Overview of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program

Last Reviewed: 7/3/2011

Southwest Airlines has completely revamped their loyalty program (dubbed “Rapid Rewards”) with the goal of making it simpler to use. Here are some of the key selling points of the program:

  • Unlimited rewards seats
  • No blackout dates
  • Points never expire (unless your account is inactive for 24 months)
  • Earn points on every dollar spent
  • Option to redeem for international flights, hotels, gift cards, and other benefits

In this post, we’ll cover the following facets of the SWA Rapid Rewards program: earning SWA points, redeeming SWA points (including partner redemptions), companion passes, and A-List/A-List Preferred.

Earning Points with the New SWA Rapid Rewards Program

Unlike most airlines, where you earn miles, with SWA you earn points (no real difference though). Points can be earned by flying on any Southwest airlines flight, through the use of any Rapid Rewards credit card from Chase, or through qualifying purchases with partners. So called “non-revenue travel” (plain English: tickets that you get for free, for example from a reward redemption) does not earn points.

The following table shows how many points you earn based on the price and class of the given SWA flight:

Earning Southwest Airlines Points
Fare Type Business Select Anytime Wanna Get Away
Points earned per dollar 12 10 6
Example cost of airfare $250 $200 $100
Example Points Earned 3,000 2,000 600

So as you can see, you earn the fewest points on so-called Wanna Get Away flights (those are limited availability seats), and the most points on business-class seats.

Earning SWA Points with Partners

You can also earn Rapid Rewards with various partners.

Hotels: Earn 600 Rapid Rewards points per qualifying stay at any of the following hotels: Best Western, Choice Hotels International, Hilton, Hyatt, LaQuinta, Marriott, Starwood, Wyndham, and The Venetian/Palazzo.

Dining: The SWA rules for dining are quite involved, but the primary benefit is earning 3 SWA points for every dollar spent at participating restaurants. You can read the complete Rapid Rewards Dining program details, or see the list of participating restaurants.

Rental Cards: Earn 600 Rapid Rewards points per qualifying rental at any of the following companies: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Thrifty.

Bear in mind that GetDebit values SWA points at $0.0160 per point, so a 600 point bonus for an entire hotel stay or rental car session is probably not a life-changing amount of money (a little less than $10). We like to remind our readers of absolute dollar values to make sure we all keep our perspective!

Earning SWA Points With Southwest Airlines Credit Cards

Another great way to earn points is with either the SWA Rapid Rewards Plus Card or the SWA Rapid Rewards Premier Card. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar of spend, and 1 additional point on every dollar spent with Southwest or their partners. For much more detail, you can read GetDebit’s review of both Southwest Credit Cards.

Redeeming Your Southwest Airlines Points

SWA Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed on any SWA flight for any seat, as long as it’s available. The number of points required to earn a free ticket is based on the price of the ticket multiplied by the required number of points per dollar for the given fare class. The table below shows the details:

Redeeming Southwest Airlines Points
Fare Type Business Select Anytime Wanna Get Away
Example Fare $220 $200 $100
Points per Dollar to Redeem 120 100 60
Total Points Required for Free Flight 26,400 20,000 6,000

As you can see from the above table, you get the best value for your hard-earned SWA points by redeeming for Wanna-Get-Away flights (which aren’t as hard to book as you might imagine). While we value individual SWA points at $0.0160, we encourage you to read our post, “How Much Are Southwest Airlines Points Actually Worth?” to get the full picture.

Partner Redemptions

SWA claims that you can also redeem your Rapid Rewards points for international travel on other airlines, hotel stays, gift cards, and travel packages. Amazingly though, they publish no detailed information on their website, and after 3 calls to their customer service center, it became clear that no one at SWA knows anything about this partner program. I’ve made some inquiries up the chain of command there, and once I learn more, I’ll update this post with some useful information. Consider this section a placeholder at the moment!

Companion Passes

Southwest Airlines provides you with the ability to fly a companion with you for free for an entire year, but it takes some serious loyalty to earn this benefit:

  • Members who earn 110,000 points or more in a calendar year or who fly 100 or more SWA flight segments will earn a companion pass, which allows one designated travel companion to fly free with the member for one full year on any SWA flight.
  • Companion pass qualifying points are earned from: flights made with purchased tickets, points earned from any rapid rewards chase credit card, and points earned from Rapid Rewards partners. Bonus points and purchased points don’t count.
  • Companion passes have no blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Once the companion pass is earned, the member can begin using it immediately for the remainder of that calendar year, as well as the full next calendar year.

Tiers: How To Get on the A-List!

Southwest Airlines offers elite levels of membership, called the A-List and (even more elite!) A-List Preferred. The table below provides details on what it takes to join the ranks of the most loyal, as well as the ensuing benefits:

Requirements for and Benefits of Joining the A-List
A-List A-List Preferred
Requirement to Join Fly 25 one-way SWA flights or earn 35K tier qualifying points per calendar year. Fly 50 one-way SWA flights or earn 70K tier qualifying points in a calendar year.
  • Priority boarding
  • Earn 25% more points on each flight
  • Standby priority
  • Priority check-in
  • Dedicated A-List member phone line
  • Priority boarding
  • Earn 100% more points on each flight
  • Standby priority
  • Priority check-in
  • Dedicated A-List Preferred phone line
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

Note: Qualifying points are earned through the purchase of SWA airline tickets (not rewards tickets) or through the use of the Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase. Purchased points, bonus points, and promotional points do not count towards A-List status. Furthermore, members who have a Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase will earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10K in credit card spend, up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year.

Some Final Thoughts on the Newly Revamped Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program

The new program is certainly simpler to understand than its predecessor, which in itself is a major plus. However, as with nearly every loyalty program (whether hotel or airline), the major factor to consider, in my opinion, isn’t so much the specific details of individual rewards, but rather, how much you like the service provided. If you find SWA to be convenient or otherwise just “like” this airline, then it may make sense to really focus on earning rewards with it. Join their loyalty program, get the Rapid Rewards credit card, go the whole nine yards!

You can also read our review of both Rapid Rewards Plus Cards here.

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