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 GabrielleAug 10, 2021

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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.

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:

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 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.

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

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

Southwest Rapids Rewards credit card holders can take advantage of the , 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 — about the same value as American Airlines miles, but less value than if you used them on Southwest flights.

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

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Based on our valuations, American Airlines credit card miles carry less value than those of Southwest Airlines: . But your American miles make it easier to get to more international destinations, and so you know what to expect when redeeming miles.

You can earn when you fly Southwest, , 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 , 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 . 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 125,000 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:

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

You can 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 . You can redeem miles for flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals, vacations and .

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

Some other important facts about American Airlines’ AAdvantage program:

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

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

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

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 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.

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  has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

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

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