BEST OF

Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards of August 2022

Take a look at our top picks, then let us walk you through making the decision.

Aug 8, 2022

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence 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.

Southwest Airlines offers an array of branded credit cards, the same as the other major U.S. airlines. But because Southwest operates differently from other carriers, its cards are different, too. Most notably:

  • Southwest doesn't charge most flyers for checked baggage, so a Southwest card isn't going to save you money on bag fees. You don't get priority boarding on every flight, either.

  • Southwest doesn't operate a network of airport lounges, so there is no high-end card with lounge privileges.

  • Southwest does not offer a no-annual-fee credit card.

Below, you'll find our picks for different types of travel, followed by a guide to choosing the right Southwest Airlines credit card for you.

NerdWallet's Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards of August 2022

Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards From Our Partners

Our pick for

Frequent Southwest flyers

Apply now

on Chase's website

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

4.2

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$149

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

Although the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the airline's priciest card, its perks can easily offset the cost for a dedicated Southwest flyer.

Pros

  • The card can pay for itself with a $75 annual credit for Southwest travel, four free upgraded boardings a year (worth at least $30 apiece) that get you to the front of the boarding line, and a 7,500-point annual bonus. In addition, you earn 3 points per dollar spent with Southwest and 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest's hotel and rental car partners; on local transit and commuting; and on internet, cable, phone service and select streaming services. Other spending earns 1 point per dollar.

Cons

  • Even though you're paying more than twice as much for this card as for the Plus and 50% more than for the Premier, the standard sign-up bonus is the same on all the cards. Comparable airline cards get you priority boarding on every flight, not just four times a year.

Read full review
  • New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • 7,500 anniversary points each year.

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.

  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.

  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Our pick for

Occasional Southwest flyers

Southwest's Plus and Premier cards deliver relatively comparable value, with the difference in their annual fees essentially offset by the difference in the anniversary bonus. The Plus card earns a slightly higher star rating due to its lower upfront cost every year, but the more you travel, the more value you'll squeeze out of the Premier card due to its higher rewards rate on Southwest purchases.

Apply now

on Chase's website

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

4.2

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$69

Rewards rate

1x-2x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the airline's lowest-cost card, but the benefits aren't much of a step down.

Pros

  • You'll usually earn the same bonus on this card as you would on Southwest's more expensive cards. Meanwhile, you earn 2 points per dollar spent with Southwest, with Southwest's hotel and rental car partners; on local transit and commuting; and on internet, cable, phone service and select streaming services. Other spending earns 1 point per dollar. You get a 3,000-point annual bonus and reimbursement for two Early Bird Check-Ins each year. (Early Bird lets you check in up to 36 hours before departure, which translates to an earlier boarding number; cost starts at $15.)

Cons

  • While other U.S. airlines have credit card options with no annual fee, Southwest does not. If you don't travel much, $69 a year might still be too high for the privilege of carrying a credit card. Also, this card charges a foreign transaction fee.

Read full review
  • New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • 3,000 anniversary points each year.

  • Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases.

  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In® each year.

  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • All points earned count towards Companion Pass®.

Our pick for

Regular Southwest flyers

Apply now

on Chase's website

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

3.9

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$99

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a decent middle ground — elevated earnings on Southwest purchases and a bigger anniversary bonus compared with the Plus card, but still cheaper than the Priority card.

Pros

  • You earn 3 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases; 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest's hotel and rental car partners; on local transit and commuting; and on internet, cable, phone service and select streaming services. Other spending earns 1 point per dollar. You get a 6,000-point anniversary bonus and reimbursement for two Early Bird Check-Ins per year (see description under Plus card).

Cons

  • Comparable airline credit cards in this price range typically give you a free checked bag, which can more than make up for the cost (and some of them waive the fee in the first year, too). With Southwest, of course, "bags fly free" — whether you use a credit card or not. So you'll have to get $99 worth of value elsewhere. Also, the benefits on this card are very close to those on the cheaper Plus card.

Read full review
  • New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • 6,000 anniversary points each year.

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.

  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In® each year.

  • All points earned count towards Companion Pass®.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Our pick for

Business travelers

Apply now

on Chase's website

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

4.8

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$199

Rewards rate

1x-4x

Points

Intro offer

80,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card is the closest thing this airline has to a premium card, with perks that can return solid value to business operators who frequently fly Southwest.

Pros

  • You start with a great bonus offer, then earn Southwest's highest rewards rates: 4X points on Southwest purchases; 3X with Southwest hotel and rental car partners; 2X on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services, and local transit and commuting; and 1X on other purchases. You get reimbursement for the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry, as well as for four upgraded boardings a year (see description under the Priority card). The card also offers up to 365 credits a year (at $8 apiece) for in-flight wi-fi, plus a 9,000-point anniversary bonus.

Cons

  • The $199 annual fee is steep, at least for Southwest, but keep in mind that it can be a deductible business expense. Unlike Southwest's top-of-the-line consumer card, this card doesn't offer an annual travel credit.

Read full review
  • Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.

  • Earn 4X points on Southwest® purchases.

  • Earn 3X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car partners.

  • Earn 2X points on rideshare.

  • Earn 2X points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services and 1X points on all other purchases.

  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® Fee Credit.

Our pick for

Point transfers and flexibility

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-5x

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card isn't a Southwest-branded card, but the points you earn are super-flexible. Among your options: transferring points directly to Southwest (as well as a dozen other airline and hotel partners).

Pros

  • You earn 5 points per dollar spent on travel booked through Chase; 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); 2 points per dollar on other travel; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Points can be transferred to Southwest or other partners, or you can use them to book travel through Chase at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece. There's a stellar sign-up bonus and a slew of other perks.

Cons

  • Because this a general-purpose travel card rather than a branded card, it won't qualify you for any airline-specific perks. However, this isn't as much of an issue with Southwest, where bags already "fly free" and the airline's own cards offer only limited boarding benefits.

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

  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories

  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.

  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CREDIT CARD FOR YOU

By Gregory Karp, NerdWallet

Choosing a Southwest Airlines credit card can be tricky because differences between the three consumer cards may seem subtle at first glance. But you receive progressively more value from the cards with higher annual fees.

The trio of cards share a primary perk: free frequent-flyer points posted to your account annually. So the decision comes down to the extra value you get for the $149 annual fee of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card compared with the $69 you'll pay for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card — and then whether it's worth paying $149 to step up to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

The basics at a glance

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Annual fee

$149.

$99.

$69.

Rewards on Southwest purchases

3 points per $1 spent.

3 points per $1 spent.

2 points per $1 spent.

Rewards on other spending

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on local transit, rideshares, internet, cable, phone services and select streaming services.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Sign-up bonus

New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Anniversary bonus

Earn 7,500 points automatically after your cardholder anniversary each year.

Earn 6,000 points automatically after your cardholder anniversary each year.

Earn 3,000 points automatically after your cardholder anniversary each year.

Earns tier qualifying points?

Yes (unlimited).

Yes (capped at 15,000 TQPs per year).

No.

Foreign transaction fees

None.

None.

3%.

Boarding perks

4 upgraded boardings per year when available.

2 EarlyBird check-ins per year.

2 EarlyBird check-ins per year.

Southwest travel credit

$75 per year.

None.

None.

What differentiates these cards?

Annual fee

The annual fees aren't exorbitant for any of these three cards when compared with some premium travel cards, but you’ll have to decide whether the higher fee is worth it for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. There isn't a no-fee version of this card.

Anniversary points

This is a primary difference in benefits. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card gives you twice as many loyalty points annually on your account anniversary date as does the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: 6,000 Rapid Rewards points, as opposed to 3,000. Considering the value of a Rapid Rewards point, the extra anniversary points can make up for the difference in annual fees between those two cards.

Anniversary points grow to 7,500 with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. While that's not enough value on its own to offset the card's annual fee, it's also not the only lucrative benefit you get with it, either.

NerdWallet values Southwest points at 1.4 cents each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.4 cents or more in value from your Southwest points.

Nerdy tip: All Southwest cards used to earn the same 2X rewards on Southwest purchases, but as of Oct. 19, 2021 the cards' rewards were refreshed. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card now earn 3X points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases.

Foreign transaction fee

If you’ll be using your credit card abroad, you’ll want one that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. The 3% fee can add up on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.

Tier qualifying points

The short story here is that it's a minor benefit unless you're a huge spender. For most, it shouldn't sway the decision.

The two pricier cards allow you to earn tier qualifying points which count toward A-List and A-List Preferred elite status. Its benefits include priority boarding and bonus rewards points for each flight. The cheapest card earns no points toward elite status.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card earns 1,500 “tier qualifying points” (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases, up to $100,000 annually. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card also earns 1,500 TQPs per $10,000 spent, but offers the ability to earn an unlimited amount of TQPs. That means that heavy spenders can charge their way all the way to A-List status if they choose.

Overall, qualifying points earned by the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card don’t move the needle much. An extra 1,500 qualifying points for spending $10,000 would account for only about 4% of your 35,000-point requirement for the lowest elite level. And tier qualifying points won’t help toward securing a highly coveted Companion Pass, because those passes are earned via Rapid Rewards points (or very occasionally via the sign-up bonus.) So consider the extra tier qualifying points as a modest boost to ones you earn with your regular flying on Southwest.

Priority benefits

There are reasons to be tempted by the priciest card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. It includes day-of-flying perks that the other cards don't, such as:

  • A $75 Southwest annual travel credit, which can be used toward Southwest purchases such as flights, pet carrier fees and other day-of-travel purchases.

  • Up to four upgraded boardings per year, based on availability.

What's the same on all the cards?

Sign-up bonuses

Bonuses for new cardmembers can change often, but if pricier cards get you a bigger head start toward earning free flights or a Companion Pass, that's something to consider.

Besides the differences above, all three cards earn the same spending rewards and charge the same APR.

Nerdy tip: Typically, one of the biggest perks of a co-branded airline credit card is free checked bags, which can quickly justify the annual fee. However, that is not a factor with these cards because Southwest does not charge for the first two checked bags, making it the only big U.S. carrier without a bag fee. So these Southwest Airlines credit cards play no role in free checked bags.

Other choices

An airline card is not your only choice. General travel credit cards offer rewards that can be used on various travel spending, not just a single airline. Redeeming rewards for credit against a Southwest Airlines purchase or other travel spending essentially "erases" it from your balance. That makes these cards a good choice for people who spread their business around.

Or consider a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It earns points that can be transferred to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program at a 1:1 ratio. It has an annual fee of $95, and it comes with an outstanding sign-up bonus: 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®.

What’s more, a NerdWallet study shows most people would be better off with a cash-back card, rather than a travel card of any flavor.

Making the decision

If you don’t care about earning elite status on Southwest, won’t use the card abroad and can’t stomach higher annual fees, go with the cheapest card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.

A good middle choice is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Its higher annual fee is equalized by the extra anniversary points it offers, assuming you use the points toward a flight. It eliminates foreign transaction fees and offers minor progress toward elite status on the airline.

Avid Southwest flyers who appreciate perks on the day they fly should consider the pricier — but potentially most lucrative — Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. It lacks some of the luxury benefits you'll find some premium travel credit cards, but it still packs enough value to offset its annual fee.

Not sure if an airline card makes the most sense for you? See NerdWallet's best credit cards list here.

Last updated on August 8, 2022

Methodology

NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best credit cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen as among the "best" in multiple categories. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.