Yesterday, Richard Kerr (of Travel Hacking 101 fame) offered a bounty to the first person who could find a bookable Southwest ticket where you could redeem your points for more than 1.95 cents per point. Of course I had to join a challenge like this, even if it meant taking a break from work for 15 minutes.
Previously, I’d seen redemption values as high as 1.72 cents per point on various routes. I honestly didn’t think you could push things much higher than this with Southwest. I didn’t know if Richard had found a specific route that offered a 1.95 cents per point value and wanted others to find it, or if it was an exercise to see if it is simply possible. Or maybe no one would find one and he was just trolling us.
How to find a high value Southwest route
I knew going into the contest that cheaper flights often offer the best value for your RapidRewards points. Which seems kinda counter-intuitive when you’re coming from other programs. Usually, you don’t book award tickets on competitive routes since paying cash is usually not too bad. You save your points for the pricey routes (or premium cabins).
But Southwest is different. There is no award chart to speak of. RapidRewards points have a rough value of 1.5 cents per point, but the value isn’t completely fixed. It is some unknown function of the ticket price. I’ve previously tried to make sense of it, and the best I can come up with is that your better off using your points for cheaper tickets.
Jumping into the TH101 bounty competition
When I jumped into the competition, the first route I looked at was LAX-LAS. I’ve seen really low fares on this route and it seemed like a good place to start. I came up with an option that I posted as my answer, but I forgot to factor out the fee. Overall, it only came to a value of 1.90 cents per point, and Richard was looking for 1.95+. I searched a couple more routes, but gave up as I saw a flurry of other answers posted.
Thus, I was not the winner of the contest. However, the idea nagged at me. I HAD to find a route with that value! So I wrapped up what I was doing with work and went back to search Southwest.com a bit more. I suddenly remembered that Southwest is now flying an Oakland-Reno route. During a recent sale, it was one of the lowest fares advertised.
Sure enough, that was the route I needed. I found an Oakland-Reno flight for $47.
The corresponding points price is an insanely low 1,617 RapidRewards points. I’d hit gold (in terms of the contest). The flight is honestly an awful choice. Four hour trip with a layover in LAX? You can drive to Reno faster. But it’s the best value!!
Starting with a ticket price of $46.94, subtracting the $5.60 fee, and then dividing by 1,617 RapidRewards points gave me a whopping 2.55 cents per point. I’m not sure I will ever find another Southwest flight that will top that value!
Now I only wish I would have thought of the Oakland-Reno route initially! Not that I really wanted or needed a first-class amenity kit (the prize). I just liked the competition.
But now I know that RapidRewards points can be worth up to 2.55 cents. Have you ever found better value than this with Southwest?