Southwest credit cards: Which Rapid Rewards card is best for you?
These four credit cards offer a fast route to free flights on Southwest
If you’re looking to boost your earnings on the Southwest Rapid Rewards membership program, you’ve come to the right place. One of the best ways to earn additional points and miles toward free travel is by acquiring one or more of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards: The Plus Personal, the Premier Personal or the Premier Business credit card all offer fantastic benefits, value and protection for a reasonable annual fee.
But which do you choose? Are there any differences between the cards? Should you sign up for multiple cards? Selecting the right Southwest Airlines credit card for your needs can take a little bit of homework and research, because the differences between the cards – especially the Plus and Premier credit cards – are subtle.
This guide is designed to help you assess those benefits one by one, so you can make your own evaluation and choose the best credit card to suit your needs.
Southwest credit cards
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Why get a Southwest credit card?
So why do people consider Southwest credit cards? Here are some of the main reasons:
- Generous sign-up bonus: Southwest credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses ranging from 40,000 to 60,000 Rapid Rewards points. Since we value Rapid Rewards points at 1.6 cents per point, we estimate that the sign-up bonuses alone are worth between $640 to $960 in travel value each.
- Companion pass qualification: The sign-up bonus that you earn with a Southwest credit card counts toward the 110,000 points that you need to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows you to bring a companion with you for free on every flight that you take with Southwest for up to two years. (For more information, see our post on earning the Companion Pass.)
- Anniversary bonus: Depending on which cards you sign up for, you’ll receive between 3,000 and 7,500 Rapid Rewards points each year to celebrate your account anniversary. The value of these points typically offset the annual fee, depending on how they are redeemed.
Now, let’s take a look at each of the individual cards mentioned above.
The basic card: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
The most basic Southwest card offers several key benefits for its very reasonable $69 annual fee:
- Sign-up bonus: Right now you can earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points as a sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 within the first three months of card ownership – enough to get you several round-trip domestic award flights or maybe even an international round-trip ticket or two, depending on where you live.
- Points on balance transfers: Within the first 90 days of your account opening date, you can also earn one point per dollar on the first $10,000 of balance transfers you make to this card.
- Double points on Southwest and travel partner purchases: Every dollar you spend on the card will earn you additional points toward future travel: You’ll score double points on all Southwest Airlines purchases, all of which count toward helping you earn the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend on Southwest flights in order to earn double points – every dollar spent with Southwest’s 10 hotel partners, eight rental car partners or four gift card partners counts toward double points as well. Every other purchase will earn one point per dollar.
- Anniversary bonus: You’ll also earn a bonus of 3,000 Rapid Rewards points each year on your card anniversary, which will help offset the cost of the $69 annual fee.
Unfortunately, the Personal Plus card also includes some drawbacks: If you go overseas with this credit card, you will be charged a 3 percent fee on each transaction. Furthermore, while the Rapid Rewards points you earn will qualify for award flight redemptions, none of your spend on this credit card will earn you tier-qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status.
The midtier card: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Formerly known as the premium credit card from Southwest, the Personal Premier credit card now is just the midrange offering from Southwest’s Chase cobranded credit card family. The next level up from the Plus, the Personal Premier card offers a robust array of benefits for the $99 annual fee:
- Sign-up bonus: You will earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points as a sign-up bonus for spending $1,000 on this credit card within the first three months of card ownership – enough to get you several round-trip domestic award flights, or maybe even an international round-trip ticket or two, depending on where you live. From time to time, this card even offers increased promotional bonuses that can reach up to 60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after reaching a certain dollar amount of spend.
- Points on balance transfers: If you make a balance transfer within the first 90 days of your account opening date, you will also earn one Rapid Rewards point for each dollar, up to $15,000.
- Double points on Southwest and travel partner purchases: As with the Plus card, every dollar you spend on the Personal Premier will earn you additional points toward future travel. You earn double points on all Southwest Airlines purchases, all of which count toward helping you earn the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. Again, all additional purchases will earn one point per dollar.
- Anniversary bonus: You’ll also earn a bonus of 6,000 Rapid Rewards points each year on your card anniversary, double the bonus amount on the Personal Plus card.
- No foreign transaction fee: When it comes to overseas travel, the Personal Premier card begins to shine: This card does not charge foreign transaction fees.
- Tier-qualifying points: Furthermore, you will earn 1,500 Rapid Rewards tier-qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 you spend on the card, up to $100,000 or 15,000 tier-qualifying points per calendar year.
The premium card: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
The Southwest Personal Priority credit card is as close to an elite credit card as the airline gets. This new offering, just launched in July 2018, includes most of the benefits of the Personal Premier card but includes some additional benefits all its own to offset the higher $149 annual fee:
- $75 annual Southwest travel credit: This credit can be utilized on most Southwest purchases, including tickets, although it cannot be used toward upgrades or inflight purchases such as Wi-Fi or drinks. If you frequently buy tickets on Southwest, this $75 credit effectively offsets your annual fee by 50 percent.
- Discount on inflight purchases: You get a 20-percent discount on all inflight drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging and movies purchased with the Rapid Rewards Personal Priority card.
- Four upgraded boardings per year: This perk allows you to use your Personal Priority card to pay for a priority boarding spot at the Southwest ticket counter or gate, which will be reimbursed to your card later on. Depending on the route you fly, upgrades cost between $30 to $50, so this perk alone will offset the cost of the annual fee for frequent Southwest travelers.
The rest of the Personal Priority card perks mirror that of the Premier card:
- Sign-up bonus: You receive the same sign-up offer as the other two consumer cards: 40,000 Rapid Rewards points you receive for spending $1,000 within the first three months of card ownership.
- Double points on Southwest and travel partner purchases: As with the Plus and Premier cards, you earn double points on all Southwest Airlines, hotel and car rental partner purchases, all of which count toward the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. Again, all additional purchases earn one point per dollar.
- Annual bonus: You will also earn a bonus of 7,500 Rapid Rewards points each year on your card anniversary.
- No foreign transaction fees: The Personal Priority credit card does not charge cardholders any foreign transaction fees, making it an ideal card to keep in the wallet for international travel.
- Tier-qualifying points: Furthermore, card holders will earn 1,500 Rapid Rewards tier-qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 they spend on the card, up to $100,000 or 15,000 tier-qualifying points per calendar year.
Do note that Southwest’s newest Priority card is only available to credit card customers who do not currently hold a Southwest cobranded personal card, and who have not received a customer sign-up bonus within the last 24 months.
For business owners: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card offers cardholders pretty much the same benefits as the personal Premier credit card with the same $99 annual fee. However, the business version of the Premier card offers some additional benefits for small-business owners:
- Large sign-up bonus: You have the opportunity to score 60,000 Rapid Rewards points if you can hit the $3,000 spending requirement within the first three months. If you have a large upcoming business expense, or if you know that you can reach the spending requirement easily, now is a great time to sign up if you want to boost your points balance for an upcoming award redemption or earn your way toward that coveted Companion Pass.
- Tier-qualifying points: If you’re trying to earn A-List or A-List Preferred elite status with Southwest, the Premier Business credit card can earn you tier-qualifying points once you meet certain spending thresholds.
The rest of the Premier Business card’s perks match the personal Premier card:
- Double points on Southwest and travel partner purchases: You earn double points on all Southwest Airlines, travel and hotel partner purchases and one point per dollar on other purchases.
- Anniversary bonus: You earn 6,000 Rapid Rewards points each year on your card anniversary.
- No foreign transaction fee: The card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
- Tier-qualifying points: You earn 1,500 Rapid Rewards tier-qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 you spend on the card, up to $100,000 or 15,000 tier-qualifying points per calendar year.
Note that, while you are only allowed to own one Rapid Rewards personal card, Chase does allow you to hold both a personal card and the Business Rewards Premier card, and to earn the sign-up bonuses for both cards within the same year. This is a great strategy for quickly earning all the points that you need for the Companion Pass. Furthermore, you may assume that you need a business with an actual office or store front to qualify for the Premier Business card, but that isn’t so – if you own a side business for which you report income, you may be eligible to apply.
Which Rapid Rewards card should you choose?
When it comes down to it, the three personal Southwest Rapid Rewards cards offer relatively similar perks, especially compared to other cobranded credit card families such as the Delta suite or the Hilton suite of credit cards. It’s up to you to decide if the $80 total difference between annual fees is worth the enhanced earning potential for Rapid Rewards points, as well as the additional benefits toward earning elite status and enjoying free upgrades.
See Related: What are Southwest points worth?, Best ways to earn Southwest points, Best ways to redeem Southwest points, Southwest Airlines partners, Southwest A-List status, Booking a rewards flight with Southwest, How to earn the Southwest Companion Pass
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