You either Luv or hate Southwest Airlines (IATA: WN). It seems there is no in-between regarding America's favorite low cost carrier. For the luvers (I can do this all day!) of WN, they cite the 2 free checked bags, numerous direct flights, friendly staff, good customer service, and free changes/cancellation of all airfare (but you must pay any increased cost of airfare). For those that don't, uh, luv WN, it's almost always because of the open seating policy, where you line up like cattle and then proceed to go ten rounds against the world champion heavyweight fighter so that you aren't stuck between Mr. Overweight and Ms. Too Much Perfume & Cigarettes for 6 hours.
Even for those that only see the negatives about Southwest, there is great value in the Rapid Rewards program and, in my opinion, includes the greatest single perk in any travel program, the Companion Pass.
Rapid Rewards Overview
As mentioned previously, all passengers get 2 free checked bags on all fares and there are no assigned seats. Unlike most other major American air lines, WN does not charge extra for flights booked as a one-way or a round-trip and does not charge to re-book or cancel airfare (more on this below). All members earn 6 points per dollar on “Wanna Get Away” fares, 10 points per dollar on “Anytime” fares, and 12 points per dollar on “Business Select” fares. A List earns 25% bonus points, while A List Preferred earns 100% bonus points. Both Elite Tiers offer priority boarding, which can also be purchased by anyone at the gate (if available) for $30-$40 each way. This allows you a A1-15 boarding position, meaning you are one of the first 15 people on the plane.
How to Earn Rapid Rewards Points
The easiest way to accumulate piles of Rapid Rewards is to sign-up for a CSP or a CSR (you're not still deciding which one, are you?) and transferring your Chase URs to WN. Southwest is a transfer partner and these points transfer at a 1:1 ratio. A CSP sign-up bonus, for example, can be transferred to WN for 60,000 Rapid Rewards. Please note that transfers of URs to Southwest do NOT count towards elite status or the Companion Pass.
Other ways include signing-up for one of the Chase Southwest personal cards, which range from sign-up bonuses between 20,000 and 60,000 points, or the Chase Southwest Business card, which currently has an 80,000 sign-up bonus. Other than the sign-up bonus, none of the Southwest cards offer any value to make it a long-term keeper card. Instead, you should use a CSR or CSP and transfer your URs. If you have a lot of Marriott Bonvoy points, they convert to WN at 60,000:25,000 ratio.
My favorite ways to accrue WN points are through car rentals. Numerous car rental agencies always have specials that offer 1,200 WN points for a 1+ day rental car. I've paid $18 for a rental car, used the car for a day, and earned 1,200 WN points plus the small amount of points on my credit card. This is lucrative enough that I have ran the numbers and someone (with more free time than me) can obtain a WN Companion Pass by renting cars for as little as $1,650.00!!! Lastly, you can use RocketMiles to book hotel rooms and accrue up to 10,000 Rapid Rewards per night.
Value of Rapid Rewards
Unlike almost all other airlines, Southwest (and Jetblue) value its points at a fixed rate of 1.5 cents each. You will find some fluctuation in value (I've booked a flight for 2.3 cpp), but it is very rare. There really is no “good” or “bad” redemption for a Southwest flight. If you find a low fare, it is less points, because the currency value is fixed.
A good thing to remember here is when using UR points: since Rapid Rewards are worth 1.5 cents each, you NEVER want to use CSP points through the Chase portal (via a telephone call) to book a SWA flight, since you only earn 1.25 cpp via the portal. Instead, you want to transfer the points to WN for the full 1.5 cpp. However, if you hold a CSR, I prefer calling the Chase Portal number and booking Southwest flights as cash. Why? Because you get 1.5 cpp either way (always double check to make sure) so you should book a cash flight with URs so that you can EARN Rapid Rewards points on that flight. Yes, you can actually earn frequent flier points when you book a flight through the Chase Portal!!!
Sweet Spots in the Rapid Rewards Program
Other than the Companion Pass, the best perk of this program is the ability to change and/or cancel airfare without penalty (even the taxes are refunded). Please note that almost all funds (except for Business Select fares) are returned to the traveler in the form of a travel credit, which is good for one year from original booking date and only for the traveler whose name is on the canceled ticket.
So how do studious award travelers maximize these perks? Well, for starters, use points when available. You aren't spending cash that is returned to you as a travel credit. You can book a fare and continuously watch it between the time of booking and the day of travel to re-book it when the price goes down. My record is re-booking the same flight 6 times in one day! Lastly, if using points, book as many flights as you think you might want and decide later if you actually want to use them. You can actually cancel AFTER the flight occurs (and you're not on it), but I do not recommend this until you're experienced in the ins-and-outs of WN. Please note that as of late 2018, you can no longer reserve more than one flight for the same person for the same date/time.
Then there's the sweetest, sweet spot of them all, the Southwest Companion Pass. Once a Rapid Rewards member earns 110,000 points in the same calendar year, that member can fly a companion with them for free for every minute of every day of every week of every month until the stroke of midnight on December 31 of the FOLLOWING year. That's right, if you earn the companion pass on January 2, you and a companion could spend every waking minute of the next 729 days inside a Southwest plane, but why would you? For most of us normal people, this means that we're getting 50% off airfare for as many times as we want over the next 18+ months. There are no gimmicks or tricks. Other than restricting you to only 3 companion changes per calendar year, anytime you want to fly a companion with you, the only cost is the taxes ($5.60 each way for domestic flights).
The Companion Pass is worth scheduling your 5/24 decisions around obtaining it. Unfortunately, you can no longer obtain the Pass by signing up for both Chase Southwest Cards, as you can only hold 1 at a time now. It is still possible to sign-up for the personal and business card and earn the companion pass, and this is best achieved after October 1. Doing so allows you to hit the minimum spend (and earn the sign-up bonuses) after January 1st of the following year to maximize a full two years of BOGO free airfare! We will discuss the timing of applications as we get closer to go-time.
For those that already have a Southwest card and cannot obtain another bonus, the easiest way to earn the Pass is by flying enough flights to hit the 110,000 mile threshold, spending on your Southwest credit card (probably the only real value in keeping one of these cards open), doing RocketMiles hotels, rental cars, or a combination of the above.
Regardless how you obtain, there is insane value in the Companion Pass and it should not be overlooked. Sarah and I were fortunate to have the Pass from early January 2017 through December 31, 2018. We got $7,583.80 in free airfare (based on over 20 round-trip flights each)!!!
So there you have it. All the ins-and-outs of the Southwest Rapids Rewards program. As always, please give us your feedback, comments or questions in our Facebook group!
Travel on Point(s) has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel on Point(s) and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.