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The nonexistent Southwest award chart: A double-edged sword of simplicity and uncertainty

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The nonexistent Southwest award chart: A double-edged sword of simplicity and uncertainty

Joseph HostetlerThe nonexistent Southwest award chart: A double-edged sword of simplicity and uncertaintyMillion Mile Secrets Team

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If you’re feverishly earning Southwest points for your next getaway, you’re not alone now that the personal Southwest credit cards all have the same increased bonus offer of 60,000 points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements. You’ll earn 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account and an additional 20,000 points after spending $12,000 on purchases in the first year of account opening with these cards:

Now that you’re on your way to earning all those Southwest points, you might be curious how close you are to a free flight? You won’t find your answer on a traditional airline award chart. Southwest doesn’t have an award chart. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of this below.

There is no Southwest award chart, but that’s not a bad thing. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets.)

A Southwest award chart doesn’t exist – here are the pros and cons

Many airlines have a fixed award price depending on your origin and destination. For example, United Airlines charges 30,000 miles for a one-way coach flight from the U.S. to anywhere in Europe. Whether you fly from New York to Paris or San Diego to Moscow, you’ll pay 30,000 miles, although that is all changing for United Airlines awards for travel after Nov. 15, 2019.

Other airlines, like British Airways, price award seats based on the distance you fly.

Southwest simply charges according to the cash price of the ticket. Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth ~1.5 cents each toward Southwest flights based on our valuations.

If you open a card like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card, you could receive $900 in free Southwest flights. The card comes with 60,000 Southwest points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

The pros

The obvious upside to this method is that when Southwest has a sale, both the cash price and the award price go down. In the past, I’ve purchased one-way flights for ~3,000 points from Cincinnati to Chicago during Southwest sales.

As an example, here’s a look at the current Southwest prices from Austin to Atlanta.

Many of the flights cost less than 8,000 points.

To compare to other airlines, this same trip costs:

  • 9,000 United Airlines miles
  • 12,500 American Airlines miles

Those airlines charge that price no matter what. Even if you can buy American Airlines flights for $70, you still pay 12,500 American Airlines miles. Many Southwest flights often price out far cheaper than other U.S. airlines, so you’ll save when you use Southwest points.

The cons

The downside is that you can’t predict the exact award prices for your Southwest flights. Although Southwest is touted to have rock-bottom prices, sometimes they don’t.

With other airlines, you’ll at least have a fixed goal in mind, although many airlines are now offering more award sales and introducing dynamic pricing.

For example, American Airlines charges a maximum of 12,500 miles for a one-way coach flight of 501+ miles in the continental U.S. and Canada (provided there is a “saver” award seat available). So if I have 12,500 American Airlines miles, I know I can fly from anywhere in the continental U.S. or Canada to anywhere else in the same region. I can fly from New York to Tucson. I can fly from San Antonio to Seattle, no matter the cash price.

With Southwest, you must continually check every route to see what it will cost. Prices will fluctuate.

Southwest allows you to change or cancel your award flight at no charge. So if you book a flight and later find a cheaper ticket, you can simply cancel your reservation and rebook to get the lower price.

Another negative is that you never get outsized value for your Southwest points. Expect a flat 1.4-1.7 cents per point.

For example, if peak holiday flights to your grandma’s house on the East Coast cost $900, you can expect to pay 60,000 Southwest points. But you’ll still only pay 12,500 American Airlines miles (provided there are “saver” seats available).

Bottom line

Southwest simply prices its award seats according to the cash value of the ticket and Southwest points generally are worth ~1.5 cents each toward Southwest flights.

If the flight you want costs $300, you will need close to 20,000 Southwest points and you will still have to pay taxes and fees on your award flight.

What do you think of Southwest’s award structure? Do you prefer an “award chart” that’s based on the cash price of a flight, or do you like the structured award charts?

Check out our guides for using Southwest Airlines miles:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

  • Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available
  • Inflight WiFi Credits
  • Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • Employee cards at no additional cost, earn points on employee spending.

More Info

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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Southwest used to require canceling and rebooking to get the lower price. Now you can change your flight to the same flight, same day, and have points returned to your account or, if you paid cash, receive a voucher. Just select the change option on their web site and pick the same flight.

I guess I never thought of the fact that they don’t have an award chart – obviously, it’s a non-issue for me. I usually use SW miles when they have a “good” sale.

I have to admit that I’m a bit partial to having award charts 🙂 but to each their own!

I have always had great service from Southwest staff. I love how you can use Twitter to resolve most issues, much better than waiting on the phone! Love the generous policy where you can cancel and rebook if price goes down, and cancel if an emergency pops up and you can’t fly that day. I wish other airlines would copy that!

Haha awesome! Glad that Twitter was able to help you out. I wonder how common it is for airlines in general though to be able to help out via social media like that?

Love Rapid Rewards for simplicity and effficiency. They are the largest carrier at our home airport (BHM) and get us anywhere we wanna go with a smile and great attitude.

I love it when companies put customer service as a priority. Some places still know how business is done! 🙂