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There are lots of reasons to love the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, like the excellent customer service and absence of change or cancellation fees. And earning Southwest points is a good choice because they don’t have blackout dates on award flights and the price of an award flight is tied to the cash price. So cheaper tickets cost fewer points.
There are even a handful of airline credit cards and a couple of business credit cards you can open to amass bunches of Southwest points easily. So let’s look at what you can do to make the most of all those points once you’ve earned them.
Best ways to use Southwest points
When it comes to using Southwest points, they’re a bit different than most miles or points. Southwest doesn’t have a traditional award chart where flights are broken up into geographic or distance-based zones. With Southwest, the cost of an award ticket is tied to the cash price of the flight. Typically Southwest points are worth 1.4 to 1.8 cents per point in Southwest airfare. But there are some ways to use your Southwest points that are better than others.
Booking “Wanna Get Away” fares
While the actual value you get per Southwest point will vary, you’ll almost always get the most value per point if you use them to book Wanna Get Away fares (the cheapest ones).
Here are some points prices for Southwest flights from Atlanta to New York:
And here is the cash price for those same tickets:
Here’s the value per point for each of those flights:
- Wanna Get Away 1.59 to 1.81 cents each
- Anytime 1.43 to 1.45 cents each
- Business Select 1.42 to 1.45 cents each
You can see that not only are Wanna Get Away fares cheaper, but you’ll get more bang for your buck as well. This is only one example I randomly pulled up. So it’s possible on some flights the difference in value won’t be as extreme. But regardless, you’ll always be more likely to get a better value for your points if you stick with Wanna Get Away fares.
The Caribbean & Hawaii
While Southwest flies primarily domestic U.S. routes, they’re also a great option if you’re interested in a tropical getaway. They fly to these destinations in the Caribbean and Hawaii:
- Belize City
- Costa Rica
- Cuba (for now)
- Dominican Republic
- Grand Cayman
- Hawaii (Honolulu, Lihue, Hilo, Kahului, and Kona)
- Mexico (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Los Cabos)
- Puerto Rico
- Turks and Caicos Islands
This is great if you don’t have a flexible schedule because Southwest doesn’t have blackout dates. As long as the seat is open you can book it with points.
But the prices do increase as the cheapest fares are booked up and the price will really jump up if there aren’t anymore Wanna Get Away fares. So if you want to get the best deals to popular spots like these, you should book your flights as soon as Southwest opens up their schedule (subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll let you know when it happens).
Just because Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe, Asia, or South America doesn’t mean Southwest points can’t save you money in getting to those destinations. We often send out fare deals to Europe to our newsletter subscribers where it’s not uncommon to find round-trip flights to Europe for ~$400 or less. But it’s often the case that those flights are only from major airports.
The good news is, there are cities where Southwest has an operating base (hub):
- Baltimore/Washington (BWI)
- Chicago (Midway)
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
So whenever you see a deal from any of these cities to Europe, Asia or South America, there is a good chance you can get there for less on a Southwest flight.
Bringing along a lap infant for free
If you’re traveling with an infant less than 2 years old, you’ll find that Southwest has a very generous policy. On all domestic flights, you can bring one lap infant along for free with each adult (12+ years old). Because Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats, you’ve also got a much better chance of having an empty seat next to you to use for the baby.
And even on Southwest’s international flights, you can bring along a lap infant for only the cost of the taxes and fees for the international segment. That’s typically a solid deal considering that many airlines charge at least 10% of the adult fare, even on award flights.
You will need to prove your child’s age so be sure to bring some sort of identification like a birth certificate or passport.
Purchase (or re-book) flights during Southwest sales
Southwest has regular fare sales and because the award and cash prices of tickets are linked, you can book Southwest flights for fewer points during sales. Not only that but Southwest doesn’t have cancelation or change fees. If the flight you’ve already booked drops in price during a sale, you can easily re-book at the lower price.
Instantly (nearly) double your value with a Southwest Companion Pass
If you aren’t familiar with the Southwest Companion Pass, you should be. It’s the best tool for making your Southwest points are worth more. If you have a Southwest Companion Pass you can bring along your designated companion on any Southwest flight (points or cash) for just the cost of taxes and fees. On domestic flights that means it only costs ~$11 to bring along your friend, spouse, or family member.
To earn a Southwest Companion Pass you’ll to need to meet one of these requirements in a calendar year:
- Earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points
- Complete 100 one-way Southwest flights
If that sounds like an impossible task, it’s actually more realistic than it seems because the Southwest points you earn from Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses from travel credit cards like the following, count toward earning a Companion Pass:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
Before you attempt this strategy there are a couple of rules you’ll want to be aware of. First off, you can only hold one personal Southwest card at a time. And you can only earn the sign-up bonus on one personal Southwest card every 24 months.
But you can hold a personal Southwest card and both Southwest Business cards at the same time. And you might qualify for small business credit cards and not even realize it. You don’t need to be a full-time business or even have a special business structure setup if you are a sole proprietor.
Right now the Southwest Premier business card has a 60,000-point bonus, which you can earn after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. And the Southwest Performance business card has an 70,000-point bonus you can earn after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Including the points you earn from the minimum spending, you’ll have earned 75,000 Southwest points just from opening a single card.
The Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the calendar year you earn it in and the entire next calendar year. So if you earn a Companion Pass in January or February 2020 it will be valid until December 31, 2021.
Don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule because it does impact the Southwest cards. If you’ve opened five or more cards from any bank in the past 24 months, you won’t be eligible for any Chase credit cards. But certain small business cards won’t show up on your personal credit report, so they won’t add to your count.
Southwest is a favorite airline of many because of its customer-friendly policies. And even though they don’t have a traditional award chart like other airlines, there are still plenty of ways to get great value from the best ways to use Southwest points.
You could use your Southwest points to position yourself to take advantage of a cheap flight to Europe or to fly to a beautiful tropical destination in the Caribbean or Hawaii.
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