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The Southwest Airlines credit card is yet another tactic in Chase’s mission to get your credit card business. If you like travel and airline rewards, then Chase likes you. Not too long ago they were giving away 100,000 miles with the British Airways credit card (now expired, sadly), then more recently they started giving away 50,000 miles with the Sapphire Preferred. Along the way, they’ve been slashing foreign transaction fees to draw the overseas jetsetting crowd. And now, they’ve introduced a new rewards bonus on a distinctively domestic travel rewards card: the Southwest Airlines credit card offers 50,000 Rapid Rewards points on signup.
The best part is, you earn all of this after your first purchase, rather than having to meet a certain spending minimum over the next few months. Plus, you get an anniversary bonus of 3,000 miles each year that you hold the card, which goes a long way towards offsetting the $69 annual fee.
So how much is this worth to me?
It’s a good thing you asked, because Southwest’s new Rapid Rewards program is considerably different from most frequent flyer programs. Rather than issuing reward miles in exchange for actual miles flown, the airline pays for your loyalty with points. The number of points for each itinerary is then calculated off of the price of the ticket and the class flown. Here’s the breakdown:
- A “business select” ticket earns 12 points per $1 spent
- A “standard” ticket earns 10 points per $1 spent
- And a “gotta get away” ticket earns 6 points per $1 spent
For redemptions, the cost is then ten times what the earning rate is, so you can redeem 120 points per $1 for business select tickets, 100 points per $1 for standard and 60 points per $1 for wanna get away tickets.
So then the value of the signing bonus depends largely on how much you value your legroom and in-flight amenities. The 50,000 miles are worth:
- $416 toward a business class ticket
- $500 toward an economy ticket
- $834 toward a budget ticket
If you don’t mind sitting in the worst seats, and flying at the worst times, on one of America’s cheapest airlines, then you can walk away with the equivalent of $800+ from this promotion.
Is that enough for me to get the card?
If you are a frequent Southwest customer, the answer is a clear yes. You are already familiar with the airline’s many quirks, and you already enjoy the benefits of the company’s above-par customer service, so by all means you should be rewarded for your loyalty. And the Southwest credit card does just that.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus is a slight step down. from the old Premier. The annual fee dropped to $69 from $99, but the anniversary bonus also fell from 6k miles to 3k. On the other hand, the signup bonus is still 50k, which is a major point in its favor. the anniversary bonus is worth $50 in WGA fare, so the net annual fee rose to $19 from -$1. Then again, that’s a whole $20, a fairly negligible difference.
And no matter how high Chase raises the bar on the Southwest rewards, it will still be primarily useful to domestic flyers, particularly those with a penchant for unassigned seating. The bonuses on many other airline cards can be used for flights all over the country or all over the world, and sometimes even on other airlines through various global alliances. But Southwest is a bit limited in its destinations and its partnerships, so you really have to be committed to the airline to get the most out of it.
It can be a great choice for those with widely-scattered families, or students at college who need to fly home on the cheap, especially since cardholders also get to check two bags for free. But it’s hard for us to recommend it as a general-use everyday rewards card. For those who don’t see themselves flying Southwest enough to get the full benefit, we recommend more flexible travel cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
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