Choosing a Southwest Airlines credit card can be tricky because the differences between the two consumer cards are subtle and their net value is about the same.
Both cards have a primary perk: free frequent-flyer points posted to your account annually. But they come with different annual fees. So the decision comes down to the extra value you get for the $99 annual fee of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card compared with the $69 you’ll pay for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.
Let’s start with a look at the basics of each card:
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card|
|Sign-up bonus||Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open||Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open|
|Anniversary points||Earn 3,000 points automatically after your cardholder anniversary each year||Earn 6,000 points automatically after your cardholder anniversary each year|
|Foreign transaction fee||3%||None|
|Tier qualifying points||None||1,500 toward elite status|
|APR||The ongoing APR is 17.49% - 24.49% Variable APR||The ongoing APR is 17.49% - 24.49% Variable APR|
|For complete details and link to apply|
Annual fee. Neither annual fee is exorbitant compared with premium travel cards, but you’ll have to decide whether the higher fee is worth it for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. There isn’t a no-fee version of this card.
Anniversary points. This is the primary difference in benefits. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card gives you twice as many loyalty points annually on your account anniversary date: 6,000 Rapid Rewards points instead of 3,000. NerdWallet values Rapid Rewards points at 1 cent each. At that value, the extra anniversary points are worth $30 per year, making up for the difference in annual fees.
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. The 3% fee on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card can add up.
Tier qualifying points. Read on for details about this difference, but the short story is that it’s a minor benefit unless you’re a huge spender. For most, it shouldn’t sway the decision.
The pricier card allows you to earn 1,500 “tier qualifying points” for each $10,000 in purchases, up to $100,000 annually. Tier qualifying points count toward elite status, which Southwest calls A-List or A-List Preferred. Its benefits include priority boarding and bonus rewards points for each flight. The cheaper card earns no points toward elite status.
Overall, qualifying points earned by the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier 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 it won’t help much toward a highly coveted companion pass, which requires 110,000 qualifying points in a year. So, consider the extra qualifying points as a modest boost to ones you earn with your regular flying on Southwest.
What’s the same?
Other than the differences above, little distinguishes the cards from each other. They have the same sign-up bonus, earn the same spending rewards and charge the same APR.
Remember that an airline card is not your only choice. General travel credit cards offer rewards that can be used on a variety of 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.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 $0 for the first year, then $95, and it comes with an outstanding sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 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.
How to decide
If you don’t care about earning elite status on Southwest, won’t use the card abroad and can’t stomach the higher annual fee, go with the cheaper card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. Otherwise, the better choice will be the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Its higher annual fee is equalized by its extra anniversary points — assuming you actually use the points toward a free flight. The more costly card eliminates foreign transaction fees and offers minor progress toward elite status on the airline.