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Recently, Southwest suddenly, and with no notice, devalued their Rapid Rewards points by 6%. While not super drastic, it’s still a surprising move. But, as history teaches us, these airline devaluations happen every couple of years, so if you already have a large balance of Rapid Rewards points, now would be a good time to start spending them down instead or trying to earn more of this devalued currency.

You might be used to transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest to book Southwest awards, but let’s look at a couple of alternative ways to book these flights. 

Use Chase Pay Yourself Back

This is one of my favorite pandemic-related improvements from Chase. Pay Yourself Back was introduced as a temporary measure to help us redeem Ultimate Rewards when we couldn’t travel. This was supposed to end in April but Chase recently extended it through the end of September, 2021. Let’s hope this gets extended again, because it’s such a great way to use Ultimate Rewards for all kinds of travel, including booking Southwest award flights. 

In short, using the Pay Yourself Back method, you can “reimburse” yourself for certain eligible expenses made with a qualifying Chase card. Each card has different eligible spending categories, so consult this table to see which charges can be erased on each of your Chase cards. 

Chase Credit CardEligible Spending CategoryRedemption Rate
Chase FreedomSelect charities1.25 cents
Chase Freedom FlexSelect charities1.25 cents
Chase Freedom UnlimitedSelect charities1.25 cents
Chase Ink Business PlusSelect charities1.25 cents
Chase Ink Business PreferredShipping, home improvement stores, select charities1.25 cents
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardDining, grocery stores, home improvement stores, select charities1.25 cents
Chase Sapphire ReserveDining, grocery stores, home improvement stores, select charities1.5 cents

While there’s no travel category, there are still ways to turn your Ultimate Rewards points into cash which you can use to book travel. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot also carry Southwest gift cards. So if you’ve been on a home improvement spending spree during the months we couldn’t travel, you can “erase” charges and use cash for travel.   

So what we are doing here is a bit of creative accounting combined with some mental gymnastics. You are using the points to pay yourself back (erase) for dining, grocery store or home improvement purchases and instead using this cash to purchase a Southwest flight. 

Let’s say you want to take your family to Hawaii and the flights you’ve been eyeing cost $500. So if you bought $500 worth of groceries, erased that amount with the help of Pay Yourself Back feature, you now have $500 you could apply toward your Southwest flights.  

For example, here’s what I spent on dining on my recent trip to Florida. In total, I spent $192.17 over the course of a couple of days at different restaurants. Because I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, I can now erase these charges at 1.5c/point and use the freed up cash to buy a Southwest flight. 

Dining Expenses

Book Southwest Award Flights Through Chase Travel Portal

In addition to opening the Southwest credit cards and earning a welcome bonus, one of the easiest ways to earn Rapid Rewards points is to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Rapid Rewards. The points transfer 1:1 and transfers are typically instant. 

This is the easiest way to get Southwest points, but after the devaluation, it’s definitely not the best way. You might’ve done that before, but going forward this isn’t the best way to get maximum value out of your points.  

Another way to use Ultimate Rewards points to book Southwest flights is to use the Chase Travel portal. Not a lot of people are aware of this option because Southwest flights don’t come up on the portal. Unfortunately, there’s no way to book Southwest flights through the travel portal online and you’ll have to call Chase travel center at (855) 233-9462. Just find the flights you want on Southwest’s site, write down the flight info and give it to the phone agent. 

If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, your Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.25c/each. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5/each. 

Let’s say I want to fly from Oakland OAK to Kahului, Maui OGG. The cash price for my desired flight is $304 or 23,231 Rapid Rewards points. When I calculate my cent per point cost ($304 minus $5.6 security fee divided by 23,231 points), I get 1.28c/point. 

Flight booking option

However, if I were to book this flight by calling Chase travel center and using the Ultimate Rewards points tied to my Sapphire Reserve, I’d only need to spend 20,266 Ultimate Rewards points. And after taking this flight I’d also earn 1,680 Rapid Rewards points.  

But if I didn’t have a Sapphire Reserve, and only had the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Preferred, I’d need 24,320 Ultimate Rewards points to book the same flight. I’d still earn 1,680 Rapid Rewards points and if we value these at 1.28c/point that’s an equivalent of $21.5 toward future travel. 

Occasionally you’ll see flights on sale that require fewer points than if you were to book through the travel portal, but these are outliers. I’ve run a few searches and came across a couple of these low fares but I couldn’t discern a pattern. For example, I saw a flight that costs $92 or 5,311 points. Using our formula above to calculate the point value, this comes out to 1.6c/point, so in this particular case you’d probably be better off transferring points to Southwest. 

Flight details

Using one of these methods to book Southwest flights, generally, you’ll be able to get a better value and earn miles for the flights flown and elite-qualifying credits. The airlines treat the flights booked through the portal as paid flights so you’ll be earning Southwest Rapid Rewards instead of spending them at a reduced value. 

It’s important to compare the prices through all channels first, especially if you are transferring points to Southwest. Remember that transfers work in one direction only and if you later found out you’ll need fewer points by using Chase’s travel center, you can’t get the points back. 

Final Thoughts

The stealth devaluation was definitely a dissapointment, but those of us with a good stash of Ultimate Rewards points can get the same value by using the Chase travel portal or the Pay Yourself Back feature (while it’s still available). 

Going forward, these are going to be the preferred ways to book Southwest flights with Chase points, unless you need to spend down the Rapid Rewards points that are already in your account.  

We are big proponents of flexible credit card points and find them to be generally more valuable than airline miles. If you have a sizable balance of transferable “currencies” you have more flexibility and are better protected from future devaluations.