Southwest may have ruined Christmas for two million people that one time, but despite that, we still generally like them as an airline 🙃
They often run system-wide sales, dominate the U.S. skies for cheap, and boast a solid frequent flyer program. So yeah, we can get down with Southwest.
If you’re wondering about joining the masses and getting involved with the airline’s frequent flyer program, we’ll break down all the details for you in this guide.
What is Southwest Rapid Rewards®?
Rapid Rewards is the name and currency (in points) of Southwest’s loyalty program. As long as you have a free account, you’ll earn points every time you fly with the airline.
Having a stack of Rapid Rewards points is also super valuable if you want to redeem for cheap flights with the airline too (but more on that later 😉).
Why should you care about Southwest Rapid Rewards?
If you like low airfares and hate the additional fees, Southwest is an excellent option! Its frequent flyer program—Rapid Rewards—is also one of the best for all the perks you get as a member.
For instance, their customer-friendly policies really shine with that whole “two free checked bags” deal. Plus, there’s no change fees which is much appreciated.
Like I said earlier, Rapid Rewards is free to join, and you absolutely should! Because that’s the only way you’ll earn SW points when you fly.
Southwest is even considered the largest low-cost carrier in the U.S. With routes that span the U.S. (including Hawaii!), and even destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, it’s an excellent program to get involved with if you tend to vacay to those spots.
We also love it for its famous Companion Pass (more on that later), so if you travel as a duo or even a family, it should rank even higher on your list.
It is important to note that Southwest isn’t part of any major alliance, so your SW points will be earned and redeemed exclusively with Southwest.
So yeah, despite the occasional meltdown (ahem, Christmas 2022), we still love ‘em… most of the time 😉
How do you earn Southwest Rapid Rewards?
The Rapid Rewards program is actually quite straightforward compared to others (which we appreciate).
I’d say there are three main ways to earn SW points. Let’s take a look at each one 👇
1. By flying with Southwest
Well, this one makes a lot of sense, right? Fly Southwest, earn Southwest points.
However, the number of points you earn on any given flight depends on:
The price of your ticket
The type of fare class you picked
Your status level with the Southwest
What’s great is that all fares include two free checked bags (up to 50 pounds each), no change fees, and reusable funds for up to 12 months if you do cancel your flight (unless it was fully refundable to begin with).
There are four fare classes to consider:
Wanna Get Away: Earn 6X points per $1 spent on base airfare
Wanna Get Away+: Earn 8X points per $1 on base airfare
Anytime: Earn 10X points per $1 on base airfare
Business Select: Earn 12X points per $1 on base airfare
There are a few minor differences with these fare classes, like ticket refundability (is that a word?) and priority boarding, as a couple examples.
If you want to see a comprehensive list of these different benefits, you can view Southwest’s page here.
One example of earning points is if you’re a traveler without elite status and you book an Anytime fare class for $200, you’d earn 2,000 points for that flight ($200 × 10X points/$1).
Additionally, if you do hold status, you’ll earn either a 25% bonus (A-List status) or a 100% bonus (A-List Preferred) on the points earned from any given flight.
So with the same example above, if instead you held A-list status, booked an Anytime fare class for a $200 flight, you’d end up earning 2,500 points because of the 25% bonus.
We’ll talk more about earning elite status and its benefits in a later section.
2. By spending on a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card
Spend me some money, honey. Or at least get a Southwest credit card before you do so that you can earn those coveted points!
Southwest offers five co-branded cards with Chase. Three are consumer and two are business.
These cards offer different earning rates for Southwest Airline purchases. They usually range from 2X - 4X points per dollar.
They have additional earning categories as well, so you’re able to rack up points by making purchases on things like hotels, car rentals, and other everyday spending.
3. By shopping and dining with partners
Everybody has to eat, so you might as well earn some points for it. Rapid Rewards Dining is simple:
Join for free
Search to find participating restaurants (for dine-in and takeout/delivery)
Pay with your linked credit card
Earn up to 3X points per dollar on qualifying dining
And then we have Rapid Rewards Shopping. It’s essentially an online shopping portal, similar to Rakuten (which is our fav, btw).
Southwest has over 1,000 partner stores in its portal, so you’ve got lot’s of options to earn bonus points for purchases.
You’ll essentially click through the portal to go to the retailer’s website, pay with your card of choice, and see the Southwest points hit your account.
How do you get elite status and benefits?
Southwest offers two levels of elite status:
Yeah, super creative names…
And there happens to be two main ways to get Southwest elite status: Fly the airline frequently and spend significant amounts of money with the airline (which earn you Tier Qualifying Points, aka TQPs).
But fortunately, starting January 1st, 2024, Southwest is actually making it a tad easier to earn their elite status 🎉
To earn A-List status, you’ll either need to fly 20 one-way flights (down from 25!) or earn 35,000 TQPs (through both flying and spending on their co-branded cards).
To earn A-List Preferred status, you’ll need 40 one-way flights (down from 50!) or 70,000 TQPs.
👍 Other positive changes:
Earn 1,500 TQPs for every $5,000 (down from $10,000) spent on all co-branded cards except the Premier Business card
A-List Preferred elites will now receive two free inflight premium beverages on eligible flights
Now there is one major benefit that I’ve gotta mention… and that is Southwest’s ever-so-famous Companion Pass.
In short, the Companion Pass allows you to add a companion to ANY SOUTHWEST AIRLINES TICKET (cash or points) for just the cost of the taxes and fees… which are as low as $5.60 for one-way, domestic flights 😮
Now that is an elite level of BOGO.
Again, there are two ways to earn the Companion Pass:
Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year
Earn 135,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year
Both are a bit steep, let’s be honest. But once you earn it, it’s valid for the remainder of that calendar year plus the entire next calendar year.
The easiest way to earn the Companion Pass will be with one of Southwest’s credit cards’ welcome offers to give you a boost.
You can continue to rack up these coveted TQPs by spending on the cards in different ways, as mentioned above.
And once you do reach 135,000 TQPs, it’s not like you have to “buy” or “trade in” your points to get the pass. You’ll automatically see it activated in your account once you reach that threshold.
And remember, you’ll still have all those points in your account to then use for award flight redemptions 😎
How do you redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards?
This is pretty straightforward—use your Southwest points to book Southwest flights.
And rather than pricing their flights using distance-based award charts, Southwest’s award rates fluctuate as the flight’s cash price does.
You can do these redemptions straight from Southwest’s website.
To get started, log-in, and make sure you select Points for your search.
Click Search, and you’ll see a list of all available flights for that day with their given point redemption rates. These rates will differ based on the fare class you want to choose (remember Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus, Anytime, and Business Select from earlier?).
Simply click Continue, double-check the details, and boom, your flight is booked using SW points.
When should you use miles instead of cash?
There’s no true right or wrong way to use your miles to get a free or significantly discounted flight. BUT, if you want to maximize the value out of your points, there’s an equation you can use to determine if the award seat you are looking at is a good deal or not 👇
(cash price) - (taxes and fees) / (miles cost) = value per mile
The travel world has deemed Southwest points to be worth around 1.5 cents each.
So for example, let’s use a recent search I did going from Bellingham, WA to Palm Spring, CA.
The Wanna Get Away Plus option was either 9,631 points (plus $5.60 in taxes and fees) or $145 in cash. Plug that into the equation and we get:
($145) - ($5.60) / (9,631) = .014
Since we’re talking about dollars, you move the decimal over to get 1.4 cents per point in this redemption.
Because Southwest points are valued at 1.5 cents each, we’re getting slightly less value than what they’re worth. This is marginal, but in my opinion, I’d rather save my points on this one and pay the $145 since it’s already a pretty cheap flight.
If you didn’t want to fork over some cash, then it would be absolutely fine to book this using your points… because that’s what YOU want to do, and that’s what matters!
Southwest is a big name in the U.S. and has a decent frequent flyer program that’s worth signing up for. One of their most popular features, the Companion Pass, also makes flying with your favorite travel buddy a breeze.
If you’re looking to travel domestically in the next year (as well as a few nearby international destinations), Southwest could be an excellent program for you to get on board with.