Is a Southwest Credit Card Worth It?

If you're a Southwest loyalist, a co-branded card is worth it. If not, consider a card with transferable points.
Lee HuffmanOct 21, 2021

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Southwest Airlines is one of the most popular domestic airlines in the U.S. — and for good reason. Travelers get two checked bags for free and can cancel or change tickets at any time without incurring fees. If you're going to fly Southwest on a regular basis, you might be asking yourself, "Is the Southwest credit card worth it?"

Here, we'll share what credit cards are available and give guidance on how to determine for yourself if a Southwest credit card is worth it.

Available Southwest credit cards

Chase and Southwest Airlines have partnered to offer several Southwest credit cards, including three personal cards and two for business owners. Welcome bonus offers for these cards change periodically throughout the year.

Let's a take a closer look at which cards are available, plus their current sign-up offerings.

Personal Southwest credit cards

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card (annual fee: $69): Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card (annual fee: $99): Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (annual fee: $149): Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

Southwest business credit cards

Knowing which card is right for you takes a little digging. Consider which card has benefits that meet your needs, if that card fits your budget, and if redeeming its perks feels manageable.

How Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards work

When you apply for a Southwest credit card, your card will be attached to your Southwest Rapid Rewards loyalty number. If you don't already have one, a new member number will be created for you.

You'll earn a welcome bonus if you meet the minimum spending requirements as a new cardholder. All of your purchases will earn points as well. Depending on which card you applied for, you'll receive more points for spending in certain categories, like dining or Southwest purchases.

All of the points you earn with your Southwest credit card are redeemable for any seat on any Southwest flight.

Each Southwest Rapid Rewards point is worth about 1.4 cents on average, according to NerdWallet’s most recent valuations. The number of points required to book a flight depends on the cash price of the flight and which ticket type you buy (Wanna Get Away, Anytime or Business Select). Taxes and fees are extra and must be paid in cash.

Southwest points never expire as long as your loyalty account remains open. If you close your credit card, all points already transferred to Southwest are yours to keep.

How to determine if a Southwest card is worth it

While Southwest credit cards do offer useful benefits, each one charges an annual fee. Before paying that annual fee, you need to decide if the benefits promised are worth the annual fee you're paying.

Understand the value of the annual points bonus

Every Southwest cardholder earns bonus Rapid Rewards points when they renew their card each year. The number of points varies based on which card you have as follows:

Card

Points earned every year on cardmember anniversary

Value of anniversary points in cash

Annual fee

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

3,000 points.

$42.

$69

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

6,000 points.

$84.

$99.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

7,500 points.

$105.

$149.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

6,000 points.

$84.

$99.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

9,000 points.

$126.

$199.

While the value received doesn't have to cover the annual fee to be considered worth it, understanding how these bonuses help offset some of the cost of a card is useful as you're calculating the card’s value.

Predict your annual spend in bonus categories

For flights paid for in cash (not points), you’ll not only earn points by flying, but also by spending. When you use your Southwest credit card, you’ll earn bonus points on every Southwest purchase.

While most Southwest cards earn 3x on these purchases, the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card earns 4x on Southwest purchases, as well as 3x on Rapid Rewards hotel and rental car partners.

Being realistic about how much you fly (and spend on) Southwest can help you determine whether the card will be worth it for you.

Aim to earn the Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most coveted airline benefits. When you've earned this perk, your designated companion flies free with you on any flight. You just have to pay the taxes and fees, which start at $5.60 each way. This benefit works on both paid and reward flights. And you can change your designated companion up to three times annually.

Points earned from a new card welcome bonus and all of your Southwest credit card spending counts toward the total needed to earn the Companion Pass, which is currently 125,000 points. Many travelers can hit that mark with the combination of a sign-up bonus, everyday spending and a handful of paid flights.

Spend toward A-List status

With the $99-and-up Southwest cards, you can earn up to 15,000 A-List Tier Qualifying Points each year via spending. For every $10,000 you put on your card, you'll earn 1,500 A-List TQPs. Maxing out this benefit will get you almost halfway to elite status, which currently sits at 35,000 points.

The only Southwest card that doesn't qualify for the fast track to A-List is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.

Who should skip a Southwest credit card?

While a Southwest credit card can make sense for the airline's most frequent fliers, not everyone is a wise candidate for these cards. Keep shopping around if:

  • You don't live near or fly often to a Southwest hub. Having access to frequent (and affordable) Southwest flights will make or break your satisfaction with an airline-specific credit card.

  • You prefer to optimize flight selection for cost, not benefits. If you tend to select the most affordable flight to your destination regardless of carrier, then a more general travel credit card will likely better serve your needs.

  • You want to fly in style. Southwest doesn't offer premium cabins for its flights, nor does it offer dedicated lounges to its most prestigious members. If these conveniences are essential to you, it may not be worth going all-in on Southwest loyalty.

Frequently asked questions

Many applicants will receive an instant decision after applying for a Southwest credit card. In some cases, an application may require manual underwriting, or you may need you to answer questions for the bank. For these applications, the bank will either call you or mail a letter requesting that you contact them.

Before applying for a Southwest credit card, we recommend that you have Good to Excellent credit. This means having a credit score of at least 690. If your score isn't high enough, read these 15 ways to improve your credit score.

Southwest credit cards are Visas, so you can use them everywhere that Visa is accepted. Except for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest credit cards do not charge foreign transaction fees, so you can use them in the U.S. or when traveling internationally.

If you're considering a Southwest credit card

For people who love flying Southwest, getting a Southwest credit card is a wise choice. You'll earn valuable points on every purchase, plus additional points every year that you renew your card. While higher-end Southwest cards have larger annual fees, the extra benefits they offer generally make them a better deal if you fly Southwest on a regular basis.

If you're more of a free agent when it comes to travel, apply for a credit card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® instead. Ultimate Rewards® points transfer on a 1:1 basis to Southwest Rapid Rewards. Plus, they have greater flexibility because the points can be redeemed to fly with other airlines, book hotels or reserve rental cars.


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 2021, including those best for:

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