I don’t personally fly Southwest much nowadays. Back when their fares were actually less expensive than the competition they were my primary domestic carrier. I earned the Companion Pass through the Chase credit cards for 2011/2012, but otherwise I think the last flight I actually purchased for personal travel on Southwest was in September of 2014.
I still have quite a few lingering points in my Rapid Rewards account though, and generally redeem them for other people. As Travis has mentioned in the past, Southwest has the best program for speculative award bookings, as there’s no penalty to cancel and redeposit the miles.
I’ll use Southwest points to arrange “backup” positioning flights to connect with an award ticket, and cancel if award space opens up. Or I’ll book both a Friday afternoon and Saturday morning flight for my mom, for example, and then she can choose which one is better for her work schedule right before the trip.
I was actually trying to book a flight for my mom the other day when I encountered a “feature” of Rapid Rewards I hadn’t known about previously, and figured I should pass on.
After selecting a flight and entering the traveler details, I received an error message, and was bounced back to the flight selection screen.
Now, if you’ve booked any travel ever, you know that error messages aren’t uncommon. So I went back through the process, then cleared my cache, then tried a different browser — you get the idea.
Eventually, it dawned on me that the flight I was trying to book would take place two days after my account expiration date.
And Southwest won’t allow you to redeem points for travel after the date your miles are due to expire.
It would be really nice if the messaging said that.
Rapid Rewards expiration rules
Most US airlines base their mileage expiration policies on account activity. This means any change to the balance in your account, either adding or subtracting miles, extends the expiration date.
Southwest is unique in that they require positive activity to reset the expiration clock:
Points will remain active as long as you have at least one qualifying earning activity every 24 months. Qualifying earning activities include:
1) completed travel on Southwest® qualifying flights,
2) points earned from our Rapid Rewards Partners and posted to Member’s account prior to the expiration date,
3) points purchased through Southwest.com, and
4) gifted/transferred/donated points received and claimed by the recipient. Gifted/Transferred/Donated points are a Qualifying Activity for the recipient only.
Examples of activities that do not count as Qualifying Activities include but are not limited to: cancelled trips; nonrevenue travel such as Reward or Companion Pass travel; for the donating Member, points donated by a Member to a charity; and other travel such as charter flights, service-charged, reduce-rate, tradeout, extra seat, and paper tickets.
So I knew that my account would expire in September of 2016, as while I’ve redeemed tens of thousands of Southwest points in recent years, I haven’t earned any since September of 2014.
What I hadn’t realized, and isn’t clear from the Southwest terms, is that you have to consume your miles before that expiration date as well. With other programs you could book a flight for the end of the schedule on the last day your miles were valid, but with Southwest you have to complete all travel prior to the account expiring.
Transferring points to Southwest
Fortunately, I have an abundance of points in flexible currencies! Remember, any earning activity resets the expiration with Southwest, and points transfers count.
Transfers between Chase Ultimate Rewards and Southwest Rapid Rewards are instant, so I was able to move 1,000 points into my Southwest account in minutes.
With my account expiration reset to 2018, I was then able to redeem points for my mom’s flight.
Ways to earn Southwest points
With a bit of advance planning, you shouldn’t need to transfer points to Rapid Rewards. There are plenty of alternative ways to earn miles.
This one is obvious, but I’m including it to be thorough. Any flight you purchase (with dollars, not points), will reset your account for another 24 months.
Buy Rapid Rewards points during a promotion
Purchasing fixed-value points is rarely a deal, but it can make sense if you need extra miles for an award, or want to reset the expiration. If you can time your purchase during a points sale, the value is better.
Use a Southwest Credit Card
This is how I earned so many Southwest points in the first place, and if you can time it so that you earn the Companion Pass it’s an even better deal.
Any net purchases made to cards such as the ￼Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card will post to your Rapid Rewards account as earning activity. I don’t feel that these are the best cards for everyday spend, but throwing an occasional purchase on the cards could be worthwhile if it extends your account expiration.
Earn points from hotel and car partners
Southwest has an assortment of hotel and rental car partners, each of which allows you to earn Rapid Rewards points rather than the hotel or car points. For hotels these include:
- Best Western
- Club Carlson
- Choice Privileges
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- La Quinta Returns
- Marriott Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest
There are also an assortment of car rental agencies, or you can choose to earn points through Rocketmiles. I wouldn’t generally choose to earn Rapid Rewards over hotel points, but for a one-off stay it might make sense.
Use the Rapid Rewards shopping portal
Like other airlines, Southwest has a shopping portal. You can earn Rapid Rewards for purchase you were going to make anyways.
Link a credit card to earn Southwest points at restaurants
Similarly, Southwest participates in the iDine/Rewards Network program which allows you to earn miles for dining. Just link your card, and the miles should post automatically.
For an airline that purports to be so passenger-focused, I don’t feel this is a very consumer-friendly policy. If the mileage expiration date is going to be “consume by” rather than “redeem by” that should be more clear.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to earn the occasional Southwest point, and transfers couldn’t be easier. It’s an extra step, but not an onerous one.
Just keep in mind that the expiration date on your Southwest account is also the last day you’ll be able to travel using your Rapid Rewards points.
How do you keep your miles from expiring?