5 Southwest Credit Card Offers That Could Help You Fly for Free
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If you frequent the cabins of customer-friendly Southwest Airlines, a Chase Southwest rewards card could help you relax and save money. Earn extra points on your trips, and exchange them for free flights.
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In a world of complaint-ridden airlines, Southwest Airlines stands apart. Its customers — and its employees — are some of the happiest among the bunch.
It’s understandable why you’d be curious about Southwest’s Rapid Rewards credit card offers.
Southwest has five card options, including two business cards and the new Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (Review). This recently-released premium card hopes to compete with other top travel rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review).
With any rewards card, your goal is to earn points with your regular spending, which you can later cash in for flights. But which of the Southwest credit card offers is right for you? Here’s what you need to know about these cards — and how to choose one.
A Side-by-Side Comparison of Southwest Credit Card Offers
With five cards on the market, it can be tough to decide which Southwest credit card offer to choose.
Below, we’ve broken down the details of these cards, so you can see which one might work for you.
|Annual fee||Foreign transaction fees||APR||Earns tier qualifying points?|
|Priority Credit Card||$149||0%||15.99% - 22.99% Variable||Yes|
|Premier Credit Card||$99||0%||15.99% - 22.99% Variable||Yes|
|Plus Credit Card||$69||3%||15.99% - 22.99% Variable||No|
|Premier Business Card||$99||0%||15.99% - 22.99% Variable||Yes|
|Performance Business Card||$199||0%||15.99% - 22.99% Variable||Yes|
|Introductory bonus||Rewards||Anniversary points bonus|
|Priority Credit Card||40,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months; 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year||2X points/dollar on Southwest and hotel and car rental partners; 1X point/dollar on everything else||7,500|
|Premier Credit Card||40,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months; 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year||2X points/dollar on Southwest and hotel and car rental partners; 1X point/dollar on everything else||6,000|
|Plus Credit Card||40,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months; 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year||2X points/dollar on Southwest and hotel and car rental partners; 1X point/dollar on everything else||3,000|
|Premier Business Card||60,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months||2X points/dollar on Southwest and hotel and car rental partners; 1X point/dollar on everything else||6,000|
|Performance Business Card
||80,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months||3X points/dollar on Southwest and hotel and car rental partners; 2X points/dollar on select business expenses; 1X point/dollar on everything else||9,000|
The Priority Card comes with additional perks like:
- Four upgraded boarding passes
- $75 annual Southwest travel credit
- 20% back on in-flight purchases
And the Performance Business Card comes with:
- Four upgraded boarding passes
- A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- 365 $8 WiFi credits per year
Why Choose Southwest Credit Card Offers?
If you’ve ever flown Southwest Airlines, you know it does things a bit differently than the big guys.
It’s known for its quirky, “luv”-filled approach to flying. The company also shares profits with its employees (which might be why they’re so pleasant).
Southwest’s route map includes flights all over the continental United States, Central America, and the Caribbean.
In addition to its killer rewards program, which we’ll explain below, people also love Southwest because it doesn’t charge exorbitant fees. Even its mid-tier card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (Review), has credits to offset the cost and make it quite affordable.
Unlike the other airlines, which charge ticket change fees between $75 and $200, Southwest allows you to change or cancel your flight for free. Since the airline frequently runs fare sales, this means that, if you find a lower price, you can rebook your flight with no penalty.
Southwest also lets you check two bags for free.
Since its route map is more limited than the major airlines, be sure to check it before applying for one of the cards. If your home airport doesn’t have a lot of Southwest departures, a Southwest card probably isn’t your best option. Consider these other airline credit cards, or try a broad travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review).
How Does Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Program Work?
The biggest reason to become a Southwest cardholder is because you’ll earn more points on your Southwest purchases with the airline’s loyalty program, Rapid Rewards.
Like most frequent flyer programs, you can redeem Rapid Rewards points for car rentals, gift cards, or merchandise.
But the most valuable redemption is for flights. Southwest bases redemption rates on factors like distance traveled, demand, date, and fare type.
When we searched for upcoming flights from New York to Orlando, here are some one-way fares we found.
As you can see, the more points you’re willing to part with, the better fare class you’ll get. One of the best things about Southwest’s awards redemptions is the lack of blackout dates. As long as there’s a seat available, you can book it using Rapid Rewards points.
The airline’s other famous perk is its companion pass, which lets someone accompany you for free on all Southwest flights for up to two years. (Since that perk deserves its own section, we’ll dive into it below.)
Accruing Southwest Rapid Rewards points can also help you achieve elite status with the airline. Here are the two different levels:
To achieve A-List status, you must either take 25 one-way flights or earn 35,000 “tier qualifying points” (which are different than regular Rapid Rewards points). When you do, here’s what you’ll get:
- Priority boarding, check-in, and security lane access
- 25% earning bonus on each flight
- Free same-day standby
Priority boarding is particularly nice on Southwest flights, as seats aren’t assigned beforehand. If you don’t have elite status and don’t pay for premium access, your boarding position will be based on how early you check in for your flight.
To achieve A-List Preferred status, you must either take 50 one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points. When you do, you’ll get all the perks of A-List, plus:
- 100% earning bonus on each flight
- Free in-flight WiFi
Note that regular spending on your Southwest credit cards won’t be nearly enough to reach elite status. While four of the five Southwest credit cards earn tier qualifying points, it doesn’t amount to much: You’ll get 1,500 points for every $10,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 15,000 tier qualifying points per card.
In other words? Don’t count on your credit cards to help you achieve elite status; you’ll need to take Southwest flights to do that.
How Much Are Southwest Rapid Rewards Points Worth?
As is the case with many credit card and travel rewards programs, Rapid Rewards points don’t have a set value. Southwest itself mentions that redemption value can be impacted by “destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare type, point redemption rate, and other factors.” So the valuation of your points will likely vary between one redemption and the next, though with Southwest these fluctuations don’t tend to be terribly significant.
Take this round trip fare between LaGuardia and LAX, leaving May 6, 2020 and returning May 10, 2020, for example.
Each Wanna Get Away fare provides a point value of around 1.6 cents.
Both Anytime and Business Select fares provide a value closer to 1.4 cents per point, which is still decent.
Next, here’s a different trip at a different time of year involving less prominent airports, from Buffalo to New Orleans and back. It leaves February 8, 2020 and returns February 15, 2020.
A Wanna Get Away redemption offers a point valuation of around 1.5 cents, a bit less than the fare we explored above.
Step things up to either Anytime or Business Select, and once again, your points are worth just over 1.4 cents per point.
Remember that prices can change by the day until the trips actually take place, so if you’re intent on getting the value you see when researching a flight, you may want to redeem for it right then and there.
Which Southwest Credit Card Gets You a Companion Pass?
Ah, the Southwest companion pass. Once you earn it, one companion will be able to fly free on all your Southwest flights until the end of the following year.
To get a companion pass, you’ll need to take 100 one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
For most of us, the second option is more feasible.
You could earn it by getting approved for two Southwest credit card offers, then snagging the signup bonuses for each. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (Review) and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card are good picks.
You can’t hold more than one Southwest consumer card, so you’d need to apply for one of the regular Southwest cards, plus a business card. (Think you don’t qualify for a business card? Think again.)
Here’s one way it could work, with some sample bonus offers (you can see the current offers above):
- Apply for a personal card, spend $2,000 in three months, earn 65,000 bonus points.
- Apply for the Performance business card, spend $5,000 in three months, earn 70,000 bonus points.
- You now have at least 142,000 points (135,000 signup bonus points and at least 7,000 points from meeting the minimum spend).
Tada! More than 125,000 points in just a few months. Not only can you redeem them for Southwest flights, you’ll also be able to take a companion with you on every one.
Once you earn the companion pass, it’s good through the end of the following year. So if you earn it in November 2020, it’ll be good through December 2021 (13 months). But if you earn it in March 2020, it’ll be good through December 2021 (21 months). So it’s wise to earn the companion pass as early as possible in the calendar year.
How to Qualify for Southwest Credit Card Offers
All of the Southwest credit card offers are designed for people with good credit scores — probably somewhere around a FICO Score 8 of 700. But keep in mind that credit card issuers base approvals on more than just your scores, so there’s no magic number to aim for.
Not sure if you’d qualify? The first step is to check your credit scores and reports. Then, since Chase issues the Southwest cards, hop onto the bank’s website to see if you have any pre-qualified offers available.
While you could still get approved without a pre-qualified offer, it’s important to first make sure your credit scores are in the right range. (That’s because every credit card application dings your scores a little bit.)
If they’re not there yet, read this post about how to improve your credit scores.
Chase is notorious for its “5/24 rule.” If you’ve been approved for five credit cards in the past 24 months, it’ll deny your application — no matter how good your credit is. So keep careful track of how many cards you’ve opened, and if two Southwest cards will put you over the limit, wait until you’ve surpassed that 24-month mark.
How to Choose the Southwest Credit Card Offer for You
Deciding which Southwest credit card offer is right for you is a personal decision.
You’ll need to assess the annual fees, perks, and intro bonuses to see which one makes the most sense. Take note they all provide 2X points for Southwest and Rapid Rewards partner purchases.
- Its annual fee ($149) is offset by the $75 statement credit for Southwest flights. If you take that into account, its annual fee is only $5 more than the Plus card’s $69.
- It comes with four upgraded boarding passes, 20% off in-flight purchases, and a 7,500-point account anniversary bonus. (That’s at least $75 in value, more than double the Plus card.)
- For big spenders, it also offers additional perks: For every $10,000 you spend, you’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points toward preferred status.
And, if none of the Southwest credit cards feel right, then consider whether a different airline card might be a better fit for your travel habits. Or, check out some of the other best credit cards on the market.
Susan is a freelance writer who specializes in turning complex financial topics into engaging and accessible articles. She's been writing about personal finance for six years, and was previously the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Her personal finance writing has also appeared in publications like MarketWatch and Lifehacker.
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