Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards
Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards
We fly on Southwest to Disney World about once a month and many of our flights only cost $11.20/person round trip, or $5.60/person one way. Too good to be true? Nope, it’s real. This post covers the basics of how we utilize the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program to travel for little to no out-of-pocket cost. We briefly discuss how to collect Rapid Reward points and how to use those points to fly for free.
What is the Rapid Rewards Program?
Rapid Rewards is Southwest’s loyalty program. It is free to sign up for a Rapid Rewards account and you can do it right on Southwest.com. For most people, having a Rapid Rewards Account means: if I take a Southwest flight, I earn miles. Once I take enough flights, I will earn enough miles to have a free flight on Southwest. What many people aren’t aware of, is that you can earn Rapid Rewards points (miles) a lot of other ways too. Southwest Rapid Reward miles and the companion pass (also discussed below) are a big reason why we are able to travel to Disney World as often as we do.
How To Get Rapid Rewards Points
There are several ways to get Rapid Reward points. Depending on your level of dedication to collecting airline miles, some will appeal to you and others won’t.
Flying On Southwest
If you have a Rapid Rewards account, anytime that you purchase a flight through Southwest you will earn miles. This is the easiest way to earn miles and it is free. To earn the miles, be sure that your Rapid Rewards account number is linked to your plane ticket. The main downside to this method of earning miles is that if you do not fly often, then it may take a while to earn enough miles for a free flight.
Southwest Credit Cards Sign-Up Bonus
One of the fastest ways to obtain Rapid Reward miles is through the Southwest co-branded credit cards offered by Chase. Chase currently offers 3 personal credit cards and 1 business card. With the current deal, after spending $1,000 during the first 3 months of opening one of the personal credit cards, you will earn a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Rapid Reward points. If you happen to open the business version of this credit card, you can earn 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This is the quickest method for getting started with collecting Rapid Rewards points.
If you have a small business and want to apply for the business card as well as the personal card, you have a fantastic opportunity to open two Southwest credit cards and earn two bonuses. One word of advice, Chase will only allow an individual to earn one Southwest sign-up bonus across all of their personal credit cards per 24-month period. So trying to earn multiple sign-up bonuses by signing up for the different personal credit cards will not work.
Do Not Miss Out On The Sign-Up Bonus
Earning a sign-up bonus from meeting the required spend within the set timeframe is one of the best ways to earn Rapid Reward points. The sign-up bonus is also the main reason to get one of these credit cards. You want to be 100% sure you will be able to meet the required spend before signing up for the card. For the personal credit card mentioned above, that means you want to be sure to spend at least $1,000 on that card within the first 3 months. The faster you meet the spend requirement, the sooner you will get the points associated with the signup bonus.
Once you get the card, be sure to keep track of your spend and how much time you have to meet at least the required amount. You want to make sure that you will earn the sign-up bonus. If you are ever not sure if you met the spend amount, you can call the number on the back of your credit card to confirm. We cannot stress this enough, if you get the credit card, be sure to earn that sign up bonus.
Using Your Southwest Credit Card
When you make purchases with your Southwest credit card, you earn Rapid Reward points. For most of the Chase credit cards, you earn one point for each dollar spent. You earn more points for purchases of Southwest flights. These points will be added to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account after each monthly billing period.
Ultimate Reward Credit Cards
In addition to the actual Southwest co-branded credit cards, Chase offers a number of their own cards that earn Ultimate Reward Points. You can think of Ultimate Reward Points as Chase’s internal version of airline miles or hotel points. The benefit of collecting Ultimate Reward points is that they can be transferred to a number of different airlines and hotels (Airlines as of writing – Aer Lingus, British Airways, Flying Blue, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic and Hotels as of writing – Hyatt, IHG, Marriott). While we do not advise transferring Ultimate Reward points to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account in all circumstances, there are cases where it might make sense to do so.
Why do we not generally recommend transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest Rapid Reward miles? We love to travel internationally, and when we do, we often want more aspirational travel in Business or First class. Ultimate Reward points are great for this type of travel and we can often get far more value from using them for our international travels than we can on Southwest. Three instances where it can make sense to transfer Ultimate Reward points to Southwest are (1) you do not want to travel internationally (2) flying for free on Southwest will allow you to take a trip you otherwise could not have taken (3) you have a companion pass which essentially doubles the value of your points.
One word of caution: If you do choose to use your Ultimate Reward points on Southwest, we strongly recommend maintaining them as Ultimate Reward points until you plan to use them. By transferring them to Southwest in advance, you lose the flexibility of the Ultimate Reward program.
How to use them Southwest Rapid Rewards
For Southwest, the number of miles I must redeem for travel changes based on the cost of my ticket. This is a nice system because all seats are available for purchase by points. The benefit is that if a seat is available, it can be redeemed with points. The downside is that expensive flights cost a lot of points.
Rapid Reward points fall into what we will call the semi-fixed value point type. What this means is that you can redeem Rapid Rewards for approximately 1.5 cents per mile towards the cost of a flight. For example, a one way ticket from Nashville to Orlando currently costs $156, or approximately 10,281 miles. This means that we know the general cost for a flight and we know that as along as a seat is available, we are going to be able to book it with points.
The fact that the number of miles needed to book a Southwest flight increases as ticket prices increase does not cause much of a problem for us – we are based in Nashville and are fortunate enough to have multiple daily flights directly to Orlando at relatively low cost. However, if flights from your local airport are generally expensive to your destination of choice, this type of fixed value redemption system may prove costly.
For us, a typical round-trip flight from Nashville (BNA) to Orlando (MCO) runs between $200 and $300. On points, this amounts to between 13,000 and 20,000 Rapid Reward miles on average. Combined with our compassion pass (see the section below) we are able to both travel round trip from BNA to MCO for a total cost of between 13,000 and 20,000 miles. We also have to each pay $11.20 each for the required 9/11 security fee.
Booking On Southwest.com With Points
When you login to your Southwest account, you will see your point balance in your account. You can search for flights as you would normally, the one difference is selecting points instead of dollars when searching for flights. When the search results appear, you will notice that the number of points needed will vary based on the day/time of the flight just as the dollar price of flights vary. When booking a flight with points, you will still need to pay an $11.20 for each round trip ticket. This amount goes to the required 9/11 security fee.
For those who live near a Southwest hub and for those who love to fly on Southwest, there is no better benefit in all of air travel than the Companion Pass. In short, the companion pass allows one person to designate a companion who then gets to travel for free (the $11.20 security fee still applies) anytime the member who designated them as a companion flies. For the price of one ticket, two people get to fly! This is an unlimited benefit for the duration of the companion pass and it applies to award travel too. If I book a flight on miles and fly for free, I can book Sara on the same flight (as my companion) and she also flies for free!
Earning A Companion Pass
The challenge is getting a companion pass. To earn the pass, you must earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Reward miles within one calendar year, and not all miles earned count. The miles that count include credit card sign-up bonuses, credit card spend, and points earned through travel on Southwest. You can also earn the companion pass by completing 100 flights on Southwest in one calendar year. But this method is not possible for us. We try to earn our companion pass through points.
So how do we earn our 110,000 points? Through credit card signup bonuses and a few additional miles earned through flights. If you want to try and earn one, the best and only realistic method for getting it through signup bonuses is to get approved for two Southwest credit cards – the personal and the business card. By doing this, you can earn 40,000 points by meeting the initial spend $1,000 on the personal card and 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on the business card. This results in you having 104,000 points (100,000 from the bonuses and 4,000 from the spend). Then you only have 6,000 miles left to earn to get your companion pass!
How To Maximize The Companion Pass
A few pieces of advice for maximizing your companion pass. If you plan on earning your pass through credit card sign-up bonuses, remember that the 110,000 points must all be earned during one calendar year. To maximize the time you get to use your companion pass for, you will want to be sure that you earn the 110,000 points as early into the calendar year as possible. To do this, I would recommend opening the Southwest Business Credit Card around November with the intention of finishing your bonus spend just after the new year. This will result in your getting the bonus deposited into Southwest Rapid Rewards account just after the new year. You can also apply for the personal version of the credit card in January and meet the spend here as soon as possible.
Unless you have large enough purchases taking place during the early part of the year, I would recommend staggering your cards to help meet the spend for the bonus and to have those bonuses deposit into your account as quickly as possible. I would also suggest taking extra precaution not to meet your bonus spend on the card opened in November prior to the New Year. If you meet the spend too early, the points will post in the wrong calendar year and ruin your chances of a companion pass. Furthermore, by earning the companion pass as early as February, you will get up to 23 months of use – the 11 remaining months of this year and the full next year.
I suggest trying to get the business card before the personal card because it is more difficult to get approved for a Chase business card that it is a personal card (this has been our experience, yours may differ).
Our Final Thoughts
Southwest Rapid Reward miles and the companion pass are a big reason why we are able to travel to Disney World as often as we do. Miles and Points aren’t for everyone. But if you’re interested and Southwest services your local airport, a Rapid Rewards account is a great way to get started. Rapid Reward miles are easy to use with no blackout dates. So as long as a flight is available for purchase, you can use your points to book a ticket.
Hopefully this post has offered some basic information on how to get started collecting and using Rapid Reward miles. If you are hoping for more information, we are working on additional posts on how to use points for hotel stays, more information on transferable points (Ultimate Reward, Marriott, ThankYou, Capital One, and Membership Reward), and information on aspirational business or first-class international travel. Most of these posts will tie into the points we use for travel to Disney. We also have a follow-up post to this one that highlights why, beyond the points, adults should consider traveling on Southwest. If you have any questions of suggestions for future posts, please leave them in a comment below!
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