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What type of airline mile or credit card point is best for you depends entirely on things like where you live, where you want to go, whether you are good with economy seats and budget hotels or are after a bit more luxury, how many people travel with you, and on and on. Because what type of mile is best depends so much on your travel preferences and goals, there is no one blanket answer for the best type of mile or point for all travelers.
Knowing that there is no one best type of mile or point, there are still some that generally work better than others for traveling families. Generally speaking I like flexible credit card points like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards the most as they allow for the most flexibility when it comes time to book the trips you want.
However, for this post I will focus on the airline mile that I think is often the most useful for traveling families, and that is Southwest Rapid Reward points. If you read the comments on my recent post on how I think that Delta SkyMiles have become more valuable for traveling families than American AAdvantage miles, you will probably see lots of references to Southwest Rapid Reward points as being the favorite type of airline “mile” for families in the miles and points game.
This is for good reason, and even though I don’t personally utilize the Rapid Rewards program that much right now, I absolutely agree that for many traveling families the Rapid Rewards program can’t be beat. I anticipate a time when the last of our airline elite perks have ended, and the kids are older so driving through traffic Houston to get to Hobby won’t be as big of a deal, that we will again use Southwest more ourselves. I used to actually have “A List” Southwest elite status back when we lived in Austin, so I do have personal history with Southwest, just not in the last couple of years.
Outside of discussion about how to earn the Companion Pass without taking lots of paid Southwest flights, the Rapid Rewards program doesn’t get a ton of coverage in the miles and points world largely because it isn’t quite as exciting as a lie-flat first class seat with champagne and caviar, but for lots of families it can be far more valuable. Here’s why….
Why Traveling Families Love Southwest Rapid Rewards
Rapid Rewards has no Blackout Dates
The Southwest Rapid Rewards program has no black-out dates, meaning that you can use your points for any flight where there are seats for sale. You don’t have to just hope for award availability the day before Thanksgiving, or for Spring Break, or Summer Break, or between Christmas and New Year’s when so many other families are traveling, you know the award flights will be there.
However, the number of points required for a flight is tied to the selling price of the flight, so you do still need to be smart in how and when you use your Rapid Reward points to get the most out of them.
Re-book Your Award Flights for Free with Rapid Rewards
But, that takes me to the next reason that the Rapid Rewards program is so good for families. If the award price for the flights you booked drops, or you find a better Southwest flight, or your plans change, or you want to cancel your award flights completely, you can do so without any change fees or redeposit fees. In other words, there is really no commitment required when making a Southwest award reservation as you can always put the points back in your account. This is so, so valuable for traveling families who want to both stretch the value of their points, and not be penalized when life happens.
Maximizing the Southwest Companion Pass for Family Travel
Much has been written about the Southwest Companion Pass, but I can’t talk about the value of the Rapid Rewards program for too long without bringing it back up. If you have the Companion Pass you can bring someone with you on your Southwest flights whether they are paid with cash or points and only pay the taxes for the second ticket. Using the Companion Pass in essence doubles the value of all of your Southwest points, and it is a phenomenal way for families to travel way more for way less.
The Companion Pass is good the year you earn it and all of the next calendar year, so earning it in March 2017 means it is good all way way through the rest of 2017 and all of 2018. You can change your designated companion up to three times in a calendar year, so for example you could switch from your partner to your kid if you have some travel with one of the other clustered together.
Award Flights from 1,000 Points or Less
In a world where “saver” domestic round trip flights are 25,000 miles, Southwest flights can be just 1,000 points each way…or even less. For example, if you want to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, The Bahamas, on a Friday in February it is as low as just 792 points + $5.60 in taxes/fees. Seriously. There are more taxes than that when you leave the Bahamas on your return, but still that is an example of a crazy inexpensive award ticket to somewhere you might want to go on a date/time you might want to travel. No other airline award program can come close to that offering.
Rapid Reward Points are Easy to Use
Most family travelers are way too busy with life to want to become experts in booking airline awards. Even folks who enjoy learning about maximizing miles and points, probably don’t want the actual process of using those points to be excruciating or to require purposefully utilizing a call center in a different country via Skype and speaking industry jargon just to get an award booked. With Southwest you simply fire up their website and book the award you want. There’s no worrying that better award availability can only be seen on a pay-to-play or other third party website or call center. The awards are right there, and you just click on what you want and you are done. Easy peasey.
Bags Fly Free, Family Boarding, and More
If you want airline lounges, first class seats, elite upgrades etc. then Southwest might not be your go-to program, but if you like free checked bags, a set family boarding time, and an overall culture that just seems to be friendly, then Southwest can be a really good fit.
Southwest won’t get you everywhere in the world, but they will get you to most of the lower 48, Mexico, Aruba, Costa Rica, Cuba, Belize, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and more. In other words, most of the big family travel destinations for American families are covered in their network.
Southwest Rapid Reward Points are Easy to Earn
There are three Southwest credit cards that currently have sign-up bonuses of 50,000 – 60,000 points after hitting the sign-up bonuses. Since Rapid Reward points can be worth 1.6+ cents each towards Wanna Get Away travel, that is like $800 – $960 in travel from a credit card sign-up bonus. Additionally, Rapid Rewards is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards like the Sapphire Reserve, Ink Plus, Sapphire Preferred, etc. This means that there are lots of routes to earning Rapid Reward points in everyday life.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards program isn’t perfect, and isn’t the right match for everyone, but it has some real strengths that make it a perfect match for lots of traveling families. If you weren’t already familiar with some of the reasons why lots of families like Southwest Rapid Rewards, then hopefully you are now up to speed!
If your family utilizes Rapid Rewards I’d love for you to share your Southwest tips!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.