Guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards

Southwest Airlines is a no-frills airline known for its fantastic customer service. Through Southwest Rapid Rewards, its award-winning rewards program, you can earn free flights on any of the carrier’s North American routes with no blackout dates. You can also earn Southwest’s Companion Pass, which allows you to bring a designated companion along on any flight you purchase a ticket for. Here’s how you can earn and use Rapid Rewards points to get the most value out of every Southwest flight.

Best cards to use for Southwest Rapid Rewards points

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

  • APR: Standard variable rate of 17.49%-24.49%
  • Annual Fee: $149
  • Reward Rates: Earn two points for every dollar you spend at Southwest and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Intro Offer: Earn 40,000 points once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is an excellent first choice for earning Rapid Rewards points. While it has the highest annual fee of the Southwest personal credit cards, it also comes with the highest anniversary bonus at 7,500 points and additional perks like four upgraded boarding passes each year and a $75 travel credit for non-ticket purchases with Southwest.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

  • APR: Standard variable rate of 17.49%-24.49%
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Reward Rates: Two points for every dollar you spend at Southwest and one point per dollar on all other purchases. 
  • Intro Offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card is a step down from the Priority card. For a slightly lower annual fee, you get the same rewards rate and new cardmember bonus but lose the extra perks. You’ll also only receive 6,000 points each year after your cardmember anniversary. If you don’t really care if you sit in row two or row 22 and don’t usually buy drinks on flights, the Premier is a good middle-ground credit card for earning Rapid Rewards points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

  • APR: Standard variable rate of 18.49%-25.49%
  • Annual Fee: $69
  • Reward Rates: Two points for every dollar you spend at Southwest and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Intro offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months. 

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card is the lean option for earning Rapid Rewards points. Unlike the Priority card, you won’t enjoy any additional perks like complimentary boarding pass upgrades or travel credits, and your anniversary bonus is only 3,000 points. You will, however, still earn the same rewards rate and intro bonus as both the Priority and Premier cards. If you don’t plan on flying Southwest enough each year to make the Priority card worth the annual fee, the Plus card is your best bet.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

  • APR: Standard variable rate of 17.49%-24.49%
  • Annual Fee: $199
  • Reward Rates: Earn three points for every dollar you spend at Southwest and two points per dollar spent on search engine and social media advertising, internet, cable and phone service, and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Intro Offer: Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within your first three months, plus another 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases total within your first six months.

If you run a business of any kind — whether it be your full-time gig or a small side hustle — you should consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business credit card. While the $199 annual fee may be enough to turn you away, don’t overlook the 9,000 bonus points you’ll receive each anniversary or the added perks like four upgraded boarding passes, inflight Wi-Fi credits and a credit to reimburse you for the cost of either Global Entry or TSA Precheck once every four years.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

  • APR: Standard variable rate of 17.49%-24.49%
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Reward Rates: Earn two points for every dollar spent at Southwest and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Intro Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card is a simple way to earn free flights through your business spending. You’ll also earn 6,000 points every year after your cardmember anniversary. If you want to earn Rapid Rewards points and work your way toward the Companion Pass without the bells and whistles that the Performance card’s higher annual fee buys you, this card will serve you well.

How to redeem your Southwest Rapid Rewards points

Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed for Southwest flights, gift cards, merchandise, international flights, hotel, rental cars and exclusive experiences. All of your Rapid Rewards points are kept in your Rapid Rewards account, which is created either when you apply for a Rapid Rewards credit card or go to the Southwest Airlines website and sign up.

To redeem your points for flights, search for flights as you normally would on Southwest’s website and select “points” at the top of the search or results page. You can toggle back and forth between the cash price and the points price to figure out just how much value you get from your points for each flight. To redeem for anything else, you’ll have to navigate to the Southwest Rapid Rewards HQ, which you can get to by clicking “Redeem for More Rewards” on the right side of the Rapid Rewards program page.

Southwest flights

Using your Rapid Rewards points for flights on Southwest is the best way to get the most value out of your points. If you book a Wanna Get Away ticket, Rapid Rewards points are worth between 1.4 and 1.7 cents per point. 

Gift cards

In the Rapid Rewards store, you can use your points to buy gift cards to restaurants, entertainment vendors and retailers like Macy’s, Starbucks and Spotify. Your points are worth between 0.8 to 1.0 cents each when you use them to buy gift cards.

Merchandise

From microwaves and Apple Watches to car seats and clothes, the options for what you can buy with your Rapid Rewards points are nearly limitless if you shop through the Rapid Rewards store. Just keep in mind that your points are only worth about 0.5 cents each when you use them to buy merchandise, so you’re almost certainly better off saving them for your next trip.

International flights

While Southwest-operated flights are limited to the United States and a few countries in North and Central America, you can use your Rapid Rewards points to book international flights directly with other airlines through their online travel aggregator, QRT Travel. Your points are worth about one cent each for international itineraries with other airlines.

Hotels

From the same travel page, you can search for hotels and use your points to pay. Redemption values are around 0.5 cents per point, so this probably shouldn’t be your first choice for reserving a hotel room.

Rental cars

Southwest’s QRT Travel portal aggregates rental car rates from various agencies and prices them in Rapid Rewards points. You can use your points to reserve a rental car when you travel, but they won’t have as much cash value as using them for a Southwest ticket — only about 0.8 cents per point in this case.

Exclusive experiences

If you’re traveling to a major city, you can use your points to book cool experiences like helicopter tours of Manhattan, a day cruise to Mount Vernon from Washington D.C. or a submarine adventure off the coast of Oahu. 

In a nutshell

If you fly primarily within the U.S., Southwest Rapid Rewards is a great way to score free flights. Using one of Southwest’s co-branded credit cards will earn you points with every purchase. While Southwest gives you several ways to redeem your points, you’ll get the most value by using them exclusively for flights on Southwest.

Trevor Wallis

Contributing Writer

Trevor Wallis is a St. Louis-based personal finance writer who teaches people how to achieve freedom through good money practices. He’s written for The Simple Dollar, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Rewards Credit Cards and Online Loans. When he isn’t writing, he’s roasting specialty coffee and planning new ways to use credit card rewards to explore the world with his wife and newborn son.