Southwest Priority Card Review: Pay More, Get More

Southwest's most expensive consumer credit card offers the same rewards and sign-up bonus as its lower-fee siblings. But it comes with an array of perks that can easily make up for the difference in cost.

Melissa LambarenaNovember 19, 2020
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Our Take

4.8

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: If you're a hardcore Southwest flyer, this is the best choice among the airline's three consumer cards, even with its higher fee. But if you spread your business around to multiple airlines, consider a general travel card instead.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$149

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • High rewards rate

  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Has annual fee

Alternate Pick: More flexible rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Elevated earning in popular categories

Earn 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent on travel and at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else. Your points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, and you can also transfer points to partner airlines, including Southwest. Annual fee: $95.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual Fee

$149

Annual Fee

$149

Annual Fee

$99

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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Full Review

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the most expensive of Southwest Airlines' consumer credit cards, but its significantly higher annual fee doesn't get you better rewards, a better sign-up bonus or a bigger head start on the airline's coveted Companion Pass. Instead, it unlocks a suite of valuable benefits that, assuming you use them, make this the best card of the bunch for hardcore Southwest travelers.

Unlike with other airlines' top-of-the-line cards, you won't get airport lounge access, priority boarding on every flight or other high-end travel perks. Still, if Southwest is your preferred airline, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card offers valuable benefits that can easily make up for the cost of carrying it.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Basics

Card type: Airline.

Annual fee: $149.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Rewards:

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

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

NerdWallet values Southwest points at 1.6 centseach. 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 1.6 cents or more in value from your Southwest points.

Elite status booster: Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year.

Interest rate: The ongoing APR is 15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR.

Foreign transaction fees: None.

Perks and benefits: 7,500-point annual anniversary bonus; $75 annual Southwest travel credit; credit for up to four upgraded boardings per year (based on availability); 20% back on in-flight purchases.

Travel protections: Auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, roadside dispatch, travel accident insurance.

Shopping protections: Extended warranty protection, purchase protection.

CALCULATE YOUR REWARDS

To see if the rewards and credits you'd earn on this card would make up for the annual fee, try our calculator:

Benefits of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

DECENT sign-up bonus

The new-cardholder bonus could be enough to pay for a pair of round-trip tickets, depending on how you redeem your points: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. The bonus also serves as a nice head-start toward the Companion Pass (see below). But note that this is the same sign-up bonus as offered by other, cheaper Southwest consumer cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card justifies its higher fee in ways besides the sign-up bonus.

Anniversary bonus

You get an automatic 7,500-point bonus every year you remain a cardholder. You don't have to meet any spending requirement to receive it. Based on NerdWallet's point valuations, the anniversary bonus alone can go a long way toward covering this card's annual fee.

Nerd tip: Southwest Airlines credit cards don't offer free checked bags as many airline credit cards do, but your first two checked bags already are free with Southwest. (The checked-bag fee for other major airlines generally is $25 to $30 per bag each way.)

Priority perks

A handful of additional perks set the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card apart from the lower-fee cards in the Southwest portfolio.

  • Annual travel credit: You get $75 a year in statement credit that you can apply toward Southwest purchases, including airfare, pet carrier fees and other day-of-travel purchases. It excludes in-flight purchases and upgraded boardings.

  • Upgraded boardings. The card credits you for up to four "upgraded boardings" a year, which can save you $30 to $50 each time. Southwest doesn't have assigned seating. Instead, it has a designated boarding order, and you pick your seat once you get on the plane. The earlier you board, the better your seat selection — and the more likely you are to score overhead bin space for your carry-on. Paying for upgraded boarding lets you jump close to the front of the line (when available).

  • Savings on in-flight purchases. You get 20% back in the form of a credit on your statement when you use the card to pay for drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging, movies or other qualifying in-flight services.

No foreign transaction fees

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card makes a fine companion for international travel, since it doesn't impose a surcharge on purchases overseas. Southwest flies mostly domestic routes, but it does offer service to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. For other international destinations, you can redeem points to book flights with partner airlines through the Southwest More Rewards platform. Regardless of how you get abroad, this card is a fine choice to use once you're there.

head start on Companion Pass and A-List status

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card gives you a boost toward earning Southwest's popular loyalty benefits:

  • Companion Pass: This pass lets one companion fly with you for free (except for taxes or fees) whenever you purchase or redeem points for a trip. One way to get the pass is to earn 125,000 qualifying points in a year. All points earned with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, including sign-up and anniversary bonuses, count toward the pass.

  • A-List status: This gets you priority check-in, free same-day standby if you want to fly out earlier on the day of your scheduled flight, a 25% points bonus when purchasing eligible Southwest flights, and other benefits. You can qualify for the status by earning 35,000 "tier-qualifying points" in a calendar year. Ordinarily, the only way to earn tier-qualifying points is by actually flying Southwest. But the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card gives you 1,500 of these points for every $10,000 you spend, up to 15,000 points a year.

  • A-List Preferred status: This gets you A-List perks, free in-flight Wi-Fi on equipped planes and a 100% points bonus when purchasing eligible Southwest flights (rather than just a 25% bonus). You can qualify for A-List Preferred by earning 70,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year; the tier-qualifying points you earn with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card apply to this status, too.

With both Companion Pass and A-List/A-List Preferred status, once you earn them, they're good for the rest of the calendar year and the whole next year. Read more about qualifying for these benefits.

Drawbacks to consider

first year's annual fee isn’t waived

Co-branded airline credit cards often waive the annual fee during the first year, but that’s not the case with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

No luxury benefits

The  Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the most feature-laden of the Southwest Airlines credit cards, but Southwest is still Southwest — no frills. If you want airport lounge access or credit for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee, you'll have to look elsewhere.

limited, inflxeible spending rewards

The rewards rates on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card are no better than on the lower-fee Southwest cards. With the exception of select travel spending, you're not going to earn more than 1 point per dollar. Further, as with most co-branded airline credit cards, the points you earn with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card can't be transferred to other airlines or travel partners. If you frequently fly with multiple airlines besides Southwest, you may want to consider a general travel rewards card that will offer you more redemption flexibility.

Possible alternatives

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

If you're a Southwest loyalist but aren't interested in paying such a large annual fee, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card could be an option. Its perks are less generous, but it offers the same sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, and you may find its annual fee of $69 more palatable. Be aware that the card does charge a foreign transaction fee. And while it can help you earn Rapid Rewards points, it doesn't earn tier qualifying points.

There's also a third Southwest card — the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card — that splits the difference.

Here's a look at how all three of the Southwest consumer cards compare:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Annual fee

$149

$99

$69

Rewards

2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases; 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases; 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

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.

Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Anniversary points

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

Yes

No

Foreign transaction fees

None

None

3%

APR

The ongoing APR is 15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

The ongoing APR is 15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

The ongoing APR is 15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Perhaps you like Southwest, but you want a card that offers more flexible rewards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you to transfer your rewards points to multiple hotels and airline partners — one of which happens to be Southwest. You'll earn 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar spent on travel (you'll earn a total of 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022) and dining, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. The card has an annual fee of $95, but it offers a hefty 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®.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Unless you’re strictly loyal to Southwest, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card may be a better fit for your wallet if you cherish bargains on airfare and hotels. The card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases, and you can redeem miles for statement credit against any travel purchase. The card also offers up to $100 in application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck programs. It comes with a nice bonus offer, too.

If you're interested in seeing how this credit card compares with the competition, visit NerdWallet's list of top airline cards.

Should you get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card?

If you travel frequently with Southwest, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card could earn you a pile of valuable rewards and save you some serious money. And its perks, while not as fancy as those found on other travel cards, can still make up for its annual fee.

But if you're not devoted to the airline or you have multiple options when it comes to flying, other co-branded airline credit cards can offer richer ongoing rewards structures, better perks and cheaper annual fees.

And if you're seeking more rewards flexibility, you're better off with a general travel credit card that offers more freedom in how and where you redeem your points.

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