Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® review: Big rewards for budget-minded travelers

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In a Nutshell

Southwest Airlines works to make flying friendly, and its rewards program is no different. You can use the Southwest Rapid Rewards® program to earn points and book seats with no blackout dates.

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At a glance: Southwest Rapid Rewards® personal credit cards

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • $69 annual fee
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 3,000 bonus points after your card member anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • $99 annual fee
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 6,000 bonus points after your card member anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

There’s a lot to love about Southwest Rapid Rewards®, as loyal members of the Southwest Airlines® rewards program will be quick to tell you.

But you don’t have to know Southwest’s route map like the back of your hand to benefit from the Southwest Rapid Rewards® program. You can rack up a ton of Rapids Rewards® points on your everyday purchases — as our review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card illustrates.

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The real question, however, is what to do with Rapid Rewards® points once you’ve accumulated a decent amount of them.

The good news is, you may find them far easier to redeem than other airline points. You can book almost any seat on any Southwest® flight with Rapid Rewards® points, and you typically don’t have to worry about blackout dates or limited availability for reward flights.

Still, you may have some more questions about Southwest Rapid Rewards® — especially when it comes to earning points and qualifying for the much-talked-about Southwest Companion Pass.

With that in mind, let’s go over some key things to know about earning and redeeming Southwest Rapid Rewards® points.

Understanding the three Southwest Rapid Rewards® status tiers

Like other airline rewards programs, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® program has several different reward status tiers.

In this case, there are three.

  • A-List
  • A-List Preferred
  • Companion Pass

Each of these status tiers has a variety of benefits for frequent flyers.

A-List status is achieved after you earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points or fly on 25 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year. Generally, purchased points, partner points, bonus points, and points like those earned by enrolling in the Rapid Rewards® program, don’t count toward A-List status. Benefits of this tier include a 25% bonus on points earned on each flight, priority boarding and check-in, and free same-day standby.

A-List Preferred is an enhanced version of A-List status. It features all the same benefits but includes free in-flight Wi-Fi when available and a 100% bonus on points earned on each flight. To qualify, you must earn 70,000 tier-qualifying points or fly on 50 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year — and again, purchased, partner and bonus points don’t count toward achieving the status.

Companion Pass is where the real fun begins. This elite status is available to frequent flyers who earn 110,000 tier-qualifying points (through flights purchased on Southwest, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® credit card spend, or qualifying purchases with Southwest or its Rapid Rewards® partners) or fly on 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year.

Southwest Companion Pass: Why the hype?

If you spend any time on frequent-flyer message boards, you’ll start to notice that the Southwest Companion Pass is one hot ticket.

So what’s the big deal with the Southwest Companion Pass? Well, it allows you to designate one person to fly with you free of ticket charges for the remainder of the calendar year in which your status is earned and the entire calendar year after that.  You’ll still be on the hook for taxes and fees for Companion Pass flights, from $5.60 per one-way flight, but that’s still a pretty incredible deal.

Southwest Companion Pass holders can change their designated companion up to three times per calendar year. Additionally, the Companion Pass is valid on all Southwest flights — even those booked with Rapid Rewards® points.

Julie Breeze, a small-business owner and frequent Southwest flyer, loves her Southwest Companion Pass.

“The Companion Pass has effectively cut the cost of the tickets in half,” she exclaims. “Buy one, get one almost free!”

FAST FACTS

A note on earning tier-qualifying points

For A-List and A-List Preferred, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card members earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points per $10,000 spent in eligible purchases on the card, up to 15,000 tier-qualifying points per year.

Luckily, all points accumulated with any of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit cards (including the sign-up bonus) count toward the Southwest Companion Pass.

How much are Southwest Rapid Rewards® points worth?

The short answer is, it depends.

How many points it takes to purchase a Southwest Airlines rewards flight is determined by how much the flight costs at the time of redemption. Since the cost of airfare fluctuates regularly, so does the value of Rapid Rewards® points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® points can also be redeemed toward rental cars, hotel stays and gift cards. We found that these redemption methods can give you less value than redeeming points toward Southwest flights (again, your specific experience may differ). Using Southwest points for gift cards, for example, can typically be valued around 1 cent per point depending on the gift card denomination.

How to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards® points

You can earn Southwest Rapid Rewards® points a number of ways.

Spend on Southwest Airlines and its Rapid Rewards® partners

Perhaps the most common way to earn Rapid Rewards® points is by flying on Southwest Airlines®. Wanna Get Away?® — Southwest’s lowest fare offering — earns six points per $1. For example, a qualifying $300 fare could earn 1,800 Rapid Rewards® points.

Southwest’s more-premium Anytime and Business Select® fares can earn 10 and 12 points per $1, respectively.

Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t have any airline partners, so you can’t earn Rapid Rewards® points by flying on other airlines. The good news is that you can earn points by spending with other Rapid Rewards® partners, such as Marriott Rewards®, Starwood Preferred Guest®, Hertz and Budget.

Apply for a Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit card

Southwest Airlines has two personal co-branded Rapid Rewards® credit cards: the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

Each of these cards comes with different benefits, such as yearly bonus points and a fast-track to A-List status.

Check out our full comparison of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card to find which is best for you.

Use Southwest’s shopping and dining programs

Like many airlines, Southwest operates a shopping portal and a dining program. These programs let you earn points on eligible purchases when shopping online at certain stores or dining at specific restaurants. You can enroll on Southwest’s website.

FAST FACTS

Can I redeem Rapid Rewards® points for international flights?

Southwest has a limited international route network. Currently, the carrier only flies between the United States, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, Belize, Grand Cayman and Aruba.

That being said, Southwest Rapid Rewards® points can be redeemed for international travel to any of the above destinations. We hope to see Southwest add more international cities in the future.


Bottom line

Being able to redeem award points for nearly any ticket is a huge advantage Southwest offers over other domestic airlines’ loyalty programs. It can save you money the next time you need to book a flight in a pinch.

Additionally, the Rapid Rewards® program’s lucrative Companion Pass and A-List statuses can make points even more valuable for frequent flyers.

All in all, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® program is a great frequent-flyer program for domestic travelers. If you’re searching for a new airline or new co-branded credit card, Southwest’s offerings are worth a look.