Southwest Airlines offers three credit cards through Chase: the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card, the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card, and the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card. Of the two cards available to consumers, the Premier version offers better bonuses and charges no foreign transaction fees, while the Plus version carries a lower annual fee.
Even considering the recent changes made to the Rapid Rewards program, such as offering points based on ticket price rather than number of flights purchased, the Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card provides more opportunities to earn points, likely making it a better value for frequent Southwest Airlines customers.
- Sign-up Bonus. As a new cardholder, you are awarded 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. That’s enough to cover two round-trip Wanna Get Away fares. The sign-up bonus frequently changes from 25,000 to 50,000 bonus points, so at the least it would be worth one roundtrip Wanna Get Away fare.
- Fees. The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card has an annual fee of $99. Balance transfers are 3% or $5, whichever is greater. There is no foreign transaction fee or over-the-limit fee.
- APR. The APR on balance transfers and purchases is 15.24% which may vary based on the prime rate, and is dependent upon your credit rating. In order to qualify for either of the Chase Southwest cards (Plus or Premier), your credit score must be in the mid- to upper-600s.
- Three Types of Tickets. You earn rewards on three different types of fares when flying Southwest: Wanna Get Away, Anytime, and Business Select. The Wanna Get Away fares are the cheapest, while Anytime and Business Select provide extra benefits and flexibility.
- Anniversary Points. You receive 6,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary – an amount equivalent to a $100 Wanna Get Away fare or the card’s annual fee.
- Earn Points on Purchases. The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card offers two points per dollar on flights purchased through Southwest Airlines or AirTran Airways, and two points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals. To receive the two points per dollar on flights, you must make your reservation directly through the airline, rather than via a third-party site. In addition to points earned through travel, you can earn points shopping with Rapid Rewards Shopping, a portal offering special points-earning deals, as well as one point per dollar on all other purchases.
- Earn Tier Qualifying Points. You get 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on the card each year – up to 15,000 points annually. Tier qualifying points are separate from points earned on purchases and are used only for elite status qualification.
- Balance Transfer Bonus. Periodically, new cardholders may receive an offer to earn points for transferring a balance from another account. Typical offers provide one point per dollar transferred, up to a designated amount, and transfers must take place within a specified time frame after the account is opened. For instance, you may receive one point per dollar transferred, up to 15,000 points, if you make a transfer within 90 days of opening your Premier account. Balance transfers are subject to the balance transfer fee.
- Redeem Points. You may also redeem points for flights, gift cards, car rentals, cruises, and hotel stays at more than 70,000 participating hotels. Wanna Get Away fares require the fewest points to redeem and are based on the price of the ticket. For example, a $100 Wanna Get Away fare would require 60 points per dollar or 6,000 points.
- First and Second Bags Checked Free. You can pack heavy as Southwest currently allows two checked pieces of baggage per ticketed customer.
- Elite Status With Southwest. Southwest offers cardholders the opportunity to earn elite statuses: A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. These statuses provide additional benefits as you move up the chain. To qualify for A-List, you must fly on 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,00o Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year. A-List Preferred status requires 50 qualifying one-way flights or 70,000 Tier Qualifying Points within a calendar year, and Companion Pass requires 100 qualifying one-way flights or 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points within a calendar year. Every $10,000 that is spent with the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card earns 1,500 tier qualifying points.
- Getaways With Bonus Points. Credit cards frequently offer huge sign-up bonus points that don’t actually add up to a big reward. Depending on where you choose to travel, the 50,000 sign-up points offered with the Premier card are worth at least two round-trip Wanna Get Away fares. You may also choose to redeem your points for Anytime or Business Select fares, which require more points but provide greater benefits. For instance, Business Select fares are eligible for priority boarding and a complimentary drink. That said, you’ll need significantly more points to cover the fare: if a Wanna Get Away flight from New York to Chicago requires 5,400 points, a Business Select flight requires roughly 47,000 points.
- No Change Fees. If you need to change your flight on Southwest, you won’t be charged a change fee, although you may have to pay the difference in fare on a Wanna Get Away flight. This can make a huge difference in travel costs when compared to other airlines. For instance, Delta charges a $50 change fee if your flight is same-day eligible, while American Airlines charges up to $200.
- Unlimited Reward Seats. There are no blackouts dates, and points are good for any seat on any flight.
- Earn Elite Status Faster. As a Rapid Rewards Premier cardholder, you are eligible to receive qualifying points for A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass statuses by using your credit card for everyday purchases. This helps speed the process along.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees. The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Some travel rewards cards, including the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card, charge between 1% and 3% on transactions made outside the United States. The Premier card does not charge these fees, which is a great benefit to frequent international travelers.
- Points for Balance Transfer Isn’t a Good Deal. One opportunity you can take advantage of is transferring a balance of up to $15,000 in exchange for 15,000 bonus points. This reward, if you transfer the full amount allowed, would indeed result in a couple free flights, but unless the card you are transferring from has an APR higher than 15.24%, this is not going to be the best balance transfer option. Plus, the balance transfer fee on a $15,000 transfer amounts to $450, a price that essentially cancels out the flight benefits earned with your transfer bonus points.
- Double Points Earning Is Limited. Although it seems like all travel expenses should qualify for double points, you actually only earn two points per dollar when shopping with Southwest and Rapid Rewards partners. If you’re a frequent traveler, you may find better earning and purchasing opportunities with cards like the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card which awards five points per dollar spent at Marriott locations worldwide, and two points per dollar spent at restaurants, on car rentals, or on airline tickets.
- Points Are Best Redeemed for Flights. Although you can redeem points in multiple ways, flights offer the greatest value. For instance, if you made $6,000 in purchases and earned 6,000 points with which you bought a $100 Wanna Get Away fare, each point would be worth a little under two cents. But when redeeming points for gift cards, each point is worth roughly one cent, and many promotions actually devalue points further. For example, a $50 Applebee’s gift card is 5,000 points, but a $25 Applebee’s gift card is 3,000 points, bringing the value of the point to less than one cent.
- Annual Fee. The $99 annual fee is higher than most other airline cards, and while the 6,000 anniversary points help cover this fee, they aren’t particularly useful if you can’t buy a flight with them. Wanna Get Away fares start as low as $59, but can be significantly more expensive, and since anniversary points are equivalent to $100 in Wanna Get Away fares, they may or may not get you where you want to go. Incidentally, the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard and the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Card both have $95 annual fees which are waived the first year.
- Rewards Program May Be Too Complicated. With tiers for qualifying statuses, rewards offered only with specific airlines, and three fares charging different points for purchase, the Rapid Rewards program is somewhat overwhelming. If you use this card for travel expenses and wish to maximize the rewards, you need to be vigilant about the points you earn, redeeming them carefully to make sure you find the best deals.
- High APR. There is no introductory APR, and while higher interest rates are standard with rewards and miles cards, if you carry a balance, interest will add up fast, thus negating any rewards and benefits.
If you travel frequently with Southwest Airlines and wish to earn points on flights to use toward future travel, the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card may be beneficial. If you prefer a simple rewards program, or one that provides simple opportunities for offsetting a large annual fee, you may want to try a credit card that allows a bit more freedom in spending. For example, the American Express Blue Sky Card has no annual fee and allows you to earn a point on virtually any purchase. These points can be redeemed for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and other travel expenses without limiting purchases to a single brand.
The Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is great if you fly Southwest often, earning the points necessary to obtain elite status and subsequent free flights. If you do not, there aren’t enough benefits to justify the annual fee and high interest rate.
3.7 stars out of 5: Not enough bonuses are available to compensate for the $99 annual fee and the program is limited and complicated, especially if you don’t fly Southwest frequently.
Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided or commissioned by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, or airline. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.