The best Southwest Airlines credit cards in 2021

Feb 16, 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, which for a limited time is available as part of the sign-up bonus for multiple Southwest credit cards.

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Simplicity is one reason that Southwest Airlines comes in toward the top of the TPG Best Airlines for Families study and a fan-favorite of many TPG staffers.

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 — especially while the lucrative Companion Pass is a part of the bonus!

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

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.

In This Post

(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Comparing the Southwest Airlines credit cards

Credit card Sign-up bonus Unique perks
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card Earn a Companion Pass valid through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
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$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 a Companion Pass valid through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 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 a Companion Pass valid through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 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. 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 50,000 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 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months 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. But right now, the Companion Pass valid through February 2022 is the big prize available with all three of the personal Southwest credit cards.

Best Southwest Credit Cards

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

This card is offering 30,000 points and the coveted Companion Pass after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. The Companion Pass will be valid for travel through Feb. 22, 2022.

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 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.

Read our full review of the Southwest Priority Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

This card is also offering 30,000 points and the coveted Companion Pass after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. The Companion Pass runs through Feb. 22, 2022. 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). It’s a very solid choice, especially while it has the same sign-up bonus as the higher annual fee card.

Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

The more entry-level Southwest personal card also awards the Companion Pass valid through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 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 and right now the welcome bonus is the same.

Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

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 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 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.)

Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit 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.

Here’s how to earn the Companion Pass with the help of any of the cobranded credit cards.

Related: Comparing the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority, Premier and Plus credit cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

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.

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

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 60,000-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.

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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 the old-fashioned way, 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.

(Photo by The Points Guy)

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. 

Additionally, the three Southwest personal credit cards currently come with a special Companion Pass valid until Feb. 28, 2022, once you hit the $5,000 spending requirement in the first three months.

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 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.

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, 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. But right now, someone that wants a simple way to earn a special Companion Pass valid until the end of February next year is also a great candidate. This enables BOGO flights with the companion just paying taxes and fees that start at $5.60 each flight.

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.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

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.

For those who just occasionally find themselves on Southwest, a more flexible card, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card might be ideal.

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

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
  • 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each 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.

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