Southwest Credit Cards Comparison: Plus, Premier And Priority

Chase offer a range of co-branded Southwest Airlines credit cards – including the personal Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus, Premier & Priority cards. With these cards all having a seemingly very similar offering, which should you choose? The three cards do in fact all have their differences and advantages! This article explores the three cards, looks at their costs and rewards and advises who can make the most out of each.

Capital One Southwest Rapid Rewards card
Capital One Southwest Rapid Rewards card. Image: Simple Flying

Three cards – many similarities!

Let’s start with what is the same between the cards. Whilst the three cards have different annual fees and airline benefits, there is much the same between them.

They all offer the same ongoing APR of between 18.24 per cent and 25.24 per cent. No card offers a discount or introductory zero per cent APR offer.

Chase and Southwest
Image: Chase

Same sign up bonus with each card

You often expect to see a higher sign up bonus when you pay more for a credit card. This is not the case with these Southwest cards. The three cards  – Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card & Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card all earn the same sign up bonus of 40,000 points after spending of just $1,000 in the first three months.

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Used for Southwest fares, these points could be worth more than $600 in our experience. This is an excellent bonus for such a low spending target and a real appeal of these cards!

Southwest Rapid Rewards card sign up bonus
Earn the same sign up bonus with all three personal Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. Image: Chase

Earn the same rewards with all cards

It’s not just the sign up bonus that is the same across the three cards – the ongoing reward earning rate is as well. All cards earn points in the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, at the following rates:

  • Two points per dollar for all spending with Southwest Airlines (including Southwest Vacations packages)
  • Two points per dollar with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • One point per dollar on all other spending

Whist the spending based earning is the same for each card, there is annual points bonus which is different for each card.

Points earning with the Priority card
Top points earning with the Rapid Rewards Priority card. Image: Chase

Points count towards Companion Pass earning

All points earned through card spending – and from the sign on bonus – with all cards count towards the points required for the Southwest Companion Pass. This is an important feature of these cards if you are aiming for this pass. If you transfer points from another scheme (such as Chase Ultimate Rewards) into the Rapid Rewards program, these will not count towards the Companion Pass limit.

The Companion Pass is a popular benefit with Southwest. It allows a designated companion to fly with you for free when you book one cash or rewards ticket (the extra ticket just charges taxes and fees). You can even change your designated companion three times per year! If you will make good use of this, the Companion Pass is a very valuable benefit – and certainly a leading reason to get these cards!

Southwest Companion Pass
Miles earned form the cards count towards the Southwest Companion Pass requirement. Image: Chase

The pass is awarded when you earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points within one year (and will be valid for the remainder of that year and the whole next year). To understand more about the Companion Pass, and the Rapid Rewards program take a look at our guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards.

Spending Southwest Rapid Rewards points

All cards offer the same opportunities for spending Southwest Rapid Rewards points. There are plenty of ways to spend points within the program – with the best value normally being to use them for Southwest domestic or international flights. For more, see our guide to the best ways to spend Rapid Reward points.

In summary the main options include:

  • Spend points on discount ‘Wanna Get Away’ fares. These are the lowest fares offered by Southwest. Whilst they don’t offer much flexibility and it can be hard to find availability, they are a great deal. All flights are priced in points based on the available revenue fares. You will get value of around 1.7 cents per points with these discount fares.
Southwest livery
For best value use of Rapid Rewards points, look at options for redeeming for Southwest flights. Photo: Southwest
  • Use points for ‘Anytime’ fares. These are priced higher, but will typically have greater availability. Value here is around 1.1 cents per point.
  • Use for flights with partner airlines. Southwest offers reward booking on international routes with over 50 airlines. This is great way to expand your options, but in our experience value obtained tends to be lower at around 0.8 cents per point.
  • Points can also be used for car hire, hotel stays and shopping through Southwest booking portals. These are good options if you really can’t use for flights, but the value obtained will be lower again.

Card differences – Annual fee

So with all these similarities in points earning and redeeming, and sign up bonus rates, how do you decide between them? There are plenty of differences in card benefits – both with Southwest and elsewhere – as well as what you pay for the card.

The annual fees for each card are:

Rapid Rewards Priority card
Higher annual fee but more benefits with the Rapid Rewards Priority card. Image: Simple Flying

Range of anniversary points bonuses

And whilst points earning for card spending is the same, each card offers a different Rapid Rewards points bonus each anniversary year of card ownership.

Each card will award the following bonus each year:

No foreign transaction fees – only with the Premier and Priority cards

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and theSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card  offer no transaction fees on foreign exchange when you spend overseas, or online in foreign currency (not ATM withdrawals). This is essential in our opinion for anyone who travels regularly.

Unfortunately, the lower cost Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card applies a fee of three per cent to all foreign exchange transactions. This can really add up when you spend overseas! We would not recommend this card for anyone planning significant overseas use.

London Westminster view
No foreign exchange fees when you travel – but only with the Premier and Priority cards. Photo: User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA-4.0

Earn tier qualifying points with the Premier and Priority cards

Elite status with Southwest is earned though ‘tier qualifying points.’ These are earned separately from Rapid Rewards points, mainly from flights. You can pick up some extra tier qualifying points with spend on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. The basic Plus card does not offer any tier qualifying points.

You will earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 in card purchases per year (up to a total of 15,000 points). Whilst it is great to get a boost towards higher status, this is not very significant unless you have very high card spend. To reach just the lowest elite level of A-List requires 35,000 tier qualifying points. So just 1,500 bonus from card spending will not go very far! As these are personal cards, not business ones, it’s disappointing to see such high levels.

Rapid Rewards status
Elevate your status with Southwest with tier qualifying points for high card spend. Image: Chase

Southwest travel credit and benefits with the Priority card

One of the biggest differences with the cards is with travel benefits when flying with Southwest.

The Plus and Premier cards offer very limited extra benefits. You will, of course, earn double points with airline purchases, and your spending will help reach the target for the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. But there are few extra benefits when you fly.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card on the other hand comes with a range of extra flight and ‘on the day’ benefits with Southwest. These include:

  • A $75 annual travel credit. This can be used towards any flight purchases with Southwest (not for upgrades or inflight purchases, however). This is offered each account anniversary year.
  • A 20% rebate on any inflight purchases – including drinks, entertainment and Wi-Fi (paid using the card). This is made as a rebate to the card, and there is no limit to how many times it can be used.
  • Up to four free upgrades each year. These are on the day ‘Upgraded Boardings,’ and are subject to availability. You will receive a rebate to the card for payment for up to four of these per account year.
Rapid Rewards Priority card travel benefits
Enjoy extra travel benefits with the Rapid Rewards Priority card. Image: Chase

This is a great set of benefits and worth a lot for the Southwest frequent traveler. The $75 travel credit alone effectively reduces the annual fee for the Premier card to just $74. Any regular Southwest flyer should have no problem using this credit in full. The value of the other benefits depends on how much you fly and make use of them, but again for a regular traveler, these could be worth a lot!

Final thoughts

With the same earnings bonus and ongoing Southwest Rapid Rewards points earning rate, the choice of card really comes down to the fee paid versus the benefits you will get with Southwest.

For a frequent flyer with Southwest the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card really stands out. The $149 annual fee is effectively reduced to $74 with the travel credit. And the extra in-flight benefits and upgrade rebates should offer more value for any regular Southwest flyer! The higher anniversary points bonus seals the deal and makes this the best value option for the regular Southwest customer in our opinion.

Southwest Rapid Rewards card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card – with benefits worth the fee for the Southwest frequent flyer. Image: Simple Flying

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is an alternative option for those unsure how much they will use Southwest each year. The additional points bonus, tier qualifying points and zero foreign exchange fees make it a better choice for not much more than the Plus card. But if you know you will spend enough each year to use the extra benefits with Southwest, then the Priority card is a much better choice!

Southwest Rapid Rewards card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card – intermediate option, but perhaps limited appeal. Image: Simple Flying

And the lowest cost Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card really only works for those who want to avoid higher upfront fees and aren’t interested in elite status earning or inflight benefits with Southwest. This still has the great benefit of points earning contributing to requirements for the Southwest Companion Pass though! Also, remember that this card charges a fee for purchases overseas. We really wouldn’t advise getting this card if you plan to use it overseas.

Southwest Rapid Rewards card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card – a basic card with the opportunity to earn Rapid Rewards points. Image: Simple Flying
Other Chase options

Do bear in mind that you don’t have to get a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card in order to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards! Any other Chase card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points will allow points transfer to Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 rate.

Other cards, however, will not offer direct benefits or status boost with Southwest, nor will points help towards earning a Southwest Companion Pass. If these are not of so much interest there are other great Chase cards worth considering. For general travel benefits and rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and are a couple of our favorite options. See our reviews for more details!

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