Six ways to make the most of your Southwest points

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There are lots of reasons to love the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, like the excellent customer service and absence of change or cancellation fees. And earning Southwest points is a good choice because they don’t have blackout dates on award flights and the price of an award flight is tied to the cash price, so cheaper tickets cost fewer points.

Some of the best airline credit cards can help you to easily earn Southwest points. Let’s look at what you can do to make the most of those points once you’ve earned them.

One of the best ways to use Southwest points is to position for cheaper flights out of big cities, like Atlanta. (Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Best ways to use Southwest points

When it comes to using Southwest points, they’re a bit different than most miles or points. The Southwest award chart is far from traditional — flights aren’t broken up into geographic or distance-based zones. With Southwest, the cost of an award ticket is tied to the cash price of the flight. You’ll typically find that Southwest points value are worth about 1.5 cents on average toward Southwest airfare. But there are some ways to use your Southwest points that are better than others.

Booking “Wanna Get Away” fares

While the actual value you get per Southwest point will vary, you’ll almost always get the most value per point if you use them to book Wanna Get Away fares (the cheapest ones). Here are some points prices for Southwest flights from Atlanta to New York:

And here is the cash price for those same tickets:

Here’s the value per point for each of those flights:

  • Wanna Get Away 1.59 to 1.81 cents each
  • Anytime 1.43 to 1.45 cents each
  • Business Select 1.42 to 1.45 cents each

You can see that not only are Wanna Get Away fares cheaper, but you’ll get more bang for your buck as well. This is only one example I randomly pulled up, so it’s possible on some flights the difference in value won’t be as extreme. But regardless, you’ll always be more likely to get a better value for your points if you stick with Wanna Get Away fares.

Flights to the Caribbean & Hawaii

While Southwest flies primarily domestic U.S. routes, they’re also a great option if you’re interested in a tropical getaway. They fly to these destinations in the Caribbean and Hawaii:

  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Belize City
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba (for now)
  • Dominican Republic
  • Grand Cayman
  • Hawaii (Honolulu, Lihue, Hilo, Kahului, and Kona)
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Los Cabos)
  • Puerto Rico
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

This is great if you don’t have a flexible schedule because Southwest doesn’t have blackout dates. As long as the seat is open you can book it with points.

But the prices do increase as the cheapest fares are booked up and the price will really jump up if there aren’t anymore Wanna Get Away fares. So if you want to get the best deals to popular spots like these, you should book your flights as soon as Southwest opens up their schedule (subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll let you know when it happens).

Positioning flights

Just because Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe, Asia, or South America doesn’t mean Southwest points can’t save you money in getting to those destinations. We often see sub-$400 round-trip fare deals to Europe — but it’s often the case that those flights are only from major airports.

The good news is that there are cities where Southwest has an operating base (hub):

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore/Washington (BWI)
  • Chicago (Midway)
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Oakland
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix

So whenever you see a deal from any of these cities to Europe, Asia or South America, there is a good chance you can inexpensively jump on a Southwest flight to catch your international plane.

Bringing along a lap infant for free

If you’re traveling with an infant less than two years old, you’ll find that Southwest has a very generous policy. On all domestic flights, you can bring one lap infant along for free with each adult (12+ years old). Because Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats, you’ve also got a much better chance of having an empty seat next to you to use for the baby.

Even on Southwest’s international flights, you can bring along a lap infant for only the cost of the taxes and fees for the international segment. That’s typically a solid deal considering that many airlines charge at least 10% of the adult fare, even on award flights. You will need to prove your child’s age so be sure to bring some sort of identification like a birth certificate or passport.

Purchase (or re-book) flights during Southwest sales

Southwest has regular fare sales and because the award and cash prices of tickets are linked, you can book Southwest flights for fewer points during sales. Not only that but Southwest doesn’t have cancellation or change fees. If the flight you’ve already booked drops in price during a sale, you can easily re-book at the lower price.

To stay up to date on the latest sale you can bookmark our Southwest fare sale page, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

Instantly (nearly) double your value with a Southwest Companion Pass

If you aren’t familiar with the Southwest Companion Pass, you should be. It’s the best tool for making your Southwest points are worth more. If you have a Southwest Companion Pass you can bring along your designated companion on any Southwest flight (points or cash) for just the cost of taxes and fees. On domestic flights that means it only costs ~$11 to bring along your friend, spouse, or family member.

To earn a Southwest Companion Pass you’ll to need to meet one of these requirements in a calendar year:

  • Earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points
  • Complete 100 one-way Southwest flights

The best Southwest credit cards to earn points

If earning the Companion Pass sounds like an impossible task, it’s actually more realistic than it seems because the Southwest points you earn from Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses from travel credit cards like the following, count toward earning a Companion Pass:

  • 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
  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Before you attempt this strategy there are a couple of rules you’ll want to be aware of. First off, you can only hold one personal Southwest card at a time. And you can only earn the sign-up bonus on one personal Southwest card every 24 months.

But you can hold a personal Southwest card and both Southwest Business cards at the same time. And you might qualify for small business credit cards and not even realize it. You don’t need to be a full-time business or even have a special business structure setup if you are a sole proprietor. So it’s much easier to qualify for the Companion Pass if you open both a personal and small business card.

The Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the calendar year you earn it in and the entire next calendar year. So if you earn a Companion Pass in April of 2020, it will be valid until December 31, 2021.

Don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule, as it does impact the Southwest cards. If you’ve opened five or more cards from any bank in the past 24 months, you won’t be eligible for any Chase credit cards. But certain small business cards won’t show up on your personal credit report, so they won’t add to your count.

Bottom line

Southwest is a favorite airline of many because of its customer-friendly policies. And even though they don’t have a traditional award chart like other airlines, there are still plenty of ways to get great value from the best ways to use Southwest points.

You could use your Southwest points to position yourself to take advantage of a cheap flight to Europe or to fly to a beautiful tropical destination in the Caribbean or Hawaii.

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Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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