The best Southwest Airlines credit cards in 2021
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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), included two free checked bags, absence of change fees and its easy-to-use Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program. And that’s not even to mention its Companion Pass.
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So far, 2021 has brought with it a renewed sense of hope that we’re finally headed in the right direction against COVID-19. With that, travel will likely start to rebound as more and more would-be travelers become fully-vaccinated, so 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: How to use a Southwest Companion Pass
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 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||Sign-up bonus||Unique perks|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
|$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); 7,500 anniversary bonus points. $149 annual fee.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.||No foreign transaction fees; earn points toward A-List status; 6,000 anniversary bonus points. $99 annual fee|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.||3,000 anniversary bonus points. $69 annual fee|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card||80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.||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||No foreign transaction fees; earn points toward A-List status; 6,000 points at each renewal. $99 annual fee.|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||60,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months||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||80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus earn a $50 statement credit on grocery purchases in the first year of account opening.||Flexible and transferrable points; 2x points on travel and dining; great travel protections. $95 annual fee.|
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 usually likely want to get as many points as possible when applying for a new rewards credit card.
Best Southwest Credit Cards
This card is offering 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
The Priority card comes with a $149 annual fee. That’s the highest annual fee of the personal Southwest cards, but the card’s annual $75 credit drops that to $74 if you make full use of it. At that price, it’s cheaper than the Premier credit card and has the best perks of the bunch, making it my top pick of the personal cards for those who actively fly Southwest.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit 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.
This card is also offering 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
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 Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card awards 6,000 bonus points at each account anniversary (worth $90 by TPG valuations). It’s a very solid choice, especially while it has the same sign-up bonus as the higher annual fee card.
The more entry-level Southwest personal card also awards 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year. This card does not come with nearly as many perks as the others, but the annual fee is lower and right now the welcome bonus is the same.
If you are after more points out of your sign-up bonus, then you may decide that 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 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 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 80,000 bonus points alone can get you pretty close to earning the 125,000 points needed to earn the coveted Companion Pass both in the year you earn it and the entire next year, too! (Keep in mind that Southwest gave Rapid Rewards members a 25,000 point headstart on earning the Companion Pass in 2021.)
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.
Here’s how to earn the Companion Pass with the help of any of the cobranded credit cards.
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.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is a lot like the Sapphire Reserve, only with a (much) lower annual fee of $95. 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 80,000-point sign-up bonus 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.
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 life of the pass.
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 extended the timeframe for the Companion Pass. Those that would have normally expired at the end of 2020 are now valid through Dec. 31, 2021. Additionally, Southwest has deposited 25,000 points toward the Companion Pass into accounts for 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 Jan. 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 sign-up bonus currently available from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you could theoretically come more than halfway to earning the pass just from the 80,000 total bonus points, plus the points earned by meeting the spending to trigger the bonus. Here’s more on that strategy.
And yes — the Companion Pass works to bring a friend or family member to Hawaii.
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.
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 now that we’re in 2021 and looking ahead, 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.
But with a special Companion Pass on the line with the sign-up bonuses, if you are just about ready to fly once again, now is an excellent time to strike while those bonuses are available.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ross and Benét J. Wilson
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy
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