Are The Southwest Credit Card Perks Worth The Cost?

Southwest Airlines is among the "big four" airlines in the United States, with service to more than 100 destinations across the country and abroad. The company's unique pricing structure and seating policy allow it to offer budget deals to major airports that many of its competitors can't match, and the airline always allows two bags on board for free as long as they're kept under 50 pounds each. If you regularly fly Southwest and want to be rewarded for doing so, the best plan of action may be to apply for one of its three Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards. These cards provide benefits to the cardholder in the form of points earned on spending, travel credits, and even free tickets. However, with this being said, are the benefits of Southwest's branded credit cards worth the cost?


A general rule of thumb when it comes to travel rewards cards, including those from Southwest Airlines, is that the deeper you're willing to dive with the card issuer, the more you'll be rewarded. Case in point, Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards are increasingly more attractive as the annual membership fee increases. The airline currently offers three tiers of credit cards under its Rapid Rewards program, each branded with Chase and Visa. Here's a rundown of the three Southwest rewards cards and what to expect from each, to help you decide which, if any, is right for you.

A look at airline-branded cards

All four major U.S. airlines –United, Delta, American, and Southwest — as well as many smaller airlines, offer branded credit cards that earn their passengers rewards in exchange for loyalty. The key term here is "loyalty;" the best way to make an airline-branded credit card work in your favor is by flying with that airline almost exclusively. That way, you not only optimize the rewards points you earn but also the perks you receive.


Think of airline cards as an exchange of digital currency for services. Your points are your currency, and because you're effectively earning this currency based on money you'd be spending anyway, the ability to turn that currency into a service — the card's perks — to make your travel experience easier is what makes the cards valuable. When the value of the perks you receive exceeds the annual cost of the card while simultaneously making your life easier, then it can be worth it to maintain an airline-branded card.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards

The three Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards offer annual perks, including mileage bonuses and the ability to upgrade your flight experience when traveling with Southwest more easily:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: $69 annual fee. Cardholders gain access to the airline's Companion Pass, which allows one designated travel companion to travel with you for free on an upcoming flight, as a sign-up bonus. Spend $4,000 in the first three months, and you'll get a 30,000-point bonus. Whether or not you reach that mark, you'll always earn two points per dollar spent on the card, 3,000 bonus points each year on your cardholder anniversary, and 25% back on in-flight purchases. Valuing the points at roughly 1.5 cents per, you immediately recoup about $45 of the annual fee each year through the bonus, and depending on where you fly with the Companion Pass, its value may offset multiple years' worth of fees.


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: $99 annual fee. Same sign-up perks as Plus card. The anniversary bonus doubles to 6,000 points. Additionally, you gain two EarlyBird check-ins per year, which allows you easier access to good seats on the flight and less hassle when arriving at the airport. Earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $5,000 spent, which helps you work toward A-List status.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: $149 annual fee. This card includes (and in some cases, elevates) the perks of the Premier credit card. It also adds a $75 annual travel credit on Southwest and drops foreign transaction fees, so you won't face extra charges if you use the card abroad. You'll earn four upgraded boarding positions per year.


How the Rapid Rewards earning structure works

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program is based on a points system rather than miles flown, which makes it more accessible and flexible for travelers who don't fly dozens of times per year. Members earn points by booking flights with Southwest Airlines, with the number of points earned determined by the fare class and ticket price. Generally, the more expensive the fare, the more points you'll earn. Additionally, members can earn points through Southwest's partners, including hotel, rental car, and credit card partnerships. Lastly, as noted, you earn points by spending with the card; generally, at a rate of two points per dollar.


Southwest Rapid Rewards also offers bonus points for frequent flyers based on their status level within the loyalty program. Card members can achieve A-List or A-List Preferred status by flying a certain number of flights or earning a certain number of points within a calendar year. These status levels come with perks, like priority boarding, bonus points on flights, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Determining if this card is right for you

Before applying for one of Southwest's Rapid Rewards credit cards, or any airline-branded credit card, do a few quick calculations to ensure you'll get enough value from the card to offset the cost of the annual fee. For example, the top-tier Rapid Rewards Priority card costs $149. To make the card worth it for you, you must take at least $149 worth of value from its perks. This could come strictly from points — valued at 1.5 cents per, you'd need to earn 9,934 points to earn $149 worth of credit. Point valuations are based on calculations, including what you get in exchange for the points and how many are earned based on spending.


Other cardholder perks should be taken into consideration, too. The Companion Pass, for example, may offset the entire fee, depending on how you use it, and the $75 travel credit immediately puts a dent into the cost when you book your first flight. If you believe you can offset the cost of the card each year without causing yourself financial strain from paying off what you charge, and your home airport offers ample Southwest flights, then one of the airline's credit cards is likely a good fit for you.