The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card is a travel rewards credit card with a $69 annual fee and a rewards program that favors frequent Southwest Airlines travelers. Its perks aren’t as luxurious as those of some competing travel cards, but its solid benefit lineup is nevertheless useful for cardholders who fly Southwest regularly – particularly those in the air often enough to qualify for Companion Pass status. If you live near a Southwest hub and need a no-frills airline credit card, the Southwest Airline Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card is worth a closer look.
- Sign-up Bonus: When you spend at least $2,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you get 50,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points. This bonus is reliably worth more than $500 at redemption, and can be worth much more when redeemed for higher-priced flights.
- Earning Rapid Rewards Points: This card earns unlimited 2 Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent on direct Southwest Airlines purchases. These include purchases of airfare, vacation packages, in-flight entertainment, in-flight refreshments, and other incidentals, as long as they’re made directly with the airline and not through a third-party booking site such as Expedia. Purchases with hotel and rental car partners, including Hertz and Starwood, also earn an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 Rapid Rewards point per $1 spent. As long as your account remains open and in good standing, your points never expire.
- Redeeming Rapid Rewards Points: Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed for free Southwest Airlines flights, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. Redemption amounts vary according to the posted dollar value of flights, which can vary by flight time, season, date and day of week, destination, distance, and other factors. However, redemptions generally require at least 5,000 Rapid Rewards points for one-way flights and 10,000 for round-trip flights. Points are reliably worth at least $0.015, and can be worth up to $0.02 apiece for certain flights. In general, short-haul flights offer better value, though this is not a hard and fast rule. Moreover, the number of points required to redeem a particular flight can vary frequently – sometimes daily. If you don’t want to redeem for flights, you can also redeem for merchandise, experiences (such as music shows), rental cars, and gift cards, through Southwest More Rewards. However, More Rewards usually values points at well under $0.01 apiece. More Rewards also works with more than 50 international airlines and a number of hotel chains to allow Rapid Rewards redemptions on more than 800 international flight routes (though Southwest still does not belong to a major airline alliance) and at approximately 70,000 hotels worldwide. Redemption minimums and point values vary by airline and hotel, but are typically lower than what’s possible with Southwest redemptions.
- Balance Transfer Promotion: When you transfer an existing credit card balance to your Rapid Rewards Plus card during the first 3 months your account is open, you get 1 Rapid Rewards point for every $1 transferred. This benefit applies up to a maximum of 15,000 points, or a transferred balance of $15,000. Keep in mind that regular balance transfer fees and APRs still apply and there’s no promotional balance transfer APR.
- Cardmember Anniversary Bonus: Every year your account remains open and in good standing, you get a 3,000-point bonus on your cardmember anniversary.
- Companion Pass Status: Companion Pass status is the highest status level within Southwest Airlines’ frequent flyer program. It’s available to travelers who accumulate at least 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points (which are Rapid Rewards points earned through cash fare and credit card purchases, but not sign-up bonuses or partner purchases) or complete at least 100 one-way Southwest Airlines segments in a calendar year. Companion Pass status bestows the right to bring a companion traveler on any Southwest flight at no additional fare charge, though taxes and security fees do still apply. This benefit can be invoked as many times as you wish, though cardholders cannot travel with more than one companion per flight. Companion Pass status becomes active as soon as it’s earned and remains in effect for the entire calendar year. For instance, if you earn Companion Pass status in September, you enjoy it until December 31 of the following year – more than 15 months.
- Regular APR: The regular purchase and balance transfer APR is 16.49% to 23.49%, depending on prevailing interest rates and your personal creditworthiness. The cash advance APR is 25.49%. There is no penalty APR.
- Important Fees: The annual fee is $69. The foreign transaction fee is 3% of the total transaction amount. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, while cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
- Travel Benefits: This card’s travel benefits include up to 2 free checked bags per flight and a lack of change fees.
- Credit Required: This card requires excellent credit.
- Potential for Companion Pass Status. Although it takes a lot of spending and/or flying to achieve, Companion Pass status is amazingly valuable for customers who do have the wherewithal to earn it. It’s especially useful for couples who travel together often, since there’s no limit to how many times it can be invoked in a calendar year. This type of frequent traveler perk, which can theoretically be worth thousands of dollars, is rare in the competitive air travel business. One popular, and inferior, alternative is Alaska Airlines’ $121 companion airfare benefit.
- Earn 2x Points on All Southwest Purchases. This card earns double points on all direct Southwest and partner purchases, not just airfare. In-flight entertainment, food and drink, vacation packages, gift cards, hotel nights, rental cars, and more all earn double points. By contrast, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature‘s 3x point benefit applies only to airfare, vacation packages, and cargo shipments, while United MileagePlus Explorer‘s double-point benefit applies only to airfare purchases made directly with the airline.
- Points Never Expire. Accumulated points never expire as long as your account remains open and in good standing. That’s not the case with British Airways Avios, which expire after 36 months.
- No Change Fees. Southwest Airlines doesn’t impose change fees if you decide to alter your reward flight’s time, date, or even destination after your initial booking. You’re just responsible for the cost difference in dollars or points, if any. This is relatively rare among major airlines, most of which charge $100 to $200 for changes under normal circumstances.
- First and Second Checked Bag Free. Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus cardholders always get their first and second checked bags 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 better than United’s Explorer and the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, both of which offer just 1 free checked bag per ticket.
- Points Bonus for Transferred Balances. Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus doesn’t have an introductory balance transfer APR or fee-free period. However, it does have a useful balance transfer promotion: 1 Rapid Rewards point per transferred dollar, up to 15,000 points ($15,000 in transferred balances), on transfers made within 3 months of account opening. This is a rare, and useful, benefit among travel rewards cards – few, if any, have similar deals. If you currently have high-interest credit card debt elsewhere, run the numbers and see whether it makes financial sense to do a transfer.
- Great Sign-up Bonus. This card’s 50,000-point sign-up bonus is relatively easy to achieve, requiring just $2,000 in spending within 3 months. Depending on the routes for which it’s redeemed, that bonus could be enough for 2 free round-trip Southwest flights – a nice kickoff to a potentially lucrative credit card relationship.
- Decent Cardmember Anniversary Bonus. This card’s 3,000-point anniversary bonus isn’t enough to cover the cost of an entire flight segment, but it can certainly push you over the edge if you’re close to having enough points for a free flight.
- Annual Fee Is in Effect From Day One. This card’s $69 annual fee isn’t excessive, but it is in effect from day one. This is a disadvantage relative to many competing cards, such as United MileagePlus Explorer, Barclaycard Arrival Plus, and Capital One Venture Rewards, all of which waive their respective annual fees in the first year.
- Few Luxury Benefits. This card has some practical travel benefits, such as no change fees and up to 2 free checked bags per person. However, it lacks luxurious and convenient benefits, such as complimentary airport lounge access (United MileagePlus Explorer offers 2 complimentary airport lounge passes per year) and VIP access at popular events (such as the PGA Championship, courtesy of Chase Sapphire Preferred).
- Budgeting and Planning Ahead for Redemptions Is Difficult. The exact number of Rapid Rewards points needed for a reward flight is subject to change based on an array of factors, including flight time, date, season, and passenger demand. Southwest’s website has a redemption calculator, but it’s not a scientific instrument, so it’s not ideal for long-term planning. Basically, you won’t know exactly how many points you need for your next award flight until you actually book it. For instance, a flight that requires 9,000 points today might require 12,000 tomorrow, or vice versa. By contrast, most other major airline cards, including United MileagePlus Explorer and Delta Gold SkyMiles, have flat redemption rates for specific fare and route classes – for example, 12,500 points for any economy-fare domestic one-way, or 25,000 for a domestic round-trip.
- Has a Foreign Transaction Fee. This card has a 3% foreign transaction fee. While that’s pretty standard in the credit card world, it’s rare for a travel rewards card – especially one that allows redemptions on international flights. If you travel internationally on a regular basis, look elsewhere.
The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card is a practical travel card that puts less emphasis on luxury perks than on value-added benefits. It’s nice not to have to worry about change fees or checked bag fees, even if you have to hang out in the main gate area while waiting for your flights.
There are plenty of other travel cards out there, of course. But for frequent travelers who live near Southwest hubs, this one should be high on the list.