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Southwest Airlines earns loyalists with its rewards program.
Free flights, day-of-travel perks, and a shot at the Southwest Companion Pass make these credit card deals a no-brainer.
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Note: Some of the offers mentioned below are no longer available.
While not as globe-spanning as some other legacy carriers, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines maintains something of a cult following—for good reason. Southwest loyalists believe in the airline’s friendly-skies vibe and how it values perks that apply to everyone. The low-cost carrier eschews frills like first-class cabins and lackluster onboard meal service in favor of standards like two free checked bags and the flexibility to change and cancel tickets easily. (Southwest famously had no change or cancellation fees before other airlines jumped on the bandwagon in 2020.)
Per Q2 and Q3 financial reports, Southwest is also in a better position to weather the COVID crisis than other major U.S. airlines. It may emerge with an even more robust route network across the United States and a growing number of international destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.
One last thing that sets Southwest apart: its award-winning rewards program and range of excellent cobranded credit cards, all of which currently have decent sign-up bonuses, though not as good as some we've seen lately. You can earn up to 100,000 points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, and up to 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points with any of the three personal credit cards the airline fields—which is about twice the usual number they offer. Here are the details on each of these cards, their benefits, and how you can strategically use the points you earn for free flights and possibly even a valuable Southwest Companion Pass.
Before we cover the ins and outs of each card, let’s get one thing out of the way: The names are extremely similar and confusing. If you decide to open any of these, be sure to double-check the names on the application. PSA complete!
With the lowest annual fee, this rewards card still packs in the points.
A higher-end version with a higher annual fee and better benefits.
This relatively new product is the most premium personal credit card Southwest offers, with some additional benefits to match.
If you’re in the market for a business credit card, this one might be an even better deal than the others.
These are all truly phenomenal welcome offers . . . which only makes the choice among them that much harder.
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First, decide how much one of these cards will actually be in your day-to-day rotation. Do you fly and spend a lot on Southwest, taking several trips a year, or even a month, during more typical travel times? Will you take advantage of day-of-travel perks like upgraded boarding or in-flight discounts? Is it worth paying a higher annual fee if all you’re after is the initial bonus? This is how your decision will probably break down.
If you can spend strategically in the first few months, you should opt for one of the personal credit cards. By hitting all those requirements, you could end up earning a total of 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points—80,000 from the bonus offer, plus five points per dollar on up to $2,000 per month (so a cap of 10,000 points per month) for the first four months. That’s assuming you apply as soon as possible. If you don’t plan to spend anywhere near that with Southwest soon, though, you might prefer the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance’s more generalized bonus and then take advantage of its travel perks as your flight schedule picks up again.
Aside from the sign-up allure, though, think about which card’s perks you will actually leverage. Do you fly at least four times per year when the Performance or Priority’s upgraded boarding advantage will come in handy? If you get the Performance card, will you use its Wi-Fi credits, or will the Priority’s drinks and Wi-Fi discount serve you better?
Finally, think about what annual fee you’re willing to pay. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus’s $69 is a far less than the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority’s $149. If you get the latter, make sure you’re reaping at least $80 more value from it each year.
Unlike some other airline miles, Southwest Rapid Rewards points are redeemable at fairly fixed rates for flights. The more a ticket costs, the more points you will need for it, and vice versa. While this does limit Rapid Rewards points somewhat, it also opens up a lot of options for travelers.
Instead of relying on special award seat availability and redemptions that can vary by tens of thousands of miles on a single flight, you can basically use your points just as you would if paying cash for any open seat. In general, the airline’s cheapest Wanna Get Away fares require around 69 to 75 points per dollar for award redemptions. With that in mind, 80,000 Rapid Rewards points should be worth approximately $1,067–$1,160 in value.
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To look at it another way, Southwest’s flights between Oakland and either Honolulu or Maui are starting at 13,728 points round-trip from January through March. So by combining the spending you fulfill plus the 80,000 points from one of these card’s sign-up bonuses, you should have enough points to fly six people to and from the islands for a vacation potentially within just a few months of opening an account.
Where these bonuses get really interesting, though, is how they can help you qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass. This ultra-valuable benefit is essentially a two-for-one travel discount that applies both to paid and award travel. With a Companion Pass, you can designate a friend or family member (and change your choice up to three times per calendar year). When you book a ticket using money or Rapid Rewards points, you can get a second ticket on your same itinerary and reservation, and only have to pay the taxes and fees on it.
To receive the Companion Pass, you either have to take 100 qualifying one-way flights, or earn 125,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. And you guessed it, the points earned on purchases made with Southwest credit cards count toward Companion Pass qualification. But what makes these particular offers so special is the timing. The Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it and the following calendar year.
Consider this: You could apply for one of these cards, hit all those spending thresholds in short order, put your holiday shopping and other early 2021 purchases on it, and conceivably get to 125,000 Rapid Rewards points just based on credit card spending fairly quickly. Then the Companion Pass you’d earn would be in effect for the rest of 2021 and all of 2022, giving you nearly two full years of use.
Before you get swept up in the numbers, there are some important factors to take into consideration. First, all of these offers necessitate a substantial amount of spending to qualify, so you need to make sure you meet those requirements responsibly. More importantly, think about what your travel plans for the coming year look like. The news about COVID vaccines is very promising so far, but it remains to be seen just how travel and borders will begin to reopen as more people are inoculated around the country and across the globe. If you plan to take to the skies as soon as you have a chance, then this could be an incredible opportunity to rake in thousands of dollars’ worth of rewards travel. But if you anticipate more apprehension about traveling and (understandably) don’t see yourself flying anytime soon, it might be worth waiting until another similar sign-up offer comes around.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.
This article was originally published in December 2020, and updated in April 2021.
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