40 Places to See in The Western United States (Vacations, Landmarks) [2022]

This article will show you 40 (stunning) places to see in the Western United States.

These are pretty stunning destinations perfect for vacations, road trips, and for anybody interested in discovering these landmarks and points of interest.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

1. Moaning Cave –  Moaning Cavern Park (California)

Moaning Cave sounds like the title to an Indie film you’d probably want to avoid, but don’t be deceived. Discovered (modernly) during the Gold Rush, this cavern earned its name from the moaning sound that echoes throughout the cave. You can’t deny the intrigue of caverns, especially ones that emit moaning echoes. If you’re in the Gold Country area then try to stop by.

Moaning Cave California
Hidden Gem by Ellie Stone

2. Paint Mines – Paint Mines Interpretative Park (Colorado)

Most people think about the Rocky Mountains when they think of Colorado. Here’s a lesser known spot worth your time called “Paint Mines.” This park is a cluster of hoodoos and sand-capped spires of all colors.

There’s an array of wildlife here, too. Everything from horned toads, mule deers, falcons, and coyotes call this place home. Definitely look into visiting.

Paint Mines
Paint Mines by Jabon Eagar
Paint Mines
Paint Mines by Curtis (CCBImages)

3. Horsetail Fall in February – Yosemite National Park (California)

Ever seen a “fire fall?”

Better yet, have you ever even heard of a fire fall?

You’ll only be able to catch a glimpse of this elusive wonder at Yosemite National Park two weeks out of the year in February when the sun shines on the fall just right at sunset. But if you’ve ever wondered what a waterfall looks like when lit on fire, now you know.

horestail fall
Photo by Don Vilfer

4. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Everybody knows about the Grand Canyon. And everybody knows about Yellowstone. But not everyone knows that there’s a “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” and that it is one of the most stunning places in the country.

Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone
Grand Canyon Of the Yellowstone by Mike Jones
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone HDR
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Brandon Kopp

5. Kanarra Creek – Zion National Park (Utah)

Now that Antelope Canyon is growing in fame and rightfully so, I felt the need to showcase another stunning slot canyon, Kanarra Creek. Unlike Antelope Canyon, you’ll actually have to do some hiking through the Zion backcountry to get to this picturesque location.

Kanarra Creek Utah
Under Your Spell by Eddie Lluisma
Kanarra Creek Utah
Daydream by Eddie Lluisma

6. Hidden Lake – Glacier National Park (Montana)

Really, the entire national park of Glacier could be put on this list because so few people know about the many peaks, lakes, and (you guessed it) glaciers that make up this spectacular park. I figured Hidden Lake exemplified the unknown beauty of Glacier, in both its name and its scenery.

Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake by Tony Hochstetler

7. Rialto Beach – Olympic National Park (Washington)

Standing tall and shaped like the Pacific’s version of the “Burj Al Arab” (the sailboat skyscraper) in Dubai, this iconic beach is a photographer’s paradise. And as the caption below suggests, Rialto Beach may be the best “Kelped” secret of the Pacific Northwest coastline.

Rialto Beach
Best Kelped Secret by Ryan Manuel

8. Painted Hills – John Day Fossil Bed National Monument (Oregon)

Here’s a scene right out of a Dr. Seuss book except it’s real life. I’ve seen a similar sight in Asia but who knew we had this here in the United States? The painted hills are a part of a larger area of the John Day Fossil Bed where you can find fossils of horses, camels, and even rhinoceroses. And by “you” I mean skilled paleontologists, of course.

Painted Hills
Photo by Stuart Gordon
Painted Hills Sunset Colors
Painted Hills Sunset Colors by Ryan Manuel

9. The Subway – Zion National Park (Utah)

Going to or from the Subway, you’ll dive through emerald waters, rappel through multiple slot canyons, scramble over boulders the size of houses, and pass dinosaur tracks. Oh yeah, and you’ll catch a glimpse of this wonder.

The Subway Zion
Lured By The Light by Eddie Lluisma
Dino Prints
Dino Prints by Daniel Gillaspia

10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison sounds like a place straight out of a fantasy novel and it looks like one, too. It’s one of the steepest mountain descents in the world and the photos here will leave you with no doubt of that fact.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Painted Wall by Daniel Cummins
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP by Patrick Huber

11. Zabriskie Point – Death Valley National Park (California)

Here’s yet another location you’ll have to see with your own eyes to believe it’s actually earth you’re looking at. See the tiny black things on the left that look like penguins? They’re actually humans — that’s how vast this unique landscape is.

Zabriskie Point
Collect Moments Not Things by Eddie Lluisma

12. White Pocket – Arizona

White Pocket’s not really white but actually full of brilliant, vibrant color… and dragons, too.

White Pocket - Arizona The Dragon
The Dragon by Naphat Chantaravisoot

13. Palouse Falls –  Palouse Falls State Park (Washington)

Not quite a hidden gem if you live in the Pacific Northwest, but Palouse Falls is a destination many outside of the photography and hiking world have not heard about. Not to mention most people can’t believe to find out this spot is in Washington state and not somewhere in the Southwest.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls by Naphat Chantaravisoot

14. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota

For those who always ask what there is to do in North Dakota, well now you have an answer. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is full of badlands just waiting to be explored. The park is also known for its abundant wildlife, which include feral horses, golden eagles, and elk among many others.

Wild Horses at TRNP
Wild Horses at TRNP by John Hamilton

15. Hidden Lake – North Cascades National Park (Washington)

Another hidden lake makes the list. This one will take a few miles of hiking to get to capture the view but as you can see it would be worth it.

Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake by Ryan Mallady

16. Cathedral Lake – Yosemite National Park (California)

While this point may be known to frequent hikers to Yosemite, it’s still a destination constantly overlooked by many for other destinations inside Yosemite Valley that are easier to access. If you’re planning on making it here be sure you to apply for a permit early or take your chances with first come, first serve.

Cathedral Lake Yosemite
Cathedral Lake by Sean Goebel

17. Tent Rocks – Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (New Mexico)

I know what you’re thinking. These cones look like they were shaped by volcanic eruptions that likely occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Well, you’re right. Stop by Tent Rocks to witness the artistic side of mother nature if you’re ever in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area.

Related: 18 Best National Parks in New Mexico

Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument by Daniel Cummins

18. McWay Falls – Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park/Big Sur (California)

Can it get more beautiful than a waterfall (or “tidefall”) pouring into turquoise waters on a California beach at dusk? I don’t think it can. I really don’t think it can….

A stormy day @ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park
A stormy day @ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park by LeighAnne Langman (Flickr: swazileigh)

Okay, so maybe it can….

McWay Cove Under the Milky Way
McWay Cove Under the Milky Way by Bill Shupp

19. Goosenecks – Goosenecks State Park (Utah)

A quick stop allows you to see this triple entrenched meander located close to Mexican Hat and not far from Monument Valley. Just be aware that your GPS on your cell phone will sometimes do some funky things in this region of the country. Make sure you’re actually headed to Goosenecks State Park and not an abandoned gas station 50 miles out of the way (not that it ever happened to me).

Goosenecks State Park
Goosenecks by Daniel Gillaspia

20. Garden of the Gods – Colorado

Visit the Garden of the Gods National Landmark and you will be blown away by the stark contrast between the Garden’s bright orange and the surrounding terrain. There are tons of photo ops around this place and it is easily accessible by car. Don’t miss it if you’re in the Colorado Springs area; it’s a perfect road trip pit-stop.

Inversion at Garden of the Gods
Inversion at Garden of the Gods by Dave Soldano

21. Mono Lake – California

In 2010, scientists thought they’d discovered a new “alien” DNA here, and can anyone really blame them? Just look at the formations happening here. Now, I’m pretty sure that “discovery” has been debunked, but I’m still holding out hope for aliens.

Mono Lake Sunset [Explored 03/24/13]
Mono Lake Sunset by Eddie Lluisma
Mono Lake
Mono Lake by Eddie Lluisma

22. Bisti Badlands – New Mexico

Badlands never get old, especially when they look like giant petrified mushrooms. Here’s some badlands in New Mexico, not known to many.

Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands by Naphat Chantaravisoot
Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands by Daniel Cummins

23. The Window – Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Big Bend is one of the least visited national parks due to its location just west of middle-of-nowhere, Texas. But what it lacks in visitors it makes up in breathtaking views like this one.

The Window is one of those places where you have to just put life on hold, get comfortable on a bench and watch the vast Texas sky transform into a real-life painting at sunset. It’s one of my favorite national parks in Texas.

The Window
The Window Sunset by Daniel Gillaspia

And after you get your sunset fix, head to nearby Marfa,Texas to see the sky get real freaky when the Marfa lights come out.

24. Green River Overlook – Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

A lot of people have seen images of the Canyonlands, but I still think Canyonlands National Park is overlooked so I included it. You’ll catch some of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen at this park. And if you’re a movie buff, try heading to Blue John Canyon where you can see the site where the actual accident occurred in the movie, 127 hours.

Same but different
Same but different by Daniel Cummins

25. Blue Mesa/Painted Desert – Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Now it’s back to Dr. Seuss land with more absurdly colored desert land. And what makes this place even weirder is that the brown stuff you’ll assume is dirt is actually little bits of petrified trees that are reallllly old. It’s one of my favorite national parks sites in Arizona (read more about others here).

Petrified Forest National Park----Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest National Park by Wenhao
Painted Desert
Photo by katsrcool
Painted Desert View in Petrified Forest NP JN036947
Petrified Forest NP by Janice and Nolan Braud
Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa by Daniel Cummins

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

26. Valley of Fire – Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

Don’t think you’ll ever be able to make your way to Mars? Well, luckily you can catch a glimpse of Mars at this state park in Nevada where Hollywood has also gone looking for the Martian terrain. There are ton of formations to check out here but the Fire Wave (seen below) is one of my favorites.

This place is only about 60 miles out from Las Vegas, so if you don’t want to drive all the way to the Grand Canyon this is the place you want to stop. If you visit this place in the summer, be sure to bring extra water because it gets HOT. Dry heat or not, it’s still the Valley of Fire.

Fire Wave
Fire Wave by Eddie Lluisma
Atalatl Rock
Atalatl Rock by George Grossman
Pastel Slot
Pastel Slot by George Grossman

27. Antelope Canyon – Arizona

While Antelope Canyon is becoming more known it still deserves a place on this list, because I meet tons of people who still don’t know about this sacred place. Witnessing the light beams in this canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list. Check out my write-up on Antelope Canyon for more info.

Antelope Canyon light beam
Double Beam by Eddie Lluisma

28. Inspiration and Bryce Point – Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Well known to photographers, the average vacationer is probably more interested in seeing sites like the Grand Canyon when in the area but this sight is not to be missed, especially at sunrise.

Bryce Point
Bryce Point by Eddie Lluisma
Stuart L Gordon Photography: Bryce Canyon National Park &emdash; BryceCanyon_0005_06_07_08
Photo by Stuart Gordon

29. Smith Rock – Oregon (Smith Rock State Park)

Smith Rock, located in central Oregon, is a frequent rock-climbing destination for professional climbers and known as the birth place of “sport climbing.” The best of the best are consistently developing the latest routes and climbing techniques out here. Even if you’re not a climber it’s a beautiful setting to watch the sunrise as it illuminates this huge rock, resembling a castle towering over a surrounding moat.

Smith Rock
Photo by Stuart Gordon

30. Bodega Head – Bodega Bay (California)

When bringing up California beaches, the names usually mentioned first are those like Malibu and Big Sur. But here’s one you probably haven’t heard: Bodega Bay. At Bodega, massive cliffs suited for whale-watching overlook rocky beaches, and trails will lead you all around scenic terrain and even down to secluded beaches where you’ll be the only human being walking on the sand.

Say hello to the seals at Seal Rock and then visit the tide pools that are among the most diverse in the world and have attracted the likes of National Geographic. Just watch out for the birds when visiting the nearby town of Bodega.

Bodega Bay
Photo by Daniel Gillaspia
Bodega Bay
Bodega Cliffs by Daniel Gillaspia

31. Paradise Valley – Mt Rainer National Park (Washington)

Paradise valley. The name really says it all…

Edith Gone Wild!
Photo by Ryan Manuel

32. The Racetrack – Death Valley National Park (California)

Just how did these rocks get there? Aliens? The prankster of the century? God? Nobody really knows. The Race Track is a true natural wonder because if you visit it you will inevitably spend all day wondering who really moved these rocks?

The Racetrack Death Valley
The Playa by Eddie Lluisma
The Racetrack death valley
Breaking Dawn Pt. II by Eddie Lluisma

33. Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is another spot growing with popularity but still often times confused with the Grand Canyon National Park. From a nearby parking lot, it’s a short hike to the overlook but be careful about getting too close to the edge — it’s a long 1,000 feet down to the Colorado River below.

Horseshoe Bend [Explored 01/17/13]
Horseshoe Bend by Eddie Lluisma

34. Badlands – Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park is the place to see badlands. It’s also a perfect place to find unique wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, the swift fox, bison, and the most endangered mammal in North America: the elusive black-footed ferret. Try to catch the sunset or sunrise here and if you’re lucky you may even catch a sight of the Northern Lights.

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park by Geof Wilson
Badlands National Park Sunrise HDR
Badlands National Park Sunrise HDR by Brandon Kopp

35. Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park (Utah)

So everyone goes to Arches National Park just to see the arches, right? Not exactly. Here’s one “non-arch” spot worth checking out. Enter the furnace at your own risk, however. Inside, there are no signs, trails, or cairns and due to the height of the sandstone walls your GPS is likely to fail as well.

Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park. Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho. Image via Flickr.

36. Spider Rock – Canyon De Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Recently used as a backdrop in last summer’s record-setting flop, The Lone Ranger, Canyon De Chelly is another destination worth a visit. The taller of the two spires is said to be home of the “Spider Grandmother” who according to folklore is responsible for all of creation. There’s more breathtaking views like the one below to checkout so make sure you see them all. Also, be sure to bring some cash with you to purchase some local art that makes for great souvenirs.

Canyon De Chelly
Canyon De Chelly by Daniel Gillaspia

37. Giant Sequoias – Sequoia National Park (California)

So trees are kind of boring to most people including myself, but giant sequoias are definitely an exception. Sometimes growing higher than 300 feet, many of these trees are over 2,000 years old and have up to three-feet thick of squishy bark.

Head to Sequoia National Park to see them as well as the largest tree in the world, The General Sherman Tree.

The Biggest Tree in the World
The Biggest Tree in the World by Daniel Gillaspia
Photo by Bradley Darnell

38. Rio Grande Gorge – New Mexico 

The Rio Grande gets a bad wrap sometimes but this view should change your mind. If you’re ever making the cross country road trip through southern New Mexico then check out the “Gorge Bridge” where you’ll be awestruck with views like this.

Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge by Tony Hochstetler

39. Hospital Reef Potholes – San Diego, California

Hospital Reef Potholes, near San Diego, is known for its potholes that kind of resemble the surface of the moon. Speaking of the moon, all you national park junkies may want to start gearing up because you may have one hell of a hike to get to one of the upcoming National Park sites, soon.

Potholes! by Eddie Lluisma

40. Mammoth Springs – Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

We end the list with another Yellowstone site that many wouldn’t be able to recognize and constantly overlook, leaving it ranked as low as the 23rd attraction for Yellowstone according to TripAdvisor. On your way to the hot springs and in nearby areas, you may run into some real wildlife.

I’m talking about grizzly bears, moose, bison, elk, that kind of stuff so watch out. But everyone seems to be blown away by these hot springs, which make a worthwhile destination in the summer or in the -20 degree winter.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs by George Grossman

Remember to tread lightly and do your best to preserve these wonderful locations by using common sense and having respect for the land, the locals, and other visitors when you visit.

Should I Cancel My Southwest Credit Card? [2020]

The Southwest credit cards are some of the most valuable travel rewards credit cards because they offer great sign-up bonuses and offer you a shortcut to obtaining the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. But are these credit cards keepers that you’d want to hold on to after you’ve squeezed the up-front value out of them? This article will look at why you should or should not cancel your Southwest credit cards. 

Interested in finding out the top travel credit cards for this month? Click here to check them out!

Your credit score

Before you ever cancel a card you need to make sure that your credit score is not going to be severely impacted.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!


If canceling a Southwest credit card will dramatically increase your utilization then you probably should not cancel, even if you have no real need for the card. You might want to wait until you’ve picked up other cards in the future that can help you keep your utilization low before you cancel. You can also consider shifting your credit to other Chase cards if possible.

Credit history/age of accounts

Also, you want to make sure that you’re not cancelling your oldest account. For credit history, which makes up 15% of your credit score, your oldest aged account is the #1 factor so in the vast majority of circumstances, you don’t want to cancel that account!

Southwest retention offers

Chase will sometimes offer you retention offers if you’ve put some spend on your Southwest card (and they will even do it when you don’t have much spend). Sometimes they’ll offer you something like a $30 or $70 statement credit and other times they won’t offer you anything at all.

You can find data points for these offers here.

Do you fly Southwest?

This is the simple common sense way to determine if you need to cancel your Southwest cards. If you do not ever fly Southwest then you’re going to have trouble justifying paying the annual fee for these cards and you might want to cancel them. 

The exception would be if you have future plans to fly them since you could bank your anniversary points for that day in the future. If you’re able to score a retention offer and the anniversary bonus, you’d be coming out on top big time with these cards.

Anniversary bonus

The first thing to look at is how much value are you getting from the anniversary bonuses. If you didn’t know, each cardmember year, you’ll be given a certain amount of anniversary points that will be deposited into your Southwest account.

Here’s a rundown of the bonuses for the personal Southwest credit cards.

  • Southwest Priority Credit Card = 7,500
  • Southwest Premier Credit Card = 6,000
  • Southwest Plus Credit Card = 3,000

The first thing to look at is the value that you get from your anniversary bonus. The value of Southwest Rapid Rewards can vary between 1.4 and 1.7 cents per point based on my own personal experience with booking Southwest flights.

So I’ll just stick with a valuation of 1.5 cents per point for this but you should obviously value your Rapid Rewards based on the value you expect to receive from them on your bookings.

At a valuation of 1.5 cents per point, the anniversary bonus is going to offer the following value for your cards.

  • Southwest Priority Credit Card = $112
  • Southwest Premier Credit Card = $90
  • Southwest Plus Credit Card = $45

Now here are the annual fee for these cards:

  • Southwest Priority Credit Card = $149
  • Southwest Premier Credit Card = $99
  • Southwest Plus Credit Card = $69

As you can see, the value from the anniversary bonuses wipes out a lot of the annual fees for these cards. Let’s go ahead and offset the annual fee and see what the effective annual fee comes out to with factoring in the value of the anniversary bonus.

  • Southwest Priority Credit Card = $37
  • Southwest Premier Credit Card = $9
  • Southwest Plus Credit Card = $24

Southwest Priority Credit Card

The Southwest Priority Credit Card’s effective annual fee drops all the way down to $37 but that card also comes with a lot of additional benefits which include:

  • 2X Rapid Rewards on Southwest purchases and hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies
  • No foreign transaction fees

With the $75 travel credit and the $112.50 in annual Rapid Rewards, that’s value at $187.50 received each year from the perks which already offsets the annual fee. Then there’s the upgraded passes which could be worth anywhere from $120 to $200. When you add on the additional discounts on in-flight purchases and lack of foreign transaction fees, it becomes clear that it’s very easy to justify this annual fee.

The only way you don’t come out on top is if you have no use for the Rapid Rewards and don’t plan on flying Southwest so the $75 travel credit/bonus spending does you no good. But if you plan on flying Southwest even a couple of roundtrips a year, it should be pretty easy to justify the annual fee for this card and so you’ll want to think twice about cancelling

You can read more about this card here.

Southwest Premier Credit Card

The Southwest Premier Card.

It’s pretty clear that the Southwest Premier Credit Card is almost completely justified by the anniversary bonus. You’d only need to get $9 worth of value from other perks like the bonus spend on Southwest, hotels and rental cars; 1,500 TQP for each $10K in purchases up to $100K; lack of foreign transaction fees; and preservation of your account.

I think it’s very easy to get $9 worth of value for those things. Plus, if you value Rapid Rewards at just a slightly higher number like 1.6 cents per point, you’d only need to get $3 worth of value from those perks. So I think in many cases you won’t want to cancel the Southwest Premier Credit Card, unless you absolutely need to free up space for another valuable card.

Be sure to consider if upgrading to the Southwest Priority is a good option for you as well (it likely will in many cases).

Southwest Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Plus Credit Card has an effective annual fee of $24 when you factor in the anniversary bonus. The problem with this card is that it doesn’t offer much else in the benefits department. It has foreign transactions fees of 3% and doesn’t allow you to earn points towards A-list Status.

So I personally would look to upgrade this card to the Premier or the Priority Card if I flew Southwest. It will be much easier to get your value back with the Southwest Premier and the Southwest Priority card for most Southwest customers, even if they are not frequent flyers. So when it comes to the Southwest Plus card, you’ll probably want to ditch it for something else. 

And if you don’t fly Southwest and have no plans to fly Southwest, then the Southwest Plus Credit Card really probably has no place in your wallet.

If you want to check out a comparison between Southwest credit cards check out the table below.

FeaturesSouthwest Priority Credit CardSouthwest Premier Credit CardSouthwest Plus Credit Card
Sign-up Bonus40K for $1K spend in 3 months40K for $1K spend in 3 months40K for $1K spend in 3 months
Bonus Earning 2X on Southwest, hotel and car rentals2X on Southwest, hotel and car rentals2X on Southwest, hotel and car rentals
Anniversary Bonus7500 Rapid Rewards6000 Rapid Rewards3000 Rapid Rewards
Travel Credit$75 Southwest annual travel creditNoneNone
Upgrades Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.NoneNone
In-flight Discount20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and moviesNoneNone
Foreign Transaction FeesNoneNone3%
Points towards A-list Status1,500 TQP for each $10K in purchases up to $100K1,500 TQP for each $10K in purchases up to $100KNone
Annual Fee$149$99$69

Do you keep points?

If you cancel your Southwest card after points have been added to your Rapid Rewards account, you will keep those points in your account.

Final word

As you can tell, it’s usually not worth it to cancel your Southwest credit card because of the value of the annual bonuses and the additional perks provided by the card. Unless you have no current or future plans to fly Southwest or other unique situation (e.g., you need an open credit card slot with chase), you’ll probably want to hold on to your Southwest cards and let your accounts age while you take advantage of their perks.

Cover photo by BriYYZ via Flickr.

Southwest Cards Back at 50K, Great Timing for the Companion Pass

The Chase Southwest cards are back to 50,000 point offers but there is a catch. The 50K offer for the Southwest Plus card is easily available via this link here but you’ll need to get access to someone’s referral link to apply for the Southwest Premier credit card (read more about that here). Meanwhile, the Southwest Premier Business card is still at 60,000 points!

Update: Some offers are no longer available — click here for the latest deals!

Great timing for the Companion Pass

While we have seen 60,000 point offers for all cards at once before, the 50,000 point offer is still a great offer. If you can combine one personal card with the business card at 60,000, then you’ve instantly hit the Southwest Companion Pass and you and a companion can fly around on Southwest for the next two calendar years while only paying for one ticket (and the taxes/fees on the other).

Out of all of the insane redemptions Brad and I have been able to take advantage of, I still think getting the Southwest Companion Pass was one of our best decisions.

Since Southwest will be flying to Hawaii in 2019 (and possibly late 2018), you might be able to use your Companion Pass to get to paradise. And since we just started the new year, this is a perfect time to jump on the Companion Pass since it will be good for all of 2018 and 2019.

For those unaware, below are the features on all three Southwest credit cards. While they all come with annual fees, if you value Southwest points at 1.5 cents per point and fly Southwest often, then it makes sense to hold on these cards since the anniversary points outweigh the cost of the card’s annual fee.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Card

Southwest Premier Card

  • 50,000 points after spending $2,000
  • $99 Annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 6,000 anniversary points
  • Earn 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card

Southwest Plus Card

  • 50,000 points after spending $2,000
  • $69 Annual fee
  • 3,000 anniversary points

 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card

Southwest Premier Business Card

  • 60,000 points after spending $3,000
  • $99 Annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 6,000 anniversary points
  • Earn 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year

H/T: Churning

 Cover Photo by Pieter van Marion

The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Fly Domestically Around the USA

A lot of my “best use of miles and points” articles focus on international destinations but what about getting around the USA? There are basically three different ways to book award flights domestically: 1) revenue-based awards with Southwest, JetBlue, or Virgin America; 2) distance-based flights with British Airways Avios; or 3) traditional region-based award redemptions with domestic airlines, such as United, American, Delta, and Alaskan (or any other alliance partners). These three options are ordered in my preference for getting around the country and this article will discuss how to best utilize these options below.


Revenue-based award systems determine the amount of miles needed for your redemption based on the price of the airfare. This means that they will fluctuate and that you might see wildly differing mileage requirements for the same flight on the same day. While the higher redemptions are usually a way to get gutted for miles, the redemptions that fall on the lower end of these revenue-based programs can be extraordinarily low when compared to region-based programs, such as United and American Airlines.


  • Alliance: None
  • Ways to earn miles: Chase credit cards, Chase Ultimate Rewards,

Miles needed:

  • Economy: varies with revenue-based system

Headed for Idaho
Photo by Thomas Hawk

While they don’t belong to an alliance, Southwest Airlines offers the best opportunities for getting around the US in my opinion. On Southwest, you won’t find first-class seating or premier in-flight entertainment and meals, but you will get superb customer service and many options for finding cheap redemptions to get to many places around the US. Also, if you can plan out your trip a few months ahead of time, availability for the cheap “Wanna Get Away” routes can be great on Southwest.

Here are some examples of great round trip Wanna Get Away rates:

  • New York (LGA) to Los Angeles (LAX) – 16,660
  • Dallas (DAL) to Orlando (MCO) – 17,163
  • Chicago (MDW) to Houston (HOU)  – 21,284

If you’re not able to catch some of the cheaper Wanna Get Away airfares, then you’ll probably be looking at 25,000 to 35,000 for routes around the US, though it will always vary depending on the cash price of the ticket. I don’t ever book Anytime awards as I find those to typically be 2 to 4X more expensive than Wanna Get Away awards, which just isn’t worth it to me (even with the added flexibility).

What really makes Southwest the top choice in my opinion is the ability to use the Southwest Companion Pass, where you can designate a partner to fly for free with you (on paid or award tickets) for up to two years! This allows you to essentially double the value of your points. So going with the example above, I could fly with Brad roundtrip from New York to Los Angeles and only drop about 17,000 points total for both of us, when most other region-based programs would require up to 50,000 points for that trip! That’s an amazing deal.

Also, there are three Chase Southwest cards allowing you to earn up to 150,000 Rapid Rewards just from credit cards. When you combine a Companion Pass with the earning potential of the Chase Southwest credit cards, you can effectively double your Rapid Rewards, allowing you to bank tons of value from Rapid Rewards. The quick accumulation of points + Companion Pass along with 2 free checked bags and tons of routing options across the US, make Southwest a top choice for getting around domestically for me.  


  • Alliance: None, but partners with the below:
    • Emirates
    • Hawaiian Airlines
    • Silver Airways
    • South African Airways
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG, JetBlue credit cards (Barclays)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: varies with revenue-based system

Photo by 787 Dreamliner

JetBlue is similar to Southwest in a lot of ways, starting with the fact that they both offer revenue-based awards. Jet Blue isn’t as established as Southwest and doesn’t have nearly as large of a fleet that Southwest has but it does offer a large network of routing around the East Coast and even to the Caribbean. And like Southwest they have a strong focus on offering superb customer service and offer a free checked bag (although Southwest allows for two free checked bags and JetBlue charges fees on its cheapest fares).

A lot of people prefer the in-air product of Jet Blue over Southwest for longer flights since it has tv’s, free wifi, more leg room, business/first class “Mint” cabins, allows you to pick your seat, etc. but both airlines constantly rate among the best for award availability, making them both solid choices for getting around the country, in terms of finding award seats.

I’ll save the full debate of Jet Blue vs Southwest for later, but here are some examples of great round trip rates:

  • New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 20,000 miles
  • Boston (BOS) to Las Vegas  Las Vegas (LAS) for 20,400 miles
  • Chicago (ORD) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) for 23,500 miles

After searching around, I found that Southwest often edged out Jet Blue with lower mileage requirements but both seemed to offer some cheap options that beat out other competitors. If you’re located somewhere in the Northeast and value things like being able to choose your own seat, have in-flight entertainment (tv’s), etc., Jet Blue is a great choice.

Virgin America 

  • Alliance: None, but partners with the below:
    • Emirates
    • Hawaiian Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Virgin Australia
  • Ways to earn miles: Citi Thankyou Points, SPG, Virgin America credit cards (Comenity)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: varies with revenue-based system

Virgin America Mood Lighting. Photo by Binder.donedat

One of the youngest domestic airlines, Virgin America is another revenue-based program but one that offers a swanky product that some consider to be an experience on its own. The routing network and fleet of Virgin America is nowhere near the same level as Southwest or JetBlue, although they are growing each year. In fact, the routes are so limited you can make them all out with the map below.

Virgin America route map

Despite having such a small network, the redemptions aren’t bad at all. Take a look at some of the roundtrip redemptions I found while researching.

  • San Francisco (SFO) to Chicago (ORD) for 10,062
  • Dallas (DAL) to Los Angeles (LAX ) for 12,113
  • New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 15,677

Like JetBlue, Virgin America will offer all of the amenities that are superior to Southwest, including in-flight entertainment on tv’s, meals, seat selection, option for first class, ambient lighting, etc. These products along with their very reasonable award rates make Virgin America a tempting option, but ultimately their route network is so limited that you’ll only be able to take advantage of it for certain routes. If you’re based in or near its hub at SFO, however, Virgin America can be a very practical and worthwhile option. 


Distance-based awards offer redemptions that depend on the total distance of your flight. For getting the around the USA, the one distance-based program that sticks out is British Airways.

British Airways 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Chase credit card, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards (10:8 ratio)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: varies with distance

British airways 747
Photo by Jon Osborne.

British Airways used to be right up there with Southwest when it offered ridiculously low redemption rates for short haul flights. You could get flights for 9,000 miles round trip for trips under 650 miles. Although that option is now gone, British Airways still offers one of the best ways ways to get around the United States with partner American Airlines. Below are the rates you’d likely be choosing from to get around the country.

Getting around the United States

  • 15,000 Avios for routes up to 1,150 miles (e.g., MIA – JFK)
  • 20,000 Avios 1,151 miles to 2,000 miles (e.g., SFO – IAH)
  • 25,000 Avios 2,001 miles to 3,000 miles (e.g., LAX – JFK)

The option for short-haul flights at 15,000 round trip is tied with American Airlines’ short-haul mileage requirement but the difference is that you can use this redemption for trips up to 1,150 miles! That’s over twice the distance of what American uses for their short-haul requirement. Furthermore, you can redeem flights up to 2,000 miles for 20,000 Avios which is the short-haul requirement for United, but British Airways  allows you to travel 1,300 more miles for the same redemption amount (20,000 miles) than what United allows! Therefore, British Airways Avios is one of the best ways to get around the country, especially if you live near an American Airlines hub and you can utilize direct flights for flights under 2,000 miles.


The standard rate for redeeming miles across the continental United States is right at 25,000 miles for the saver awards (or their equivalent). Generally, I try to avoid redeeming miles for domestic flights with these programs, because as mentioned I’ve got the Southwest Companion Pass and can get Brad and I around the country for very cheap with Southwest. However, sometimes that just won’t be an option, so here’s a look at the mileage requirements for some of the major US airlines.

American Airlines 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Citi credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 25,000/15,000 for flights shorter than 500 miles one way

I searched for various routes across the US for both dates just weeks out and several months out, and I found lots of saver availability for American Airlines. It’s lower redemption rate of only 15,000 roundtrip is an excellent way to redeem for cheap and though the short-haul requirement is 200 miles fewer than United’s requirement, it also requires 5,000 fewer miles to redeem so it balances out. Personally, I’d try to stick to booking American Airlines flights with Avios, especially if my flights are under 1,150 miles or even 2,000 miles, but if your trip is under 500 miles, it comes out to the same as it would with Avios (15,000 miles).

United Airlines 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 25,000/20,000 for trips shorter than 700 miles oneway 

I found decent award availability with United as well for domestic flights. Again, the 20,000 for trips shorter than 700 miles is nice, but those trips could be cheaper if you’re able to book with British Airways Avios, since you’d only need 15,000 miles.

Delta Airlines

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, American Express Delta cards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Milage requirements vary

25,000 miles would probably be the standard redemption for Delta but they sometimes have specials (like right now in September 2016 where you can find cheaper redemptions for short-haul routes like the 11,000 miles I found for a roundtrip from Los Angeles (LAX) to Las Vegas (LAS) or even routes as low as 10,000 roundtrip if you’re able to piece it together. I find Delta to be one of the least transparent airlines so when it comes to planning domestic award trips, I’m not sure that I’d count on Delta to be offering great deals, but stumbling upon such cheap award flights would always be a tempting option for me if it actually worked with my schedule.

Delta special redemption rates

Alaskan Airlines 

  • Alliance: Partners include American Airlines and Delta and smaller regional airlines 
  • Ways to earn miles: Alaskan Airlines credit cards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 25,000 (15,000 for intra-state travel)

Alaska offers the standard 25,000 roundtrip mileage requirement for getting around the US. You can book this rate with Alaskan Airlines, which serves much of the West Coast or book the same rate with American or Delta (roundtrip only with the latter). Alaskan offers the lower 15,000 roundtrip rate when you book intra-state airfare. So for example, if you flew from Seattle to Spokane on Alaskan Airlines, you’d be able to take advantage of the lower 15,000 fare. This lower rate can also be used with regional airlines PenAir and Ravn Alaska.

Alliance partners

Several alliance partners to the major alliances of OneWorld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance all also offer 25,000 redemption rates to get around domestically. Some of them, such as Flying Blue and Singapore Airlines are partners to all three programs Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so they might make easy options for booking domestic flights with United or Delta.

A word about domestic travel

When it comes to redeeming miles for domestic travel, the importance of evaluating whether or not to use cash or points becomes even more necessary to determine. It’s relatively easy to find low airfares around the country and there are often promos going on with at least one airline to certain destinations. Thus, even if you find a low fare on a any type of program, you should still evaluate if your redemptions are valuable based on the cents per point you’re redeeming for. 

Final Word 

Getting around the US by flying for cheap can actually be pretty easy if you give yourself enough time to seek out the best rates or come across great promos. I personally, would consider getting the Southwest Companion Pass if you travel with a partner because I think it offers the best value and it’s really easy to rack up tons of Rapid Rewards with credit cards. However, if you want to fly with a little more comfort then look to JetBlue and Virgin America. Finally, don’t forget about the great short-haul redemptions still found on British Airways and other discounted rates found on other airlines. 


How Much Are Rapid Rewards and The Companion Pass Worth?

The first thing to remember about valuing points is that there are very few times when valuations are absolute. The value of points for any given reward program usually depends on how, when, and where the individual will be redeeming those points. So I’m going to explain how I value Southwest Rapid Rewards and how much value they bring to me with the Southwest Companion Pass.

Southwest Airlines at LAX
Photo by James A. Castañeda

The starting point

I first figure out my future redemptions. I start with those flights that I’m certain to redeem and then factor in others that I’m planning on redeeming sometime in the near future. I think figuring out the redemption for 3-4 potential flights should be sufficient, but you could always play around with more numbers. 

It’s important to remember to be realistic when doing this.

You might be tempted to “plan” for those super cheap flights that depart very early in the morning or arrive very late at night but when push comes to shove are you really going to book those? Or how about layovers, are you willing to deal with those? The other thing to think about is your availability, can you really take off on all those four day weekends or book those mid-week flights?

Personally, I have three things going for me that have made it easier for me to realistically plan on booking flights that have less desirable departures, arrivals, and lay-overs. These might be helpful things for you to consider when planning future flights. 

1) Willingness to fly early or late

I don’t have problems with flying late or early, mostly because I live about 15-20 minutes from the airport so departing early or arriving a little later in the evening isn’t much of a problem. Obviously, relocating your home isn’t an option for most, but just consider how truly open you are to arriving at the airport at 4:45am or touching down at 9:55pm on a Sunday. Just because those fares are the cheapest doesn’t mean you’ll actually go for them when it comes time to book. 

2) Lounge access

I have lounge access through the American Express Platinum Card and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card so lay overs don’t bother me much and I kind of look forward to experiencing  new lounges when possible. I’ve since found that being open to lay-overs now makes travel planning much less of a headache — don’t underestimate the convenience of a nice airport lounge!

United Club Lounge in Houston

3) Flexible work schedule

Third, and most importantly,  I have the luxury of having a pretty flexible work schedule so I can take off just about whenever I want so it does make things easier.

Now, I still have to remember to be realistic about taking mid-week flights and not eating up too much time on lay overs, but being realistic about these have helped me make accurate estimations on what future flights I’ll actually take on future trips.

Finding the average points redemption from Houston

Below are four trips that I’m likely to take within the next 12 months on Southwest and their corresponding rates. You can see their actual cash price, their Rapid Rewards price, and then what the redemption rates comes out to.  

Houston Skyline
Southwest has many direct flights out of Houston (HOU)

HOU to OAK (Oakland)

  • $404 round trip
  • 24,468 Rapid Rewards + $11.20 in fees

$404 – $11.20 = $392.80

$392.80 / 24,468 = 1.6 cents per point.

San Francisco

HOU to MBJ (Jamaica)

  • $404.76 roundtrip
  • 17,500 Rapid Rewards + $114.66 in fees

$404.76  – $114.66 = $290.10

$290.10 / 17,500 = 1.6 cents per point.

Jamaica - Waiting customers for fishing !
Photo by Leonidas Konstantinidis

HOU to MDW (Chicago)

  • $332.95 roundtrip
  • 21,584 Rapid Rewards + $11.20 in fees

$332.95 – $11.20 = $321.75

$321.75 / 21,584 = 1.4 cents per point 

Summer in Chicago
Photo by Antony Caldaroni

HOU to CUN (Cancun)

  • $459.70 roundtrip
  • 24,998  Rapid Rewards +$74.10 in fees

$459.70 – $74.10 = $385.60

$385.60 / 24,998 = 1.5 cents per point

Cancun Strand Luftbild
Photo by f. ermert

So the redemption rates for the four trips are as follows:

  • 1.6
  • 1.6
  • 1.4
  • 1.5

That brings the overall redemption rate average to 1.525 cents per point. This is pretty standard for Southwest but keep in mind that your average redemption rate for Southwest flights could be a little higher or lower.

How much is the Southwest Companion Pass worth?

In obtaining the Southwest companion pass I have  accumulated a little over 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards.  That means I can value the pass at $1,677.5 since 110,000 X .01525 = $1,677.5.

However, since Brad and I fly together on every flight we ever redeem that value is instantly doubled since he flies for free. So that’s $3,355 worth of value at 3 cents per point.

And just to play it conservatively, I’ll deduct the two annual fees I have to pay of $99, so the grand total of value of the Southwest Companion Pass for me is $3,157 as a value of 3 cents per point for Rapid Rewards. 

Getting that dollar amount of travel for free is great but with Southwest it’s more about the quantity of experiences. Being able to travel to Cancun, Jamaica, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and still another destination yet to be determined is amazing and I’d take those multitude of experiences over one first class redemption worth $3,000 in travel almost any day.

 Cover Photo by Pieter van Marion