Southwest Credit Card: Score A Roundtrip Flight and Feel the LUV

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The Southwest Credit Card has a lot to offer—a higher rewards rate than most airline credit cards, an anniversary bonus and, of course, a signup bonus: Get 25,000 points for 1 Rountrip Flight after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $5 not included. We think that the bonus can be worth well more than just one roundtrip flight, since Southwest Airlines flights are so cheap. The bonus is worth more than $350 in Wanna Get Away fare, so it’s great for your next trip—and possibly more.

At a glance
Annual fees $99, offset by a 6,000-point anniversary bonus worth $86 of Wanna Get Away fare*
Foreign transaction fee None
Rewards program Southwest Rapid Rewards Points, worth 1.43c per point when used for Wanna Get Away fare*
Signup bonus Get 25,000 points for 1 Rountrip Flight after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $5 not included.
Verdict: A great card for anyone who flies Southwest Airlines
Good for:
  • Domestic travelers who fly Southwest
  • Anyone who flies partner airline AirTran
  • Someone who’s willing to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well (we’ll explain later)
Bad for:
  • People who don’t fly Southwest, of course
  • People who’d prefer the flexibility to redeem on multiple airlines

*For a more detailed explanation, see our Southwest Rapid Rewards Points review

In this article:

The Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card basics
Score a two-year free companion ticket on Southwest
Where the Southwest card shines
Where it falls short

The Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card basics

Let’s start with the flights because—let’s be honest—that’s why you’re reading. Get 25,000 points for 1 Rountrip Flight after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $5 not included. When redeeming for airfare, 25,000 miles is equivalent to $358 in budget Wanna Get Away fare. That’s a great way to start off the relationship.

Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card
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  • Get 25,000 points for 1 Roundtrip Flight after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $5 not included.
  • Get 6,000 points after your Cardmember Anniversary.
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® and AirTran® Airways purchases made directly with the airlines and on Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Redeem points for gift cards, car rentals, cruises, hotel stays, and international flights to over 800 Destinations on 50+ global carriers.
  • No foreign transaction fees
thumbsupPros
  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$99 Get 25,000 points for 1 Rountrip Flight after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Government fees as low as $5 not included. 15.24% (Variable) Purchase: None
Transfer: None

Beyond the signing bonus, rewards accumulate at a rate of 1 mile per $1 (1.43% when used for Wanna Get Away fare) on basic purchases, and 2 miles per $1 (or 2.86%) on:

  • Southwest and AirTran
  • Rapid Rewards hotel partners, including Hyatt, Best Western, Marriott, Starwood, and Choice Hotels (see full list)
  • Rapid Rewards car rental partners, including Alamo, Avis, Hertz and Budget (see full list)

The Southwest card goes a long way toward offsetting the $99 annual fee with its 6,000-point anniversary bonus, which is worth $86 of Wanna Get Away Fare. And this new and improved Southwest card has something else to recommend it—no foreign transaction fees, a key perk for international travelers.

Southwest’s balance transfer “deal”

Right now, Southwest is also offering the opportunity to earn rewards on balance transfers at a rate of 1 point per dollar transferred in the first 90 days. Balance transfer rewards are capped at 15,000 points. And keep in mind, you will have to pay the transfer fee, which is 3% of the transferred sum ($5 minimum), so you’re basically paying a 1.57% transfer fee. Since you won’t even get a 0% interest period on your transferred debt, it’s not worth it.

Visa Signature perks

The Southwest card is a Visa Signature, meaning you’re eligible for its attendant benefits including:

  • Discounts on hotels, car rentals, etc.
  • Exclusive events like private dining or complimentary wine tastings (as a San Francisco dweller, the latter is no small reason I got a Visa Signature)
  • Late check-in and check-out at certain hotels
  • Discounted membership to CLEAR, a program that allows you to bypass security lines

Why we LUV Southwest

Finally, we happen to prefer Southwest as an airline in general. It’s the least likely to screw you over with checked bag fees (first two bags are free) or change fees (there aren’t any). Plus, the only surcharge that Southwest levies is the $2.50-per-segment 9/11 security fee, so you know that you aren’t going to pay steep taxes and fees on top of your award flight. This stands in stark contrast to British Airways, known for charging hundreds of dollars extra if you redeem for international travel, or even American Airlines, which has a $75 fee for award flights booked less than 21 days in advance.

Score a two-year free companion ticket on Southwest

The return of the two free flights bonus opens up a unique opportunity: With a little legwork and a few more credit card signups, you can get an unlimited companion ticket on Southwest for up to two years. Here’s how it works: If you accumulate 110,000 Rapid Rewards Points in one calendar year, you’ll get an unlimited companion ticket for the rest of that year, plus the year after that. For example, if you reach the 110,000-point mark on Jan. 1, 2014, you’ll get 24 months of a companion ticket (January 2014 through December 2015). If you reach the mark on Dec. 31, 2013, you’ll get just 12 months: January 2014 through December 2014. Once earned, you can take someone with you on all your flights, paying just the 9/11 surcharge on the second flight. This can be incredibly lucrative for last-minute or business class flights. You can change the name of your companion up to three times, so it’s relatively breakup-proof.

Anyway, the great thing is that the credit card’s signup bonus (and subsequently earned rewards) count toward the 110,000 mark. With a 25,000-point bonus, you’re well on your way. Some ways to make up the gap include:

  • Getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom, transferring your Freedom bonus points to your Sapphire account, transferring those points to Hyatt rewards, and transferring those to Southwest Rapid Rewards points. After that series of convolutions, 50,000 Sapphire/Freedom points net you 30,000 Southwest points.
  • Getting the Chase Ink Plus or Ink Bold (both business credit cards) and turning the signup bonus into another 30,000 Southwest points.
  • Signing up for the business version of the Southwest credit card, which also gives a 25,000-point signup bonus

We’ve written in detail about the Southwest companion ticket and how to get it; read more on our blog.

Where it shines

By dropping its foreign transaction fee, the Southwest card removed the biggest gripe we had against the card. Now, it works well both nationally and internationally, and effectively earns 2.86% bonus/1.43% base when you redeem for Wanna Get Away fare. It’s great for people who fly Southwest or its partner AirTran; in fact, given that the annual fee is effectively only $13 after accounting for the anniversary bonus, it’s one of the best travel credit cards out there.

It beats out most airline credit cards in a number of ways:

  • Whereas most airline cards charge a high annual fee of $89+, the Southwest card’s net annual fee is less than the price of three Frappuccinos.
  • The standard rewards rate on airline cards is 2% on the airline and 1% elsewhere; the high value of Southwest points boosts the rewards rate higher
  • Some airline cards waive bag fees, but Southwest allows for two free checked bags anyway
  • There are no change fees or late booking fees, so if you book an award flight and the price later drops, you can cancel and rebook at no penalty

Where it falls short

There are two cases where the Southwest card isn’t ideal:

People who don’t fly Southwest or AirTran

There’s one obvious case where the Southwest credit card is less than ideal: You don’t fly Southwest or Airtran. If you redeem your points for gift cards or another cash-like option, your rewards rate will take a serious hit. If you don’t fly, don’t apply.

People who’d prefer the flexibility to redeem on multiple airlines

If you’d rather fly multiple airlines, browse Kayak for the best deal, or use a travel booking site like Expedia or Orbitz, the limitations of the Southwest card will outweigh the benefits. Rewards hackers are better off with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which lets you transfer your points 1:1 to airline programs such as United, Marriott, Hyatt and, of course, Southwest; you can also redeem your points for travel booked through Chase, where they’re worth 25% more. Its $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and, as we mentioned, it comes with a bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months..

If you aren’t a rewards hacker and prefer to book through travel agencies, your best bet is the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which comes with a solid bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. You can redeem your miles as a statement credit against any travel expense (airfare, hotels, taxis, gas, etc.) at a rate of 1.1 cents per point. It earns a flat 2 miles on every $1 spent, so your rewards rate is 2.2% when redeemed for travel. Its $89 annual fee is waived the first year.

Other than that, though, it’s all systems go on Southwest.

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  • sfomsp

    This is inaccurate – this offer is no longer available

  • clipboarder

    Can you apply for the cards now, wait with activating them in January, and still reap the 50k miles?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Well, you have to meet the spending threshold in order to get the 50k miles – why do you ask?

      • clipboarder

        My goal was to get the cards when the offer is available but not start spending until January, so that the companion pass would be valid for a longer time frame.

        • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

          Since you have to spend $2,000 to get the signup bonus, and the terms and conditions say to allow 6-8 weeks for the points to post, I’d get the card now and try to time your purchases so that you meet the $2,000 mark in late December.

  • Glenn S.

    I picked up this card recently just by searching for a “No Foreign Transaction Fee” card. I fly mostly Southwest but at least once a year or two I hit another continent. After returning from Iceland recently I got hit with a TON of FTFs from another card I had used for that trip. What a bummer I wasn’t paying attention before! Southwests No FTF card coupled with a 50,000 point bonus and annual bonus makes this card a no brainer for me.

  • Christopher Barnes

    Is this still available? What if I already have a Southwest card?

  • Jessica Benedetto Resser

    How do I sign up and get two free flights do I need a promo I know u have to spend a certain amou t

  • Brandon

    I’m getting BOTH cards. but major purchases will not happen within the first 3 months, but probaly 4 months. how long does the card typicall stay around for? I dont want to miss out on the 50k points, but may go to waste if not taken advantage of.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      It really depends, usually a few months but it’s hard to predict. I don’t know how long the bonus will be around this time, unfortunately.

  • Erich Hyneck

    Anisha,
    Great article. One big question. Above you said you can transfer 30k points from Chase to Southwest through Hyatt (long story). Can you explain that a little more? I want to sign up for both cards and transfer my points from Chase to Southwest. I read another blog that said direct transfer from Chase to Southwest didn’t count towards the companion pass. I assume by transferring to Hyatt then transferring to Southwest this gets around that problem? Is that why the 40k in points you get from Chase goes to 30k when routing it through Hyatt (I assume they have a lower transfer rate)? Thanks.

  • Jody

    Can you transfer debt off current credit card to the new southwest card to earn tickets?