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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 2019, U.S. travelers took roughly 45 million international flights outside of North America, with less than 4% of the U.S. population going overseas. On the other hand, domestic travel surpassed 811 million passengers in 2019.
And can you guess which airline carried the most passengers? 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
The Rapid Rewards program is easy to navigate. But, it's also a great program for accumulating a ton of reward 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 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
- 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
- NEW! Earn 4X points on Southwest® purchases.
- Earn 3X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car partners.
- NEW! Earn 2X points on rideshare.
- Earn 2X points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services and 1X points on all other purchases.
- 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
- Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® Fee Credit.
- 4X points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases
- 3X points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car partners
- 2X points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services
- 2X points per $1 spent on rideshare
- 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Chase issues five Southwest co-brand credit cards. There are three personal cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
And two business cards:
- Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
All Southwest cards fall under Chase's 5/24 policy. In addition, the personal Southwest cards have an additional restriction preventing you from holding more than one personal card at a time. Plus, you can't receive 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. 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 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- 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.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 5X points on travel purchased through Chase
- 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide
- 3X points on eligible streaming services
- 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs)
- 2X points on all other travel
- 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 Flex℠, 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. Hotels booked through Southwest's hotel portal regularly pay out up to 10,000 bonus points.
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 of base fare
- Anytime — 10 points per $1 of base fare
- Business Select — 12 points per $1 of base fare
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, if you purchase a $300 Business Select fare as an A-List Preferred member, you'll receive 7,200 points. That's 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 paying just the fees and taxes for their seat (typically ~$5.60 each way).
You can earn the Companion Pass by flying at least 100 segments or earning 125,000 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. That makes it far more achievable for infrequent flyers. But unfortunately, 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 Southwest Companion Pass Strategy Guide.
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 carry on. 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 doesn'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? While many U.S.-based airlines have relaxed change fees, Southwest still offers the best change and cancelation policy.
Every other airline has some strings attached to their change fee waiver. Did you book a basic economy award on Delta? Well, you're not eligible for free changes. Booked a Europe trip as two one-way award flights? Many airlines only allow free changes on awards originating in North America. Or maybe your United flight decreased in price. Too bad, you won't get any refund for the price difference.
With Southwest, it always 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 if the price went down, you can get points deposited back into your account.
With Southwest, you get the freedom to book far in advance. You can change or cancel up to 10 minutes before scheduled departure — even if you already checked in for the flight. 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 one of the latest co-brand cards from Chase, the Southwest Performance Business Card, which features a signup bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
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