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Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards of April 2024

Updated: Apr 15, 2024

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

Craig Joseph
Written by
Lead Writer
Erin Hurd
Reviewed by
Assigning Editor
Paul Soucy
Edited by
Fact Checked
Lead Assigning Editor
Fact Checked
Craig Joseph
Written by
Lead Writer
Erin Hurd
Reviewed by
Assigning Editor
Paul Soucy
Edited by
Fact Checked
Lead Assigning Editor
Fact Checked
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NerdWallet's Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards of April 2024

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Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

Our pick for

Frequent Southwest flyers

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.
Our pick for

Business travelers

Our pick for

Point transfers and flexibility

FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS: BEST SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CREDIT CARDS

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Our pick for: Frequent Southwest flyers

Southwest Airlines' priciest card is also its best. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card doesn't offer richer rewards or a significantly better sign-up bonus than the carrier's lower-fee cards, but it comes with an annual travel credit, a great anniversary bonus and other perks that justify (and offset) its annual fee. Read our review.

  • 3 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.

  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit.

  • 7,500-point anniversary bonus each year upon renewal.

  • Credit for 4 upgraded boardings each year (when available).

  • 10,000-point boost each year in Companion Pass qualifying points.

  • 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List status for every $10,000 spent in purchases annually.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

. . .

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Our pick for: Occasional Southwest flyers

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the lowest-fee card in the Southwest portfolio, but it's not that big of a step down from the more expensive options. Key differences: a lower rewards rate on Southwest purchases and a smaller anniversary bonus. Read our review.

  • 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.

  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • 3,000 point anniverary bonus each year upon renewal.

  • 2 EarlyBird check-ins each year.

  • 10,000-point boost each year in Companion Pass qualifying points.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

. . .

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Our pick for: Regular Southwest flyers

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a decent middle ground among the airline's consumer credit cards. You get elevated earnings on Southwest purchases and a bigger anniversary bonus compared with the Plus card, but it lacks the perks (and the higher cost) of the Priority card. Read our review.

  • 3 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.

  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • 6,000-point anniversary bonus each year upon renewal.

  • 2 EarlyBird check-ins each year.

  • 10,000-point boost each year in Companion Pass qualifying points.

  • 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List status for every $10,000 spent in purchases annually.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

. . .

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our pick for: Point transfers and flexibility

For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns bonus rewards (up to 5X) on travel, dining, select streaming services, and select online grocery purchases. Points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. The sign-up bonus is stellar, too. Read our review. 

  • 5 points per dollar spent on travel booked through Chase.

  • 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025).

  • 3 points per dollar on dining.

  • 3 points per dollar on select streaming services.

  • 3 points per dollar on online grocery orders (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs).

  • 2 points per dollar on all travel not booked through Chase.

  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases.

  • Redeem points for travel booked through Chase at a value of 1.25 cents apiece.

  • Transfer points to Southwest or a dozen other airline or hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio.

  • $50 in statement credit every anniversary year for hotel stays booked through Chase. (Note: You won't receive rewards points for the $50 in spending that gets reimbursed via this credit.)

  • 10% annual points bonus: Each anniversary, earn points equal to 10% of your spending in the past year. Spend $10,000, for example, get 1,000 bonus points.

  • Trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance.

  • Primary rental car insurance.

  • 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 Travel℠.

. . .

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Our pick for: Business travelers

The Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card is the closest thing this airline has to a premium card. Benefits and perks like 4x points on Southwest purchases, upgraded boardings and a credit for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry can return solid value to business operators who frequently fly the airline. Read our review.

  • 4 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases.

  • 3 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • 2 points per dollar on social media and search engine advertising.

  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services.

  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • 9,000-point anniversary bonus each year upon renewal.

  • Credit for 4 upgraded boardings each year (when available).

  • Credit for the application fee for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Nexus.

  • 10,000-point boost each year in Companion Pass qualifying points.

  • 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List status for every $10,000 spent in purchases annually.

  • Up to 365 credits per year ($8 per credit) for in-flight Wifi service on Southwest.

  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

  • Up to $500 a year in statement credit toward fees incurred when transferring Rapid Rewards points to another member.

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

• • •

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CREDIT CARD FOR YOU

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

Empty Table Header

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

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

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 (unlimited).

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 1.5 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 1.5 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 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

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.

• • •

NerdWallet's Gregory Karp contributed to this article.

Last updated on April 15, 2024

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.

Frequently asked questions

Unlike the other big U.S. airlines, Southwest does not offer a credit card with no annual fee. The least expensive card in the carrier's lineup is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, which has an annual fee of $69.

Southwest Airlines credit cards require good to excellent credit to qualify. Generally speaking, that equates to a credit score of 690 or better. However, credit scores aren't the only thing that credit card issuers look at when evaluating applications. They may also take into account your employment status and income, your other debts and how many credit cards you've been approved for recently.

Among the perks offered by Southwest Airlines credit cards:

  • You receive an anniversary bonus each year when you renew. Depending on the card, that bonus can range from 3,000 to 9,000 points.

  • Each card also gives you a 10,000-point head start each year toward earning a Southwest Companion Pass. (Usually you have to earn 135,000 points in a year to get the pass; carrying a Southwest card effectively reduces that requirement to 125,000.)

  • Some of the higher-priced cards allow you to earn credit toward "A-List" elite status with the airline by hitting certain spending thresholds.

  • All cards give you 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases.

Because of the way Southwest operates, the airline's credit cards don't include some of the perks that come standard with many cards from competing carriers. For example:

  • Most cards from American, Delta and United allow you (and one or more people traveling with you) to check a bag for free. But Southwest doesn't charge for most checked bags, so there's no baggage benefit to being a cardholder.

  • Competing airline credit cards usually give you priority boarding on each flight. Under Southwest's somewhat complicated boarding process, it usually costs extra to jump the line. Southwest cards offer credit toward those expenses, but only a few times a year — and you're still not guaranteed to get a better boarding position.

  • Southwest doesn't operate airport lounges, so a Southwest card won't provide lounge access.

NerdWallet values Southwest points at 1.5 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 1.5 cents or more in value from your Southwest points.

The Southwest Companion Pass is essentially a buy-one, get-one-free perk. When you book a flight, you can take someone with you for just the cost of taxes and fees (starting at $5.60). To get the Companion Pass, you have to earn 135,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. Once you earn it, it's good for the rest of the year and the next calendar year.

The Companion Pass is not a standard perk on any of Southwest's credit cards. From time to time, however, the airline has included a short-term version of the pass in the bonus offers on its credit cards. In early 2023, for example, new cardholders who spent $4,000 in their first three months not only got a 30,000 point bonus, but also earned a Companion Pass that would be valid through February 2024. (This offer expired in March 2023.) Similar offers were made for short periods in both 2022 and 2021.

Carrying a Southwest credit card can get you closer to a Companion Pass, though. Points earned on the card count toward the 135,000 needed for the pass, and that includes the sign-up bonus. Additionally, each year, cardholders get a 10,000-point bonus toward qualifying for the pass. (Those 10,000 points can't be used to book flights, but they effectively reduce the threshold for earning the pass to 125,000 points.)

About the author

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Craig Joseph

Craig Joseph is a NerdWallet authority on credit cards. His work has been featured by the Associated Press, Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. Read more
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