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Deciding which frequent flyer program offers the most value is a highly subjective exercise. The best choice depends on your home airport, travel habits, and how much complexity you’re willing to put up with.
However, there is a clear winner when you ask, “Which program is easiest to use?”
- Is it simple to find and book flights with your points?
- Can you accumulate points quickly and easily?
- Can you avoid fees without a three-ring binder to keep track of the rules?
Southwest Rapid Rewards has made “keeping it simple” a core value. The program blows the competition away for all three of the criteria above, making it our top pick for the easiest frequent flyer program.
Why Southwest Deserves a Closer Look
If you’re looking for rewards that can take you to the opposite side of the world, Southwest isn’t going to be a good choice. But, if you’re like most U.S. flyers (and AwardWallet members), the majority of your travel is within Southwest’s route network. In 2018, U.S. travelers took roughly 41 million international flights outside of North America, with less than 5% of the U.S. population going overseas. On the other hand, domestic travel accounted for roughly 20 times as many flights.
And can you guess which airline carried the most passengers in 2018? That's right, Southwest.
If Southwest serves your home airport, the Rapid Rewards program can offer excellent value. Here are our top six reasons why Southwest is the easiest program for U.S. flyers.
1. Easy to Earn Points via Credit Cards, Transfer Partners, Flying, and Portals
Not only is Rapid Rewards an easy program to navigate, it's also a great program for accumulating a ton of rewards points quickly. In addition to points earned from flying, members can take advantage of a full lineup of co-brand credit cards issued by Chase or transfer points from Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn extra points on hotels, car rentals, dining, and online shopping through Southwest’s travel, dining, and shopping portals.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards
- Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
- 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
- 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases.
- 2 points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available
- Inflight WiFi Credits
- Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® Fee Credit
- Employee cards at no additional cost, earn points on employee spending.
- 3X points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases
- 2X points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services
- 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Chase issues five Southwest co-brand credit cards, three personal cards, and two business cards.
- 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
All Southwest cards fall under Chase's 5/24 policy, plus the personal Southwest cards feature an additional restriction preventing you from holding more than one personal card at a time, or receiving a signup offer on a personal card if you’ve earned one on a Southwest card in the previous 24 months (doesn’t apply to the business cards). All points earned via the Southwest credit cards, including the signup bonus, count towards the Southwest Companion Pass, but more on that later.
Transfer Points from Ultimate Rewards Earning Cards
- 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
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide
- 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Ultimate Rewards is the only flexible rewards program that transfers to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. This means you can take advantage of lucrative bonus categories on cards like the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® to earn Southwest points at a much faster rate than using the Rapid Rewards cards.
As long as you have at least one card with the power to transfer Chase points, you can also leverage no-annual fee Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Freedom®, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card.
Receive Bonus Points via Southwest Hotel, Rental Car, and Shopping Portals
You can also rack up a ton of Southwest points via the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal, Rapid Rewards Hotel Portal, and Rapid Rewards Dining program. These points are in addition to those earned on your credit card. You need to sign in to each portal/program to take advantage of the additional rewards, but the payoff can be huge, with Southwest hotels regularly paying out up to 10,000 bonus points on hotel reservations booked through the Southwest Hotel Portal.
Earn Rapid Rewards Points Flying Southwest
As Southwest is an independent airline, you can’t earn Rapid Rewards points flying partners, only on Southwest flights. Thankfully, Southwest has one of the easiest to understand earning structures of any frequent flyer program, issuing points based on the class of flight and your A-List status.
- Wanna Get Away – 6 points per $1
- Anytime – 10 points per $1
- Business Select – 12 points per $1
If you are an A-List or A-List Preferred elite member, you can earn additional points for each flight.
- A-List – 25% extra points
- A-List Preferred – 100% extra points
For example, purchase a $300 Business Select fare as an A-List Preferred member, and receive 7,200 points. A great return on your airline spending.
2. Easy to Redeem Points With No Blackout Dates
One of the most frustrating aspects of traditional frequent flyer programs is the restricted award availability. If you have a limited amount of time to travel or need to depart/return on specific dates, securing award availability can be rough. When you fly Southwest, there are no blackout dates. If there's a seat available to purchase with cash, you can book it with Rapid Rewards points.
This makes award travel so much more accessible, particularly for the majority of folks who travel just a few times a year and don’t have time to deep-dive the intricacies of other airline rewards programs. The downside to Southwest’s revenue-based award pricing? During peak travel seasons when tickets are typically more expensive, the number of Rapid Rewards points required also goes up.
3. Southwest Makes It Easy to Get a Consistent Redemption Value for Your Points
Because the cost of an award is directly tied to the cash price of the ticket, you can rest easy knowing the value of your points is relatively static. Where the value of your miles on other carriers varies widely depending on your ticket, Southwest redemptions will consistently deliver a value of between 1.4-1.6¢ per point, without the need to perform advanced mental arithmetic to determine if you are getting the best deal.
4. Friends or Family Can Fly Free With the Companion Pass
The Companion Pass is possibly the most sought after perk in award travel. It allows a companion to fly with you on any flight, for up to two years, paying just the fees and taxes for their seat (typically ~$10). You can earn the Companion Pass by flying at least 100 segments or earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. Fortunately, points earned through the Southwest shopping portals or from spending on co-brand credit cards count towards the Companion Pass, making it far more achievable for infrequent flyers. Points transferred from hotel and bank partners (like Ultimate Rewards) do not count towards the Companion Pass.
You can find out more by checking out our Easy Guide to the Companion Pass.
5. Your Bags Fly Free
Most airlines in the U.S. have restrictive baggage policies that can cost you hundreds of dollars to transport your luggage. On Southwest, your first two checked bags fly free! For a family of four, three round trips per year with Southwest could mean close to $1,000 in savings on baggage fees.
This also means you can skip the agonizing logistics of sharing a checked bag with a companion or trying to cram everything that doesn't fit in your first checked bag into a regulation carryon. Even better, you won't have to lug all that unneeded gear through the airport.
Although there are ways to avoid paying for luggage with other airlines, like earning elite status or paying for your flight with the right credit card, Southwest won't make you jump through any hoops.
6. The Best Award Change and Cancelation Policy
Have you ever booked a flight far in advance, only to have your plans change? With most airlines, it can cost more than $100 per ticket to alter your reservation, in some cases eclipsing the cost of the original fare. Southwest has taken the other route with change fees, offering the most generous change, cancelation, and redeposit policies of any airline.
It costs nothing to change or cancel an award ticket. With cancellations, the points go back to your account instantly. If you're making a change, you’ll only pay the difference in price—and that includes paying fewer points when the price of the ticket goes down.
Southwest also does not charge a close-in booking fee for awards. If you book a ticket less than 21 days before departure with American or United, you'll pay $75 extra. Delta pretends not to have a close-in-booking fee, but SkyMiles award prices go up a minimum of 5,000 points inside 22 days.
With Southwest, you get the freedom to book far in advance, knowing that you can change or cancel up to a few hours before departure. If you find a great last-minute fare, you won't pay a penny (or point) extra.
If you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-understand airline rewards program that offers great value and a top return on your everyday spend, it’s hard to look past Southwest. If you hold a Companion Pass, which gives you two-for-one flights for up to two years, your points will take you twice as far.
You can pick up a massive balance of Rapid Rewards points to kick off your award travel by applying for the latest co-brand card from Chase, the Southwest Performance Business Card, which launched with a 70,000-point signup bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
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