There’s a lot to love about Southwest Airlines.
The flights are affordable. The boarding process is smooth and efficient. There are no baggage fees. The customer service is superb. There’s free Wi-Fi on board. Even the color scheme of their planes is vibrant and aesthetically pleasing.
But the biggest reason I became enamored with Southwest is the perks. The Texas-based carrier boasts one of the most expansive and cost cutting rewards programs around.
And if you are willing to put in the time to take advantage of the rewards program, you’ll be flying for free before you know it.
The Rapid Rewards program is probably the most obvious way to save money with Southwest. Like similar programs, you are awarded points (basically miles) for purchases on flights and can redeem those points on upgrades, airfare, vacation packages and a number of other options.
But there are other – cheaper and faster – ways to rack up rewards points besides just booking a flight.
Apply for a credit card
The easiest way to rack up a lump sum of points is to apply for one of Southwest’s three credit cards, which are all offered through Chase Bank. You can apply for either a business card or a personal card, which are available in two tiers – plus and premier.
The premier card provides more opportunities for large point-bonuses and other perks, but is slightly more expensive to maintain at $99 annually – vs. $69 for the plus card.
Southwest is currently offering 25,000 sign-up points for its personal cards, and a 50,000-point sign-up bonus for its business card. (Bonuses change sporadically throughout the year).
And the best part is, you can apply for all three.
It’s common for people with good credit to hold both the Plus Card and the Premier Card at the same time. I would suggest submitting applications a couple of months apart to ensure the best chance at approval.
Although, I’ve seen multiple posts online where people claim to have applied and been approved for both Southwest personal cards on the same day.
What’s that? You say don’t own a business? Are you sure?
It’s easier to get a line of business credit than you might think. Perhaps you run a blog. Or maybe you give some private athletic instruction. Maybe you plan on finding investors for a tech startup. Or maybe you just enjoy selling random junk on Ebay.
Regardless, banks such as Chase are usually more than willing to give a line of credit to a startup business. There is usually more risk in lending to a startup so the interest rate might be high and the maximum will likely be low. Still, there’s a chance that you could rack up a massive amount of Southwest points with relative ease.
What’s the catch?
The only stipulation you’ll need to follow to cash in on the point-bonuses is an initial spending requirement. For the two personal cards, you must spend $1,000 within the first three months of owning them. The business card requires you spend $2,000 within the first three months.
Those goals are relatively easy to achieve, especially if you have a lump sum payment to make such as rent, car insurance, etc. Just try and make sure you get approved for the cards at different times to give yourself the biggest window of time.
And while the bonuses rack up big points fast, don’t forget that you earn one rapid rewards point for every $1 spent on any of your Southwest cards.
Perhaps the most overlooked way to earn easy points is Southwest’s Dining Rewards program. You’ll actually be required to create a separate, but linked account for the dining rewards program, but the process is completely free of charge.
Once you are registered, you’ll need to link up to five of your credit or debit cards with your account. Then, you’re ready to eat and watch the points roll in.
You’ll gain three points for every dollar you spend at a Southwest partner restaurant. And if you use your Southwest credit card to pay for the food, make that four points for ever 1$!
You can easily find nearby partner restaurants by running a quick postal code search. In my small city (Athens, Ga.) alone, there were 12 partner restaurants in a 30-mile radius.
The Rapid Dinning Rewards program also offers sign-up and loyalty bonuses worth up to 750 points.
Southwest even offers members 10 bonus points for writing brief reviews of the restaurants they visit.
Hotels, shopping and ground transportation
Southwest partners with hotel chains like Best Western, Choice Hotels, Marriott, Hyatt and more. Booking any affiliate hotel through your Rapid Rewards portal usually comes with incentives and point bonuses. Some chains, such as Marriott, even let you exchange your hotel rewards program points into Rapid Rewards points.
And if there’s not a Southwest partner hotel available nearby or you simply want to expedite your search, try booking with Rocket Miles. Rocket Miles is a hotel search aggregator much like Expedia or Hotels.com.
I ran a quick search of Atlanta, Georgia on Rocket Miles and compared the results with the same search on Expedia. While Rocket Miles returned fewer hotel options, the prices were exactly the same. And if I booked my stay at the Atlanta Double Tree on Rocket Miles, I’d gain 1,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points per night.
Southwest has a laundry list of affiliates that offer bonus points for purchases.
Shopping through Southwest’s online portal will grant you up to five points per dollar spent at a variety of stores such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, Apple and Living Social. These stores also typically provide an additional incentive to shop through Southwest, such as free two-day shipping or a given percentage off your purchase.
Currently, you can gain 3,600 points by signing up for a Verizon phone plan, or 1,000 points by filing your taxes with TurboTax.
The same holds true with car rentals.
Southwest partners with Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz and a number of other ground transportation companies. If you need to rent a car, doing it through Southwest’s online portal will award you another 600 Rapid Rewards points.
Energy and Specialty Rewards
One of the easiest ways to passively earn points is to use one of Southwest’s affiliate energy companies as your power supplier.
Everything Energy, Energy Plus and Reliant all provide huge Rapid Rewards enrollment bonuses. If your home is powered by Reliant, you could be earning 500 points per month, while Everything Energy and Energy Plus deal out three points for every $1 spent on your power bill (for credit card holders).
It’s a shame I live in Georgia where the only energy providers are Georgia Power and Jackson EMC, or I would definitely make the switch.
Finally, Southwest partners with market research companies such as E-Rewards, E-Miles and Valued Opinions, to deal out bonus points. All three companies ask you to take surveys and give your opinions on a number of different products in exchange for Rapid Rewards points.
So why do I want these points again?
The most obvious answer is that Rapid Rewards points can be instantly redeemed for airfare.
5,575 points roughly translates to a $100 ticket (although the algorithms used are slightly more complicated). That means, you would be able to make two free round trips from Atlanta to Houston simply by applying for a personal credit card and gaining the 25,000 bonus points.
But there are even better perks and goals to work towards in the Rapid Rewards program.
Members can earn A-List status by earning at least 35,000 (tier-qualifying) points in a calendar year. ‘A-listers’ enjoy priority boarding, priority check-in and security lane access and a dedicated customer service phone line that connects directly to an actual human being! A-List members also earn 25 percent more points on each flight, which helps them rack up even more points in pursuit of reaching A-List Preferred status. Members that total 70,000 points in a calendar year will be granted access to free, unrestricted in-flight Wi-Fi and a 100 percent earning bonus. That bonus will help Rapid Rewards members achieve the ultimate Southwest Airlines treasure…
The Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is the crown jewel of airline perks.
If you can manage to rack up 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year, one person can fly with you for free – anywhere, anytime.
It doesn’t matter whether you pay for your flight with points, cash or a travel voucher, your companion flies for free (with the exception of a $5 to $10 tax). It is important to note that your companion must be consistent. You can’t give a free flight to a different person every week. However, you are authorized to change your designated companion up to three times. That means, if you originally selected your girlfriend/boyfriend as your companion and one day found out that they were a horrible person, don’t fret. You can make your best friend, or mom or even your some handsome stranger your free-flight buddy.
Timing is important when earning a companion pass. Once you earn 110,000 points, you will have use of the companion pass for the remainder of the calendar year in which it was earned, plus, one additional year.
That means, if you can manage to rack up 110,000 points in January or February alone, you can earn two full years worth of free flights for your companion. And the best part is, a lot of those flights will be free for you as well.
If you’ve racked up 110,000 points, which means you have roughly $1,830 in free airfare. Be sure to look for sales and special deals to maximize your points. Also, Southwest allows customers to change flights without penalty. Be sure to monitor Southwest’s website for price drops – especially if you have flexible travel dates. If you play your cards right, you should be able to book 15-20 flights for you and one other person completely free of charge.
Also published on Medium.