Southwest Airlines is one of the most popular airlines in the US thanks to their extensive domestic route network, their lack of change and cancelation fees, their two free checked bags, and their generally great customer service.
It’s not surprising that a lot of people have Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards, though the reality is that it can be tough to decide which card is best, given that there are five Southwest Visa Cards, including three personal cards and two business cards.
Chase and Southwest have even just rolled out limited-time sign-up bonuses on all three of the personal cards, so I wanted to take a closer look at which Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards personal credit card is best.
New Rapid Rewards Card 60K Bonuses
All three Southwest Rapid Rewards personal credit cards — the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card — are offering the same welcome bonuses.
The cards are offering up to 60,000 Rapid Rewards points, as follows:
- 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 within three months
- 20,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $12,000 within the first year
As a point of comparison, previously the offer was for 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 within the first three months.
While the spending requirement to earn the extra 20,000 Rapid Rewards points is steep, this could still be an excellent value, especially if you’re going for Southwest Companion Pass.
Eligibility For Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa Cards
If you’re considering applying for a Southwest Visa, all three versions of the card are subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule. This means that you typically won’t be approved if you’ve opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months (there are some exclusions, like many business credit cards).
Furthermore, any personal Southwest Visa is not available if you are:
- A current cardmember of any Southwest Visa Card
- A previous cardmember of any Southwest Visa Card who received a new cardmember bonus within the last 24 months
This doesn’t apply to the business versions of the card, but rather only the personal versions.
Differences Between Southwest Credit Cards
The welcome bonuses on all three of these personal cards are the same, though the annual fees range from $69 to $149. The temptation might be to go for the card with the lowest annual fee, though as I’ll explain below, the premium cards can represent a much better value.
What are the differences between these three Southwest credit cards?
What All Three Southwest Visa Cards Have In Common
All three versions of this card offer the same points for spending:
- You earn 2x Rapid Rewards points for every dollar spent on Southwest flights and on hotel and rental car partners
- You earn 1x Rapid Rewards points on all other purchases
- The Southwest Visas are contactless, so you can make purchases at eligible retailers without even having to slide your card
Southwest Credit Card Annual Fees
The three personal Southwest Visa all have different annual fees, as follows:
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card has a $69 annual fee
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card has a $99 annual fee
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card has a $149 annual fee
Southwest Airlines Credit Card Anniversary Bonus Points
As an incentive to hold onto the Southwest Visa, you earn a certain number of anniversary bonus points every year (this happens every 12 billing cycles after you open your card):
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card has a 3,000 point anniversary bonus
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card has a 6,000 point anniversary bonus
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card has a 7,500 point anniversary bonus
I’ll talk more about the value of Southwest Airlines points below, but as a general rule of thumb, you can expect that points can be redeemed for ~1.3 cents towards the cost of a ticket. To crunch the numbers further:
- On the $69 annual fee Plus Card you’re earning $39 worth of points ($30 less than the annual fee)
- On the $99 annual fee Premier Card you’re earning $78 worth of points ($21 less than the annual fee)
- On the $149 annual fee Priority Card you’re earning $98 worth of points ($51 less than the annual fee)
Southwest Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees
While the Southwest Plus Card has 3% foreign transaction fees, both the Southwest Premier and Southwest Priority have no foreign transaction fees, making them a good option for international travel.
Southwest Priority Visa Card Benefits
While the benefits on the Plus and Premier cards are similar aside from the anniversary bonuses and foreign transactions fees, I wanted to talk about the Priority Card, which is what I recommend people apply for.
That’s the most premium version of the card and has a $149 annual fee. Is the incremental annual fee worth it over the Plus and Premier versions, which have annual fees that are $50 and $80 lower, respectively?
This card offers three further perks that almost seem too good to be true, and in my opinion, more than justify the incremental annual fee.
Southwest Priority Card $75 Annual Travel Credit
The Southwest Priority Visa Card offers a $75 travel credit every anniversary year, starting your first year (so this isn’t based on the calendar year, but rather is based on every 12 billing cycles.
This can be applied towards any Southwest flight purchase, so the only thing excluded is inflight drink and wifi purchases, as well as upgraded boardings.
The statement credit should post to your account the same day that the eligible purchase posts to your account.
If you spend at least $75 per year on Southwest then this credit should be worth face value. As far as I’m concerned, that lowers the real “out of pocket” on this card from $149 per year to $74 per year.
Upgraded Boarding On Southwest Airlines
Just for having the Southwest Card you get four upgraded boardings per anniversary year, when available.
You’ll be reimbursed for the purchase of up to four upgraded boardings in positions A1-15. This can be purchased at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel. You can use this on four different occasions, or if you prefer you can use them on a single flight (if you’re traveling with three others).
It can take up to eight weeks for these to be reimbursed, though typically you’ll find it posts faster than that.
The price of upgraded boardings varies by flight, so it’s hard to put a dollar value on this benefit.
Southwest Priority Card Savings On Inflight Drink And Wifi Purchases
The Southwest Priority Visa Card offers 20% savings on inflight drink and wifi purchases. Just make the purchase with your card, and you’ll automatically get a statement credit for 20% within one to two billing cycles.
The Southwest Priority Card More Than Pays For Itself
If you fly Southwest with any frequency (even once per year), the Priority Card is a no brainer. Every anniversary year you’re getting a $75 Southwest Airlines travel credit, plus 7,500 points, which I value at close to $100.
That’s $175 of value right there on a card with a $149 annual fee. That’s not even accounting for the upgraded boardings and the inflight savings.
How Southwest Airlines Companion Pass Works
One of the best values in travel is the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, and getting one of these cards will get you over half way to earning it.
For those of you not familiar with Southwest’s Companion Pass, it allows someone else to travel with you for the entire year. You still have to pay the taxes on their ticket, but the Companion Pass is valid on both award and revenue tickets. You can change your designated companion three times in a year, so you can potentially even use this for different people.
You can even use your Companion Pass to fly Southwest to Hawaii!
This is an outrageously good deal, and requires accruing 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year (only certain types of points accrual qualify, and points earned with Southwest credit cards are among those).
How Much Are Rapid Rewards Points Worth?
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards is a revenue-based program, meaning that the number of points required for an award redemption is directly tied to how much a ticket would cost in cash.
As a general rule of thumb:
- Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away fares cost 76-78 points per dollar
- Southwest Airlines Anytime fares cost 78 points per dollar
- Business Select fares cost 78 points per dollar
Those are general guidelines, though you will notice some variations. In other words, if redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares (which I’d recommend, since they’re the best deal), you can generally expect to get about 1.3 cents of value per Rapid Rewards point.
There are some further things to keep in mind when redeeming points on Southwest Airlines:
Change Your Southwest Airlines Tickets For Free
Many airlines have increased the change and cancelation fees on award tickets as a money-grab, while Southwest Airlines charges no change fees. So if you want to change your ticket last minute (or apply it to a future ticket), you can apply that value forward. That’s awesome.
What I often do is book a Southwest Airlines award ticket as a backup option if I’m hoping for another flight to open up, because I can always cancel it if need be.
Two Free Checked Bags With Every Southwest Airlines Ticket
Southwest is known for offering free checked bags, as you get two free checked bags on all itineraries. Yes, this even includes Rapid Rewards redemptions!
Southwest Airlines Offers Free Snacks & Soft Drinks
Unlike other airlines, Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge for snacks (they don’t even sell any snacks, everything is free), and soft drinks are free. The only thing onboard you can pay for is wifi and alcohol, and the Priority Card even offers savings on those purchases.
Southwest Airlines Doesn’t Charge For Seat Assignments
While a lot of airlines will charge for seat assignments, Southwest has a completely different system. They have open seating, so the seat you get depends on how early you check-in.
Just check-in online as close to 24 hours as possible and you should have a pretty good boarding “position.” Best of all, use your upgraded boardings from the Priority Card, and you could get an even better position.
Rapid Rewards Points Don’t Expire As Long As Your Account Is Open
It’s that simple — as long as your account is open your points don’t expire.
Southwest’s Premier & Performance Business Cards
If you’re looking for a business credit card, you’re in luck, because the offers on business cards are even better:
- The $99 annual fee Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card has a welcome bonus of 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $3,000 within three months; the card offers perks like 6,000 anniversary points every year
- The $199 annual fee Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card offers the biggest bonus of any Southwest card, as you can earn 80,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months; the card offers incredible perks like 9,000 anniversary bonus points, four upgraded boardings per year, a daily wifi credit on Southwest, a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit, and much more
Southwest Rapid Rewards Cards Summary
The Plus Card, Premier Card, and Priority Card all have things going for them, for anyone who flies Southwest with any frequency. At the moment the cards even have excellent sign-up bonuses offering up to 60,000 Rapid Rewards points each.
Personally, I think the $149 annual fee Priority Card is a no brainer, given the extra perks it offers, which more than justify the annual fee.
If you’re looking for a small business card you’re in luck, as the cards have better sign-up bonuses and arguably better perks. In particular, I love the Performance Business Card, though the Premier Business Card is very good too.
Even if you’re not a frequent Southwest Airlines flyer, it’s so useful to have Rapid Rewards points, given that the airline has no change fees, offers free checked bags, etc.
What’s your favorite Southwest Visa Card?