American Airlines vs. Southwest: Which One Is Best?

We pit Southwest and American Airlines against each other, ranking each on destinations, credit cards and more.
Natasha Etzel
By Natasha Etzel 
Published
Edited by June Casagrande

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

» This article is being updated with 2023 Best-Of Awards data. See our newly-minted airline rewards program rankings here.


Planning to book a flight? Depending where you’re going, the choice could come down to two of America’s most popular airlines: Southwest or American. But how to choose?

Here’s a look at Southwest Airlines versus American Airlines to give you an idea of what sets these two airlines apart so you can pick the best one for your next flight — or even for your long-term loyalty.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flies to more than 100 U.S. cities, plus 10 other countries (and Puerto Rico) in the Americas. Its international destinations are in the list below:

  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

  • Cancun, Mexico.

  • Cozumel, Mexico.

  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

  • Ladyville, Belize.

  • Liberia, Costa Rica.

  • San Jose, Costa Rica.

  • Oranjestad, Aruba.

  • George Town, Grand Cayman.

  • Havana.

  • Montego Bay, Jamaica.

  • Nassau, Bahamas.

  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

  • Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Technically, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have hubs. Its headquarters are on Dallas Love Field Drive in Dallas, Texas. It flies into and out of many major cities within the U.S.

American Airlines

American Airlines serves about 350 destinations in 50 countries. If you want an airline that can get you to lots more places, American is the better choice. The airline has several hubs throughout the country.

  • Charlotte, North Carolina.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Miami.

  • New York-John F. Kennedy.

  • New York-LaGuardia.

  • Philadelphia.

  • Phoenix.

  • Washington-Dulles.

Most options: American Airlines

Travel credit card availability

Southwest Airlines credit cards

Southwest Airlines offers both personal and business credit cards. Here are a few highlights of each card.

  • Welcome bonus: Limited-time offer: Earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • $69 annual fee.

  • 2x points on Southwest purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Limited-time offer: Earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • $99 annual fee.

  • 3x points on Southwest purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Limited-time offer: Earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • $149 annual fee.

  • 3x points on Southwest purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • $99 annual fee.

  • 6,000 points awarded every cardmember anniversary.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • $199 annual fee.

  • 9,000 points awarded every cardmember anniversary.

How far you can fly with the bonus points from these credit cards? NerdWallet estimates that Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each when you redeem them for flights on Southwest.

Southwest Rapids Rewards credit card holders can take advantage of the Southwest More Rewards program, which allows international flight bookings with other carriers, expanding the number of international destinations they can fly to using points. These redemptions get you an average value of about 1 cent per point with this method.

American Airlines credit cards

American Airlines also offers personal and business credit cards. Here are a few highlights:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 15,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • $0 annual fee.

  • 2x miles per dollar at grocery stores.

  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • Annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

  • 2x miles at restaurants and gas stations.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $7,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • $595 annual fee.

  • 10x miles on eligible rental cars and hotels booked through American Airlines.

  • 4x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases.

  • Access to Admirals Club airport lounges.

  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.

  • Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

  • 2x miles for gas stations, rental cars, cable and satellite providers, and specific telecommunications merchants.

Based on our valuations, American Airlines credit card miles carry more value than that of Southwest: 1.7 cents a piece. Your American miles make it easier to get to more international destinations, and American’s redemption rates are very clearly outlined so you know what to expect when redeeming miles.

Winner for best airline credit cards: Southwest Airlines

Airline loyalty programs

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

You can earn Rapid Rewards points when you fly Southwest, shop and dine with partners, book with a qualifying partner hotel, or use a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. Points earned never expire as long as your account remains open. The number of points earned when flying depends on the fare type that you book. You’ll earn 6 to 12 points per $1 spent on your flight.

You can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for Southwest Airlines flights or, if you have a Rapid Rewards credit card, for international flights through other carriers. You can also redeem points for rental cars, hotels or gift cards. Points carry less value when redeeming for anything but Southwest flights.

One thing that sets Southwest Airlines' loyalty program apart is the chance to earn a Companion Pass. Once you earn this privilege, you can pick a person to fly with you and you won’t need to pay for their airfare — only the taxes and fees on their ticket. You can change your Companion up to three times per year that you hold a pass.

You can earn a Companion Pass by either flying 100 one-way qualifying flights per year or by earning 135,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points. Once you earn a Companion Pass, it’s good for the rest of the year and the following calendar year.

Some other important facts about the Rapid Rewards program:

  • The price of a flight in Rapid Rewards points corresponds to the cash price, which can depend on fare type, date and destination. You can redeem for Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus, Anytime and Business Select fares. Because they’re cheaper, you’ll get the best value when booking for Wanna Get Away fares.

  • Flights start at less than 3,000 points each way. For example, a recent fare search turned up Wanna Get Away fares from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for 2,671 points each way.

  • Southwest Airlines has limited international flight options and lacks true first- and business-class seating. If either is important to you, Southwest Rapid Rewards might not be right for you.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Getting a Southwest Airlines credit card can make earning a Companion Pass easier since these cards come with welcome bonus points.

American Airlines

AAdvantage is the American Airlines loyalty program. You’ll earn miles based on the dollar amount that you spend on airfares. Depending on your AAdvantage status level, you’ll earn 5 to 11 miles per $1 spent.

You can earn AAdvantage miles in many ways, like flying with American or with a partner airline, through hotel stays, car rentals, vacations, cruises and dining, and when shopping online or using an AAdvantage credit card. You can redeem miles for flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals, vacations and Admirals Club lounge access.

AAdvantage miles expire if you have no earning or redemption activity for 18 months.

Some other important facts about American Airlines’ AAdvantage program:

  • If your travel plans are flexible, you can maximize the value of your AAdvantage miles by booking MilesSAAver award flights.

  • You can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 7,500 miles each way when redeeming for a domestic MilesSAAver award flight in economy class.

  • You can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 15,000 miles each way when redeeming for a domestic MilesSAAver award flight in first or business class.

  • For international journeys, the number of miles you need for an award flight depends on the region: If you’re headed to Central America, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 12,500 each way for an off-peak MilesSAAver award flight in economy. If you’re going to Europe, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 22,500 each way for the same ticket type.

Winner for ease of miles: Southwest Airlines

Extra fees

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is known for being generous, and the brand includes a lot of extras in your ticket price.

  • Your first and second checked bags are free.

  • A third checked bag costs $75.

  • If your checked bag is overweight or oversized, you will be charged $75.

  • There is no fee to change your flight.

  • There is no fee to cancel a flight.

  • If you want EarlyBird Check-In, you’ll pay $15, $20 or $25 each way.

  • If you want to upgrade your boarding group, you’ll pay $30, $40 or $50 for each segment.

  • In-flight Wi-Fi costs $8 per flight.

American Airlines

With American Airlines, you’ll pay for most extras.

  • Baggage fees range from $30 to $75 for a checked bag, depending on where you’re flying to and from and the ticket class purchased.

  • Second bag fees range from $40 to $100 depending on where you’re flying to and from and the ticket class purchased.

  • Third bag fees cost $150 or $200 for most flights.

  • Overweight bag fees range from $100 to $450 depending on where you’re flying, the weight of the bag and the ticket class purchased.

  • Oversized bag fees range from $150 to $200.

  • Same-day flight changes range from $75 to $150 for main cabin.

  • In-flight Wi-Fi is available on some flights and prices begin at $10.

Is American Airlines cheaper than Southwest? Not when it comes to fees.

Winner for lowest fees: Southwest Airlines

In-flight experience

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is known for its excellent customer service. The airline offers complimentary snacks and drinks plus alcoholic beverages available for purchase. Meals are not available for purchase. There’s free in-flight entertainment (but you must bring your own device) and $8 Wi-Fi.

Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer separate business- or first-class cabins. Instead, it offers Business Select fares. These are pricier but include perks like priority boarding, the ability to earn more points and a complimentary premium drink.

American Airlines

American Airlines offers a typical airline experience, and many flights offer first- and business-class seating. The airline offers complimentary beverages and snacks on some flights, and alcoholic beverages can be purchased. For some international flights, a meal and alcoholic beverage are included. Wi-Fi is available on many routes starting at $10.

Winner of the sky: American Airlines

American Airlines vs. Southwest: The results

When considering Southwest Airlines versus American Airlines, our vote goes to Southwest Airlines. It charges less in fees, it gives guests the ability to earn a valuable Companion Pass, its points offer more value and it's known for great customer service.

The information related to the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-6.5%

Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

$300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.