Southwest Credit Cards: Everything You Need to Know

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Southwest credit cards are among the most popular credit cards to have in your wallet. They may not offer bonus points for dining or free lounge access, but they can provide an easy path to one of the best benefits in the airline industry—the Southwest Companion Pass. In this article, we’ll review everything you need to know about Southwest credit cards and the Southwest Rapid Rewards loyalty program.

This article will cover:

Top 3 Reasons to Consider Southwest Credit Cards and Rewards

Southwest Airlines is truly the people’s choice when picking an airline. In fact, Southwest Airlines has won the Program of the Year award at Freddie Awards three years in a row (2016-2018).

But why do people love (or is it “LUV”?) Southwest Airlines so much?

1. No Black Out Dates On Award Flights
When you want to redeem your Southwest Rapid Rewards points, if there is an available seat on the flight, you can use your points to book the reservation. And now that Southwest is flying to international destinations, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean, their points can be spent booking even more of your vacation plans. With the introduction of more fuel-efficient 737 MAX planes, Southwest will soon start flying to Hawaii as well.

2. No Fees for Changes and Cancellations
With Southwest, there is never a fee to change or cancel a flight. This holds true whether you used cash or points to make the reservation. You can literally change or cancel your flight right before you are supposed to board the plane and receive a refund or credit for a future flight.

Southwest offers flight sales on a regular basis. And with no cancellation or change fees, you can save a ton of money by rebooking your flight if you find a cheaper fare. When changing a ticket, if your preferred flight does cost more, just pay the difference to complete your reservation.

3. Earn Elite Status Through Southwest Credit Card Spend
The Southwest credit cards offer you two ways to earn elite status with the airline.
With the Chase Southwest Airlines Premier credit card, you can earn up to 15,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs) towards A-List and A-List Preferred elite status.

You can also earn the Southwest Companion Pass through credit card bonuses and spending on the Southwest Visa cards. To receive the pass, you’ll need 110,000 qualifying points earned through flying, credit card sign-up bonuses or spending on the card.

Credit Cards That Earn Southwest Rapid Rewards Points

Southwest credit cards offer by Chase come in three flavors. Two of these credit cards are for consumers and the other is designed for businesses. Each of the Southwest Airlines credit cards has an annual fee that ranges from $69 to $99 per year.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Cards

With all three of the Southwest Visa cards, the bonus and spend will count towards earning the Southwest Companion Pass. Let’s review each card’s perks.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% to 24.49% Variable±
Annual Fee
$69
Rewards Program
Rapid Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 2x Points on Southwest Purchases, Car Rental and Hotels
  • 1x Points on Dining
  • 1x Points on Gas
  • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
  • 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
17.74% to 24.74% Variable±
Annual Fee
$99
Rewards Program
Rapid Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 2x Points on Southwest Purchases, Car Rental and Hotels
  • 1x Points on Dining
  • 1x Points on Gas
  • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
  • 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% to 24.49% Variable±
Annual Fee
$99
Rewards Program
Rapid Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 2x Points on Southwest Purchases, Car Rental and Hotels
  • 1x Points on Dining
  • 1x Points on Gas
  • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
  • 60,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
Show More Details
Hide Details

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit card offers 3,000 anniversary points when you pay the $69 annual fee. With points valued at ~1.57 cents, these points are worth about $47.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa card has a higher annual fee at $99, but the benefits are better. Not only will you earn 6,000 points annually (double the Plus card for $30 more), but there are no foreign transaction fees. And you can earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points towards A-List elite status for every $10,000 that you spend. The annual points earned are worth ~$94 at $0.0157 per point.

Businesses that apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card will experience all of the same benefits as the personal version of the Premier card for the same $99 annual fee. The only benefit that is missing is the 1,500 TQPs per $10,000 spent.

Get 100,000 Southwest Bonus Points

Bonus offers on the Southwest credit cards will range from 25,000 to 60,000 points. 50,000-point offers tend to pop up a few times a year, and 60,000 points is the highest bonus from Southwest that we’ve seen offered.

40,000 on the personal cards is on the low side historically, but it is worth applying for Southwest credit cards now if you can pair the personal version with the 60,000-point offer on the Southwest Premier Business card because that’s an average of 50,000 points per card.

4000 southwest bonus offer from southwest
image via southwest.com

When you combine the bonus offers of the personal and business cards, it is fairly easy to reach the 110,000 qualifying points necessary to earn the Companion Pass. Southwest Rapid Rewards points are valued at ~1.57 cents each when flying Wanna Get Away fares, so those 110,000 points can be worth over $1,700 in travel (110,000 * $0.0157). And since your companion flies for free with you, the value of your points are double, meaning you will actually get $3,400 in travel for you and your companion for less than $200 in annual fees. That’s quite the deal!

Southwest Credit Card Benefits

Both of the personal versions of the Southwest credit card offer similar benefits:

  • Each will earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest and their preferred hotel and car rental partners and 1 point at all other merchants.
  • Sign-up bonuses have traditionally been the same for each card.
  • The APR charged for carrying a balance is the same, but we all know that the benefits of miles and points are not worth carrying a balance and paying interest to the banks.

Approval Rules That Apply

You can get approved for both a personal and a business version of the Southwest Visa card, but recent rule changes by Chase prevent you from being approved for a second personal card if you already have the personal version of the card.

Both personal versions of the Southwest Visa cards are subject to the Chase 5/24 Rule. And you can only receive the sign-up bonus if it has been more than 24 months since you last received the sign-up bonus.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Credit Cards: Earn 130,000 More Points

The credit cards from Chase that earn Ultimate Rewards are another popular method of earning Southwest points. When you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink, you can transfer points from Ultimate Rewards to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.

With the current sign-up bonuses, you could get a 130,000 UR points with just the Sapphire Preferred and Ink cards since the Sapphire offers a 50,000-point bonus and Ink offers 80,000. Plus, you can earn even more by combining those cards with a Chase Freedom card. We’ve covered that strategy here.

Point transfers to Southwest can be a valuable way to spend your Ultimate Rewards points, but keep in mind that these are not qualifying points and they do not count towards earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

How to get 243,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points in 4 Months

You can earn a lot of Southwest points in a short period of time if you plan it out right. You will need to have excellent credit since you’ll have to get several credit cards to pull off this strategy. It could be worth it in the end, though, since you’ll end up with a total of 243,000 points worth nearly $4,000 in flights!

STEP 1

First Month: Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Spend $4,000 dollars during this month and you’ll end up with at least 54,000 points since you’ll get an 50,000-point bonus and at least 4,000 points for meeting the minimum spend.

STEP 2

Second Month: Apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card and spend $5,000 on it during this month. You’ll get a 80,000-point bonus plus at least 5,000 points for reaching the minimum spend.

STEP 3

Third Month: Apply for either the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus or Premier card, spend $1,000 during the month and earn 41,000 points (40,000 bonus + 1,000 in spending to earn it).

STEP 4

Fourth Month: Apply for the Southwest Business Premier card and meet the $3,000 minimum spend. That will score you at least 63,000 points (60,000 bonus + 3,000 in spending).

STEP 5

Transfer the 139,000 Ultimate Rewards points you earned with the Sapphire and Ink cards to your Rapid Rewards account.
After just four months, then, you’ll end up with a total of at least 243,000 Southwest points after the UR points transfer. As an added bonus, only the two personal cards count toward Chase’s 5/24 rule.

Pros and Cons Of Southwest Rapid Rewards

Southwest’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program is straightforward and focused on keeping it simple for travelers. You can redeem points on any flight with an available seat without worrying about paying extra fees.

Redeeming Southwest Points for Flights

Rapid Rewards is a revenue-based system, which means that the amount of points required to purchase a ticket will increase based on the price of the ticket. Ticket prices may vary based on the type of ticket purchased, destination, time, day of travel and demand:

  • Wanna Get Away (14+ day advance purchase): ~60-70 points per $1
  • Anytime: ~70-80 points per $1
  • Business Select (priority boarding and free drink): ~70-80 points per $1

The ratio of points per $1 used to be fixed, but Southwest now allows the rates to float based upon demand and other factors described above. Southwest recently instituted a price increase for Wanna Get Away Fares, while reducing the rates charged for Anytime and Business Select point redemptions.

When you redeem Southwest points for flights, you will pay taxes and fees that start at $5.60 each way for domestic flights. International flights may be more, depending upon the taxes levied by the local airport and government.

Do They Charge Extra Fees?

Southwest Airlines has grown into one of the leading airlines by offering a quality in-flight experience at a reasonable cost without charging travelers tons of fees.

When you fly on Southwest, your first two bags are free. And if your plans change, you can change or cancel your reservation without a fee.

A-List and A-List Preferred

A-List and A-List Preferred are earned when you hit 35,000 and 70,000 tier qualifying points, respectively.
When you earn A-List status with 25 one-way flights or 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points, you’ll receive:

  • Priority Boarding
  • Priority Check-In and Security Lane Access
  • 25% Earning Bonus on each flight
  • Free same-day standby

A-List Preferred offers the same benefits, plus a few more, once you achieve 50 one-way flights or 70,000 Tier Qualifying Points within a calendar year. The additional benefits are:

  • 100% Earning Bonus on each flight
  • Free in-flight wi-fi

Tier Qualifying Points are primarily earned through flying, but the Premier personal card awards 1,500 qualifying points towards elite status for every $10,000 you spend in a calendar year. You can earn a maximum of 15,000 TQPs towards A-List or A-List Preferred elite status by spending at least $100,000.

What About the Negatives?

There are also some quirks about Southwest Airlines that you need to keep in mind.

The boarding process can take some getting used to if you’ve never flown Southwest before. They group everyone into six buckets of 30 people: A 1-30, A 31-60, B 1-30, B 31-60, C 1-30 and C 31-60.

There are no assigned seats and you board by order of the number assigned at check-in. Your boarding number is assigned based on the class of ticket you purchased, how far in advance that you bought your ticket, when you check into your flight, and if you paid for priority boarding.

Southwest Companion Pass: The Best Airline Benefit

The Southwest Companion Pass is unique among airlines. Single-use companion tickets are offered by some airlines, like Alaska. However, the Southwest Companion Pass can be used over and over again.

If you flew exclusively using your pass, you would effectively double the value of your Southwest points. This would make Southwest Rapid Rewards points worth well over three cents per dollar.

And you aren’t limited to just one person as your designated companion. You can change your companion pass holder up to three times per calendar year without a fee. Simply call the Southwest Airlines customer service number and the change is immediate.

How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is earned by flying 100 one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.

The fastest way to earn the pass is to apply for two cards—one personal and one business version of the Southwest credit card. The current sign-up bonuses for the Southwest credit cards are 40,000 for the personal version and 60,000 for the business card.

Once you meet the minimum spends required to earn the bonus, simply pay for a couple of flights, spend a little more on the Southwest credit card or earn qualifying points through a Southwest partner (including their shopping portal and dining rewards program, as well as their car rental and hotel partners) to meet the 110,000 points necessary to earn the pass.

Now that you have 110,000 points, you don’t actually redeem them for the pass. Those are yours to keep and can be spent on Southwest flights! Meeting the 110,000 points is all that is required to earn your Companion Pass.

Hotel Transfers No Longer Count

One of the most popular ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass was to purchase a Flight and Hotel Package from Marriott. With these packages, for 270,000 Marriott points, you would receive a one-week stay in a Category 1-5 Marriott property and 120,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points. This is enough to qualify for the Southwest Pass without every flying one flight or spending one dollar on the Southwest credit card.

You can still purchase Flight and Hotel Packages from Marriott and receive the one-week stay and Southwest points, but these transferred points no longer count toward the Companion Pass effective March 2017.

The Best Time to Apply for a Southwest Visa Card

Once you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, it is valid from the date you earned it through the end of the following year. For example, if you earn the pass in February 2018, it will be good through December 31, 2019. However, you will have the same expiration date if you earn the Companion Pass in November 2018.

Because of these rules, you want to earn the Southwest Companion Pass as early in the year as possible. For most people, the best time to apply for the Southwest credit card is in January so that your sign-up bonus will post by April. This approach would give you 21 months to use the pass for free flights.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Partners

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Partners
Image via southwest.com

Like most airlines, Southwest partners with travel-related businesses to offer travelers a way to earn additional Rapid Rewards points even when they’re not flying.

One of the most convenient ways to earn Southwest points is to book your rental car and hotel while you’re making your flight reservations. You’ll earn points towards qualifying for the Companion Pass and often receive a discount for making all of your travel reservations through the Southwest website.

You can also earn Southwest points for registering your credit cards (even non-Southwest co-branded cards) with Dining Rewards and eating out at participating restaurants. Unfortunately, Dining Rewards points don’t count towards A-List or Companion Pass status, but these points can be used for flights where you are using A-List benefits or booking your companion’s ticket using the Companion Pass.

Shopping on the Southwest Airlines shopping portal earns points that count towards the Companion Pass and can be used for free flights. Keep in mind that only “base” points count towards the pass and bonus points can be used for making flight reservations.

With all of the Southwest partners, you should be using your Southwest credit card to earn even more Southwest Rapid Reward points. Remember that Southwest flights and reservations with partner hotels and car rental agencies earn 2x points.

Where Can You Fly With Southwest Airlines?

Southwest Airlines flies throughout the continental United States. Although Southwest started out as a regional airline, it carried the most passengers of any domestic airline in 2014.

With the acquisition of AirTran, Southwest expanded into international travel to Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean. Recently, they have added flights to Cuba and Turks & Caicos to fill out their map.

Hawaii has long been rumored as a potential destination for Southwest Airlines. With the introduction of the fuel-efficient 737 MAX planes, Southwest can now make the flight across the Pacific and they’re awaiting final FAA approval to start flying to Hawaii in late 2018 or early 2019.

It is forecasted that Southwest will continue to expand into Central America, the Caribbean, Canada and the northern countries of South America to meet consumer demand. When that happens, the earning power of the Southwest credit card and the Companion Pass will become that much more valuable to travelers that enjoy the value that Southwest brings to their travel budget.

Conclusion

A lot of credit cards try to dazzle you with a lot of perks and benefits that sound good, but you never get around the using. The Southwest credit cards are very much like the airline they represent—they do few things, and do them extremely well.

If you are OK with flying in Economy on Southwest Airlines and can use the Companion Pass a few times, you will be well-served to get the personal and business versions of the Southwest credit card to earn the Companion Pass. With the 110,000 points necessary to earn the Companion Pass, that is worth over $3,400 in combined travel for you and your companion.