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Family travelers around the country love Southwest Airlines for its no-fuss attitude, family-friendly seating policy, strong domestic route network (now including Hawaii!), two free checked bags, lack of change fees and its easy-to-use Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program. In fact, Southwest Airlines comes in at the No. 1 spot in the TPG Best Airline for Families study. Given that Southwest is a family travel favorite, let’s look at which one of the Southwest credit cards is the right fit for families who want to fly more while spending less.

Southwest Airlines will allow you to experience the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin / DealsWeLike.com)
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin / DealsWeLike.com)

Comparing the Southwest Airlines Credit Card Bonuses

Choices are a good thing, and you have multiple options when it comes to the Southwest cobranded credit cards. There are actually four different Southwest credit cards issued by Chase, including three personal cards and one small business card. Given all the options, it can be a little tricky to pick the best Southwest credit card for your family, so let’s dive right in.

(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The first thing I look at when deciding which Southwest credit card is the best match for my family are the sign-up bonuses. Families require lots of points to get where they are going, so you will probably want to get as many points as possible when applying for a new rewards credit card. However, right now, all of the personal Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses are exactly the same at 40,000 total bonus points each.

Here is the current line-up of Southwest credit card bonus offers.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 7,500 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary — $149 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary — $99 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary — $99 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card : 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 3,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary — $69 annual fee.

TPG has Southwest Rapid Rewards points valued at 1.5 cents apiece, so by those calculations, 40,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points are worth $600. However, the value of the Companion Pass itself might tilt the value of the bonus points upward if you think you will be able to earn and use the pass. (Here’s how to earn the Companion Pass with the help of any of the cobranded credit cards.)

The Best Southwest Credit Card for Frequent Southwest Flyers

Once you get beyond the initial bonuses, the next elements to consider are the built-in perks of the various Southwest credit cards. There is no question that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card has the most built-in perks of all of the Southwest credit cards. In exchange for the $149 annual fee, card holders get 7,500 bonus Rapid Rewards points at each account anniversary (worth $112.50 by TPG calculations), a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, 20% back on in-flight drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging and movies and four Upgraded Boardings in the A1–A15 position each year (worth up to $50 each). Note that Upgraded Boarding is only available the day of travel and is not the same thing as Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In that sells for $15+ per person.

Assuming you will use the annual $75 Southwest travel credit and value Southwest points in a similar range as listed above, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the winner when it comes to built-in perks and discounts for families who fly Southwest. Read the full card review here.

Get your preferred seat on Southwest Airlines with a good boarding spot (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Get your preferred seat on Southwest Airlines with a good boarding spot (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The Southwest Companion Pass Factor

Families considering a Southwest credit card should absolutely factor earning and using the Southwest Companion Pass into the equation. A Southwest Companion Pass allows the pass holder to designate one person to fly for free with them (other than paying taxes) for the remainder of the year in which it is earned and the entire following year. Having the Southwest Companion Pass basically turns your Southwest airline tickets into BOGO deals for you and your designated companion. To earn the Southwest Companion Pass you need to earn 110,000 eligible Southwest Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year.

Not all Rapid Rewards points count toward earning the Companion Pass. For example, transfers to Southwest Rapid Rewards from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card do not count toward earning the Companion Pass. However, the sign-up bonus points and the points earned from everyday spending on the Southwest cobranded credit cards do count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

Since the Companion Pass calendar resets on Jan. 1 of every year, you want to really be sure that you are timing your applications wisely so that you don’t accidentally fall short of earning a Southwest Companion Pass. If you earned 40,000 bonus points from a personal Southwest card and later in the year earned 60,000 from a small business card, you’d have almost enough to earn the 110,000 points needed in a calendar year to earn the pass! And yes — the Companion Pass works to bring a friend or family member to Hawaii!

Image by John M Lund Photography Inc / Getty Images
Image by John M Lund Photography Inc / Getty Images

Which Southwest Credit Card Are You Eligible For?

When deciding which Southwest credit card is right for your family, you want to narrow down which card(s) and bonuses you are actually eligible to receive. With Chase’s general application restrictions, including the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule and the terms on each specific card, it can get tricky.

The terms on the three personal Southwest credit cards state:

“The product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapids Rewards® Credit Card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months. This does not apply to Cardmembers of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Card and Employee Credit Card products.”

In practical terms, this means you cannot get approved for a new Southwest personal credit card if you currently hold one and/or received a new card member bonus for one in the last two years. This only refers to primary account holders, so if you were just an authorized user on someone’s Southwest card that should not hurt your chances of getting your own card. Of note is that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Card is viewed differently than the personal cards and having it now or in the past does not disqualify you from getting a personal Southwest credit card.

While you do need a small business to open a Southwest business card, keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge small business. Your legit side-hustle may need a credit card to keep expenses separate.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 planes prepare for takeoff at William P. Hobby international airport in Houston Texas, on November 18, 2015. (Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)

Bottom Line

Every family’s travel needs, goals and budget are unique, so there will never be a one-size-fits-all credit card recommendation. That said, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card gets my vote as offering the most perks and benefits for families who fly Southwest, while the Southwest Business Premier is a good choice for those in the market for a small business card.

Southwest flying over Honolulu
(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Even if Southwest hasn’t been high on your family’s radar in the past, with its operations to and within Hawaii and lots of solid international destinations to choose from, it is a great time to get serious about Southwest Rapid Rewards and its cobranded credit cards.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

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Featured image by Garry Lopater via Unsplash.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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