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Southwest Airlines Credit Cards: Which One Is Your Best Option?

Southwest Airlines Credit Cards: Which One Is Your Best Option?

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Aug 21, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

You’re a frequent flyer who feels the “luv” for Southwest Airlines, or maybe you run a business where you do most of your flying on the Dallas-based carrier. So it only makes sense to have a credit card that helps you earn points — and elite status — under the airline’s Rapid Rewards® loyalty program.

Southwest Airlines offers four credit cards — Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card and the new Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. But, frankly, when you compare them with other airline-branded credit cards, the points and perks offered by these cards aren’t as strong.

The new Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, anticipated as Southwest Airlines’ entry into the premium card market, is especially disappointing because it only has a few benefits not offered by the other three cards. In fact, all four cards have nearly identical perks and benefits, good and bad.

We explain the similarities and differences between Southwest Airlines’ four credit cards to help you decide which one, if any, is your best option. However, considering the higher points per $1 spent, better sign-up bonuses and more lucrative perks offered by rival airline- and travel-branded cards, only hard-core Southwest flyers should consider getting one of these cards.

The good

  • Companion Pass. To get this popular pass, fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Once you hit either goal, a companion may tag along — free — on every subsequent flight for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earned the pass.
  • Airline status. You qualify for A-List status after flying 25 one-way trips or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points and A-List Preferred after 50 one-way trips or 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year. A-List gives you priority check-in and dedicated security lanes (where available), along with priority boarding, an additional 25% bonus points, a dedicated customer service line and free same-day standby on flights. A-List Preferred members get all of the above, plus 100% bonus points and free in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • “Transfarency.” Everyone who travels on Southwest Airlines gets two free checked bags. In addition, you won’t have to pay a fee if you need to change your flight, but you may have to pay the fare difference.
  • Great flexibility for reward travel. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions. You earn unlimited points that don’t expire as long as your card account is open, and there are no limits on how many points you can earn.
  • Solid route network. You can use your rewards to travel to more than 100 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. For cardholders who want to travel outside of Southwest’s network, you can book flights using points via the airline’s More Rewards website.
  • Travel and protection perks. All cards come with lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, extended warranty and purchase protection.

The bad

  • Fewer points per $1 spent. While you do earn extra points per $1 spent on Southwest-related travel and Rapid Rewards hotel and rental car partners, you don’t earn them in popular categories like dining, groceries, gas or broader travel.
  • Companion Pass. You will have to pay fees and government taxes whenever your companion uses the pass.
  • No sharing. You can’t share your A-List or A-List Preferred priority boarding perks with others traveling with you.
  • No airline priority perks. None of the cards automatically come with perks like priority check-in and boarding — unless you have A-List status — or airport lounge access like other airline-branded credit cards; however, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card does offer reimbursement for up to four priority boarding passes a year.
  • Traveling internationally. While cardmembers can use their points to book international flights outside Southwest’s route network, you may not want to do it since your points are only worth about 1 cent. You’re much better off using your points on Southwest flights.

Because we keep it real here, none of these cards have the usual travel and purchase perks — like trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance, credits for Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees, travel accident insurance, emergency evacuation and transportation and elite hotel and rental car loyalty program status — that come with many other higher-end airline-branded cards. But if you’re not worried about that, all four of these cards are good ways to earn Rapid Rewards® points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • All points earned count towards Companion Pass.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

More Info

Best for: This card is a good choice for a traveler who wants a basic Southwest Airlines-branded card without a lot of bells and whistles. Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

While the card doesn’t offer many travel perks on its own, you do get 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. You get 3,000 bonus points every account anniversary. Plus, you can earn 10,000 bonus points for each friend who gets the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, up to 50,000 a year.

In contrast, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has a $0 annual fee and the ability to Earn 3X points on eating out and ordering in, 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit, and 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn 1X points on other purchases. It also offers better travel and purchase perks than the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card with its $69 annual fee.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

More Info

Best for: If you want a card that helps you get A-List or A-List Preferred status, gives you extra points for your cardmember anniversary and offers more travel and purchase perks, this one may be a better option, even with its $99 annual fee.

This card lets you earn 1,500 tier qualifying points each time you spend $10,000, with a spending cap of $100,000 a year. Those TPQs count toward elite status on Southwest Airlines, but considering that it takes 35,000 points just to get A-List, you’d have to spend $100,000 a year on the card just to get 15,000 miles — you’re better off flying 25 one-way segments instead to get A-List status. In addition, you earn 6,000 bonus points on your anniversary and you have the chance to earn 10,000 bonus points for each friend who gets the card, up to 50,000 a year.

But you’ll have to ask yourself if these benefits are worth the card’s $99 annual fee, especially since you can get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card cheaper, thanks to that card’s annual $75 credit (read more on that below). And other competitors, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offer you the chance to earn higher points per $1 spent in the top categories and give you better travel and protection perks.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

More Info

Best for: If you are a loyal traveler on the airline and want a card with a few more perks than what’s offered by the other three, this newest offering, released in July, is a good fit. The bonus is enough for you and a companion to fly from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a long weekend in mid-October, for example, with more than 15,000 points to spare. The same trip would cost you $787.40 for two at the Wanna Get Away fare, at the time of publication.

The card starts with a generous sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. But it still offers the same rewards as the other three cards — 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. This is disappointing for a card that is trying to attract more higher-end travelers, especially since rival airline and travel credit cards offer more generous rewards for spending in popular categories like dining, gas, groceries and a broader definition of travel.

New benefits on this card includes an annual $75 statement credit (which helps cover its $149 annual fee), actually makeing it cheaper to hold than the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Because you get two free checked bags on Southwest, the rest of the fee is recovered after you check a bag on three individual flights, based on a fee of $25 per bag.

Southwest has joined other airlines by offering a 20% statement credit when you use the card for in-flight drinks, messaging, movies and Wi-Fi. The cardmember anniversary bonus points on this card has also risen to 7,500. Each card anniversary year, you’ll be reimbursed when you buy up to four passes for boarding positions A1 through A15 — however, these passes can only be purchased at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel, when available.

  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn points on employee spending
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, bags fly free®, and no change fees
  • No foreign transaction fees

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

More Info

Best for: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card is designed to reward businesses that use it to pay for company spending. New cardmembers can Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. You also earn 6,000 bonus points after every cardmember anniversary.

Like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card allows you to earn 1,500 TQPs that help you earn A-List or A-List Preferred elite status on Southwest Airlines.

You need to keep your business running, so the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card allows you to add employee cards at no additional cost, and set up individual spending limits for each of them. All the points earned on the cards help you earn rewards faster.

Still, the points you earn on this card for non-Southwest-related spending, like non-partner flights and hotels, dining, gas and office/business supplies, are lower than what’s offered by other credit cards in the travel category.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
Annual Fee $69 $99 $149 $99
Regular Purchase APR 17.49% - 24.49% Variable 17.49% - 24.49% Variable 17.49% - 24.49% Variable 17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Rewards 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Foreign Transaction Fee 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars $0 $0 $0

 

Bottom line

The truth is that there are other airline- and travel-branded cards that offer more points per $1 spent in top categories like gas, dining and groceries, better airline-related perks, and more lucrative travel and purchase benefits than these four airline cards.

Southwest Airlines has a strong route network that’s mainly U.S.-based, so as long as you’re traveling to the cities it serves, it’s all good. But it’ll cost you if you want to use your Rapid Rewards® points to take that dream trip to Paris, because of the lower point values on the More Rewards website.

In the end, it really comes down to what your priorities are, when it comes to your business or personal credit card. If you are a loyal Southwest Airlines flyer and are OK with the carrier’s North American route network, fewer points per $1 spent outside of flights and limited perks, then you should choose one of these cards.

But if you want to earn more points per $1 spent on dining, gas, groceries and an expanded definition of travel (including things like hotels, homeshares, rideshares and parking), along with more perks and benefits, then you may want to target travel-branded personal or business credit cards like the ones outlined here.


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