Away is that the fare is fully refundable. Wanna Get Away fares are also refundable when booking with points, so there’s no real benefit.
Likewise, the benefits of Business Select fares are hardly worth the additional cost. These tickets include group A1 to A15 boarding, expedited security at select airports and a free alcoholic drink on board. Usually, they cost more than triple the points cost of a Wanna Get Away fare.
Can I change Southwest award tickets for free?
Like all Southwest fares, you can change or cancel Southwest award tickets for free. If you opt to change a ticket, you’re only liable for paying the fare difference of the new ticket if it’s more expensive. On the other hand, if you switch to a cheaper flight, you’ll be refunded the points difference. With this in mind, I highly recommend keeping an eye on award pricing after you book a flight — if the fare goes down, you can request a refund for the additional miles.
Canceling a Southwest award ticket is just as simple. When you cancel your ticket, the miles you used to book will be refunded to your Rapid Rewards account. There are no additional cancellation fees involved, meaning that Southwest award tickets the most flexible of all the major U.S. airlines.
Do I have to pay taxes and fees on award tickets?
You are liable for paying certain types of taxes and fees when you book Southwest award tickets. Domestic awards only charge the $5.60 September 11th Security Fee regardless of the route, but international routes can be more expensive. For example, a flight from Chicago Midway to Cancun (CUN) is subject to $36.22 in taxes and fees due to the Mexico Tourism Tax.
Related: Top 9 Southwest international destinations for families
Can I redeem for partner award tickets?
As mentioned earlier in the article, Southwest is one of the few airlines without international airline partners. That said, cobrand credit cardmembers can use the airline’s international flight portal to book flights on other airlines using your Rapid Rewards points at a rate of 1 cent per point. This is far lower than redeeming for Southwest flights, so we recommend steering clear of this option and using other types of points and miles to book international travel.
Related: Southwest CEO Gary Kelly chats about his legacy, new cities and change fees
Maximize your miles with the Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is undoubtedly one of the most valuable perks in the travel world. After earning the pass, you can choose a companion to travel with you for just the cost of taxes and fees on Southwest flights booked with cash or miles. You can use the Companion Pass on as many flights as you’d like, effectively doubling the value of your Rapid Rewards points.
You can earn a Companion Pass of your own by flying 100 Southwest segments or — more practically for most — earning 125,000 qualifying points. Qualifying points include Rapid Rewards points earned by flying, spending on credit cards and earned through Rapid Rewards Dining and Rapid Rewards Shopping.
Welcome bonuses on Southwest cobranded credit cards count towards the Companion Pass too, so you can make some serious progress by opening one of the Southwest credit cards featured earlier. Transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count towards the Companion Pass.
Your Companion Pass will be valid for the remainder of the year it’s earned as well as the entirety of the following year. If you plan on earning your Companion Pass through credit card welcome bonuses, try to time your spending so that you earn the required mileage at the beginning of the year. This will give you the most time to enjoy your hard-earned Companion Pass since it will be valid for almost two years!
Related: Southwest Companion Pass: Lessons learned over a decade
You can only set one companion at a time, but you can change your companion three times per year. You can change your companion by calling Southwest at 800-435-9792. Keep in mind that your companion will not earn Rapid Rewards points on his or her flight, but you’ll still earn them if you’re flying on a paid ticket.
Now isn’t the time to travel, but it is the time to start earning points and miles. Continue to plan your travel strategy and plan out the trips you want to take once things return to normal. If your travel plans include domestic travel, I highly recommend that you consider building up a stock of Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
Featured photo by John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock.
All screenshots courtesy of Southwest.com.
SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.
And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.
These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.