If you’re a frequent Southwest Airlines flyer, you’ve probably signed up with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. However, you might not be taking full advantage of the Southwest dining program. If you’re hoping to earn Southwest tickets, the Rapid Rewards Dining program is one of the best ways to turn food into flights.

What is Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining?

As part of Rapid Rewards, Southwest has a dining program that lets members earn additional points by dining out at participating restaurants. Since traveling often involves restaurant meals, the dining program is a great way to make the most of your current trip to start saving up points for your next one. Even if you travel only a few times a year, these dining program rewards can help you turn even everyday work lunches and weekend brunches into free flights.

Getting started with Rapid Rewards Dining

When you first join Rapid Rewards, you aren’t automatically enrolled in Rapid Rewards Dining. You’ll need to log in to your Rapid Rewards account and register for the program.

Here’s how to sign up for Rapid Reward Dining and start earning rewards for your dining purchases:

    1. Sign up. The first step is simple and free. Log in to your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards account. Then click on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program to enroll. Once there, you’ll enter your name, email address and Rapid Rewards number along with your zip code so the program can recommend partner dining options near you. Once you complete and submit the form, you are instantly awarded membership.
    2. Link your credit cards. Next, you’ll log in to your new Rapid Rewards Dining account. You’ll be asked to link at least one credit card or debit card, but you can link as many as you like. Don’t worry, you don’t have to enter your bank account details — just the 15- or 16-digit credit card number so the system can scan your accounts for any qualifying purchases you make at participating restaurants.
    3. Dine at a network restaurant. Once your cards are linked, you can begin earning Rapid Rewards points on your restaurant purchases immediately. Your Rapid Rewards Dining dashboard will display dozens of restaurants to choose from in your area and nearby. You can also use the search function to find eligible restaurants in any city in your travel plans.

How to earn points with Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

You can earn Rapid Rewards Dining points in a few different ways, including:

  • Use a linked card to pay for meals at participating restaurants: The easiest way to earn points with Rapid Rewards Dining is by using a linked credit or debit card to pay for meals at participating restaurants. By paying for your meals with a linked card, you’ll earn Southwest points in addition to the usual rewards from your credit card. (Remember, though, if your linked card is a debit card, you must use it as a credit card to earn Rapid Rewards for a purchase.)
  • Sign up for Rapid Rewards Dining emails: When you opt-in to receive Rapid Rewards Dining emails, you’ll earn 3 points for every $1 you spend. On the other hand, if you opt-out of the emails, you’ll only earn 1 point for every $2 spent. This one’s a no-brainer — sign up for the weekly emails recommending restaurant choices to go from 0.5X points to 3X points on dining.
  • Leave a restaurant review: You can earn 10 points when you write a review detailing your experience dining at a participating restaurant. You must complete the review within 30 days, and it must follow Southwest’s review guidelines.
  • Earn bonuses: The Rapid Rewards Dining program includes three big bonus opportunities.
    • New Member Bonus: Earn 500 bonus points by joining the program, dining at a participating restaurant, spending at least $25 within 30 days of joining and completing an online restaurant review.
    • First Step Bonus: Receive 500 bonus points once you earn 1,500 points from dining at partner restaurants and completing reviews.
    • Thank You Bonus: Receive 300 bonus points every time you earn 1,000 points from dining and writing reviews.

Best credit cards for earning points with Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

If you have an airline credit card that earns Southwest Rapid Rewards, you might assume that’s the best card to use with the Rapid Rewards Dining program. However, there are also advantages to using a travel credit card that lets you transfer points to Southwest, or a rewards credit card that earns points on dining. Linking one of the top credit cards for restaurant rewards to your dining account is a great way to make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck. Here are our top recommendations.

American Express® Gold Card

When you link your American Express Gold Card to your Southwest dining account, you can earn credit card points on your dining purchases, on top of your dining rewards points. By stacking your rewards in this manner, you can earn 4X points on dining purchases through your Amex Gold and up to 3X Rapid Rewards Points from the Southwest dining program.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card*

The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an unlimited 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment. If you link the Savor Cash Rewards card to your Rapid Rewards Southwest dining account, you’ll earn 3X Rapid Rewards points (assuming you signed up for those Southwest emails) plus 4 percent cash back.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

If you really want to rack up those Rapid Rewards points, use a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card that allows you to transfer points to participating travel programs and transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 3X points on dining, which means that you can earn up to 6X Rapid Rewards points on purchases at participating restaurants: 3X from the dining program and 3X Ultimate Rewards points that you can turn into Rapid Rewards points.

How much are Rapid Rewards points worth?

Based on Bankrate’s latest valuations, Southwest points are worth 1.5 cents each. That means you’ll essentially earn 4.5 percent back on your dining purchases in the form of Southwest Rapid Rewards points (as long as you’re signed up for those Southwest emails). What’s more, you can stack these points with your usual credit card rewards benefits to score even more points.

Figuring out how many points it’ll take to get a free flight isn’t an exact science. To quote Southwest:

The number of points needed for a particular Southwest flight is set by Southwest and will vary depending on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare type, point redemption rate, and other factors, and is subject to change at any time until the booking is confirmed.

Assuming a Southwest Rapid Rewards point is worth 1.5 cents, 50,000 Rapid Rewards points could cover the cost of a $750 flight (minus taxes and fees), depending on destination, time, day of travel, demand and so on.

How can you maximize your Southwest Rapid Reward points?

If you’d like to earn as many Rapid Rewards points as possible, make sure you sign up for Rapid Rewards Dining emails. That small step alone will increase your dining points by a whopping 500 percent since you’ll go from earning 0.5x points to 3x points on dining purchases.

Then, get to know the restaurants in your area that participate in the Rapid Rewards program, so you can spend your dining dollars in a way that earns rewards. If you’re going out to dinner with your family or grabbing lunch with your coworkers, suggest a restaurant that earns Rapid Rewards points.

When you’re dining with a group, avoid the trouble of splitting the bill at the table. Instead, pay for the entire bill using a credit card that is linked to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program and you’ll rack up points based on the full amount of the bill. Afterward, everyone can repay you for their portion of the bill via Venmo or cash.

Every time you eat at a participating restaurant, make sure to leave a review and earn your 10 bonus points. And don’t forget about those three special bonuses: New Member, First Step and Thank You. These might not be the only bonuses available, so make sure you sign up for those Southwest dining emails to learn about all the ways you can maximize your points.

How to spend Rapid Rewards Dining points

While you can earn Southwest Rapid Reward Dining points in many ways, the points have equal value once they are credited to your frequent flier account. Any points you earn through Southwest’s dining rewards program are just as valuable as points you receive from a Southwest credit card welcome bonus, a Southwest flight or from shopping through the Rapid Rewards portal.

One way to spend your points is to redeem them for low-cost flights on Southwest Airlines.  You can also redeem points for merchandise, hotel stays, rental cars, gift cards and more.

Don’t forget, points earned through Rapid Reward Dining count towards earning the much sought-after Southwest Companion Pass. The Companion Pass is a benefit that allows you to choose someone to fly with you for next-to-free — only taxes and fees apply, starting at $5.60 one way. The pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it, plus the following calendar year.

If you’re pursuing the Companion Pass, it makes sense to enroll in Rapid Rewards Dining to make sure you’re getting all the free points available to you.

All information about the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.