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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Review

At a Glance
4.0 / 5
Rating

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases during the first 3 months; earn an additional 20,000 bonus points when you spend a total of $12,000 in purchases during the first year
  • Rewards: Earn 2 Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent on direct purchases of Southwest Airlines tickets, vacation packages, and onboard items, and on purchases with select car rental and hotel partners; 1 point per $1 spent on everything else
  • Intro APR: None
  • Fees: 3% foreign transaction fee; $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) cash advance fee
  • Annual Fee: $69
  • Credit Needed: Good/excellent

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The information related to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card has been collected by Money Crashers and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit 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.

Key Features

Sign-up Bonus

For a limited time, earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months after your account opening date. You’ll earn an additional 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 total on purchases within the first year your account is open.

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 the week, destination, distance, and other factors. However, redemptions always 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 frequently vary – 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.

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.

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 no change fees.

Credit Required

This card requires excellent credit.

Advantages

  1. 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 Credit Card‘s 3x point benefit applies only to airfare, vacation packages, and cargo shipments, while United MileagePlus Explorer Card‘s double-point benefit applies only to airfare purchases made directly with the airline.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 one free checked bag per ticket.
  5. 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.

Disadvantages

  1. 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 and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which waive their respective annual fees in the first year.
  2. 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 two complimentary airport lounge passes per year) and VIP access to popular events (such as the PGA Championship, courtesy of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card).
  3. 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. You won’t know exactly how many points you need for your next award flight until you 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 Credit Card from American Express, 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.
  4. 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.

Final Word

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit 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.

Verdict
4.0 / 5
Rating

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is made for frequent Southwest Airlines travelers who earn rewards quickly enough to offset the $69 annual fee. It’s absolutely ideal for heavy travelers who fly enough to earn the powerful Companion Pass benefit within a 12-month period.

On the other hand, this card isn’t great for people who travel abroad regularly, due to the 3% foreign transaction fee and Southwest’s limited international destinations, nor for people who like high-end benefits.

This card’s powerful Companion Pass benefit, limited fees, double points on all Southwest purchases, decent anniversary bonus, and lack of point expiration are all nice.

Its limited luxury benefits, foreign transaction fee (unusual for an airline card), fluctuating redemption amounts, and lack of an annual fee holiday all hurt.

Overall, it’s not a bad card for frequent domestic travelers with convenient access to Southwest Airlines hubs.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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