The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is a travel rewards credit card with a $99 annual fee. Its airline rewards program is built around Rapid Rewards, Southwest Airlines’ frequent flyer program, and is extremely attractive for active Southwest Airlines flyers who use this card as their primary plastic spending aid.
As a cardholder, you earn 2 Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent on all Southwest Airlines purchases, as well as purchases with select hotels (such as Club Carlson) and rental car (such as Hertz) companies. You earn 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Accumulated points are good for Southwest Airlines airfare redemptions, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. A very good sign-up bonus and some powerful frequent-traveler benefits make this a worthwhile card for regular fliers with easy access to a Southwest Airlines airport – even if you’re not yet a Southwest convert.
- Sign-up Bonus: If you spend more than $1,000 within three months of opening your account, you get 40,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points. Depending on the dollar cost of the flight for which it’s redeemed, this is reliably worth $400, and sometimes much more.
- Rewards & Redemption: Every $1 you spend on Southwest airfare, vacation packages, in-flight food and drinks, and other incidentals earns 2 Rapid Rewards points, with no caps or restrictions. Purchases with hotel and rental car partners, including Hertz, also earn an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 point per $1 spent. You can redeem accumulated Rapid Rewards for Southwest Airlines airfare, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. Redemption minimums typically start at 5,000 for one-way flights and 10,000 for round-trip flights. Points are worth anywhere from less than $0.01 to approximately $0.02 at redemption, depending on flight time, date, season, destination, distance, and other factors. Unlike most other airlines, which fix the number of points required for redemption, Southwest Airlines regularly uses these factors to adjust the number of points required to redeem a particular flight – often on a weekly or even daily basis. You can also redeem accumulated points for merchandise, gift cards, and experiences (such as musical performances) through Southwest More Rewards, a partner company – however, points are typically valued at well under $0.01 apiece there. More Rewards also allows you to redeem points for partner airfare purchases with about 50 other airlines serving 800-plus international destinations, on hotel stays with a number of partner companies covering more than 70,000 individual hotels worldwide, and on car rentals with major rental companies such as Hertz.
- Tier Qualifying Points: Separately from the Rapid Rewards program you earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points, which are Rapid Rewards points not earned through credit card bonuses and partner purchases, for every $10,000 spent with your Rapid Rewards Premier card. You can earn up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points per year in this fashion, representing up to $100,000 in annual card spending. If you earn 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year, you get A-List status – Southwest’s elite frequent flyer program. A-List status benefits include a 25% point-earning bonus, priority consideration when flying standby, and priority boarding on all flights. You can also earn A-List status by completing at least 25 one-way flights in a calendar year.
- Cardmember Anniversary Bonus: On the anniversary date of your account opening, you get a 6,000-point bonus at no charge. This benefit recurs for as long as you remain a cardholder in good standing.
- Companion Pass: Heavy spenders and frequent Southwest Airlines travelers are eligible for Companion Pass status. To reach this status, you either need to earn 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year (through credit card spending or paid Southwest flights) or complete at least 100 one-way Southwest Airlines flights (connecting flights count separately). Once you achieve Companion Pass status, you can use the benefit to bring along a companion traveler on any Southwest flight at no additional charge, provided the companion is on the same flights as you. There’s no limit to how many times you can invoke this benefit, and you can have as many individual companions throughout the year as you’d like (limit one per flight). Companion Pass status remains in effect for the remainder of the calendar year in which it’s earned and the entire year following.
- Important Fees: The annual fee is $99, but there’s no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5% and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
- Balance Transfer Promotion: When you transfer an existing credit card balance to your Rapid Rewards Premier card during the first three months your account is open, you get 1 Rapid Rewards point for every $1 transferred, up to a maximum of 15,000 points ($15,000). Regular balance transfer fees and APRs still apply, and remember that there’s no promotional balance transfer APR.
- Travel Benefits: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card comes with some useful and budget-friendly, though not luxurious, travel benefits. The most noteworthy are free first and second checked bags on all flights, and no change fees on any flights.
- Credit Required: This card requires excellent credit. Any notable credit blemishes are likely to be disqualifying.
- Companion Pass Is Great for Couples. Although it takes a lot of spending (or flying) to achieve, Companion Pass status can be very valuable for couples or anyone who travels frequently together. Basically, when one member of the couple earns Companion Pass status, the other flies free for at least 12 calendar months thereafter. Such a powerful frequent traveler perk is rare in the airline rewards world – the closest is the flat $121 rate, regardless of published cost, for Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cardholders’ companion airfare.
- Earn 2x Points on In-Flight and Other Purchases. Your double (2x) point earnings apply to all purchases made with Southwest, not just airfare. That includes in-flight, gift card, hotel, and rental car partner purchases. United MileagePlus Explorer’s double (2x) point earning benefit applies only to airfare purchases, while Alaska Airlines Visa Signature’s triple-point benefit applies only to airfare, vacation packages, and cargo shipments.
- Strong Sign-up Bonus. This card has an unusually strong sign-up bonus: 40,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend at least $1,000 within three months of account opening. Depending on route length, timing, and other factors, this bonus could be enough for up to two domestic round-trip flights, and reliably three domestic one-ways. Many competing airline rewards cards can’t match that.
- Points Never Expire. As long as your Rapid Rewards account remains open, your accumulated points never expire. By contrast, British Airways Avios points earned with the British Visa Signature Card expire after 36 months.
- No Change Fees. Should you decide to change your reward flight’s date, time, or destination after booking, you don’t have to pay change fees – just the cost difference (in dollars or points), if any, between the old and new flights. Most other airlines with rewards credit cards – including British Airways, American, and United – do charge change fees (often between $100 and $200 per flight) under normal circumstances.
- First and Second Checked Bag Free. As a Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cardholder, your first and second checked bags are always free, which is great if you’re taking a longer trip or one that requires lots of luggage (such as a golf or ski outing). That’s a bag better than United’s Explorer and the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, which both offer just one free checked bag per ticket.
- Points Bonus for Transferred Balances. Though this card doesn’t have an introductory balance transfer APR or fee-free period, it does have a useful balance transfer promotion: 1 Rapid Rewards point per transferred dollar, up to 15,000 points. Virtually no other annual fee airline rewards credit cards have balance transfer promotions of any sort. If you’re currently dealing with a higher-interest credit card balance on another account, it’s not a bad idea to crunch the numbers and see whether a transfer to Rapid Rewards Premier would be worthwhile.
- No Foreign Transaction Fee. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, making it a useful addition to any international traveler’s wallet. Expedia+ and Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature both come with 3% foreign transaction fees.
- Rather High Annual Fee From Day One. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards’s $99 annual fee is higher than that of many competing cards, including United MileagePlus Explorer ($95), Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® ($89), and Capital One Venture Rewards ($59). Furthermore, these cards (and many others) waive the annual fee in the first year, whereas Southwest Rapid Rewards charges its annual fee to your very first billing statement.
- Few Luxury Benefits. While this card has some practical travel benefits, such as no change fees and up to two free checked bags per person, it doesn’t have the luxurious benefits that other cards emphasize. For example, United MileagePlus Explorer offers two complimentary airport lounge passes per year, and Chase Sapphire Preferred offers VIP access to popular events such as the PGA Championship.
- Budgeting and Planning Ahead for Redemptions Is Difficult. The exact number of Rapid Rewards points needed for a reward flight vary based on numerous factors, including flight time, date, season, demand, and more. Though Southwest’s website has a redemption calculator, it’s not a scientific tool, so its conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt. You simply don’t know exactly how many points you’ll need to get your next free flight until you book. That makes it difficult to plan and budget for reward travel – a flight that requires just 8,000 points today could require 13,000 points next week, or vice versa. Most other major airline cards, including United MileagePlus Explorer and Delta Gold SkyMiles, have flat redemption rates for specific fare and route classes – for instance, 12,500 points for any economy-fare domestic flight. This sets expectations and dramatically simplifies planning.
Among major airlines’ reward credit cards, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card stands out as a bit of an odd duck. Until the introduction of the More Rewards program, it wasn’t possible to redeem Rapid Rewards points for flights on other air carriers, hotel stays, rental cars, or merchandise. It’s still not possible to transfer Rapid Rewards points directly to other carriers’ loyalty programs, as is possible with airlines that belong to one of the major global airline alliances (such as Star Alliance).
Then again, Southwest has always prided itself on doing things differently. If you fly Southwest frequently enough to apply for this card, the airline’s little quirks probably don’t bother you.