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Southwest Rapid Rewards: A Valuable Program for the Avid Domestic Flyer

Opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the issuer. We may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program. For a full list of our advertisers, including American Express, see our disclosure page.

Contents

The United States' premier domestic airline, Southwest brings the Rapid Rewards program that rewards those who fly their brand frequently. Southwest's new slogan is "Transfarency", and indeed with low fares, reasonable mile redemptions, and consistently higher than the average domestic value than other major carriers this is a great program for any frequent domestic flyer.

Redeeming Rapid Rewards for Flights 

Value of a Rapid Rewards Mile

We define the value of your Rapid Rewards miles as the number of miles needed to redeem a free flight divided by the usual fare for that flight. With other rewards programs such as Delta, American and United, major international carriers, the value of a mile can fluctuate drastically across the world, and can be very low for domestic flights. With Southwest however, the number of miles needed to redeem a flight scales consistently with fare price. Thus, whether it is a trans-continental flight, or a 2-hour flight, the number of miles remains proportionate to the fare. The only variation in mile value happens between the three classes Southwest gives, Business Select, Anytime and "Wanna Get Away" which we get an average value of 0.9, 1.1 and 1.5 cents per mile respectively. 

Flight  Class
Wanna Get Away (cents) Anytime (cents) Business Select (cents)
NYC to New Orleans 1.5 1.1 0.9
NYC to Detroit 1.6 1.1 0.9
NYC to L.A. 1.2 1.1 0.9
Dallas to Denver 1.8 1.1 0.9
Chicago to Seattle 1.6 1.1 0.9
L.A. to Miami 1.3 1.1 0.9
L.A to Philadelphia 1.1 1.1 0.9
Average 1.5 1.1 0.9

Southwest has the most consistent mile value and highest value for domestic flights in comparison to other frequent flyer programs. Regardless of the starting or final airport, the values for "Anytime" and "Business Select" were always around 1.1 and 0.9 cents per mile respectively, while "Wanna Get Away" was the only fare class that fluctuates. With "Wanna Get Away" we find a slight trend with shorter flights fetching higher values than longer flights. For example, New York to Detroit is a bit higher in value than New York to L.A. This trend may not always be the case however. We found some eight-hour flights with higher value than some four-hour flights, for example, so this statement should not be taken as a definite but as a possible guide.

With the other programs we explore, we designate a certain value as a benchmark to measure what is considered a good value for miles. Generally that value averages around 1.2 cents per mile with anything above that being excellent. In those programs however, values could range from 0.5 cents per mile up to over 3 cents per mile, making a defined benchmark important to know. The consistency of Rapid Rewards diminishes the importance of the benchmark. To understand mile value for Rapid Rewards, fare classes serve as a better benchmark. Booking with "Wanna Get Away" will always get you a higher value than the other two classes, meaning values above 1.1 and 0.9 cents per mile. This works great in the opposite dirction as well since the value will never dip to extreme lows (0.9 being the lowest) unlike other carrier's programs' that can drop to as low as 0.5 cents per mile - quite bad. 

"Wanna Get Away" vs "Anytime" vs "Business Select" Fare Classes

We mention above how the most important factor in Rapid Rewards is fare class. "Wanna Get Away" and "Anytime" are both coach classes with the difference being "Anytime" redemptions require an average of 4x as many miles along with a consistently lower mile value. It may seem "Wanna Get Away" is always the best option to choose, which is mostly true, but there are important things to note. 

fares

There is a clear flexibility disadvantage for "Wanna Get Away": you're unable to refund the flight or get priority boarding. On the whole, however, we don't think these are very large issues to most travelers. Since most domestic flights are generally short, dealing with any inconvience of the cheapest fare is not that important compared to international flights that can be over six hours. The biggest issue with "Wanna Get Away" is availability. It is the best option, and that means it will go by very fast. If you want to be able to get a flight for this option, we suggest you do it well in advance, or you will be stuck with Anytime and Business Select.

When the worst-case scenario strikes, and you are faced between those two classes, we would says always go for Anytime. It's a better miles value, and the difference between an Anytime and Business Select can be anywhere from 15,000 miles to over 30,000 miles. In contrast, the difference in fares between the two classes is usually only less than $80. When we multiply 15,000 miles by our average point value of 1.2 cents per mile, we get $186, over $100 more expensive than the difference in fare pricing. Bottom line, "Wanna Get Away" is the very best to use for miles, just make sure you get them in time, and when all else fails, settle for Anytime fares. 

Southwest Airlines Companion Pass

One of the greatest and most unique features of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is the Companion Pass, which is exactly as it sounds - a pass to bring a companion on your travels for absolutely free. This powerful tool does require some hard work to get, namely 110,000 miles or 110 flights in one calendar year. If you have someone to travel with though, the Companion Pass is the most powerful flight reward you can achieve. For one, once you achieve it, its good for the entirety of the year AND the next year as well, meaning if you were to get it in January of 2016, you can have a free companion pass until December 31st of 2017. The benefits don't stop there though. You may change your designated "companion" up to three times during the duration of having the pass. The pass can also be used when you are booking a flight with miles and on any fare class.

The trickiest part is earning the 110,000 miles. There are some restrictions as well; some miles don't count toward that 110,000. Miles transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards, another Rapid Rewards account or miles from a previous year do not count. However, what does count are miles accumulated through flying, Southwest credit cards, transfers from hotel brands such as Hyatt and Marriott, and through Southwest's dining and shopping portal. Below we detail how the Southwest credit card can get half of the required points just by signing up for one. 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards

There are three personal and two business credit cards that can help consumers earn extra Rapid Reward points. All the Southwest-branded cards earn users an extra 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest expenses – that’s on top of the six to 12 base points you receive for booking flights (through the loyalty program without the branded credit card). The Southwest credit cards will also earn users one point per $1 on all other spending. There are two tiers of Southwest credit cards that differ by annual fee: $69 and $99. The $99 credit cards are the better deal in almost all cases. Even though they are more expensive, they award 3,000 more anniversary points, which we value at $36. The difference in anniversary points more than makes up for the higher annual fee. Check out our comprehensive review to learn more about the Southwest credit cards.

Additionally, consumers can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn Rapid Reward points as well, though indirectly. This credit card rewards cardholders two Ultimate Reward points per $1 on dining and travel expenses, and one point per $1 everywhere else. Those Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to a number of different hotel and airline programs – including Southwest. The downside of using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card over a Southwest branded one is that you will miss out on all the airline perks the latter comes with – including things like free checked baggage, and elite qualifying miles.

It’s important to note that the bonus Rapid Reward miles you earn with the airline-affiliated cards can help you qualify for the Southwest companion pass. With the Southwest credit cards, the welcome bonus changes between 25k and 60k points throughout the year. If you are going after that companion pass, we recommend patiently waiting and planning the optimal time to sign-up for one of these cards - when the bonus is highest.

If you’re interested in figuring out which of these five cards will provide you with the best value based on how you spend each month, use our interactive tool below.

Edit Monthly Spend: $1,430
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Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the Rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s sign-up bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards Value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any sign-up bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
$69 4.21%
$1,071
Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in first 3 months of opening your account
$1,516
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $69
APR 16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.017 = $583
Bonuses
60,000 x $0.017 = $1,020
3,000 x $0.017 = $51
Less Annual Fees -$138
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,516
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
$99 4.19%
$1,122
Get 60,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account
$1,507
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $99
APR 16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.017 = $583
Bonuses
60,000 x $0.017 = $1,020
6,000 x $0.017 = $102
Less Annual Fees -$198
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,507
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 2.86%
$625
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
$1,028
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
APR 16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.013 = $498
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.013 = $625
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,028

Partners 

Perhaps Rapid Reward's biggest weakness comes through it being an unaffiliated airline. It's not a member of Skyteam, Star Alliance or Oneworld, and there are no other airlines to transfer your Rapid Rewards. That may not be such bad news though since Southwest is a domestic airline, and most airline partnerships are with international carriers. Southwest instead has strong partnerships with hotel brands Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood. You can transfer hotel points to miles at 2:1 for Hyatt, 5:1 through 2.8:1 for Marriott. Starwood doesn't allow a transfer of points but every eligible stay at a Starwood property is 600 Rapid Rewards points, and an additional 150 if you book through Southwest. You get the 600 points when you stay at a Hyatt or Marriott property as well. Utilizing your hotel points (if you have them) can be a faster way of quickly achieving Companion Pass status.

Final Thoughts 

Rapid Rewards is the best frequent flyer program for the domestic traveler. As long as you can book the "Wanna Get Away" seats you'll be getting a great deal. Combine this with a Southwest Credit card, and the Companion Pass may be yours to make your travels always company-filled as well. 

Comments and Questions

* See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer's website.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program. 

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: Some of the offers that appear on this website are from companies which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The site does not review or include all companies or all available products. For more information please see our Advertiser Disclosure.