How I Got a $520 Southwest Ticket for Free

Free airline tickets? YES PLEASE! Want to know how I did it? It really isn’t that complicated at all. The only bummer about the whole situation is that the ticket isn’t for a flight for me. I got the ticket so my brother could fly out to my upcoming wedding which is pretty awesome if you ask me.

So how did I manage to get a $520 Southwest airlines ticket for free? There were a few steps involved, but it was all pretty simple.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

About a year ago I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card which had (and still has) an awesome 40,000 Ultimate Reward point sign up bonus. I spent the required amount of money in the first 3 months after receiving my credit card and received 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points for free!

These rewards points could be redeemed for a $400 check or statement credit… but that wouldn’t pay for the flight in full. So how did that free $400 worth of points turn into a free flight? I’m glad you asked, because it didn’t even take the full 40,000 points.

Transferring Ultimate Rewards Points

As a Sapphire Preferred card holder I had the option to transfer my Ultimate Rewards points to their partner programs at a 1 point to 1 point ratio. This meant that I could transfer up to 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest Rapid Rewards points if I wanted to.

Why would I do that? Because Rapid Rewards points are worth more than a penny a point, or the value I would have gotten if I cashed them in for a check through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program.

I only had to transfer 28,600 Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest Rapid Rewards points to buy the ticket which means I still have 11,400 Ultimate Rewards points left from my sign up bonus. It also means that, because I transferred the points to Southwest, I now received a value of roughly 1.8 cents per Ultimate Rewards point, or an increase in value of 80% from the base value of a penny per Ultimate Rewards point.

Of course, as with any flight, there are unfortunately some fees you actually have to pay in cash. It ended up costing $20 round trip for these fees, but the tickets themselves were free!

Can You Get In On Sign Up Bonuses?

Absolutely! There are a ton of credit card offers out there with sign up bonuses. I highlighted just a few of the best sign up bonus offers in this post, or you can do the research yourself and find the best credit card bonuses for you. Just make sure you read all of the fine print and follow all of the rules to get your sign up bonus.

Also, not all credit cards offer the option to transfer points. In fact, relatively few credit cards do and most that do allow this charge annual fees. Be wary and cancel if you’re no longer receiving value for the card.

Finally, as always, credit cards are tools. If you can’t handle a tool, don’t use it. You wouldn’t use a chainsaw if you were prone to mishandling it and cutting your arm off, so why would you get a credit card if you can’t manage to pay it off in full every month… That’s some good food for thought right there.

So have you ever received a free flight? How did you do it? Did you get bumped and get a free voucher or did you use rewards to book a free flight?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Awesome sauce! Love free flights!

  2. That’s awesome Lance! I never have gotten a free flight, but I am finally starting to work on the rewards. We just got enough points to pay for flights for a trip we’ll be taking in January for my birthday as well as some of the hotel cost on our Amex cards. I also just finished the spending I needed on another card to get points to cover Fincon hotel costs. 🙂

  3. I am a big fan of airline frequent flier programs. I have had an airline card for over 20 years and use it to accumulate miles for my overseas trips. My wife and travel first and business class for just the taxes/fees which can amount to a couple hundred dollars each.

  4. That is so cool. I wonder what it feels like to get free flight tickets. We get them cheap but never for free. Must be awesome.

  5. I am fascinated by all the benefits of some cards, but hang on to my long time visa. It gives decent points and I exchange them for gift cards and use the cards for stuff I buy anyhow like gas and house supplies at home depot. Time is so valuable to me, I don’t want to worry about running after new credit cards.

    • I don’t mind putting in a couple hours effort for a few hundred dollars. Plus, it is fun for me, a cheap (paying) way to be entertained… I’m such a nerd!

  6. Score for Lance! I’m glad you were able to do this and get some value out of it. After all the traveling I’ve done over the past 4 years, I finally called Delta to see if I could redeem some of my miles for a free flight for my wife and I. The rep practically laughed in my face. I still wasn’t anywhere close to a free flight … Delta!!!

  7. Nice move, though I’m not the biggest fan of southwest anymore. They’re rarely the cheapest so maybe you could have gotten the $520 ticket for $480 somewhere else?

    The other option (if you don’t want to use them) is sell your points to someone. If they’re willing to pay 85% of the value (they save 15% off their trip), it can be a win-win. I’m doing this so that I can take a red-eye (something Southwest doesn’t offer) to the East Coast at the end of the summer.

  8. I usually wait until Southwest runs sales because you can usually get their wanna get away fares for as low as 3,000 or 4,000 points each way.

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