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Southwest Rapid Rewards: 2019 Program Overview

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

How to Get a United Upgrade

At the core of Southwest Airlines is its philosophy of Transfarency®: to treat customers fairly and to keep fares low. This customer-first approach consistently has landed Southwest among the United States' most popular airlines, serving over 120 million passengers annually. Southwest offers a rewarding loyalty program that encourages passengers to continue to fly with the airline and earn savings that other airlines struggle to match.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® status levels

Southwest offers a free-to-join loyalty program called Rapid Rewards. Members can earn Rapid Rewards points that are redeemable for award flights; this is where you can find the most value for your points. Points can also be redeemed for rental cars and hotel stays; however, points are less valuable for these types of redemptions than for award flights.

Beyond simply earning Rapid Rewards points, individuals can also begin racking up tier-qualifying points. These are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest or by using any of its co-branded credit cards, excluding the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. Tier-qualifying points — as the name suggests — count toward accessing the A-List membership statuses.

Southwest A-List membership levels

Southwest has two elite loyalty levels that are accessed by either accumulating tier-qualifying points or one-way flights within a calendar year. There are two levels: A-List and A-List Preferred.

southwest a-list

You will need to fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year to earn A-List status. Through this status, individuals have access to a range of benefits:

  • Priority boarding to be among the first on board
  • 25% earning bonus on qualifying flights
  • Priority check-in and security lane access
  • Free same-day standby
  • Dedicated A-List member phone line
southwest a-list preferred

For A-List Preferred status, these values are doubled. You need to fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier-qualifying points within a calendar year. There is a suite of benefits exclusively available to A-List Preferred members:

  • All A-List features which are listed above
  • 100% earning bonus on qualifying flights
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

The 100% earning bonus on qualifying flights is a great aid to people who want to maximize their Rapid Rewards points for redemption. You will be essentially getting doubled the base amount of points for all qualifying flights, which is a great help toward qualifying for Companion Pass and generally accessing award flights. Free in-flight Wi-Fi is another great benefit provided by A-List Preferred, especially useful for frequent travelers. No other major airline in the United States offers free in-flight Wi-Fi as a loyalty bonus for members.

Earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points by flying

Southwest offers three different ticketing options that provide varying amounts of points. The three types are: Wanna Get Away, Anytime and Business Select. Wanna Get Away can be viewed as the most basic level, while Business Select is the most luxurious. All points earned on Southwest flights are tier-qualifying points.

Flight optionBasicA-List (25% bonus)A-List Preferred (100% bonus)
Wanna Get Away6 points7.5 points12 points
Anytime10 points12.5 points20 points
Business Select12 points15 points24 points
southwest fare points

Southwest has one of the friendliest points-expiration policies among airlines; your points won't expire if you make at least one qualifying transaction through Southwest or a partnered service within two years. If you are a Southwest cardholder, your points won't expire as long as your card account remains open. This is a much better policy than those of other low cost carriers, like the six months expiration timeline of Spirit or three months for Frontier.

Redeeming Southwest Rapid Rewards points

Redeeming your Rapid Rewards points for award flights and other rewards is a streamlined process. You can use earned points to book any type of seat or fare, including Business Select. All awards are revenue based, meaning that when fares go on sale, so do the points needed to redeem that flight. Point values fluctuate depending on destination, time, travel date, demand and fare class, but a solid baseline would be between 1.5 to 1.7 cents per point.

The best ways to redeem Rapid Rewards would be for low-fare travel, especially for discounted flights, due to Southwest's revenue-based awards system. Southwest's destination finder is a great tool to search routes and have an estimate for future flight redemptions.

southwest redeeming flights

You can also redeem Rapid Rewards points for benefits beyond award flights. Other redeemable rewards include gift cards, merchandise, international flights, hotel stays, rental cars and experiential rewards. We would advise against using your points for these other awards, because award flights provide by far the most value per point. Hotel stays are particularly among the worst redemptions, because the value of your points drops by nearly half in comparison to about 0.8 cents per point.

southwest redeeming variety

Southwest Airlines co-branded credit cards

There are a few different options available if you're looking for a Southwest co-branded credit card to help earn more points faster. You should take a look at your specific needs and see which card would be the best fit. Using these credit cards is one of the fastest ways to rack up Rapid Rewards points, especially given the high value of new cardmember bonus offers.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

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

Signup Promo

40,000 points*40,000 points*40,000 points*60,000 points**

Annual Fee

$69$99$149$99

Anniversary Points

3,0006,0007,5006,000

APR

18.24% - 25.24% Variable18.24% - 25.24% Variable18.24% - 25.24% Variable18.24% - 25.24% Variable

Tier Qualifying Points

NoYesYesYes

Earnings Rate

Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest; 1 point on everything elseEarn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest; 1 point on everything elseEarn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest; 1 point on everything elseEarn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest; 1 point on everything else

Network

ChaseChaseChaseChase

*Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months from account opening.

**Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening.

You should be aware that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the only one that does not offer tier-qualifying points toward A-List status. This is also the only card with a foreign transaction fee. The combination of these two factors makes it the least appealing choice, despite offering the lowest annual fee. On the other hand, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has a few extra benefits not listed in the table that may sway you: $75 Southwest annual travel credit, four upgraded boardings per year when available and 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi.

Chase and Southwest Partnership

Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Southwest Rapid Rewards are two different systems that work great together by design, because you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Rapid Rewards 1:1 through a Chase premium credit card. In other words, you can use Chase cards with high point values in bonus categories and then transfer those points to Rapid Rewards for the most value per transaction type. This may be a little more effort, but the amount of value you get in return can't be beat.

How to quickly qualify for A-List status: The welcome bonuses of Southwest co-branded cards count as tier-qualifying points. These sign-up promotions vary depending on when you apply, but usually they are enough to qualify for A-List status through the bonus alone.

However, transferred points do not count as tier-qualifying points. For example, if you earn 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points and then transfer them to Rapid Rewards points, none of these points will qualify you for A-List status. Using Chase cards is great if your goal is to earn enough points for award flights, but they won't help you out in earning elite membership.

On Chase's Secure Website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's Secure Website
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 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.
  • 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
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 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.
  • 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
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent/Good
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
On Chase's Secure Website

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

On Chase's Secure Website
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent Credit
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
On Chase's Secure Website

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

On Chase's Secure Website
80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases–with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more – your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases–with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more – your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
18.24% - 23.24% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent Credit
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

Southwest Partner Offers

Southwest Airlines has an expansive partner network that includes car rental agencies, restaurants, shopping portals and even student loan refinancing. When spending with these partnered services, you can earn both Rapid Rewards points and discounts on the service itself. Partners include:

  • Southwest Hotels
  • Best Western Hotels & Resorts
  • Radisson
  • Choice Hotels
  • Hyatt
  • Marriott
  • Starwood Hotels
  • MGM Resorts
  • Rocketmiles
  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Payless
  • Thrifty
  • Supershuttle
  • Marathon
  • Rapid Rewards® Shopping
  • Rapid Rewards® Dining
  • 1-800-Flowers
  • Laithwaite's Wine
  • Harry & David
  • NRG Energy
  • Rewards for Opinions

Southwest's partner programs are among the best ways to earn a few points, because you're gaining additional value on transactions you would have made regardless. This is an underrated facet of the airline's rewards program that you shouldn't overlook. Southwest also provides a special offers section for additional discounts and points.

Southwest Dining Portal

Southwest Airlines features a Rapid Rewards dining program where individuals can gain Rapid Rewards points by dining at restaurants within the network. If you decline to receive email notifications from the dining program, your rewards rate is one point per $2; this is an awful rate. If you opt into receiving emails, the rewards rate becomes much better at a strong three points per $1. There are also sign-up bonuses that you can earn. These bonuses are an easy way to rack up Rapid Rewards points but typically require at least one qualifying dine within 30 days of registration to access these rewards, so plan accordingly.

Southwest Companion Pass

Companion Pass is a unique offer that no other major domestic airline offers. It's also arguably the greatest promotional offer within the travel industry. While in effect, Companion Pass holders can book an additional ticket for any Southwest flight for a designated companion for nearly free of charge; all you need to do is pay taxes and fees on the second ticket. In other words, you will receive two-for-one tickets anytime you fly with Southwest, with no limit to the number of flights, but this is exclusive to your designated companion (which you can change up to three times per calendar year).

You can earn Companion Pass by accumulating either 100 one-way flights or 110,000 points within one calendar year. The pass is valid from the day it's earned to December 31 of the following year. Although reaching 110,000 points in a year seems difficult, there are actually a few methods you can use to get tons of points immediately. For more information and all the details about Southwest's Companion Pass, take a look at our comprehensive overview.

Frequently asked questions about Southwest Rapid Rewards

The fastest way would be to qualify for a Southwest Airlines co-branded credit card that provides tier-qualifying points as a welcome bonus. While the exact value of the bonuses vary depending on when you apply for each card, the bonuses are typically high enough to grant you A-list status.

If you're interested in applying for a Southwest credit card, we recommend reading our comprehensive overview on the best cards for Southwest Airlines.

Wanna Get Away is the most basic and least expensive flight option provided by Southwest Airlines. Passengers still get two free checked bags and an equal chance of getting A-group boarding, but you earn fewer points due to the lower fare.

You're allowed up to one carry-on bag, one smaller personal-type item and two checked bags for free as long as you abide by size and weight limitations.

Southwest does not offer seat selection, but it does provide priority boarding. Boarding positions are assigned at check-in and will be displayed on the passenger's boarding pass. Business Select flyers are guaranteed a seat at the front of the A-group, then comes Rapid Rewards tier members and, lastly, the remaining passengers.

EarlyBird Check-In is a service provided by Southwest in which passengers can pay a fee to have automatic check-in, boarding assignments 12 hours prior to general boarding and earlier access to overhead bins. Fees range from $15-$25 one-way per passenger.

You can change your designated companion up to three times per calendar year. In other words, you can have up to four different companions within the first year of Companion Pass membership and an additional three companion changes next year. You can travel with up to seven different companions across the duration of your pass.

Final thoughts

Southwest Airlines provides one of the most rewarding loyalty programs currently available within the travel industry and particularly among low-cost carriers. Its Rapid Rewards program is free to join, with a high ceiling of potential benefits. Southwest also has great co-branded credit cards that feature accessible yet huge sign-up bonuses. However, the most unique and special aspect of Southwest is its Companion Pass. Through the pass, members can essentially get a two-for-one deal on any flight without limitation; this is value that can't be matched. We would strongly advise anyone who frequents Southwest Airlines to consider joining its loyalty program and begin saving now.

Comments and Questions

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.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).