The Southwest Standard Award Trick – Up to 80% Off Flights

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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 $4,000 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.)

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.12.07 AM

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.12.16 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.12.25 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.15.36 AM

Southwest wants up to 47k points for a one way. But if you search for Standard Award space, it exists on those same days.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.15.52 AM

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.

  1. Sign up for an AirTran A+ account with a name that matches your Southwest account.
  2. Transfer 19,200 Rapid Rewards points to 16 A+ credits.
  3. Transfer 16 A+ credits to 16 Southwest credits. (This will automatically turn into one Standard Award in your account.)
  4. 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.

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 $4,000 in the first three months.

Have you ever used this standard award tip?

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Comments

  1. Sean says

    Great tip. But keep in mind the standard award may not be available for the exact flight(s) you want. Call in the verify exact flights before initiating the transfer.

  2. dealswelike says

    If you do not have a standard award in your account you cannot check availability online and instead will have to call southwest to confirm availability. Unfortunately they cannot put flights on hold. Luckily though the transfer between Southwest and AirTran is almost instant.

  3. Justin says

    Dealswelike-
    I don’t have any awards in my account, but using the link that Angelina gave in her post I was able to successfully search.

  4. Brandon says

    How long does it take for the transfer to show up in your frequent flyer account? Is it like Starwood where it takes days, or like Membership Rewards where it transfers instantly?

  5. JakePB says

    Angelina – this is just spectacular advice. Last minute award space pricing has gone through the roof on SW. This is a wonderful remedy – thank you!

  6. Cogswell says

    I understand that you are trying to get your credit card referral bonuses but your math is a little silly.

    The elephant in the room is that you are “forgetting” that you could also book this itinerary on any other airline!

    For your example of TPA to LAX, you can consistantly find it for around $350 cash for a roundtrip. Plus you would earn around $75 worth of miles, so your cost is really around $275 – exactly what you value the 19,200 SW miles at. So your actual savings are not 80% off, but zero!

  7. says

    @Brandon: from what I recall, the transfer is pretty instant.

    @Cogswell: This post was written for people looking to redeem last-minute SW awards. I tried to use examples for immediate travel and for a ticket a little bit further out to illustrate availability of standard awards. Of course I always recommend choosing the best options for you. Even after searching SW awards for myself, it made more sense for me to spend $169 to fly United to earn about ~7000 miles (base miles+100% 1k rdm bonus…and sit in first class using one of my RPUs). 7000 UA miles is worth about $140 to me so it was a no-brainer. However, last minute flights (like a day or two before) are usually at sky-rocket prices, so this might make sense for some!

    @Andy F: I believe 19,200 points for a standard award is specifically for a round trip.

  8. Cogswell says

    @Angelina

    Yes the post could be helpful to redeem last-minute SW awards. But the point is that you aren’t saving anything.

    Every blogger I’ve seen makes this basic mistake when calculating the value of miles. If your goal is to travel from A to B, and you are able to redeem 25k miles for a specific flight on airline XYZ, you can’t just say “that flight on airline XYZ would have been $500 so I’m getting 2 cents per mile”.

    You have to figure out what is the absolute cheapest cash-paid flight on *ANY* airline, factor in the potential miles earned on that flight (among other things), and then divide this price by your 25k miles to determine your real cpm

    Unfortunately, doing so is a massive reality check with regards to the actual value of miles.

    • Jeremy says

      @cogswell agreed completely I often think of hotel points redemptions this way as well and try to compare say the price of a really nice clean centrally located 4-5 star hotel in Paris to compare that cash price to the park hyatt to get a comparable metric. If I don’t care and just want a bed in a clean hotel I’ll find the average for a good hotel. Makes the comp more like $250 and $400 instead of $950. Points give me ability to experience that PHV but I never think I’m getting 5 cents per point.

  9. says

    @cogswell: I agree with you to some degree, yes, but there are other variables some of us also take into consideration as well. For instance when I fly out of the NYC area, I will spend more points or $$ knowing that I can get a flight out of EWR instead of LGA/JFK because after tolls, traffic, and hair-pulling stress dealing with the chaos of getting to the other side of the river, it’s worth it for me to spend a bit more knowing that I will be saving hours of my life before and after my flight. Location and time value also comes into consideration 100%. But for the purposes of the post, I am showing that the average person isn’t just stuck paying the inflated last minute point prices, and that there are ways to save instead of being suckered into redeeming for the full points amount. I do agree with you that value of miles and points are extremely subjective.

    @De: You can do two one ways that are not a round trip. For instance you can do SEA-EWR then SEA-FLL but you can not just book one one-way. I hope that makes sense.

  10. horrible assumption says

    I do not like this proof by example method. What the author fails to mention is that standard award availability is scant, especially on a Sunday or a Monday. The 80% sounds great, but you have a slim chance finding it. The author was fortunate in this on example. More often, the southwest award availability, or lack thereof, forces you to use double credits for a “Freedom” award. Average out this 100% mark-up, which happens quite frequently on searches for rewards flights, and the author’s solitary example of an 80% bargain against a really highly priced fare that shouldn’t be bought in the first place because of how close it is to departure, and you have is a losing proposition.

  11. James says

    I love this tip! I’ve already used it once for a successful RT standard award. Do you know if it’s possible to book 2 one-way flights with the standard award? I’ve read that 1 standard award is actually 2-standard one-way awards, but I wanted to double check.

    Thank you so much!!

  12. horrible assumption says

    James, the standard award is for 2 one way flights. However, availability of reward eligible flights is slim, especially on published routes, and particularly direct routes. Some that I’ve found for the month of June require TWO STOPS. They’re really not rewarding loyalty to the southwest brand the way they used to, now only giving away flights that they are so sure wouldn’t have sold anyway.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I’m excited to head to Seattle in a few days for the Freddie Awards (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});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. Read full article […]

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