Best Southwest Credit Card: Not What You Think

Filed Under: Chase, Credit Cards
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Update: These offers for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card have expired. Learn more about the current offers here.


Chase and Southwest Airlines have a total of five co-branded credit cards. They’ve really upped their game when it comes to the quality of these cards, as they offer some great sign-up bonuses and perks.

However, in this post I wanted to make a case about why another card is actually the very best card for Southwest Airlines flyers. Yes, this card earns Ultimate Rewards points (which can be transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards), but that’s not the reason I think this is the best card. Let me explain.

The Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards

As far as Southwest Airlines’ co-branded credit card goes, I’d say there’s an obvious best personal and business card.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card is my favorite Southwest Airlines personal credit card. This $149 annual fee card offers:

  • A welcome bonus of up to 60,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • 7,500 bonus points on your account anniversary every year
  • A $75 annual Southwest Airlines travel credit
  • Four upgraded boardings per year
  • 20% savings on flight food & beverage purchases

The New! Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card is my favorite Southwest Airlines business credit card. This $199 annual fee card offers:

  • A welcome bonus of up to 80,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • 9,000 bonus points on your account anniversary every year
  • A daily Southwest Airlines wifi credit of up to $8
  • A Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit once every four years

What’s The Catch?

The catch with both of these cards is that the rewards structures are pretty weak:

  • The personal card offers 2x points on Southwest purchases and 1x points on other purchases
  • The business card offers 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services, and 1x points on all other purchases

The only reason to actually put spending on either of these cards is that you’re going for Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, as spending on the cards qualifies towards that (Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards don’t count towards Companion Pass).

Why The Sapphire Reserve Is The Best Card For Southwest Flyers

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card is an incredibly popular card nowadays, though I want to make the point that this is actually the all-around best credit card for Southwest Airlines flyers.

The Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but offers a lot of valuable benefits, including:

  • A welcome bonus of up to 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • A $300 annual travel credit that can be used towards any purchases coded as travel (this even includes Southwest Airlines tickets)
  • A Priority Pass membership, with the ability to take two guests
  • Earn 3x points on dining and travel
  • The ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards a travel purchase, or transfer points to the Ultimate Rewards airline or hotel partners
  • A Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit once every four years

Why The Card Should Only “Cost” You $150 Per Year

In reality, the Sapphire Reserve should only be costing someone about $150 per year “out of pocket.” You pay a $450 annual fee, but you get a $300 travel credit that can be applied towards virtually any travel purchase. If you don’t spend at least $300 per year on some sort of travel purchase, then you shouldn’t have this card anyway.

Get Lounge Access When Flying Southwest

There aren’t any Southwest Airlines credit cards that offer lounge access perks. That’s one of the awesome things about the Sapphire Reserve. You get a Priority Pass membership, which gets you access to 1,300+ lounges around the world.

Lounge access makes flying any airline (including Southwest) better, and there are so many Southwest airports where you could benefit from a membership like this. In addition to traditional lounges all over the country, there are some other cool concepts you’ll have access to:

  • At Southwest’s Terminal 1 at LAX you can dine at Rock & Brews, and being a Priority Pass member gets you a $28 credit per person for dining
  • In Atlanta, you can nap for free at Minute Suites, which offers free rooms to Priority Pass members for one hour at a time
  • In Portland, you can enjoy a free spirits tasting at Westward Whiskey with your Priority Pass membership

Visit the Turkish Airlines Lounge Washington with Priority Pass

Get More Southwest Airlines Travel Rewards

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card earns Ultimate Rewards points, and those points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards. So you can earn Rapid Rewards points at a faster rate with this card, since you’re earning 3x points on dining and travel, and those points can be transferred to Southwest.

However, most people don’t realize that you can do much better than that.

How Much Are Southwest Points Worth?

Southwest Airlines has a revenue-based frequent flyer program, meaning the cost of an award is based on how much a ticket would cost in cash.

Southwest’s best fares are their “Wanna Get Away” fares, and you generally need 76-78 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per dollar of airfare. In other words, points are worth about 1.3 cents each, at best.

Alternative: Redeem For 1.5 Cents (+More)

You have a much better option, though. If you have the Sapphire Reserve, then all your Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase.

What most people don’t realize is that you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly on Southwest, but you have to call Chase to book, as the tickets don’t show up through the Ultimate Rewards website.

What’s the advantage of that? Let’s use the example of a $100 Southwest Airlines ticket that’s a “Wanna Get Away” fare:

  • If you redeemed Rapid Rewards points, that ticket would cost you ~7,700 Rapid Rewards points (again, that’s because you need 76-78 Rapid Rewards points per dollar of airfare)
  • If you redeemed Ultimate Rewards points at the rate of 1.5 cents each, you’d need just ~6,600 Ultimate Rewards points
  • But it gets better than that; when you book through Ultimate Rewards (rather than transferring points) then it counts as a paid ticket, and you’d also earn 6x Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent, meaning you’d earn about 600 Rapid Rewards points

So, in the end, you’d pay either 7,700 Rapid Rewards points or 6,600 Ultimate Rewards points, and with the latter option, you’d earn 600 Rapid Rewards points.

Tip: Get The Chase Freedom Unlimited As Well

If you have the Sapphire Reserve then you should definitely get the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® as well. Why? Because the Freedom Unlimited offers points that can be pooled with the Sapphire Reserve, and it offers 1.5x points on all purchases.

The best strategy is to have both cards and put your dining and travel spending on the Sapphire Reserve (where you earn 3x points), and all your other spending on the Freedom Unlimited (which offers 1.5x points, rather than 1x points).

To me, that’s the single best credit card duo out there. Between the two cards, you’d be looking at earning:

  • On dining and travel, you’d earn 4.5 cents per dollar spent towards Southwest Airlines purchases
  • On all other purchases, you’d earn 2.25 cents per dollar spent towards Southwest Airlines purchases

Again, you’d even earn Rapid Rewards points when you book those tickets through Chase, since they count as revenue tickets.

Botton Line

There are lots of Southwest Airlines loyalists out there, and I don’t blame them. Southwest Airlines is different than the competition when it comes to their free checked bags, lack of cancelation and change fees, friendly service, and more.

While Southwest Airlines has great credit cards, I tend to think that the cards are worth having for the benefits, but it’s only worth spending money on them if you’re trying to earn Companion Pass (which requires earning 110,000 eligible points in a calendar year).

If you’re not trying to earn Companion Pass you’re much better off getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Not only do you earn points at a faster pace, but you have the flexibility to redeem them as cash towards the cost of a ticket at a better rate than Southwest will offer directly.

On top of that, the Priority Pass membership offered with the Sapphire Reserve can come in handy when flying with the airline.

For those who are Southwest loyalists, what’s your strategy? Do you use a credit card to earn Rapid Rewards points directly, or do you redeem other points currencies as cash towards the cost of Southwest tickets?

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Comments
  1. “The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card is my favorite Southwest Airlines business credit card” – you meant the Performance card?

  2. With the exception that points don’t transfer to WN and no Priority Pass restaurants, doesn’t the Amex Platinum beat the CSR? You get 5x points on airfare and they are redeemable at 1 cpp for airfare (i.e. a 5% rebate), vs. 3x points redeemable at 1.5 cpp (a 4.5% rebate) should you want to buy revenue flights. Amex has more transfer partners than Chase too, and should you value MR points at >1 cpp through transfers the 5x vs 3x earning difference becomes more apparent.

  3. I recommend adding one more card to the mix – the US Bank Altitude Reserve – if you want to use bank points to buy WN revenue fares.

    -Calling Chase takes extra time. And you need to get your name right (no middle name) if you want to easily change or reuse the fare later.
    -Altitude Reserve with Real Time Rewards allows you to buy WN fares online, then get an immediate statement credit if you have enough points in the account. (Great for Lyft/Uber also.)

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