Southwest points are a fantastic way to bounce around the US (and now many countries south of our borders) with little worry given how easy it is to redeem them and how great the cancellation policy is. The Southwest credit cards (which now number 3 instead of 4) frequently come around with offers of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in 3 months. Given that Southwest points are worth around 1.6 cents (when factoring in the taxes/fees that are absorbed by the points), a 50,000 point offer is worth about $800 of travel on Southwest. When you consider that getting two of those offers in one calendar year and doing $10,000 in spending gives you enough points to qualify for the valuable Companion Pass, you are getting a lot of value from the Southwest credit cards and points.
But, what if you live in an area that is not currently served by Southwest? Or what if you travel mostly out of the US (like we do at the moment)? Are these Southwest cards still something to consider or should you pass on them? Fortunately, there are other redemption options with Southwest points besides simply redeeming them for free airfare on Southwest! I will say this – this is definitely not the best value for Southwest points! If you can use the points to travel on Southwest, you will get a far greater value going that route. But, if for some reason that does not work for you, you can still get some pretty good value out of your Southwest points in many ways – including international travel on a lot of airlines. I totally believe that it is a better value to use the points for travel on Southwest, but for those who may need alternative options, this is a great way to go.
Use Your Southwest Points For International Flights On Many Airlines
Southwest allows you to use your Rapid Reward points on many things besides Southwest flights – including things like gift cards to retailers and places like Amazon. The rates for those redemptions is 1 cent per point (in contrast to the around 1.6 cents per point when redeemed directly on Southwest), so not great, but a 50,000 point card will still give you $500 in value!
One of the redemption options is the ability to redeem Rapid Reward points for international flights – on a wide range of airlines! Just like with gift cards, the redemption rate on this is only 1 cent per point, but consider this – many people get and love the Barclaycard Arrival Plus for the tremendous value of its 40,000 miles. That equates to $400 towards travel with a 10% rebate on the miles used. Of course the card has other great earning tied to it, but the sign-up bonus is of great interest to many. Well, with the 50,000 point Southwest cards, you can get $500 towards international airfare. Not only that, but these tickets are revenue tickets (just like with Barclay redemptions) meaning you are eligible to earn miles and redeem upgrade instruments on the flights (depending on the terms with your choice of airline).
In our case, we had a leftover stash of Southwest points and are unable to use them on Southwest right now. However, I was looking around their site and playing with some things and saw some flights that I was going to book come back. I figured – might as well just use the points for this! The process is just as simple as using a website like Orbitz or Priceline and the ticketing is fast and instant. In my case, I redeemed for an upcoming flight with Aegean Airlines and entered my Aegean Gold number in at checkout. As soon as the confirmation came up, I took my Aegean reservation number over to Aegean to see what fare class it booked into and it came right up – and showed my elite level right in the reservation.
The prices for redemption are just what you would find using other online travel websites. I tried a large number of international flights with several different twists – USA to Europe, within Europe, Asia to USA, Asia to Australia, etc. I kept getting a wide range of airlines available at the prices that I would see on Orbitz. The only airlines I did not notice as coming up were El Al and Ryanair. Other than that, all the airlines I was looking (including US airlines) were included in the results.
Taking This Further
One of the strengths of Southwest is the ability to earn a lot of points through their shopping portal. Frequent Miler has done some excellent work and research laying out some incredible opportunities to earn 30 points per dollar – and more – with Southwest. If you employ these tactics in a way to break even (or close), you can use this as a great way to manufacture a lot of points for international airfare redemptions that you would normally use cash for. You will be able to earn miles for these flights and even have the opportunity to upgrade them (depending on the airline and upgrade instrument).
Again, while it is far better to use these points on Southwest, if you cannot use them for that, there is certainly no reason to avoid the Southwest cards as you can get $500 towards international airfare with your Southwest points.
Booking International Tickets
To book these tickets (or redeem your points for a variety of other options), start at this page – here. Go to the menu at the top and scroll over Other Travel and select International Flights (or go here).
Input your search preferences and wait for the results to come back. Select your preferred option and fill out the rest like you would for any ticket!
You will need to have enough points to cover the entire ticket price, so make sure you have what you need going in.
Do not let your inability to actually travel on Southwest keep you from using Southwest’s Rapid Reward points! Just be aware – you will have the annual fee up front (which actually places the net sign-up bonus amount closer to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus).