Don’t Make This Mistake With Your Southwest Points

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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.

Southwest-Expired-002

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.

Southwest-Expired-003

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.

Southwest-Expired-004

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.

Fly Southwest

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.

Chase frequently offers a sign-up bonus where you can earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open on their co-branded Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card, provided you haven’t received a sign-up bonus on that card in the past 24 months.

Any net purchases made to either 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
  • Mlife
  • 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.

Bottom line

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?


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Comments

  1. Love me some southwest for domestic travel. I’m going for the companion pass right now– applying for the business card in November, getting my 110k by January and abusing my companion pass till the end of 2018.

    Of course, I wouldn’t be knowledgable of these tricks if I didn’t read OMAAT!

  2. I just want to know what flight only costs 1,666 points to redeem! Have never seen a redemption that low

  3. I bought a Groupon through the shopping portal last summer to keep my Rapid Rewards points from expiring. Will probably do the same when I get the next notification they are due to expire as I very rarely fly SW.

  4. I travel Southwest BWI-BOS every week from Sept-Dec, with the 50k bonus miles I earned on my new SW card buying Alaskan miles for a CX trip in August I am going to Asia rt business and all 13 trips to Boston for about $2600!!

  5. Set up a credit card with Southwest Rapids Reward Dining and make an easy dining purchase. I have a Burger King near me that is part of the Dining program and can buy a 0.99 item to keep points alive.

  6. Anyone else not able to rebook same Southwest flight at lowest points anount? Tried to change existing reservation after price dropped but system kept showing the points amount I booked at instead of current rate. Workaround is to just cancel and book again at lower rate.

  7. @Lars I booked a similarly cheaply priced promotional fare for LGB-OAK for a post July 4 mid week flight back home

  8. Flying Southwest is fairly painless. Six weeks ago I was scheduled on the last flight of the day BNA-FLL. Flight was delayed four hours and sceduled for 3am arrival. No thanks! Changed my flight to the first one out the next morning, albeit with a TPA connection. Any other airline would charge a 100-200$+ change fee. Not Southwest. Not only did I not have to pay a fee, the flight I changed to had a LOWER walk-up fare then what I originally paid for my original flight and I received a CREDIT!

    Fast forward a week-and-a-half. I am doing BNA-BUF via BWI. Nashville to Baltimore segment is on a rolling delay due to the inbound from DCA having a mechanical issue (Plane still has not left Reagan and flightAware keeps extending the delay) and as the delay goes north of 45 minutes, than an hour, than 90 minutes, the seemingly interminable 2-hour connection in Baltimore becomes increasingly tight. I go to customer service and within 15 minutes I am on a plane to TPA to connect there instead. I arrive in BUF twenty minutes later than originally seceduled, I do not miss a connection in BWI (BNA-Baltimore secment indeed got delayed over 2 hours) and the change I make is absolutely free.

  9. This is why I’ve got an e-rewards account for “just-in-case” I need to top up and extend expiry on a program. Southwest is one of the ones you can transfer points to. Only did a few surveys and I had enough points to cover any emergency top-ups.

  10. I guess I’ve been lucky so far. Don’t use them often but I guess I’ll have to use or lose soon.

  11. I’m the same way – used to fly them all the time, now I never do because they’re never cheaper and often more expensive. I use the Southwest portal to get to TurboTax each year. They give 1,000 points no matter how much your taxes cost. Since I’m paying TT anyway, might as well keep my account active while I’m at it.

  12. I just had 30k WN points expire last month. And that’s after I used the both the shopping portal and iDine! I’m furious. Will be contacting them nonstop until I get my points back!

  13. Tiffany, Southwest is also stricter about re-use of revenue “travel funds” (funds available for re-use from a cancelled WannaGetAway reservation) than some other airlines. For example, Southwest funds are only good for flights up to one year from original ticket purchase – they have a “hard” expiration. United (and possibly other legacy carriers) allow you to “roll over” funds so that, de facto, you can use them to fly two or more years after original ticket purchase (and, in some cases, to pay for someone else’s ticket).

    There’s also a major “gotcha” when you re-use Southwest “travel funds”. Suppose I bought a $59 ticket on January 1, then cancelled it. I can use the funds on December 1 (11 months later) to pay for travel in December (up to 12 months later). But suppose the new ticket costs $400. Then the entire $400 will expire at the end of December (1 months later) – not just the $59 I re-used. In that situation, it may be better to forfeit the original $59 to preserve flexibility to re-use the rest of the funds the next year.

    Southwest is now my “go to” domestic carrier (thanks to Companion Pass, and “no change fees”), but when there’s a good chance my plans will change, or when I’m booking for someone else, I book with points, which are de facto fully refundable – much easier to track and manage than revenue “travel funds”.

  14. I signed up with the Rapid Rewards along time ago, with the understanding they could be used on International flights. However, I cannot find this on their website ANYWHERE. What would be a good course of action with the miles that I have (over 75,000) to get an International flight to say London? Cash out and use the money? I am so frustrated to say the least, and the days that 60,000 points got you an international flight seem to be OVER.
    Thanks!

  15. @ heather — They can be used on international flights operated by Southwest, like to Costa Rica and such. You can still get 60,000-mile flights to Europe with other programs — check out the 10 Best Credit Card tab at the top of this page for ideas!

  16. @tiffany – thank you for the information! however, i am already on my nomad road, so i don’t have ’employment’ to apply for another card, at this point. i am also looking to use these miles for europe, not going to central or south america. do you know how to find the international flights that Southwest operates?

    thank you!

  17. “Fly Southwest

    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.”

    Is this accurate?? It doesnt seem that flights purchased “count” until you have completed travel. purchased does not equal completed.

  18. Does anyone know of a site I can go to looking for possible point/mile donations? My grandpa passed away last night and would really like to make it for his service but I am unable to financially. I am a rapid rewards member but have very few points.my Name is Tarah Manning My rr# is20698370976 my email address is tarahmanning1@outlook.com in case anyone out there would be generous enough to transfer there unused points or help out..It is very hard asking for a helping hand but hopefully it will serve its purpose..I can provide hospice and or funeral info in case you would like to verify my story before donating..thanks for taking the time to read.hope to hear from u.

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