I’m excited to head to Seattle in a few days for the Freddie Awards and FTU. However, instead of returning back to NJ afterwards, I made a last-minute (surprise surprise) decision to spend a few days in Miami with friends. Luckily I had originally booked my return SEA-EWR on Southwest points, so I was able to redeposit without paying a fee.
While now searching for a last-minute flight from SEA-FLL, I decided to play around with all of the possibilities. In the end, I was able to find a great $169 fare on United (and I even confirmed an upgrade, yay), but I still learned of a cool trick for Southwest award redemptions.
You can use one little known trick to get 80% off your next Southwest award. This trick doesn’t involve using cash. Instead, it involves using Southwest Rapid Rewards points, which I get from Ultimate Rewards transfers or by using my Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa.
Even though Ultimate Rewards are easy to rack up, I still love to stretch them five times farther when I can. The best three cards to earn Ultimate Rewards are:
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.
- The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as 5x points on your phone, cable, and internet bills.)
- The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as 5x points on your phone, cable, and internet bills.)
Once you have your Ultimate Rewards, they transfer instantly 1:1 to Southwest points. Southwest points can book any flight on which Southwest is selling a seat. You need 70 Southwest points for every dollar of the base fare, so a $200 base fare can be booked with 14,000 Southwest points.
But you can do even better on some flights.
The key is that for the last two years, Southwest has let us freely transfer between Southwest points and AirTran credits. This might be one time when a really slow merger benefits consumers.
With a few clicks, you can turn 19,200 Southwest points into one roundtrip award on any flights on which Southwest is offering Standard Award space. At 70 points per dollar, 19,200 Southwest points should only get you about $274 in Southwest flights, but as one Standard roundtrip award, you can often get way more value from your 19,200 Southwest points.
Here’s how this trick works:
When a roundtrip Southwest award would cost more than 19,200 points (cost more than $274) and that roundtrip has Standard Award space, you book with this trick instead of the normal way.
Before using this trick, you have to make sure that an award would cost more than 19,200 points and that it has Standard Award space.
You can check how many points an award costs by doing a simple search and asking for the results in points instead of dollars. You can even click for a monthly calendar of the route.
If the sum of the roundtrip is more than 19,200 points, then it will be cheaper to book as a Standard Award if there is Standard Award space.
To search for Standard Award space, go to this page, sign into your Southwest account, and click the button that says “Standard Awards Availability.”
Your search will bring up a calendar like this one from Los Angeles to Tampa. Days with checks have an itinerary with Standard Award availability. From Tampa to Los Angeles in May, 9 out of 31 days have Standard Award space.
If you want to travel one of those nine days and you find Standard Award space on the return, you can book the trip for 19,200 Rapid Rewards.
The best time to use the Standard Award trick
Any time is a good time to use a Standard Award to pay 19,200 points for a roundtrip instead of the normal, higher price.
One of the most common times you’ll find that Standard Awards are the best deal is for last-minute travel. Look at these point prices for a one way trip from Newark to Portland this month.
Southwest wants up to 47k points for a one way. But if you search for Standard Award space, it exists on those same days.
So instead of paying 47k Rapid Rewards each way, you’re paying 19,200 roundtrip which is about 80% off!
How to Book a Standard Award
If you’ve determined that a Standard Award makes sense for your trip because the normal award price is higher than 19,200 points roundtrip and your dates have Standard Award space, it’s time to book one.
It’s a four step process.
- Sign up for an AirTran A+ account with a name that matches your Southwest account.
- Transfer 19,200 Rapid Rewards points to 16 A+ credits.
- Transfer 16 A+ credits to 16 Southwest credits. (This will automatically turn into one Standard Award in your account.)
- Go to this page and book your Standard Award from your Southwest account.
Getting Southwest Points
If you’ve already gotten the Southwest cards (thumbs up if you got the 50,000 point offer), don’t forget you can get even more Rapid Rewards from 1:1 instant transfers from Ultimate Rewards.
I love Ultimate Rewards because they transfer to so many partners and each partner has unique high value awards.
- Virgin Atlantic miles are perfect for Premium Economy awards to Europe.
- British Airways Avios are perfect for filling in the small gaps of a mega trip.
- United miles are perfect to get two business class award seats together to Europe this summer.
Just a recap, some of the best ways to get Ultimate Rewards points are with the CSP and Ink Bold/Ink Plus cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and The Ink Plus and The Ink Bold each offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
Have you ever used this standard award tip?