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Sun Country Airlines, based in Eagan, Minn., is a privately held ultra-low-cost carrier that also operates charter flights and sells vacation packages. It has positioned itself as offering world-class service — with fees, of course — at an affordable price.
Sun Country flies to more than 50 cities in the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, focused on leisure destinations. Compare that to Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which flies to 99 destinations in the U.S. and 10 other countries.
*Image source: Suncountryview.com
Because of its niche status and unfamiliarity among most U.S. travelers, the carrier’s Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card may only appeal to a limited number of customers. We’ll look at why this card may be an option to a select group and compare it to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, which could be more appealing to a larger number of travelers looking for an airline card.
Where the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card stands out
Before applying for this card, you must sign up for Sun Country Rewards, the airline’s loyalty program. New cardmembers . That’s enough to book a round-trip flight between Minneapolis and Las Vegas. The card has a $69 annual fee.
Cardmembers earn . Not only are the points more generous for Sun Country-related travel, but it’s also not half bad for the gas and groceries spending categories. Sun Country Rewards points never expire as long as cardmembers keep their cards active and there are no blackout dates for travel.
Redeem the points you earn on the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card at the rewards website for airfare, vacation packages, seat assignments, baggage fees, car rentals or donate them to Make-A-Wish. You also have the option of using a mix of points and cash to pay for travel.
The card comes with a 50% discount on carry-on and checked bag fees. For carry-on bags, it’s $15 when reserving your flight online or $20 at the airport after the discount is applied. For checked bags, it’s $20 and $17.50, respectively. The discount applies for the cardmember and one travel companion on the same reservation. There’s also a 50% discount on seat selection fees, which range from free to $80 per segment, depending on which seat you choose.
Cardmembers also receive priority boarding on Sun Country flights and a free premium drink when they present the card. Finally, cardmembers earn 10,000 bonus points a year after spending $10,000 or more on the card.
Where the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card falls short
Most of the issues with this card come as a result of Sun Country Airlines’ structure. You get the most out of this airline’s route network if you either live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area or don’t mind connecting through it.
Most of the cities it serves don’t connect to many other cities. For example, if you’re flying out of Washington Dulles International Airport, you can only go to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Ore., Los Angeles or San Francisco. It’s usually only a single daily flight, and those flights only operate three or four days a week. Plus, the carrier serves mostly leisure destinations, which aren’t as attractive to business travelers.
The points you earn on the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card can only be redeemed for travel at suncountry.com.
Even with the card’s discount, you’re still paying fees for seat selection, carry-ons and checked bags. The cardmember and travel companion must be on the same reservation and check in together in order to get those discounted bag fees.
Make sure you have the card when you check in if you want your bag discount. You can only redeem your points for seat selection, bag fees and in-flight food and beverages when making reservations online. You won’t be able to do it when checking in at the airport or onboard your flight.
If you book travel using points and need to cancel, you won’t have them redeposited to your rewards account. Instead, you’ll be issued a voucher for the remaining value of the reservation after paying a fee of $60 per passenger, per segment if the flight is 61 or more days out or $120 per passenger, per segment if it’s 60 days or fewer.
Compare it with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
If Sun Country Airlines’ limited route network, myriad fees and limited ways to redeem points are a non-starter for you, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card may fit the bill.
Southwest Airlines’ route network covers 99 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and comes with a way to use your Rapid Rewards® loyalty program points on other carriers on its More Rewards website. The card, with its $69 annual fee, is a good starter card for members of the airline’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program.
New cardmembers Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. Those points take you farther than the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card, since you can redeem them for a round-trip flight between Chicago Midway and Cabo San Lucas on Mexico’s West Coast in May.
Cardmembers earn 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. The Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card offers better points for airline travel, along with gas and groceries. But the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card has more ways to redeem points, including airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, vacation packages, cruises, gift cards, merchandise and unique experiences.
For cardholders who want to travel to cities not served by Southwest Airlines, use your points at the airline’s More Rewards website. But know that since your points are only worth about 1 cent there, you’ll get better value using them for travel on Southwest.
There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when booking reward travel. Earn unlimited points that don’t expire as long as there’s activity on your Rapid Rewards account every 24 months, and there are no limits on how many points can be earned.
If you fly on Southwest Airlines often enough, you have the chance to earn the popular Companion Pass. Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year and a companion can fly with you for free for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which the pass was earned. But you’ll pay fees and government taxes for the Companion Pass fare each time you use it.
Everyone who travels on Southwest Airlines gets two free checked bags. In addition, there’s no fee if a flight needs to be changed, but there may be a fare difference that must be paid. But unlike the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card, you won’t get early boarding unless you have Southwest’s A-List status, earned after flying 25 one-way trips or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points.
A-List comes with priority check-in, dedicated security lanes (where available), priority boarding, an additional 25% bonus points, a dedicated customer service line and free same-day standby on flights. A-List Preferred happens after 50 one-way trips or 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year and comes with all the A-List perks plus 100% bonus points and free in-flight Wi-Fi.
The card comes with lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, extended warranty and purchase protection, while the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card has no travel or purchase perks.
|Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card||Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card|
|Regular purchase APR||15.99% - 22.99% 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.|
|Sign-up bonus||Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.|
|Foreign transaction fee||None||3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars|
The bottom line
When comparing the route network and flight frequencies of Sun Country Airlines and Southwest Airlines, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card wins by that measure alone, although the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card does offer better points per dollar in top spending categories.
If you’re not a fan of airline fees, then you probably won’t want the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card, even with its discounts for seating assignments and baggage fees. Southwest Airlines is famous for being fee-adverse, especially with its two free checked and free carry-on bags under its Transfarency® program.
But neither of these credit cards are perfect. There are competing airline and travel credit cards that offer more points per dollar spent for dining and travel, which includes airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises, vacation packages, rideshares, homeshares, passenger trains, highway tolls and parking. These cards also have more ways to redeem the points you earn on them.
Airline-branded cards offer perks such as priority check-in, security lines and boarding, a free bag, discounts on in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi access, airport lounge access, travel insurances and access to larger global route networks. Travel cards come with a mix of benefits including the ability to transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programs, access to airport lounges, credits that cover airline and travel fees, access to a concierge and solid travel and purchase protections. So do your homework before choosing the Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card.
Read our roundups of the Best Travel Credit Cards.