A Beginner’s Guide to Southwest Airlines (WN) Rapid Rewards Miles

southwest

0. Introduction

Do you do a lot of domestic travel? If so, this guide may interest you!

Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest low-cost carrier, serving over 101 destinations within the continental U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean. They have a generous rewards program (Rapid Rewards), where you can redeem points for free travel.

Even for you avid international travelers, there are several reasons why you might want to consider accruing points on a low-cost carrier like Southwest. I’ll rattle off a couple reasons of my own:

  • Save your miles: I like to save miles that I can use on international flights. It feels like such a waste to redeem United miles for domestic flights. Southwest points can be a great buffer for shielding your other miles for international travel.
  • Positioning flights: Have you ever found a great deal on a flight but you couldn’t take advantage of them because they didn’t depart from your home city? I live in Chicago and see flight deals out of New York constantly. Southwest can help me position into those cities, allowing me to take advantage of more deals.

So how do they work? Let’s get started!

1. How Do I Earn Points?

1.1. Flights

You can accumulate points by flying on Southwest. Here’s a chart from their website:

southwest earn points

For every dollar that you spend on the ticket, you’ll earn a fixed number of points based on the fare that you choose. Personally speaking, I only book “Wanna Get Away” fares because that’s where I find the cheapest fares. “Anytime” fares will offer you a little more flexibility by allowing you to fully refund the ticket, and “Business Select” fares will offer you priority boarding and an in-flight drink.

Important Note #1: “Wanna Get Away” fares aren’t refundable, meaning you won’t get a refund back to your credit/debit card. But, you’ll get a credit for the cost of the ticket that you can use towards a future flight on Southwest. They need to be used within a year of the cancellation date!

Important Note #2: If you book your ticket with points, all fares are fully refundable.

1.2. Credit cards

Southwest offers credit cards through their partnership with Chase. They come in 3 flavors and are very similar to one another:

The Premier version of the card typically offers a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, while the Plus version typically offers 25,000. The sign-up bonus on the Plus card frequently goes up to 50,000 points, so keep an eye out for those. While these two cards may feel similar, Chase considers them as separate and distinct products. This is great for us because we can apply for both and get the bonus on both!

1.3. Shopping Portal

Rapid Rewards has a shopping portal where you can earn more points. You earn points by clicking through their portal to participating retailers. If you’ll be shopping on a site anyway, why not earn some Southwest points?

1.4. Rapid Rewards Dining

Link your credit card and earn points by dining at participating restaurants. I don’t go out of my way to dine at these restaurants. I just link my credit card and forget about it. Every once in a while I unknowingly dine at a participating restaurant and earn extra points! This way I don’t let points and miles influence my daily decisions too much.

1.5. Partner Transfer

Chase Ultimate Rewards (earned through Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Preferred) can be converted into Southwest points at a 1:1 ratio. Hotel points (Hyatt/Marriott) can also do this, though at a poor 2:1 ratio.

2. How to Use Southwest Points

Southwest redemptions are pretty straightforward. The main page will offer you the option between paying with cash or with points. Tick the option for points and conduct your search.

southwest redeem

Once you conduct a few searches you’ll notice that not all flights cost the same amount of points. This is because Southwest award prices are proportionate to the cash cost of your flight. This pricing system allows you to book very cheap award tickets. Check out this fare I found on a flight from Chicago Midway to LaGuardia for a Tuesday.

Some of these flights go for only 2822 points! If you have Ultimate Rewards points, you’d only have to transfer 3,000 points to book this ticket.

In contrast to other Ultimate Rewards partners, British Airways redemptions will require 7,500 miles on this route. Worse still, United Airlines will require 12,500 miles for a one-way economy award ticket, at least. So for all you readers out there with Ultimate Rewards points, keep an eye on Southwest’s prices.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. On days where cash fares are high (like the days leading up to Thanksgiving or Christmas), you’ll need considerably more points for a ticket. This is where other airlines can shine.

3. Companion Pass

3.1. What is it?

Southwest’s most discussed perk is their coveted Companion Pass. The Companion Pass lets you assign a person to travel with you for free. After you purchase your ticket (with cash or points, it doesn’t matter!), you’ll have the option to add a companion to join you on the itinerary. This can be a great money saver if you frequently travel with friends and family.

3.2. How do I get it?

To obtain a Companion Pass you need to earn 110,000 points in a calendar year. Points earned through flights, the Southwest credit card, and the Rapid Rewards shopping portal will count towards the Pass. Sadly, point transfers from Ultimate Rewards and hotel programs will not count.

3.3. Is there an easier way?

The easiest way to obtain the Southwest Companion Pass is to sign up for the Southwest credit card. If you can snag a 50,000 sign up bonus, those points will immediately count towards your progress for the Companion Pass. If you are highly motivated to obtain the Pass, you might consider picking up a 2nd Southwest card for an additional 50,000 points. 100,000 points would get you very close!

3.4. How long can I brag?

The Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it and throughout the following year. In other words, if I earn the Companion Pass in April 2017, I will enjoy the Companion Pass for the rest of 2017 and throughout 2018. Pretty sweet, eh?

3.5. What if I get tired of my Companion?

You’re in luck. You can re-assign your Companion up to 3 times per calendar year.

4. Miscellaneous

4.1. Checked Luggage

Southwest offers two free pieces of checked luggage per person. This goes for award tickets too!

4.2. Boarding Procedure

Southwest’s boarding procedure is unique in that you can sit in any open seat once you board the aircraft. In order to avoid anarchy, passengers are assigned a boarding group (notated by letters A, B, or C) and a boarding position (numbered 1-60). Once the boarding process begins, passengers holding boarding positions A1 through A15 will board, then A15-30, and so on and so forth until the C45-C60 passengers have boarded.

A1-A15 positions are reserved for Business Select passengers. The rest are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis starting 24 hours before your flight. Exactly 24 hours before your flight, you’ll have the opportunity to check in for your flight. The sooner you check-in, the earlier your boarding position will be.

4.3. Expiration

Your points will expire after 24 months of inactivity. It’s very easy to avoid this if you have their credit card. Otherwise, points earned from flights, dining rewards, or through the shopping portal could easily reset your expiration clock.


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