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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:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
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.
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 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 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).
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: