The best Southwest Airlines credit cards for family travelers
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Travelers around the country love Southwest Airlines for its no-fuss attitude, family-friendly seating policy, strong route network (which even includes international destinations and Hawaii), two free checked bags, the absence of change fees and its easy-to-use Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.
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Most of us aren’t traveling much right now, so the fact that Southwest makes travel changes so simple is even more significant in a COVID-19 reality. In fact, simplicity is one reason that Southwest Airlines comes in toward the top of the TPG Best Airlines for Families study. While not everyone is back in the air quite yet, with 2021 not too far out at this point, let’s look at which one of the Southwest credit cards is the best fit for travelers who may want to fly more while spending less.
Related reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best
Here is the current lineup of the best credit cards for Southwest flyers, their bonus offers and our ranking of which one is the best fit for different types of Southwest flyers.`
The best credit cards for Southwest Airlines 2021
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Best for frequent Southwest flyers
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Best for casual Southwest flyers
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Best for a lower annual fee
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Best for small-business owners
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Best for businesses that need lower annual fee
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for frequent flyers
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best all-around travel card
You have options when it comes to the best Southwest credit cards.
There are five different Southwest credit cards issued by Chase — three personal cards and two small-business cards. There are also more flexible Chase credit cards that are not cobranded specifically with Southwest and instead earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program, among other redemption options.
Given all the choices, it can be a little tricky to pick the best Southwest credit card for your family, so with future travel planning in mind, let’s dive right in.
Comparing the Southwest Airlines credit cards
|Credit Card||Welcome Bonus||Bonus value*||Unique Perks|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.||up to $1,200||$75 annual Southwest travel credit; 20% back on inflight drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging and movies; four Upgraded Boardings in the A1–A15 position each year (worth up to $50 each). $149 annual fee.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.||up to $1,200||No foreign transaction fees; earn points toward A-List status. $99 annual fee|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.||up to $1,200||3,000 anniversary bonus points. $69 annual fee|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card||70,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months, plus earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first six months.||$1,500||Four A1–A15 annual boarding passes; inflight Wi-Fi credits; Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application statement credit every four years; 3x points on Southwest charges. $199 annual fee.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card||60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months||$900||No foreign transaction fees; earn points toward A-List status; 6,000 points at each renewal. $99 annual fee.|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months||$1,000||Annual $300 travel credit; 3x points on dining and travel; $60 in DoorDash credit in 2020; Priority Pass membership; flexible and transferrable points. $550 annual fee.|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||60,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months||$1,200||Flexible and transferrable points; 2x points on travel and dining; great travel protections. $95 annual fee.|
*Bonus value is an estimate based on TPG’s monthly valuations and not the card issuer.
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 want to go, so you likely want to get as many points as possible when applying for a new rewards credit card. Right now, the bonuses are all pretty strong across the board at 65,000+ points for most of the Southwest credit cards.
Best Southwest Credit Cards
This card is offering up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. It comes with a $149 annual fee. That’s the highest annual fee of the personal Southwest cards, but it also has the best perks of the bunch and is my top pick of the personal cards for those who actively fly Southwest.
The Southwest Priority Card awards 7,500 bonus Rapid Rewards points at each account anniversary (worth $112.50 by TPG calculations); an annual $75 annual Southwest travel credit; 20% back on inflight 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 EarlyBird Check-In that sells for $15+ per person per flight.
APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
This card is offering up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. It has a $99 annual fee.
This is a solid, middle-of-the-road Southwest card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and can help you earn tier-qualifying points for A-List status, but keeps the annual fee under $100. The Southwest Premier Card awards 6,000 bonus points at each account anniversary (worth $90 by TPG valuations).
APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
The more entry-level Southwest personal card awards up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. It carries a $69 annual fee. This card does not come with nearly as many perks as the others, but the annual fee is lower.
APPLY HERE: SSouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
Interestingly, the Southwest small-business cards have better bonuses and perks than the personal cards. If you are eligible to open a small-business card, this is the one to get.
The Southwest Performance Business Card is offering 70,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months and an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first six months. It also awards 9,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points after each account anniversary and comes with a $199 annual fee.
With the card, you’ll also get four A1–A15 boarding passes per year, up to 365 $8 inflight Wi-Fi credits per year (covers all day), a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit every four years, 3x points on Southwest charges and more.
The 100,000 bonus points can get you pretty close to earning the Companion Pass from this one card!
This card awards 60,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. It also comes with 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded after each account anniversary and a $99 annual fee.
TPG values Southwest Rapid Rewards points valued at 1.5 cents apiece, so by those calculations, 60,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points are worth $900. 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.)
Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card.
All the cards discussed so far are Southwest-specific credit cards, which are indeed useful to regular Southwest travelers and those hoping to earn a valuable Companion Pass. However, not everyone who travels on Southwest needs a credit card unique to that airline. Frequent flyers who occasionally find themselves on Southwest might be well-served with a more flexible card, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3x points per dollar on all dining and travel charges. On top of that, you can transfer the points earned by this card from Chase to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 ratio, use the points at a fixed rate of 1.5 cents each to book Southwest flights as “paid” flights over the phone via Chase Travel and even use the annual $300 travel credit toward Southwest EarlyBird fees, onboard drinks and snacks, etc.
This card won’t help you earn the Southwest Companion Pass because transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards don’t count toward the points needed to earn the pass, but the card is still a great choice for frequent flyers.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is a lot like the Sapphire Reserve, only with a (much) lower annual fee. This card earns 2x points per dollar on travel and dining and those Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio. This means that the 60,000 welcome bonus points can all be transferred to Ultimate Rewards if you choose. This card is a solid all-around travel rewards card for those who find themselves on a variety of airlines.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Southwest Companion Pass factor
Families, couples and others considering a Southwest credit card should absolutely factor earning and using the Southwest Companion Pass into their calculations. A Southwest Companion Pass allows the passholder 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 tickets into buy-one, get-one deals for you and your designated companion. To earn the Southwest Companion Pass you need to earn 125,000 eligible Southwest Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year.
Due to COVID-19, Southwest Airlines has been extending the timeframe for the Companion Pass. Those that would have normally expired at the end of 2020, are valid through June 30, 2021.
Not all Rapid Rewards points count toward earning the Companion Pass.
For example, purchased points and 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 five Southwest cobranded credit cards do count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass.
Since the Companion Pass points calendar resets on January 1 of every year, you’ll want to time your credit card applications wisely so that you don’t accidentally fall short of earning a Southwest Companion Pass. With the massive welcome bonus currently available from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you could theoretically earn the pass just from the 100,000 total bonus points, plus the points earned by meeting the spending to trigger the bonus. Here’s more on that strategy.
But the closer we get to 2021, the stronger the argument for waiting to apply until you can have a card bonus post in early 2021 becomes.
And yes — the Companion Pass works to bring a friend or family member to Hawaii for when the state is able to reopen to tourists.
Which Southwest credit card are you eligible for?
When deciding which Southwest credit card is right for your family, be sure you are eligible to receive the card you want. It can get tricky with Chase’s general application restrictions, including the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule and the terms on each specific card.
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 cardmember 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.
Note that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card are viewed differently than the personal cards: Having one of them now, or in the past, does not disqualify you from getting a personal Southwest credit card. Additionally, having one of the small-business cards does not disqualify you from having or getting the other.
You do need a small business to open a Southwest business card but keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a huge small business. Your legit side hustle may need a credit card to keep expenses separate.
Who should get a Southwest credit card?
There are several really good reasons to get a Southwest credit card. Anyone who wants a nice shot of Southwest bonus points in their Rapid Rewards account is a good candidate, especially when the sign-up bonuses are increased a bit as they are right now.
Travelers who need some help qualifying for the Companion Pass are also good candidates since bonuses of up to 100,000 total points go a long way toward getting you the 125,000 Companion Pass-eligible points needed in a calendar year to unlock BOGO Southwest flights.
Finally, Southwest credit cards offer some great perks for regular, and even occasional, Southwest flyers. Wi-Fi passes, A1-A15 boarding positions, travel credits, discounts on inflight purchases and more go a long way toward making flying Southwest even better.
Or, if a more flexible credit card makes the most sense for you, you can get a Chase Sapphire card that allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points into Rapid Rewards points without committing 100% to the Rapid Rewards program.
Every family’s travel needs, goals and budget are unique, so there will never be a one-size-fits-all credit card.
But as we begin to turn our sights toward 2021 and beyond, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card gets my vote as the personal card offering most perks and benefits for those who fly Southwest. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card is a great choice for those in the market for a small business card with a massive sign-up bonus.
Featured image by Garry Lopater via Unsplash.
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