Southwest Rapid Rewards: Everything You Need to Know [2020]

This guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards will help you learn how to make the most of this valuable and versatile travel rewards program.
Last updated Oct 1, 2020 | By Ben Walker
Southwest Rapid Rewards

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Every major airline uses loyalty programs to provide customers with opportunities to earn rewards and benefits as they travel. As you earn points and miles, you can redeem them for award flights to places all over the world. To help boost their rewards, many people apply for one of the best travel credit cards or one of the best airline credit cards to earn more points and miles on their purchases.

If you compare credit cards, you’ll find that Southwest Airlines offers many fantastic options. Its credit cards provide points in the form of Southwest Rapid Rewards, which you can redeem for Southwest flights.

In this guide to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, you’ll learn about the structure of the program, how to earn and use Rapid Rewards points, and the best Southwest credit cards for earning the most points.

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About Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Co. began in 1967 as Air Southwest Co. Its goal was to provide airline service between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in Texas. By 1971, the company had achieved its goal of flying between these three cities, changed its name to Southwest Airlines, and had nearly 200 employees.

Just a few decades later in the 1980s, Southwest had expanded its services to cities like Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, El Paso, Tulsa, New Orleans, and more. During this period, Southwest employed more than 3,000 individuals and flew over 175,000 trips.

Today, Southwest flies to most states within the U.S., as well as additional countries like Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the Caribbean. The Texas-based company has over 60,000 employees and is known for its low fares, friendly flight attendants, and allowing passengers two free checked bags on every Southwest flight. Southwest’s open seating policy is also a big hit for friends and families wanting to sit together on the plane and one of the many reasons people feel Southwest is the best airline to fly.

Rapid Rewards program

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program is Southwest’s frequent flyer program for its customers. Members of the program can earn Rapid Rewards points as they book and fly Southwest itineraries. You can also earn bonus points by using Southwest credit cards to make purchases.

Southwest doesn’t provide an award chart to show you how many points are needed for specific fares. Instead, the number of points you need for a flight depends on how much the fare costs. As prices for Southwest flights fluctuate, the points needed for the same flights will also fluctuate. However, you can always check the Southwest website to see how many points you would need on any available flight.

Frequent Southwest flyers can attain status levels within the Rapid Rewards program and unlock exclusive perks. Here’s a look at how these status levels work:

Requirements Benefits
A-List Fly 25 one-way qualifying flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year Priority boarding, 25% earning bonus, same-day standby, priority check-in and security lane access, and a dedicated A-List member phone line
A-List Preferred Fly 50 one-way qualifying flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year Priority boarding, 100% earning bonus, same-day standby, priority check-in and security lane access, dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line, and free in-flight Wi-Fi
Companion Pass Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year Choose one person to fly with you for free (minus taxes and fees) every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight

A-List and A-List Preferred statuses both provide benefits that can help boost your Southwest flying experience. To qualify for these statuses, you’ll need to fly dozens of Southwest flights, earn points with an eligible Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card, or do a combination of the two to earn tier qualifying points.

Tier qualifying points can only be earned on Southwest flights you pay for (not award travel) or by making purchases with an eligible Southwest credit card. So if you fly often and use your credit card on expenses, you can qualify for A-List or A-List Preferred a lot quicker.

Perhaps the most rewarding status from Southwest, though, is the Southwest Companion Pass. Companion passes are common enough benefits on major airlines, but the Southwest Companion Pass is easily the most valuable of them all. This benefit lets you choose any companion fly for (basically) free along with you. For couples, families, and friends that like to travel together, it’s an amazing way to save money on flights.

Earning the Companion Pass is a little different from earning A-List or A-List Preferred status. Although those statuses require tier qualifying points, the Companion Pass requires the simplified qualifying points. These points can be earned on paid Southwest flights, by using Southwest credit cards, and by making purchases with Rapid Rewards partners.

As an example, if you qualify for a Southwest credit card and receive its sign-up bonus, the points from the sign-up bonus would count toward earning the Companion Pass. They would not, however, count toward earning A-List or A-List Preferred status. Also, every point you earn from Southwest credit card purchases would count toward the Companion Pass, without any limits. For A-List and A-List Preferred, there’s a cap of 15,000 tier qualifying points you can earn per year by making purchases with your Southwest credit card.

How much Rapid Rewards points are worth

Rapid Rewards points don’t operate with any sort of fixed value. As the price of Southwest fares changes, the number of Rapid Rewards points you need for an award flight also change. This is called dynamic pricing.

Even though Southwest uses dynamic pricing, its prices are typically low enough that you can often find great redemption options. Southwest Rapid Rewards points are generally worth about 1.5 cents per point. So if you have 20,000 Rapid Rewards points, that should be enough to get you a Southwest fare worth about $300.

Of course, because of dynamic pricing, this value of your credit card points won’t always be exact. Expect to sometimes see different valuations that can be either higher or lower than 1.5 cents per point.

Here are a few examples of Southwest award redemptions and their values:

Southwest Rapid Rewards

In this example, we have a round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Denver for 5,304 points, plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

The dollar value of this flight is $89.96, including the taxes and fees. To find the value of your points for this itinerary, divide the dollar amount by the number of points required. So $89.96 divided by 5,304 points equals about 1.7 cents per point.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Switching to the East Coast, we have a roundtrip flight between Orlando and New York City for 14,742 points, plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

After you do the math ($218.96 / 14,742), you get a value of about 1.5 cents per point for this itinerary.

Overall, both of these values are great and they fall right around the average of what you can expect from Southwest. As you can see, the values might change by a small amount, but that amount could easily be in your favor — and it always pays to work out the math when shopping for your redemptions.

How to fly Southwest with points

To actually find fares and use your Rapid Rewards points to book a flight, you’ll need to visit Southwest.com or open the Southwest app on a compatible device. The process is a bit easier on the website, though.

Here are a few steps to take if you want to book a flight and start flying Southwest with points:

  1. Head to the Southwest website and log into your Rapid Rewards account.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

  1. On the main page, you’ll see the area where you can book flights. Choose between round trip or one-way, set your departure and arrival cities, as well as your dates and passengers. You’ll want to click on the “Points” option to make sure the fares are shown with points values. Click “Search” when you’re ready.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Note: The “Low Fare Calendar” option on this page is a great way to see a whole month’s worth of flights on one screen.

  1. Now, you’ll get options for the different available flights. The number of points you need is prominently displayed so you know what you’re paying. Choose between the different types of fares and click “Continue” to get to the next screen.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

  1. Here, you’ll get the full breakdown of your itinerary, including the total number of points needed and any applicable taxes and fees. From this point, you continue on to purchase the flight.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Redeeming your points for flights with Southwest is easy and straightforward. For the most part, you can book most Southwest fares using points. Only special fares — including infant, child, military, and government fares — can’t be booked with points. You also can’t book other travel redemption options, like Southwest Vacation packages or travel purchased through a travel agent.

There are no blackout dates for flights booked with Southwest Rapid Rewards points, which is an extremely valuable benefit. Many airlines institute blackout dates that don’t allow you to book award flights during popular times of the year, but you don’t have to worry about that with Southwest.

If you don’t want to use your points on flights, cardholders can also redeem them for merchandise, hotel stays, rentals cars, gift cards, and more.

Southwest Airlines partners

Many airlines work with other companies to provide ways for their customers to continue earning more rewards when they use the services of the airline’s partners. Currently, Southwest partners with a variety of companies. This includes credit card issuers, hotels, rental car agencies, and more.

Credit card partners

Southwest has partnered with credit card companies to offer opportunities to earn Rapid Rewards points as you pay for purchases with your eligible card.

Southwest has partnerships with these credit card companies:

  • Chase
  • Diners Club

Hotel partners

Flights and hotel stays are common pairings for most travelers. With Southwest hotel partners, you can earn Rapid Rewards points on every hotel stay. Simply input your Rapid Rewards account number when booking a stay with eligible hotels.

Southwest has partnerships with these hotel programs:

Rental car partners

Many travelers need a rental car on their trips, which is why Southwest partners with rental car agencies. Booking a rental car through these agencies will net you some valuable Rapid Rewards points.

Southwest has partnerships with these rental car companies:

  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Payless
  • Thrifty

Shopping and dining partners

For your shopping and dining needs, Southwest has you covered. Southwest partners with specific shopping and dining companies so you can continue earning rewards on your purchases.

Southwest has partnerships with these shopping and dining companies:

  • 1-800-Flowers.com
  • Harry & David
  • Home Chef
  • Laithwaites

Home and lifestyle partners

Southwest partners with home and lifestyle companies so you can earn points on common expenses such as gas and utility bills.

Southwest has partnerships with these home and lifestyle companies:

  • NRG Home
  • Marathon gas stations
  • Reliant

Other partners

For other ways to earn Rapid Rewards points, consider looking into other companies that Southwest partners with. This includes some of the best survey sites and more.

Southwest has partnerships with these other companies:

  • Emergency Assistance Plus
  • E-Rewards Opinion Panel
  • Rewards for Opinions

How to earn Rapid Rewards points

Southwest provides Rapid Rewards members with a wide range of options to continue earning points on an everyday basis. Flying may be one of the most obvious ways to earn points, but you’d be surprised at the other opportunities available.

Take flights

The most obvious choice is often one of the best ones as well. You can earn a lot of points simply by booking and taking Southwest flights. Even better, you’ll be on your way to earning A-List, A-List Preferred, and/or a Southwest Companion Pass as you take more flights.

Stay at hotels

Southwest doesn’t operate any hotels, but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn Rapid Rewards points from hotel stays. If you book through the Southwest Hotels website or input your Rapid Rewards account number on a stay with an eligible hotel (listed above), you’ll earn Rapid Rewards points.

Eat at restaurants

Has Southwest entered the restaurant industry? Not quite, but with Rapid Rewards Dining, you can watch your Rapid Rewards points total grow while enjoying a nice meal in your local area.

Use the Rapid Rewards Dining website to search for restaurants wherever you’re located. Find out which restaurants participate in this program, go eat at a participating restaurant, and then pay with your linked card. You’ll earn Rapid Rewards points for every dollar you spend.

Use credit cards

If you have a Southwest credit card, it’s easy to start earning loads of Rapid Rewards points. Credit cards can offer big sign-up bonuses for new cardmembers that can set you up with enough points to fly for free. Additionally, you’ll earn points on every purchase you make, so there’s no limit on how many points you can accumulate.

Southwest cards also typically offer increased earning rates on Southwest flights as well as hotel and car rental partner purchases. If you use a Southwest card while traveling with Southwest and Southwest partners, your points will start adding up quickly.

Purchase points

Purchasing points from an airline isn’t typically the most efficient strategy for earning rewards because you don’t often get the most bang for your buck this way. But there are times when buying points makes sense. If you only need a small number of points and you need them quickly, this strategy could be worth it for you. Also, if you keep an eye out for any points purchasing deals from Southwest, you’ll get a better deal.

Shop online

Most major airlines have their own online shopping portal, including Southwest. Go shopping and earn points with Southwest’s shopping portal, called Rapid Rewards Shopping. There are more than 850 stores available in Rapid Rewards Shopping, including Nike, AT&T, Adidas, Samsung, Disney+, and more.

Best credit cards to earn more Rapid Rewards points

Credit cards provide one of the best options for earning Rapid Rewards points. Here are the best Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards available to help you earn the most rewards:

Sign-up bonus Rewards rate Annual fee
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months 2X points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines and participating Rapid Rewards purchases and 1X points on all other purchases $69
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 2X points with Southwest and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases; 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases $99
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 2X points with Southwest and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1X points on all other purchases $149
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card 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 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 $199

Each of these cards offers great benefits and multiple ways to earn Rapid Rewards points, but there are a few key differences between them. Here are the highlights of each of the Southwest credit cards:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn a generous 40,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Also, receive 3,000 Rapid Rewards anniversary points each year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn a generous 40,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and receive 6,000 Rapid Rewards anniversary points each year. This card has no foreign transaction fees and can earn tier qualifying points toward A-List status.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn a generous 40,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and receive 7,500 Rapid Rewards anniversary points each year. This card also has no foreign transaction fees and can earn tier qualifying points toward A-List status. In addition, cardmembers receive $75 annual Southwest travel credit, four upgraded boardings per year, and 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn a generous 100,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $25,000 in the first 6 months and receive 9,000 Rapid Rewards anniversary points each year. This card has no foreign transaction fees and can earn tier qualifying points toward A-List status. Cardmembers also receive in-flight Wi-Fi credits, four upgraded boardings per year, and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit.

If you want to continue adding to your Rapid Rewards points bank, consider how well Chase credit cards work with Southwest’s loyalty program. Certain Chase cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the Rapid Rewards program. This makes it easy to get Southwest Rapid Rewards points when you need them.

Additionally, Diners Club points can also be transferred to the Rapid Rewards program. However, Chase points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and Diners Club points transfer at 1,500 Diners Club points for every 1,200 Rapid Rewards points, so they are not quite as lucrative.

FAQs

How many Southwest Rapid Rewards points for a free flight?

The number of Southwest Rapid Rewards points you need for a free flight depends on the dollar amount of your fare. Because Southwest uses dynamic pricing, award flight redemption amounts align with how much each fare costs in cash. This may range from a few thousand points to tens of thousands of points, depending on where you’re flying, the time of year, and many other factors.

Do Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire?

Southwest Rapid Rewards points do not expire, but if you close your account, you will lose your points.

Can you redeem Southwest points for cash?

Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed for Southwest flights, international flights on other airlines, hotel stays, rental cars, gift cards, exclusive experiences, and merchandise. Southwest points cannot be redeemed for cash.

How can I get free Southwest points?

Here are the 10 best ways to earn free Southwest points from things you may have already been planning on doing:

  1. Sign-up bonuses on Southwest credit cards
  2. Spending on Southwest credit cards
  3. Referring friends and family members to get Southwest credit cards
  4. Booking Southwest flights
  5. Shopping through Rapid Rewards Shopping
  6. Dining at participating restaurants in Rapid Rewards Dining
  7. Booking hotels through Southwest Hotels
  8. Renting cars with Southwest rental car partners
  9. Transferring points from Chase or Diners Club
  10. Filling out online surveys with e-Rewards and Rewards for Opinions

Bottom line

Southwest Rapid Rewards points can help you travel throughout the U.S. and to multiple other countries. These points tend to hold their value, and Southwest is a popular airline for many travelers.

If you want to earn the most Southwest points, look over our guide to see which earning strategy is best for you. Also, keep in mind that Southwest credit cards are one of the quickest and easiest ways to earn a large number of Rapid Rewards points. If you’re interested in applying for one, be sure to consider the benefits of each to find the perfect fit for you.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits