The basics: How to use Southwest points for award flights

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One of the great things about the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is that there are no blackout dates for booking flights with points. Simple rules and a straightforward policy like this make Southwest a favorite airline for many flyers like Million Mile Secrets staff and readers, who have used Southwest points to fly to popular spots like New York City, Las Vegas, Cancun, Punta Cana, San Diego or Austin.

If you’re new to the miles and points hobby and want to make the most of Southwest’s customer-friendly Rapid Rewards program, we have some tips and tricks. Let’s start with the basics of how to use Southwest points for nearly free travel.

You can redeem Southwest points for flights to Hawaii, which is a great low-cost option for getting to the Aloha State. (Photo courtesy of Southwest.)

How to use Southwest points

To collect Southwest points, set up a Southwest Rapid Rewards account. Rapid Rewards is the Southwest Airlines frequent-flyer program. It’s easy to sign up for an account on Southwest’s home page. Check out this guide for step-by-step instructions on how to set up a Southwest account.

If you want more Southwest points, you can earn them directly from the following cards:

  • 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

Southwest is also a Chase transfer partner, so if you need to top off your account, you can move Chase points when you have cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Benefits of flying Southwest

Southwest offers tons of great perks. All flyers can check up to two bags for free and bring one carry-on and one personal item on the plane.

There is no Southwest award chart. The points needed to book a flight on Southwest are based on the cost of the flight, so the price fluctuates, unlike other airlines that have a set number of points to book a flight within a specific distance or zone. Southwest points value is generally around 1.5 cents each toward Southwest flights.

There are no blackout dates for booking flights with points, but obviously flights will require more points during popular times (think Spring Break and Christmas). Southwest also does not charge change fees, so you can cancel or change your flight without penalty if you find a cheaper option during a Southwest sale. You will have to pay the difference for any increase in fare if you change your flight to a more expensive ticket.

If you cancel your flight, you’ll receive a Southwest credit if you paid in cash and booked a Wanna Get Away fare. If you booked with Southwest points, the points will immediately be credited back to your account.

With these lenient cancellation rules, we always suggest booking a flight if you find a good price because you can always cancel and rebook if you find a lower price.

Booking a Southwest Flight with points

Here is a step-by-step guide to booking a Southwest flight with points:

1. Start on Southwest’s home page

To book a Southwest flight using your Southwest points, it’s easiest to start at the Low Fare Calendar. Log into your Southwest Rapid Rewards account and then click the “Low Fare Calendar.” This allows you to see the lowest point price for a flight across a range of dates. You can then select a date that works for you and the best price.

2. Enter your search criteria

Enter your departure city, destination and the month you will be traveling, along with the total number of passengers. Then choose “Points” at the top right and click the “Search” button.

3. Review dates and total points needed

You’ll get a list of the lowest prices in points on each day of the month for both outbound and return flights. You can select a departure date and return date to see the flight options. The various flight options can be sorted using the “Fare Type” dropdown. You can select “Lowest fare” to see the cheapest options.

Choose the outbound and return flights you want and click “Continue.”

4. Select your flights

The next page will list flight options on that date along with the cost in points each way. Again, you’ll be able to filter the results by departure time, nonstop flights, etc. Make your selections and click “Continue.”

5. Continue to checkout or save flight

From there, you’ll see the total cost of the flight. The total cost includes the $5.60 mandatory government security fee per person per direction. Double check that everything looks right and then choose to “Save this flight for later” or “Continue.”

6. Complete your purchase

To purchase the flight, select the “Continue” button. Then, fill in the passenger information and pay the mandatory government security fee. That’s it.

Bottom line

Southwest has a great frequent-flyer program that not only allows you to earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass but also is incredibly flexible with no blackout dates or change/cancellation fees.

In no time at all, you can be flying free using easy-to-earn Southwest points.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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