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February 13, 2018

Which Southwest Credit Card is Right for You?

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Fly Southwest? You may want to consider a Southwest credit card from Chase. But which one is right for you? We break it down.

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Southwest offers a couple of the best airline cards for domestic travelers.

If you fly Southwest at least a couple of times a year, consider one of the two co-branded credit cards offered by Chase: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier.

Both cards offer a high sign-up bonus and good reward potential. The Plus has a lower annual fee but is not ideal for international travel. The Premier is the more upscale version with slightly better rewards.

Which makes more sense?

We'll do a full run-down comparing the two cards, so you can make your own choice.

Overview: Southwest Plus and Southwest Premier

 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

 

Interest Rates and Fees

Purchase APR17.24% to 24.24% Variable based on your creditworthiness and other factors17.24% to 24.24% Variable based on your creditworthiness and other factors
Balance Transfers APR17.24% to 24.24% Variable based on your creditworthiness and other factors17.24% to 24.24% Variable based on your creditworthiness and other factors
Foreign Transaction Fee3% of each transaction in U.S. dollarsNo foreign transaction fee
Annual Fee$69 annual fee$99 annual fee
 

Benefits and Features

Introductory Bonus Airline RewardsIntroductory Bonus Airline Rewards: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is openIntroductory Bonus Airline Rewards: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Airline RewardsAirline 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 purchasesAirline 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
Bonus Airline RewardsBonus Airline Rewards: 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversaryBonus Airline Rewards: 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
Airline StatusAirline Status: There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when you redeem with points. Bags fly free and there are no change fees.Airline Status: There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when you redeem with points. Bags fly free and there are no change fees.
 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus: Pricing information including interest rates, benefits and fees was obtained on January 12, 2018 from published websites and is believed to be accurate, but not guaranteed.

Southwest Credit Card: Pricing information including interest rates, benefits and fees was obtained on January 12, 2018 from published websites and is believed to be accurate, but not guaranteed.

Disclaimer: The information for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Before we start comparing, let's go over how the two cards work in a nutshell. Both cards give you the same sign-up bonus and reward points. There are a couple of major differences:

  • The Southwest Plus card has a $69 annual fee. You get 3,000 bonus points each anniversary year. There is a foreign transaction fee.

  • The Southwest Premier card has a $99 annual fee. You get 6,000 bonus points each anniversary year and earn points toward elite tiers. There is no foreign transaction fee.

Now, with these major differences in mind, let's go over why you may prefer one over the other.

Note: Chase has a 5/24 rule, which means that if you've opened 5 credit card accounts in the past 24 months (from any bank), you will not be approved for a new card. The Southwest cards fall under this rule.

Why Either Card Is a Good Choice

Both cards are designed to earn Rapid Reward points, which can then be redeemed for Southwest award flights (more detail in the next section). With both Southwest cards, you get:

  • Sign-up bonus. You can earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

  • 2x on Southwest purchases. You get 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases, including participating Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases. You get 1x per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Points for balance transfers. You get 1 point for each $1 in balance transfers made within the first 90 days of account opening (up to $10,000 for the Plus, and $15,000 for the Premier). Most credit cards don't let you earn points for balance transfers.

  • Earn points toward Unlimited Companion Pass. If you earn 110,000 Rapid Reward points in one calendar year, you can name one companion to fly free with you on unlimited Southwest flights until the end of the following year. This is one of the best companion deals out there. With the sign-up bonus alone, you're more than a third of the way to the Companion Pass.

    Note: Only points earned with the Southwest credit cards qualify towards a Companion Pass. So, for example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and transfer points to Southwest, they won't qualify.

  • Bags fly free. Your first and second checked bags are free.

  • No blackout dates, seat restrictions, or change fees. You can use your miles to book any seat on any flight. And if you need to change the date of a flight, there's no change fee (though you will still need to pay the fare difference).

  • Rewards never expire. Your miles never expire as long as your card account remains open.

Who the Southwest Plus Card Is Good For

If you're an occasional domestic flyer (you fly Southwest just a few times a year), then this card is probably good enough for you. Since both cards have the same sign-up bonus and reward earnings, the Plus will save you money with a smaller annual fee.

Remember, it also gives you 3,000 points every anniversary year. This doesn't fully cover the annual fee, but it makes it easier to swallow.

Why the Southwest Rapid Reward Premier Card Is Superior

If you fly Southwest more often, the Premier card may be better for you. Here are some other perks that come with the Southwest Premier:

  • Tier qualifying points (TQPs): For every $10,000 spent on the card (on eligible purchases), you earn 1,500 TQPs. You can earn up to 15,000 TQPS per year. TQPs can be used for Rapid Rewards elite status.

    • If you achieve A-List status (35,000 TPQ per year), you get: priority check in, security, and boarding; dedicated phone line; free same-day standby; and 25% earnings bonus on Southwest flights.

    • If you achieve A-List Preferred status (70,000 TPQ per year), you get the above plus: free in-flight Wi-Fi and 100% earnings bonus on Southwest flights.

  • 6,000-point anniversary bonus: You get a bonus 6,000 points every year on your account anniversary. 6,000 points could be worth a flight around $100, so this already justifies the higher $99 annual fee.

  • No foreign transaction fee: The Premier card has no foreign transaction fee for purchases made abroad.

Do you own a business? There is also a business version of the Premier card – the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.

Both Do Have Downsides

Keep in mind some of these downsides for both cards:

  • No priority boarding. Unlike other co-branded airline cards that give you priority boarding just for owning the card, the Southwest cards don't include this perk. The only way to get this perk is to earn enough TPQs in a year to qualify for elite status.

  • High APR. Neither card has an introductory APR offer for purchases or balance transfers. The regular APR is quite high, so make sure you are able to pay off the balance each month.

  • You only get bonus points for Southwest flights, and hotel and car rental partners. Unless you fly Southwest a lot and use their hotel and car rental partners, it may be hard to rack up points. If your goal is to earn points faster, then consider whether the Chase Sapphire Preferred may be a better fit. It gives you 2x points on travel and dining purchases. Then you can transfer the points 1:1 to Southwest (but they won't qualify for the Companion Pass).

  • You can only redeem on Southwest flights. This isn't much of a problem if you take a lot of Southwest flights. But if you want more flexibility or want to travel to places Southwest doesn't go, then think about whether it's better to get a general travel rewards card that lets you use any airline.

  • The Plus card has a foreign transaction fee. The Plus card charges a foreign transaction fee on purchases made out of the country (3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars on purchases). However, the Premier card has no foreign transaction fee, so it is better if you travel internationally.

How to Use Southwest Rapid Reward Points

Both cards earn Rapid Reward Points, which you can redeem towards any Southwest flight, with no blackout dates and no seat restrictions.

Using your points is very easy. Simply sign in to your Rapid Rewards account (create it for free) to book travel, and select the option “Points.”

You will then see the flight options listed in points. You can also toggle back and forth between dollars and points to compare the points value.

Southwest has three types of fares. Wanna Get Away is the cheapest fare. It's nonrefundable, but can be cancelled for credit good up to 1 year from purchase date. Business Select and Anytime fares are fully refundable.

So what are Rapid Reward points worth?
Southwest points have pretty good value, especially for the Wanna Get Away fights. We find that, generally, each Rapid Reward point is worth between 1.6 and 2.0 cents. This means that 10,000 points could be redeemed for a flight that costs around $160 - $200.

For example, in the sample flight above from Los Angeles to Seattle in March 2018, the highlighted flight costs 4,248 points. If you were to buy it with cash, it costs $86. That means the point value of the flight is 2.02 cents.

You don't pay any taxes or surcharges for domestic flights, except for the $5.60 Security Fee in each direction.

Do You Fly Other Airlines?

Not a frequent Southwest flyer? If there's another airline you prefer instead, consider these cards:

  • If you fly Delta:
    Consider a Delta credit card such as Gold Delta SkyMiles from American Express, a CreditDonkey partner.

    Gold Delta SkyMiles
    Apply for Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
    Gold Delta SkyMiles offers 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your new account. In addition, you can earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within the first 3 months. This card earns airline miles: 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases. There is a $95 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year).

    If you fly Delta, here's what you should know: you can check your first bag free on every Delta flight with this card - that is a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of 4. Plus, you can enjoy Priority Boarding. Terms apply.

  • If you fly United:
    United MileagePlus Explorer offers 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. This limited time offer ends 3/15/2018. You can check your first bag for free when you use your card to purchase your ticket (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip). You enjoy priority boarding privileges and get 2 United Club one-time passes each year for your anniversary. There are no foreign transaction fees. You earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases. There is a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

  • If you fly American:
    Consider an American Airlines credit card.

    Citi AAdvantage offers 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. This card lets you enjoy preferred boarding on American Airline domestic flights. You also get the first checked bag free on domestic AA itineraries for you (and up to 4 companions traveling with you on the same reservation). There is a $95 annual fee (waived for the first 12 months).

Bottom Line

So, which Southwest card is right for you? Since both cards give the same sign-up bonus and have the same reward structure, which is better?

If you fly Southwest just a few times a year domestically, the Plus card will do the job just fine. If you travel to any of Southwest's international offerings, you'll want the Premier card as it has no foreign transaction fee. It also has a larger anniversary bonus each year, which helps justify the $99 annual fee.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, United MileagePlus Explorer Card, Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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