For devoted fans of Southwest Airlines, here's a hard truth: Even one of the airline's most popular co-branded credit cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, might not be the best card for you.
In fact, frequent Southwest flyers may be able to earn more rewards with the no-nonsense Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card than with Southwest's own card. The Venture card outpaces the Southwest co-branded card with its high ongoing rewards on every purchase and its flexible redemption options.
True, if you have your heart set on Southwest's coveted Companion Pass, the Venture card can't help you. Only co-branded Southwest cards like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card earn rewards that will help you qualify for that status. But for most everyday spending scenarios, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card comes out on top.
How they compare at a glance
Both cards feature comparable annual fees and rich sign-up bonuses. While the bonus for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card generally remains consistent, the bonus for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card tends to fluctuate frequently.
But the cards differ in terms of ongoing rewards rates and perks.
Here's how they stack up:
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Earn Companion Pass® through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.
2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and participating hotel and car rental partners; 1 point per dollar spent on everything else
2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases
Foreign transaction fees
6,000-point anniversary bonus each year
TSA Precheck or Global Entry Credit
Up to $100 every four years
Why the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card comes out ahead
Two things give the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card a competitive advantage for most travelers.
It offers 2X back all purchases, not just in select categories
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on everything you buy. You won't have to juggle multiple cards to max out your earnings in certain spending categories, since you'll earn the same amount no matter what you’re buying. Miles are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for travel in either of the following ways:
Use your miles to book travel through Capital One.
Use the Capital One Purchase Eraser feature to redeem miles for statement credit against travel purchases.
You can also choose to transfer miles to more than ten travel programs, though the per-mile value will vary depending on the partner. (Redemption for cash back is possible, but miles are worth only half-a-cent each that way.)
Plus, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers a TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit of up to $100 once every four years. If you keep the card long-term, that could essentially add $25 of potential value each year every four years.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, on the other hand, earns only 1X points on most everyday expenses, giving the Venture a big earnings advantage.
The Southwest card offers an anniversary bonus every year that essentially defrays much of its annual fee. NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.6 cents, so the card's 6,000 anniversary points represent a value of about $84 annually.
But over the long term, when you evaluate it as an everyday-use card, that's not enough in this comparison to make up for its lower ongoing rewards rate on most purchases.
You can redeem miles for almost any type of travel
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has a broad definition of what qualifies for travel redemption: flights, sure, but also hotels, cruises, a cross-country train ride or a weekend at a beachfront timeshare.
And if you do redeem for airfare, there are no seat restrictions and no worries about award availability on certain dates. You can book whatever you want, in the way you want.
But your options are much more limited with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. While the airline's flight routes do cover much of the U.S. and there are options in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, you're out of luck if you want to fly to, say, Europe. And if you're not in the market for flights, hotel stays or car rentals, you're mostly left with Southwest's selection of overpriced gift cards.
When the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card could be a better choice
If you're eyeing a Companion Pass or A-List Status
If you're determined to get a Southwest Companion Pass, definitely consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. This pass allows someone to fly with you for free (minus taxes and fees) for the rest of the year in which you earn the pass, plus the next calendar year. You need 125,000 points or 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to get the pass. The sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card provides a good start toward the points goal.
For a couple who travels regularly, a Companion Pass can essentially get you 50% off airfare for more than a year and it makes you very popular with at least one person.
This card also grants you 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on the card each calendar year, up to 15,000 annually. Tier-qualifying points help you reach A-List or A-List Preferred status faster, which means things like priority check-in, points bonuses and more.
You'll get none of these airline-specific perks with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
What about the other Southwest cards?
In addition to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Southwest offers two other personal cards: the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. (There are two business card offerings as well.)
For a higher annual fee of $149, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card comes with a few extra perks. You’ll get an anniversary bonus of 7,500 points, a $75 annual Southwest credit, up to four upgraded boardings per year (when available) and 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi. These are quite valuable perks for someone who flies Southwest frequently despite that annual fee.
But no matter which personal Southwest card you choose, you’ll still earn only 2 points per $1 on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. (The one exception to this rewards structure among Southwest products is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, which earns 3 points per $1 on Southwest and partner purchases; 2 points per $1 on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services; and 1 point per $1 on other purchases.)
The Capital One Venture is more practical and flexible
Matching up a co-branded airline credit card with general travel cards often feels a little like comparing apples and Apple Jacks. Often, there's not a real winner in a faceoff like this — the cards just appeal to different people. If you like the airline, you would go with the airline card. Otherwise, you would choose one of the general travel cards.
But this time, we're calling it: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers better long-term value. That makes it the most practical travel card of the two, even for many ardent Southwest fans. For travelers looking for versatility and value, it's an excellent pick.
Information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been provided or reviewed by the issuer of this card.