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Family travelers love Southwest Airlines for its no-fuss attitude, family-friendly seating policy, strong domestic route network, two free checked bags, lack of change fees and its easy-to-use Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program. In fact, Southwest Airlines just came in at the #1 spot in the TPG Best Airline for Families report. 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.

Comparing the Southwest Airlines Credit Card Bonuses

Choices are a good thing, and you have multiple options when it comes to Southwest co-branded 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.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

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. While it can change over time, here is the current line-up of Southwest credit card bonus offers.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year. 7,500 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary — $149 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year. 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: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year. 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, 60,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points would be worth $900 and 40,000 bonus points would be worth about $600. In other words, these are all valuable bonuses, though obviously they are best if you can earn the full 60,000 points.

From a straight-forward view, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card currently has my favorite bonus of the four since you earn 60,000 points with just $3,000 in spending and a $99 annual fee. You would need a small business to qualify for this card, but if you can meet that criteria, it gets my thumbs-up.

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 new 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, cardholders 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 new Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is actually the winner when it comes to built-in perks and discounts for families who fly Southwest. Read the full card review here.

The Southwest Companion Pass Factor

Families considering a Southwest credit card should absolutely factor earning 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 co-branded credit cards do count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

Getting a Southwest credit card and its sign-up bonus points can bring earning the Southwest Companion Pass very quickly into range. For example, if you were approved for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and met the spending requirement to trigger the full 60,000 point bonus, you would have 60,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points + at least 12,000 additional Rapid Rewards points earned from the spending necessary to trigger the bonus. As long as that all happened within the same calendar year, that would mean you are already at 72,000 of the 110,000 necessary Rapid Rewards points to earn a Companion Pass. You could earn the remaining points by flying on purchased Southwest tickets, charging more to the card or utilizing other Southwest Companion Pass-eligible partners.

However, since the Companion Pass calendar resets on January 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.

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) 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 a little 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 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.  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.

I would keep that very important term in mind if you are interested in earning the Southwest Companion Pass as you could theoretically earn the sign-up bonuses from the Southwest Priority and Southwest Business Premier in the same calendar year to earn more than enough Companion Pass eligible Rapid Rewards points to enjoy the Companion Pass in the year you earn it and all of the following year.

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-sizes-fits-all credit card recommendation. That said, the new 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 gets my nod for currently offering the overall best sign-up bonus for those looking to earn a bunch of Rapid Rewards points with just $3,000 in total spending.

If your family does not have plans to fly Southwest in the near term and wants to minimize annual fees then the Southwest Premier or Southwest Plus cards may be a good place to start, especially the next time their bonuses (hopefully) increase.

Even if Southwest hasn’t been high on your family’s radar in the past, with tickets for its Hawaii routes scheduled to come online in late 2019, there has never been a better time to get serious about Southwest Rapid Rewards and its co-branded credit cards.

Featured image by Garry Lopater via Unsplash.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Earn 2 points $1 on Southwest and Rapid Rewards car and hotel purchases and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. This card also comes with an annual $75 travel credit.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 within your first year.
  • 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
  • 4 upgraded boardings per year when available.
  • 20% back on inflight purchases made with your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$149
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.