Flying Southwest with Points: The Ultimate Guide for 2020

The best way to fly Southwest is when you fly Southwest with points. Read on and we’ll teach you how.
Last updated Sep 21, 2020 | By Matt Miczulski
Woman Flying Southwest with Points

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Who’s to say you can’t enjoy exceptional customer service and some of the lowest fares each and every time you fly? With a reputation for delivering low-cost flights and a mission dedicated to providing “the highest quality of Customer Service,” that’s what you get when you fly with Southwest Airlines.

As of 2019, Southwest has ranked highest in customer satisfaction among low-cost carriers for the third year in a row, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from its famous Southwest hospitality, this Texas-based airline offers low fares, two free checked bags, and no change fees to its 130 million passengers each year.

There’s no reason to settle for a sub-par airline, especially when you’re paying a hefty penny to fly. This couldn’t be truer for reward travel — you know, the trip you’re deciding to cash all those points in on. You want that trip to be worth those points and miles, and to meet your expectations for what makes travel enjoyable. Flying Southwest with points checks all those boxes. You can rest easy knowing your reward travel with Southwest will likely be a pleasant experience.

Now, you just need to know how to go about doing it. And what do you know? You’re currently reading the complete guide to just that — flying Southwest with points.

Jump To

About Southwest Airlines

From a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin to 46 consecutive years of profitability, Southwest Airlines was born out of a San Antonio hotel bar and has since evolved into one of the world’s largest airlines. Founded in 1966 by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King and incorporated in 1967 under the name Air Southwest Co., the original concept for Southwest Airlines was simple: Get passengers to their destination on time, at the lowest possible fares, and focus heavily on making sure they enjoy themselves along the way.

This vision didn’t go unchallenged though. In an attempt to prevent further competition within Texas, where Air Southwest planned to operate, three other airlines took legal action against the company right out of the gate. The lawsuits were resolved in 1970, and in 1971 Air Southwest Co. officially changed its name to Southwest Airlines Co.

Southwest’s business plan to deliver a no-frills, customer-focused experience worked, but the company’s operations were originally confined to Texas. That’s because, prior to 1979, the federal government had a tight grip on interstate air travel. Federal regulations determined which airlines flew where and at what price. It wasn’t until 1979 that Southwest’s services expanded beyond Texas, following the signing of the Airline Deregulation Act the prior year by then-President Jimmy Carter.

Today, Southwest is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and employs more than 59,000 people. In terms of passengers carried, Southwest is the nation’s largest domestic air carrier based on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent reporting of traffic data for U.S. airlines. Southwest operates more than 4,000 flights a day during peak travel seasons throughout a network of 101 destinations across the United States and a number of international destinations, including Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Why people love Southwest Airlines

Ask a frequenter of Southwest Airlines why it’s one of their top choices when it comes to traveling and you’ll probably get an answer that ranges somewhere between exceptional customer service and some of the best airfare deals you can find.

Here are some things people love about Southwest:

  • Two free checked bags
  • Southwest’s famous hospitality
  • Entertaining flight attendants and a general sense of humor
  • Valuable frequent flyer program
  • Growing network of destinations

The airline’s unique boarding and open-seating policy, which some refer to as a “cattle call,” is a distinguishing factor that sets it apart from other airlines, though you’ll either love it or hate it. Passengers aren’t assigned seats but rather a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a boarding position (1-60). When your boarding group is called, you head over to the specific line that includes your boarding position and you hang out there until it’s your turn to board. Once on board, you’re free to choose any open seat.

A byproduct of Southwest’s open seating policy, however, is seat saving. The airline doesn’t have a policy for or against the gesture, and it’s often a cause for passenger discontent. This is especially true for those who pay extra for an earlier boarding group, only to find their preferred seat is being saved for someone who’s due to board later in the process.

Rapid Rewards: the Southwest Airlines loyalty program

Rapid Rewards is Southwest Airlines’ loyalty program. This program allows you to earn points that can be used toward travel, gift cards, merchandise, hotel stays, and more. Anyone can join the Southwest rewards program, your points don’t expire (as long as you have activity on your account at least once every 24 months), and there are numerous ways to rack up points.

If you’re not already enrolled, signing up is easy and takes just a few steps:

  • Step 1: Head over to Southwest.com where you’ll see “Enroll” at the very top of the page. Click here, and you’ll be brought to an account creation page.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 2: To create an account, provide all the necessary information, such as name, date of birth, contact information, username, and password.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 3: When you’re done filling out your personal information, click “Create account” in the yellow box at the bottom, and you’re all set!

Flying Southwest with Points

Once you join the rewards program, all you have to do is make sure to log in to your account before you buy a ticket so you can earn Rapid Rewards points for each flight.

How to earn Rapid Rewards points

There are a number of ways to earn Rapid Reward points, though some ways tend to make more sense than others.

Good, old-fashioned flying

The most obvious way to earn points is by booking your travel with Southwest. The number of points you’ll earn from booking airfare will depend on the amount and type of fare you choose.

Partner up, and earn even more

You can also earn points through Southwest Airlines partner opportunities. Southwest has partnered with a variety of travel, shopping, and dining partners so you can continue earning points even when you’re not flying. This includes everything from hotels and rental car companies to restaurants and a number of different experiences that you can book directly through Southwest, including tours and a variety of activities.

Cash for points

While you can purchase points, this is only rarely a good idea, and usually only makes sense if you have “orphan” points. In other words, if you’re only short a small amount of points needed to book award travel. Even then, buying points doesn’t deliver the best value.

For instance, it costs $60 to buy 2,000 points. That puts the price per point at 3 cents, double the 1.5 cents at which Southwest points are typically valued by experts in the points-and-miles community. The more points you purchase, however, the more affordable they become. Purchasing 60,000 points costs $1,650, putting the price per point at 2.75 cents. Either way, there are better options for amassing points.

Credit card sign-up bonuses and everyday spending

If you're a frequent Southwest flyer, this carrier has come of the best airline credit cards that offer extra perks. 

The easiest way to earn points is by signing up for a Southwest credit card or spending on an existing one, whether it’s the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. Take the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card as an example. As a new cardmember, you can earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. When you use your card for Southwest purchases, you’ll earn up to 2X points per $1 spent.

If you have a business, you can sign up for one of Southwest’s business credit cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card offers the chance to earn up to 100,000 points: 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months; plus, another 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first 6 months. Or, you can sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Alternatively, if you have one of Chase’s premier cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, or the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest. Points transfer at a rate of 1:1, so you won’t lose any value in the process.

These credit cards also typically come with lucrative sign-up bonuses after you meet the minimum spend requirements, which can translate to a lot of Rapid Rewards points right off the bat. The Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, for instance, offers new cardmembers the chance to earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months.

Hot Sign-up Bonus

Benefits

  • 100,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and common business spending categories
  • Flexible redemption options
  • Additional employee cards at no extra cost

How to earn more Rapid Rewards with Southwest Status

Avid Southwest flyers have an additional way to earn points that also allows them to be recognized for their continued loyalty. Depending on the number of flights you take, you can earn one of three status designations: A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. First we’ll go through the details of A-List and A-List Preferred, then we’ll dive into Companion Pass as it’s pretty different.

When you fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year, you’ll earn A-List status, which gives you a slew of benefits — from priority boarding to a 25% earning bonus on every flight. That means if you purchase a “Wanna Get Away” fare, which normally earns 6 points per dollar, you would earn 7.5 points per dollar because of your A-List status.

Once you hit 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in one calendar year, you’ll jump up to A-List Preferred status. With A-List Preferred, you’ll receive all the benefits of A-List status, plus free inflight WiFi and an earning bonus of 100%. That means all of the points you earn will be doubled.

A-List A-List Preferred
Rapid Rewards earning bonus 25% 100%
Priority boarding X X
Free same-day standby X X
Priority check-in and security lane access X X
Dedicated member phone line X X
Free inflight WiFi X

What you need to know about Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass sets itself apart from the other two status levels because it allows you to choose one person to fly with you, for free, on every flight you purchase or redeem points for. While you’ll have to pay taxes and fees for the passenger, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the costs you’re saving by using the pass.

When you earn Companion Pass, you get to use it for the remainder of the year you earned it, plus the entire next year. So the earlier in the year you earn it, the more benefit you’ll get from it. Through the end of 2019, you’ll need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year to qualify for Companion Pass. However, starting January 1, 2020, the number of qualifying points you’ll need to earn the pass will be bumped up to 125,000.

The easiest way to earn your Companion Pass is through credit card sign-up bonuses. Take the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, for instance. When you sign up, you can earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

While this is a pretty lucrative sign-up bonus, you’ll notice it still falls short of the required 125,000 points needed to get the pass beginning January 1, 2020. But you can close this gap by opening one of Southwest’s business credit cards as well. Sign up for a card like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, and you can earn an additional 100,000 bonus points. While this doesn’t get you exactly the number of points needed for the Companion Pass, it gets you pretty darn close.

Special Perks for Business Owners

Benefits

  • Up to 100,000 bonus point sign-up offer
  • 3X points on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • Inflight Wi-Fi credits
  • No foreign transaction fees

Before you open a new tab in your browser and apply for both cards, there’s an important piece of information you need to be aware of. To get the most out of your pass, it’s crucial you time it properly. If you recall, when you earn the Companion Pass, you earn it for the remainder of the year in which you earned it and the entire following year. This means, you ideally want to earn the pass in January so you essentially get two full years out of it.

To do this, you’ll want to open your cards around October or November and wait to finish the minimum spend requirements until January. When finish the minimum spend requirements in January to get the welcome bonus, you’ll get the Companion Pass for two full years.

Southwest co-branded credit cards

Southwest partnered with Chase to deliver a handful of credit card options for Southwest flyers. With five co-branded credit cards in total — three consumer cards and two business cards — you shouldn’t have any issue finding the best card that fits your lifestyle.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
Sign-up bonus Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months Earn up to 100,000 points: 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months; plus, another 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first 6 months
Rewards rate 2X points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines and participating Rapid Rewards purchases and 1X points on all other purchases 2X points with Southwest and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases; 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 2X points with Southwest and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1X points on all other purchases 2X points on eligible Southwest Airlines purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 3X points on Southwest purchases; 2X on internet, cable, and phone services, as well as social media and search engine advertising; and 1X on everything else
Annual fee $69 $99 $149 $99 $199
Bonus points for cardmember anniversary 3,000 6,000 7,500 6,000 9,000
Tier qualifying points N/A 15,000 15,000 15,000 15,000
Foreign transaction fee 3% None None None None
Recommended credit Excellent, Good Excellent, Good Excellent, Good Excellent, Good Excellent, Good

Southwest Airlines transfer partners

If you don't have a Southwest card, you can still fly Southwest with miles if you have one of the best travel credit cards through Chase. If your Chase credit card earns Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards to your Rapid Rewards account. Points transfer at a rate of 1:1, which means you won’t lose any value in your points during the process.

You can also convert Diners Club Club Rewards points into Rapid Rewards. For every 1,500 Club Rewards points you can get 1,200 Rapid Rewards points. You’ll notice this puts more value on Rapid Rewards points versus Club Rewards points, which may make it seem like you’re losing value in the transfer. However, if you feel reward travel on Southwest is more valuable than what you can get with Diners Club Rewards, then it shouldn’t matter too much. In other words, even if your Club Rewards lose a little value when transferring to Rapid Rewards, it may still be worth more to you personally than redeeming for something else, such as a gift certificate to a restaurant.

Additionally, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio. So for every three Marriott Bonvoy points, you can get one Rapid Rewards point. As a bonus, Marriott will add 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points you transfer to airline miles. Not a bad deal at all.

So, as you can see, when it comes to racking up Rapid Rewards, you aren’t limited to earning just through Southwest. With this knowledge, you can now consider the different ways you can earn, create an effective strategy that works best for you, and maximize your point-earning potential.

How to fly Southwest with points

You now know how to earn Rapid Rewards, but how do you put all those points into action? Flying Southwest with points is just as simple as paying with cash and is basically the same process:

  • Step 2: Once you’re logged in, head back to the homepage. In the travel booking search box, enter your flight information as you normally would, only this time you’ll want to view fares in points. If you search in dollars, don’t worry. You can view the fares in points from the next screen as well.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 3: Select your departing and returning flight, and then click continue at the bottom.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 4: From here, review all the details of your flight. If everything looks good, click continue.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 5: When you’re ready to check out, input the request passenger information and then purchase the flight!

Flying Southwest with Points

While you can book your entire airfare using points, you will always have to pay for the taxes with a credit card, travel fund, or Southwest gift card, which is $5.60 for each leg of the trip.

How to find the best Southwest flights

Southwest has always taken a “come to us directly” approach to booking travel, so you typically won’t find the airline on any of the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), such as Kayak, Expedia, or Priceline. That said, Southwest flight information does populate on Skyscanner, a travel search engine, though you’ll only find route information and not prices.

For pricing and to actually book a flight, you’ll have to navigate to Southwest’s website. There, the airline offers a “Low Fare Calendar” you can use to find the best prices. Take a look:

  • Step 1: Once at the Southwest homepage, click Low Fare Calendar.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 2: Enter your departure and arrival airport of choice and the month you want to travel.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 3: From here, you’ll be presented a calendar showing all of the flights and their prices, allowing you to choose the best fare possible.

Flying Southwest with Points

  • Step 4: Once you choose your flights, you move through the same steps laid out above for purchasing with points.

If you have flexibility in when you can travel, this is the best way to get the best deal on Southwest airfare.

How much is each Rapid Rewards point worth?

Rapid Rewards points are directly tied to the cash price of the flight, so the value of each point depends on your flight and the fare you choose.

For instance, a one-way flight from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to Philadelphia (PHL) in the middle of January costs $119 or 7,256 points for a “Wanna Get Away” fare (as of Oct. 2019). This puts each point at roughly 1.64 cents.

$119 divided by 7,256 points = .0164

Flying “Business Select” for the same flight costs $532 or 37,199 points. This puts each point at roughly 1.43 cents.

$532 divided by 37,199 points = .0143

Southwest Rapid Rewards points are typically considered to be valued at around 1.5 cents per point, but this value can vary slightly as seen above. Knowing how to calculate the value of your points, as we just outlined, can help you make sure you’re always getting the most out of your rewards.

Examples of how you can fly Southwest with points

How much is 20,000 Southwest points worth?

Seeking a solo trip to paradise? Fly from San Diego(SAN) to Honolulu (OAHU) for a little over 20,000 points.

Flying Southwest with Points

How much is 40,000 Southwest points worth?

Do something that warrants a one-way trip to Mexico? Fly from Denver (DEN) to Cancun (CUN) for roughly 43,000 points.

Flying Southwest with Points

How much is 60,000 Southwest points worth?

Need a break from The Big Apple? Try your luck in Sin City. Fly from Laguardia (LGA) to Las Vegas (LAS) for roughly 51,000 points.

Flying Southwest with Points

How much is 80,000 Southwest points worth?

How about a last minute cross-country flight for you and your spouse to spend Christmas in sunny California? Fly from Philadelphia (PHL) to Los Angeles (LAX) for roughly 80,000 points. Flying Southwest with Points

How much is 100,000 Southwest points worth?

Escape the Chicago winter for a ten-day trip to sunny South Florida. Fly from Chicago Midway (MDW) to Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) for roughly 101,000 points.

Flying Southwest with Points

Commonly asked questions about flying Southwest on points

How do I pay with points on Southwest?

Booking with points is easy. Once you’re logged into your Rapid Rewards account, enter your flight information and view the fares in points. Select the flight you want and review the trip and price details. If everything looks good, enter your information and then purchase the flight.

How many points are needed for a free flight on Southwest?

The number of points needed for a reward flight depends on the fare. This includes factors such as destination, time, day of travel, and the type of fare you choose.

Can you use Southwest points for part of a flight?

Southwest doesn’t allow customers to split the cost of travel between points and cash. However, you could always book one leg of the trip using points and the other with cash. In other words, two one-way reservations — one using points and the other using cash.

Can I use my Southwest points for another person?

Yes, you can use your Southwest points to book travel for another passenger. To do so, log into your Rapid Rewards account and book the flight as you normally would, entering the passenger’s information in place of yours. If changes to the itinerary are needed, you will need to make the changes for the other person.

Can you use Companion Pass with points?

Yes, you can use Companion Pass on airfare booked with points. First, make sure there are enough seats available on the flight for your passenger, as a Companion Pass fare can only be added if there’s a seat available for sale. It doesn’t need to be the cheapest fair either, so you can book the last, cheap “Wanna Get Away” fare for yourself, and your Companion Pass passenger can get a seat at a more expensive level.

After you book airfare for yourself, head right back into your account to add your companion to your itinerary. It’s recommended that you do this immediately to ensure you don’t lose the ticket availability you confirmed ahead of time.

Can I give Southwest points as a gift?

You can also buy up to 60,000 points per day to gift to another member. You’ll need to enter the recipient’s name and Rapid Rewards account number, and the points will be deposited into the other member’s account immediately after you complete the transaction.


The bottom line on flying Southwest with points

Traveling with points is a rewarding experience. When you use points to fly on Southwest, you not only get the experience of traveling with the points you worked hard to earn but also with the famous Southwest hospitality.

There are plenty of ways to maximize your point-earning potential, which makes flying Southwest with points a great way to travel. You can start by signing up for a free Rapid Rewards account and then earning points for each flight. Or, if you’re ready to dive in and book reward travel, consider how a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card can help you get there.

Double points on Southwest Airlines flights

Benefits

  • 40,000 bonus point sign-up offer
  • 2X points on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • 7,500 points every year on Cardmember anniversary
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • Four upgraded boardings per year when available