Best airline sign-up bonus
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
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Despite the limited perks, this card packs a lot of value for fee-averse Southwest flyers.
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This card offers solid entry-level rewards and benefits for frequent flyers, though you’ll probably find more value with a higher-tier Southwest card or general-purpose travel card.
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The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card is an ideal choice for Southwest flyers looking for an entry-level Southwest Airlines credit card. Although it comes with fewer perks than Southwest’s higher-tier airline credit cards, it also charges a lower annual fee and carries the same solid welcome bonus. And while you’ll have to put up a $69 annual fee, the card’s annual benefits can easily cover the cost.
But frequent Southwest flyers can get better perks with a higher-tier Southwest card or opting for a premium general-purpose travel credit card that offers a better mix of features and flexibility. Check out our in-depth look at the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card and the best alternatives.
Comes with anniversary bonus points, which can help cover more than half of the card’s annual fee
Offers a number of features found with pricier Southwest cards, including first two checked bags for free, plus two EarlyBird Check-In® each year
Not a good fit for Southwest fans looking for upgraded boardings or a fast track to elite status
Doesn’t earn bonus miles in popular everyday spending categories like groceries, gas or dining
It carries a 3 percent foreign transaction fee, unlike sibling cards
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card currently offers 50,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within your first three months. That’s a 25,000-point drop from the card’s previous offer of 75,000 points after a $3,000 spend in your first three months.
While this bonus is much less impressive than the card’s previous offer, it also carries a lower spending requirement, which may make it easier to reach for modest spenders.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card earns Rapid Rewards points, which can be spent on Southwest Airlines bookings and products and services through the airline loyalty program. Since these points are largely tied to Southwest Airlines, they’re not as flexible or as valuable as those you’d earn with some general travel cards. But the card can still be a valuable asset to loyal Southwest flyers looking for a low-cost airline rewards card.
Every dollar you spend on purchases with Southwest Airlines will earn you 2X Rapid Rewards points. Southwest Airlines purchases include Southwest flight reservations, in-flight purchases, gift cards, vacation package purchases and bookings with the airline’s rental car and hotel partners. Points will be added to your account within 72 hours after your completed flight.
The Rapid Rewards Plus card will also earn 2X points on a variety of more common purchases: local transit and commuting (including ride-shares), internet service, cable service, phone services and select streaming services. All other eligible purchases earn 1X point.
If your priority is earning rewards, there are better alternatives. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, for example, charges a $99 annual fee but bumps your rewards rate up to 3X points on Southwest purchases. Or if you’re not loyal to Southwest, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card could be worth a look. It carries a $99 annual fee (after the $0 intro annual fee for the first year) but offers 2X miles on Delta purchases and at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worldwide (1X miles on other purchases). That rate could prove more valuable to flyers who spend more on groceries and dining than transit and other tech-related services covered by the Rapid Rewards Plus card.
For even greater flexibility and value, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It comes with one of the most valuable travel rewards programs around, giving you a chance to earn more points on travel and a broad mix of everyday purchases, including flights with all major airlines, dining and online grocery purchases.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program gives you even more chances to earn rewards. Once you register for the program, you can earn up to 3X points at participating restaurants when you pay with your Southwest Rapid Rewards card and an additional 10 points for writing a review within 30 days of visiting the participating restaurant.
Not only can you put your points toward Southwest flights to more than 90 destinations, but you can also use them for other approved products and services via the Rapid Rewards shopping portal like gift cards, cruises, car rentals, hotel stays, exclusive events and merchandise. Plus, your rewards don’t expire for the life of your account.
But there are some restrictions. Points can’t be used for special fares such as those for infant, military, government and child passengers. They also can’t be used for Southwest amenities like extra bags and carrying on pets. And if you don’t have enough points, you can’t pay the difference with cash (your entire ticket has to be paid for with points).
Based on Bankrate’s latest points and miles valuations, Rapid Rewards points are worth around 1.5 cents each on average. These points aren’t as flexible or as valuable as the points found with rewards programs offered by general travel cards, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. But compared to a majority of Airlines based in North America, Southwest points are some of the most valuable around.
|Rewards program||Bankrate value*||Estimated value of 50,000 points/miles|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||1.5 cents||$750|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||1.4 cents||$700|
|Delta SkyMiles||1.3 cents||$650|
|United Airlines MileagePlus||1.1 cents||$550|
|Rewards program||Bankrate value*||Estimated value of 50,000 points/miles|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||1.5 cents||$750|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||1.4 cents||$700|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1.2 cents||$650|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1.1 cents||$550|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1 cents||$500|
The value of Southwest points can vary based on a number of factors including when you book, demand, and your fare class and destination. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your Rapid Rewards points, you’ll need to know how to calculate the value of your points at the time of redemption. To do this, divide the cash cost of your booking by the number of points needed.
For example, if a Southwest flight from New York to Las Vegas cost $323 or 23,115 points, your points would be worth 1.4 cents ($323 / 23115 = $0.0139 or 1.4 cents). That’s pretty close to Bankrate’s 1.5-cent-per-point valuation, so it’s not a bad deal.
But if you wanted to redeem your rewards for a Spotify gift card, it would currently cost you $30 or 4,500 points, which drops the value of your points to 0.7 cents ($30 / 4500 = $0.0066). That value is so far off from what you should expect from your Southwest points that you’re better off buying a gift card with cash and saving your points for a better deal.
The value of Southwest points can vary based on a number of factors including the day, fare class, demand, destination and time.
However, The Points Guy estimates Rapid Rewards points to carry a 1.5-cent market value. To find out the point cost of your desired flight, log in to Southwest.com and enter your flight details.
Fortunately, Rapid Rewards points’ value is on the mid-to-slightly higher side of what you’d typically see from some airline reward programs — The Points Guy values Delta SkyMiles at 1.41 cents each and American AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents, for example.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card lacks a few features you can find with other airline cards that cost under $100, like travel credits and upgraded boarding privileges. But it does have a nice set of perks and can provide a lot of value, especially if Southwest is your preferred airline and you’re looking for a low-cost way to earn Rapid Rewards points.
You’ll receive a lineup of travel benefits including lost luggage reimbursement up to $3,000 per passenger and baggage delay insurance up to $100 per day for three days. Additionally, your first two checked bags fly free (size and weight limits apply), and there are no fees for flight changes.
The Rapid Rewards Plus card also provides 25 percent back on eligible in-flight purchases and two EarlyBird Check-In® boarding upgrades each year (an up to $50 value).
Although general travel cards, like the flagship Chase credit cards, may offer a better benefit portfolio, these make a pretty solid roster considering the top-shelf Southwest card only builds on this list with bonus elite status point opportunities, more boarding upgrades and a yearly travel credit.
When you use your card to buy items with eligible U.S. manufacturer’s warranties of three years or less, you may get your warranty extended for an additional year. Further, purchase protection covers your purchases for up to 120 days against theft or damage, up to $500 per event and up to $50,000 per account.
After your cardmember account anniversary each year, you’ll earn 3,000 bonus points, which equates to $45 toward flights based on a 1.5-cent point value.
This is a great deal since it nearly accounts for your entire annual fee, but the other two Southwest Rapid Rewards cards make this bonus much more valuable by at least doubling it.
This card comes with a $69 annual fee. The APR on purchases and balance transfers ranges from 20.24 percent to 27.24 percent (variable), depending on your creditworthiness, with no zero-interest offers available currently.
One major downside of the card for frequent international travelers is that if you use your card overseas, you will have to pay a 3 percent foreign transaction fee. This is a bit surprising since most travel-oriented cards — and the other premium Southwest Rapid Rewards cards — pose no foreign transaction fees.
Cash advances come with a higher APR of 29.24 percent variable, along with a fee of either $10 or 5 percent of your transaction amount, whichever is more. Balance transfers also come with a fee of $5 or 5 percent of the transaction amount, whichever is more. Additionally, if you make your payment late or have your payment returned, you can face a fee of up to $40 per instance and possibly get hit with a penalty APR of up to 29.99 percent, which you could be stuck with indefinitely. The good news is there are no fees for returned checks or going over your credit limit.
Although the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card poses a $69 annual fee, its solid rewards potential and additional benefits carry enough recurring value for many travelers to easily recoup the cost. Even if you’re limiting your travel at the moment, the sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months) could cover the annual fee multiple times over in your first year based on our points and miles valuations.
Even after the first year, your annual credits alone can make up the annual fee. Your 3,000-point anniversary bonus and two complimentary EarlyBird Check-In® boarding upgrades each year can be valued at up to $95. Recouping the $69 fee through rewards spending shouldn’t be too hard, either, since you’d only need to spend about $192 per month across your 2X bonus categories if you redeem your points at a 1.5-cent value.
|Benefits and costs||First-year value||Ongoing value (no welcome offers)|
|Welcome offers||+around a $750 value (50,000 points after spending $3,000 during the first three months, at a 1.5-cent point value)||—|
|Perks (of monetary value)||
*Based on our formula used to calculate each card’s average rewards rates and average ongoing rewards value using Bureau of Labor Statistics spending data and an assumed $15,900 annual spend.
Frequent personal finance contributor Tim Maxwell is a fan of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus—especially the value its Companion Pass perk delivers.
If you prefer Southwest Airlines over the competition, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is the perfect tool to begin earning perks with the airline. The annual fee is low, and the value of the benefits is high.
The main attraction of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. It’s the premier travel pass and the primary reason I love this card as much as I do.
— Tim Maxwell, Personal finance writer
The Southwest Companion Pass is a stellar value because it allows a selected travel companion to fly with you for virtually free (they’ll be responsible for the fees and taxes, starting at $5.60 for a one-way flight and $11.20 round-trip) an unlimited number of times until your pass expires. What makes this an even sweeter value is that, when earned, your pass is active for the remainder of the year that you earned it, plus the entirety of the next year. That means if you qualify in January, you’ll essentially have a Companion Pass for almost two years (your companion can be changed up to three times per year, for convenience).
You can qualify for the Companion Pass by earning 125,000 points from qualifying purchases (135,000 beginning in 2023) or taking 100 qualifying one-way flights. This would normally take spending $62,500 in your 2X categories across one calendar year—about $5,209 per month—but you can earn 40 percent of the points required just by qualifying for the 50,000-point sign-up bonus (after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months).
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card offers good value to budget travelers focused on earning Rapid Rewards points. But for even better value, consider a different Southwest card or a general travel rewards card.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card ($99 annual fee) is the next step up in the Southwest lineup of cards, coming in just below the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card ($149 annual fee).
Both of these cards charge higher annual fees than the entry-level Rapid Rewards Plus card, but the Premier and Priority cards offer several advantages and upgraded benefits in return. The Premier card’s doubled 6,000-point anniversary bonus more than covers the $30 annual fee increase (worth an extra $45 at a 1.5-cent point value). This and the Premier card’s bonus Tier-Qualifying Points (1,500 TQPs per $10,000 spent annually) toward Southwest elite status make a valid case for skipping the Rapid Rewards Plus in favor of the Premier.
Going one step further, it’s also reasonable to go straight for the Rapid Rewards Priority since the value of the 7,500-point anniversary bonus, the $75 annual Southwest travel credit and the four upgraded Southwest boardings per year more than cover its $149 annual fee as well. However, the Priority card is strikingly similar to the Premier outside of these extra benefits, so it’d also be reasonable to pick the Premier if you’re not as concerned about those perks.
Although it has a $95 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers excellent rewards on more purchases than travel and dining. And you can either redeem your rewards through the Ultimate Rewards portal for travel at a value of 1.25 cents per point or transfer to a different airline or hotel loyalty program, where it’s possible your points could be worth 2 cents with the right high-value transfer partner, based on Bankrate’s valuations. Add in an annual hotel night credit and a solid mix of travel protections and you have the makings of one of the best travel cards around.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card limits the rewards you can earn outside of Southwest Airlines and its bonus category purchases. To maximize your spending, consider pairing it with a cash back card with higher rewards rates in other categories for everyday spending or a flat-rate rewards card.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, lets you earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then it’s 1 percent), 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations, 3 percent back on transit and 1 percent back on everything else. But it does carry a $95 annual fee after the $0 intro annual fee for the first year.
If you’d prefer a no-annual-fee card that helps you earn more rewards on the widest variety of purchases possible without a spending limit to worry about, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card rewards you with unlimited 2 percent cash rewards on purchases.
Similarly, a card that earns boosted flat-rate rewards that you can transfer to Southwest Airlines for a potentially higher value could come in handy, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is a good option if you fly occasionally and prefer to fly with Southwest. It will help you earn boosted rewards, but if you travel frequently, one of the airline’s higher-tier cards like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card can offer more perks and a slightly better rewards rate on Southwest purchases.
But if you like to travel with various airlines in addition to Southwest, a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred will offer you more flexibility with better, less Southwest-focused rewards and benefits for the annual fee.
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