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The key to getting the most value from airline credit cards? Using your miles for the longest, most expensive flight award possible. As long as you stay flexible and avoid peak travel times, you can redeem some very valuable flight awards.
Yet finding award flights during holidays has been nearly impossible, and those of us redeeming miles for a short trip are literally selling ourselves short. But Southwest Airlines turned that common wisdom on its head when they changed their award system last year.
With the new Rapid Rewards program, each point is worth a fixed value toward any seat for sale. So you can now book several short flights instead of one long one, and booking trips for the holidays is no harder than any other time. Southwest Airlines offers its Rapid Rewards Visa card from Chase in Plus and Premier versions to help customers earn more points toward award seats on any of their flights.
- Earn Rapid Rewards points. Two Rapid Rewards points are earned per dollar spent at Southwest Airlines, with 1 point per dollar being earned for most other purchases.
- Get a sign-up bonus. The current offer is for 25,000 bonus points after making your first purchase with this card. That’s enough for more than $400 in award flights.
- Get a companion pass. All points earned with this card count toward an annual companion pass, one of the best deals in the air. The companion pass allows you to designate someone – family member, friend, anyone – who will receive a free ticket when traveling with you. This effectively doubles the value of any purchased flight or reward ticket. For example, my wife received the companion pass last year after earning the necessary 110,000 points. Now I travel with her for free on every flight, even reward tickets.
- Annual renewal bonus. Each year when you renew their card, you receive a bonus. The Rapid Rewards Plus card has an annual fee of $69 and an annual bonus of 3,000 points, worth $50. The Premier version has an annual fee of $99 with a bonus of 6,000 points, worth $100. Clearly, the Premier version is a better deal, providing you can turn those points into travel.
- Earn tier-qualifying points. The Premier version of the card offers 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 points annually. These points allow customers to reach the A-List status faster and receive priority check-in, security screening, and boarding.
- High interest rate. Those who carry a balance should look to pay off their debt, not earn rewards for spending. That’s especially true here. This card has a standard APR of 15.24 percent – significantly higher than the most competitive non-reward cards.
- No perks. Many other airline reward cards include perks such as priority boarding and bag fee waivers. On the other hand, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have any bag fees for the first two bags.
- Annual fee. The current offer doesn’t waive the first year’s annual fee as previous offers have. Only after being a cardholder for a year will you receive bonus miles for paying the annual fee.
- Not great for last-minute awards. One of the nice things about most frequent flier programs is that last-minute fares are a bargain. With the new system at Southwest, award flights without advance notice are expensive, just as with paid flights.
Get it if: You fly a lot of shorter, domestic flights, and you love Southwest’s policies of no bag fees and no change fees.
Forget it if: You like to use miles for last-minute flights or trips in first class.