The Southwest “award chart”: A double-edged sword of simplicity and uncertainty
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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 bonus offer of 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
That’ll get you the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. The following cards offer that bonus:
- 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 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 worth of 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 6,000 points. To compare to other airlines, this same trip costs as little as:
- 12,500 United Airlines miles
- 6,000 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.
Some airlines have more predictable prices for their fares. For example, United Airlines often charges 12,500 miles one-way for domestic flights (though not always). If you have 12,500 miles, you can pretty well know what you can get from them. With Southwest, you must continually check every route to see what it will cost. Award prices fluctuate alongside the cash price.
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. Southwest points value is generally between 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. United Airlines may still charge just 12,500 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?
Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points know-how.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardAPPLY NOW
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
20.24% – 27.24% Variable
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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! :)