Best Southwest value card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
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While worth a solid look for some Southwest loyalists, travelers looking for more flexibility may not get as much value.
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This high-tier Southwest card remains popular among Southwest loyalists for a good reason. Its ongoing rewards are solid, its welcome offer is generous and it offers substantial travel perks. But for cardholders looking for flexibility, this card might fail to hit the mark.
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This card is an easy choice for travelers who live in a Southwest Airlines hub city. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card can help you rapidly earn rewards for free or discounted Southwest flights. You’ll pay a slightly higher $99 annual fee than with its sibling card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. But you’ll be well on your way to earning high status tiers in the Southwest Rapid Rewards loyalty program in due time.
Cardholders receive an annual loyalty bonus of 6,000 points. This bonus — valued at $90 — covers nearly 90 percent of the $99 annual fee, which should make it much more attractive to budget-conscious travelers.
Rewards aren’t capped with this card, so you won’t deal with that restriction on your earning potential.
Your points won’t expire, so banking them for a big trip should be a breeze.
Southwest doesn’t have any airline partners, so your rewards redemption options are limited.
Southwest only flies to a few international destinations.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card stands out among the best travel rewards credit cards in a few ways. To start, it currently offers one of the best sign-up bonuses out there given its relatively low cost.
For a limited time, you can earn a Southwest Companion Pass good through Feb. 28, 2024 after spending $4,000 in the first three months. You'll also get 30,000 points as part of the bonus. Taken together, these two parts of the bonus should carry a ton of value.
The Companion Pass lets you pick a friend or family member to fly with you for free (after taxes and fees) on every Southwest flight you buy with points or cash for up to two years. Normally, you need to earn at least135,000 points or take 100 qualifying one-flights in a year to qualify for the Companion Pass, so getting it for just a $4,000 spend could be a steal.
The 30,000 points also offer decent value on their own — around $450 based on Bankrate's latest airline mile valuations, which give Southwest Rapid Rewards points a value of around 1.5 cents per point.
Earning points and redeeming points is simple with this card. Along with earning points for flight awards, you can try for the Companion Pass each year if you do a lot of flying with Southwest.
Despite being a tiered rewards program, the earnings are limited. Cardholders will earn an elevated 3X points on all Southwest purchases, this includes airfare and inflight purchases. The card also earns 2X points on internet, cable, phone, select streaming services, local transit and commuting, and Southwest hotel and car partners. On everything else, the card earns 1X points.
The good news is that your earnings aren’t capped by a spending limit. You’ll earn at least 1X points on every purchase.
You can redeem your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier points for hotel stays, car rentals, experiences, gift cards and more through the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal — though you’ll get the most value from redeeming them for Southwest flights. There are three ways to redeem your points for airfare: Wanna Get away tickets, Business Select tickets and Anytime tickets.
You’ll need at least 35,000 Tier-Qualifying Points or 25 one-way flights per calendar year to qualify for Southwest’s A-List status — which comes with perks like priority boarding, a 25 percent points bonus on each flight and no charge for same-day standby flights. Luckily, the Premier card gets you a small head start toward Southwest elite status with a bonus 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent with the card.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card makes an excellent international traveling companion, since it charges no foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad. However, Southwest’s international destination options are relatively limited, and most Southwest flights abroad land in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
The generous 6,000-point anniversary bonus goes a long way toward helping travelers reduce the cost of owning this card. You’ll receive this 6,000-point bonus (valued at around $90) every year you hold your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. The bonus comes at no extra cost to you.
Though the annual fee is pretty standard for this type of card, cardholders should be pleased with how easily they can offset the $99 annual fee. The 6,000-point anniversary bonus valued at around $90 covers nearly the entire cost of the annual fee on its own. Thankfully, outside of the annual fee and the balance transfer fee ($5 or 5 percent of the transaction, whichever is greater), the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is light on fees. The 20.24 percent to 27.24 percent variable APR is middle-of-the-road compared to other travel cards, but be sure to pay your balance in full each month to avoid paying interest.
Southwest — both the airline and its co-branded credit cards — have a loyal customer base. With the right planning, travelers can get a lot from this budget airline and its loyalty program. But are Southwest credit cards — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card or its siblings — right for you, or are you better off with a more general travel credit card? The answer depends on what you want out of your card.
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The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card has many of the same benefits as its sibling card with a lower annual fee. You’ll get the same welcome bonus, and all points earned count toward a Companion Pass. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus does offer a slightly lower rewards rate of 2X points on Southwest purchases. But the other 2X categories are similar: local transit and commuting, internet, cable, phone, select streaming, and Southwest hotel and car rental partners.
The Rapid Rewards Plus card also makes for a less appealing international travel companion, as it charges a 3 percent foreign transaction fee. But if your travel plans only include domestic travel, the lower $69 annual fee may put the Rapid Reward Premier card behind in the race to your wallet.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a flat-rate travel card that helps cardholders earn miles and redeem them through its travel partners. It offers much more flexible redemption options than its counterpart, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. Bankrate values the Capital One Venture card’s welcome bonus of 75,000 miles at roughly $750 when redeemed through the Capital One Travel portal. The value of the miles can increase to an estimated $1,500 if redeemed with a high-value Capital One travel partner. That said, the Venture bonus does have a hefty spending requirement of $4,000 within three months of account opening.
If you redeem your points on Southwest flights for as much value as possible, the Rapid Rewards Premier card is a no-brainer. On the other hand, if being able to redeem your miles with as much flexibility as possible on multiple airlines, the Capital One Venture Rewards card is a better bet.
Because Southwest doesn’t have any airline transfer partners, Rapid Premier cardholders are limited in how they can redeem their points. Alternatively, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can transfer points at a 1:1 rate to many hotel and airline partners. If you enjoy flying Southwest but require flexibility in your travel plans, the Sapphire Preferred is a good choice for pairing. Sapphire Preferred cardholders also get a 25 percent boost in points when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is definitely worth it for travelers who prefer to fly Southwest. The card’s welcome offer and ongoing rewards are a good bet for anyone working towards earning free or discounted travel on Southwest airlines. However, your options to redeem are limited. Points become less valuable when transferred to Southwest hotel and rental car partners, and your options for redeeming on airfare are limited to Southwest flights only. Travelers who value flexibility should look elsewhere.
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