How Much Are Rapid Rewards Points Worth? The Value of Southwest Airlines Points

Update April 1, 2014: This post was written before Southwest’s massive devaluation. Now you need 70 points per dollar for Wanna Get Away? fares instead of 60. Now Rapid Rewards are worth about 1.45 cents each.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.69 cents per point. Unlike my calculation of the value of an Avios, the valuation of a Rapid Rewards point does not change based on where you live or your flying preferences because Rapid Rewards is a fixed-value award program. That means the number of points needed for an award is directly dictated by the price of the fare, and the number of points earned for flying a paid fare is directly dictated by the price of the fare also. The distance of flights and the regions in which the origin and arrival city are located are irrelevant to calculating Rapid Rewards points needed or earned.

Let’s go through the rules and parameters of the Rapid Rewards program, consider the strategy for maximizing the value of your Rapid Rewards points, and calculate the value of one Rapid Rewards point.

Important rules:

  1. Every award in the Wanna Get Away fare class costs 60 points per dollar of the base fare including excise tax. Other fare classes are available for awards for more points per dollar, but since Southwest’s flights are all operated with all-coach planes, there is no reason to book any awards except Wanna Get Away fares.
  2. All Southwest flights have open seating. Your boarding pass tells you the order in which to board, but not your seat. You can board earlier if you pay $10 extra when purchasing your ticket or if you purchase a more expensive fare class. Or you can check in online 24 hours before the flight and get priority over those who check in later.
  3. The only fee on Southwest award tickets is $2.50 per segment for the 9/11 security fee. There are no ticketing fees, no change fees, and no redeposit fees if you decide to change or cancel your ticket. Pleasantly, the Passenger Facility Charge and Segment Fee that are added to the base fare when purchasing with cash are not charged when booking an award ticket. (Nor are they included in the fare on which the 60 points per dollar award price is calculated.)
  4. Award availability is the exact same as cash availability. If a flight can be booked with cash, it can be booked with points. The only note is that Wanna Get Away availability disappears several days before departure.

Strategy to Maximize the Value of Southwest Rapid Rewards Points:

  1. If you cancel an award, the points are redeposited immediately, and any charges to your credit card for 9/11 security fees are reversed. Therefore if you know you want to book an award with Southwest, book it right now. If the price rises, you locked in the best fare and maximized the value of your points. If the price falls, you can cancel your original reservation and rebook at the lower price. If you don’t want to constantly be checking fares, then at least monitor Southwest’s amazing sales, which seem to pop up every few months and are announced by email, which you can signup for here.
  2. Book an award on Southwest when you’re flying with lots of bags. Southwest is the only airline that still lets you check two bags free each way. That will save you $120 roundtrip versus most legacy carriers.
  3. Book a direct route that only Southwest serves. Eschewing the hub-and-spoke model of most carriers, Southwest has a ton of direct point-to-point flights that have no competition. If you value your time, flying direct on Southwest is much more valuable than flying a route with a connection on another airline.

Examples of Southwest Awards:

1) LAX-PIT oneway connecting in LAS

  • Lesser of Price and Value: $221.60
  • Award Taxes and Fees: $5
  • Rapid Rewards Points Needed to Book: 12,000
  • Rapid Rewards Points Foregone by Not Purchasing with Cash: 1,200

2) LAX-PHX oneway direct

  • Lesser of Price and Value: $69.80
  • Award Taxes and Fees: $2.50
  • Rapid Rewards Points Needed to Book: 3,540
  • Rapid Rewards Points Foregone by Not Purchasing with Cash: 354

I think these are both pretty good cash fares, so I used price for “Lesser of Price and Value” in both cases. Plugging these values into the milevalue.com Mile Value Calculator nets values of 1.64 cents per Rapid Rewards point to Pittsburgh and 1.73 cents per point to Phoenix. For other awards, I got values between 1.57 and 1.75 cents per point. Why does this fixed-value program not have a fixed value per point? It’s that quirk I mentioned above of not charging award passengers the Passenger Facility Charge and Segment Fee and also not charging award passengers points equal to the dollar amount of those fees. What it means is that you’ll get a slightly higher cents per point booking cheaper flights.  I’ll take the middle end of the range and value Rapid Rewards points at 1.66 cents per point for now. The final step in the valuation is to compare Southwest awards to flights purchased with cash in order to come to a final valuation.

Southwest Awards Compared to Buying with Cash:

Buying an award with Rapid Rewards points on Southwest is exactly the same as buying a flight with cash except for two things. The first is that awards don’t have the Passenger Facility Charge or Segment Fee. I mentioned that above, and that’s already been factored into the valuation, so I’ll ignore it here, so we don’t double count it. The second difference is that if you pay with cash then cancel, you don’t get cash back. You get Southwest credit for a future flight. Obviously cash is slightly more valuable. If you cancel an award redemption, you get back the exact points you put in, so you’re in exactly the same position as before the redemption. Advantage award redemption. The difference is slight, but I will increase my valuation from 1.66 to 1.69 cents per Rapid Rewards point because of it.

Southwest Airlines has a very different frequent flier program than the legacy carriers, so exploiting it requires a different approach. As we’ve seen the key is to find good deals in cash and book those flights with points. Southwest’s policy of allowing award redeposits free of charge makes that easier, so everyone should be able to wring 1.69 cents out of every Rapid Rewards point.

Get 50,000 Bonus Southwest Points Enough for up to $835 in Free Southwest Flights.

  • Get 50,000 points for 2 ROUNDTRIP FLIGHTS after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $10 not included.
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  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® and AirTran Airways® purchases made directly with the airlines and on Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Redeem points for gift cards, car rentals, cruises, hotel stays, and international flights to over 800 Destinations on 50+ global carriers.
  • No foreign transaction fees

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25 Responses to How Much Are Rapid Rewards Points Worth? The Value of Southwest Airlines Points

  1. Pingback: Up to 30% Rebate: Triple Points at Five Retailers in Rapid Rewards Mall Unitl Saturday | milevalue.com Up to 30% Rebate: Triple Points at Five Retailers in Rapid Rewards Mall Unitl Saturday | Rationally Exploiting Frequent Flier Programs

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of an Award: Southwest Airlines. Using Orphaned Rapid Rewards Credits | milevalue.com Anatomy of an Award: Southwest Airlines. Using Orphaned Rapid Rewards Credits | Rationally Exploiting Frequent Flier Programs

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  5. I have 4,426 rapid rewards points. What is that worth toward a “wanna get away” ticket from Pittsburgh to Jackson, MS (my flexible dates are June 11 – June 25th.

  6. Pingback: Anatomy of an Award: How to Book an Award on Southwest | milevalue.com

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  8. you actually Can pay with 1/2 points and 1/2 cash, but it’s in the form of buying more points.

    Essentially you are paying partially in cash, but it gets transformed to points.

    If this option is attractive to you, I suggest buying the points now because they are offering a 20% bonus in points (i.e. 4,000 points for $110, and they will add on another 1,000 points).

    • Points are worth about 1.69 cents, never the 2.2 cents you’d have to pay to buy them under that promo. Do not use that promo!

  9. Southwest is running a promotion where you get an additional 25% bonus points when you buy by july 16…

    Get 75,000 points (buy 60,000, get bonus 15,000) for $1650

    is this worth doing?

    • No. Not even close. Points are worth an almost fixed value (about 1.69 cents) that is less than the purchase price even with bonus.

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  11. SW Frequent Flier

    I have 100,000 RR points. So, you’re claiming they are worth $169,000? (100,000 x $1.69) How can that be if 100,000 RR points only gets me a few RTs on the Wanna Get Away Fares. For example, Orange County, CA to San Francisco, CA is $100 One Way, so $200 RT. If I purchased the tickets using points, the fare is 4,080 RR points One Way and 8,160 points RT.

  12. I have a slightly different claculation that I want to look at. I want to find the $ equivalent of flights I paid for with points. I don’t know what the price was for the same flight at the time, but I do know what Southwest charges for the Wanna Get Awy fares I flew on (60 points per $). I flew for my business, so I want to “sell” my business the tickets at the same price they would have cost me in cash (fot tax deduction). Not saying and don’t care whether this is allowed, just want the calculation. I’m thinking it is tyhe points I paid dividied by 60= $cash equivalent. Does that sound right to you? Obviously you other consdierations like points missed out on by not paying cash can not be figure into the actual cash value for reimbursement. Note this would be valuable for anyone seeking to “sell” their points at exact cash value.

  13. Southwest has a 35% bonus if you buy 15,000+ points. So if you buy 15,000 points, you get a 5,250 points bonus for a total of 20,250. The cost for these points is $412.50. As I calculate it, the cost of these points is $.02/point.

    Still not as good a deal as paying cash since that is $.0169/point.

    Even a 50% bonus still nets at $.0183/point. Basically, buying points is never a good deal at Southwest. Use cash.

    • i was doing this calculations myself to see if its worth it. so this is what i came up with. if you plan on buying tickets far in advance like 1+month, use cash. if its a short notice like 1-2 weeks, its better to use points. what is your input

  14. Is there any way to sell southwest miles for cash?

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  16. Eula B. Ingalls

    my account # is [deleted] , please advise me the current # of Rapid Points I have earned. I need the balance of points I have on file to use. I am planning a trip.

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