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

June 07, 2022
9 min read
a southwest plane over the Chesapeake Bay at sunrise
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

Welcome bonuses are usually one of the best ways to differentiate between credit cards from the same family. But right now, all three Southwest Airlines consumer credit cards are extending the exact same (pretty fantastic) bonus.

The following three cards are all offering bonuses of 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening:

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So what exactly are the differences among the Plus, Premier and Priority versions? Despite their similar-sounding names, the three cards are actually quite different. Which one will be best for you depends on how often you fly Southwest and how many of these cards’ respective perks you can maximize.

Here’s what you need to know to choose among them.

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Card overview

BenefitSouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Annual fee$69.$99.$149.
Anniversary points bonus 3,000 Rapid Rewards points.6,000 Rapid Rewards points.7,500 Rapid Rewards points.
Earning rates
  • 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases.
  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting (including ride-hailing apps).
  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.
  • 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases.
  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting (including ride-hailing apps).
  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.
  • 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases.
  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting (including ride-hailing apps).
  • 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming.
  • 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Other perks2 EarlyBird check-ins per year.

25% back on inflight purchases.

2 EarlyBird check-ins per year.

25% back on inflight purchases.

$75 annual Southwest travel credit.

Four upgraded boardings per year (when available).

25% back on inflight purchases.

Tier qualifying pointsN/A.Earn 1,500 TQPs toward A-List status for every $10,000 in spending per calendar year (with no cap).Earn 1,500 TQPs toward A-List status for every $10,000 in spending per calendar year (with no cap).
Foreign transaction fee3%.None.None.

While Southwest travelers do have a choice to make, the divergence in costs and benefits among these cards isn’t as large as it is when you’re deciding between the members of other card families, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, whose annual fees and perks portfolios differ significantly.

What’s more, you don’t miss out on the 50,000 bonus points, which TPG values at $750 toward travel, by applying for one versus another.

Instead, your choice will come down to which card’s benefits you can leverage most frequently on your travels, and which annual fee is affordable for you.

Here’s the type of traveler each card is probably best for.

If you’re a frequent Southwest flyer

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card makes a very compelling case for itself.

If you are a frequent Southwest passenger, you should have no trouble maxing out the $75 annual Southwest travel credit, dropping your effective out-of-pocket cost for this card from $149 to $74. However, this could be even more valuable if you have the famous Southwest Companion Pass.

Remember, every dollar (or point) you spend on Southwest tickets stretches twice as far once you have the Companion Pass since, when you book one ticket with either points or cash, you can get a second one for your companion and pay just the taxes and fees on it. Taking that into account, you could argue that a $75 credit is actually worth $150 for Companion Pass holders, effectively cutting the annual fee on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card down to zero.

Even if you’re not willing to take that numerical leap, you’ll still end up spending less each year holding the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card than if you opted for the mid-tier Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.

With the Priority, in addition to the annual travel credit, you’ll get four upgraded boardings in the A1-A15 position a year, when available. And the additional bonus points on your cardholder anniversary — 1,500 more than the Premier card — should get you $22.50 in additional rewards when you go to use them.

The only argument against the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is that you do have to pay the full $149 annual fee upfront — but if you're able to quickly use the above perks, you can easily offset a large portion of that cost.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

If you’re looking for the cheapest card

If you’re looking for a cheaper initial cost to acquire the current sign-up bonus, you can pick between the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (with a $99 annual fee) or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card (with a $69 annual fee).

What does the extra $30 a year on the Premier card get you? For starters, your anniversary points bonus will be 6,000 instead of 3,000. TPG values that extra 3,000 points at $45, more than making up for the card’s higher annual fee.

If you opt for the cheapest card — the Plus — you’ll also get hit with a 3% fee on foreign transactions. This isn’t a problem for most of Southwest’s primarily domestic route network, but Southwest’s cheap fares, low fees and above-average customer service make for a great excuse to take a trip to a Caribbean destination at an affordable cost, so you should definitely keep this in mind.

Finally, with the Premier, you can earn tier qualifying points toward elite status — 1,500 per $10,000 you spend on purchases with the card in a calendar year (up to 15,000 TQPs per year). So if A-List or A-List Preferred status is of interest to you, go with the Premier.

Eligibility

The thing that keeps most people from opening these Southwest credit cards has always been Chase’s restrictions on credit card applications.

First and foremost is the Chase 5/24 rule, which applies to all three of these cards. Chase will almost certainly reject applicants if they’ve opened five or more credit cards, from any and all issuers, in the last 24 months. You can read this complete guide to the 5/24 rule, but if you’re at (or over) your five slots, we recommend not wasting an application on these cards, since you’re likely to get declined.

In addition to the 5/24 rule, the terms and conditions of each of these cards state:

The product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid 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.

So if you currently hold one of these Southwest personal credit cards or have received a bonus for one in the last 24 months, you will not be eligible for these offers.

Note that this only applies to personal credit cards, so if you recently opened the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you can still open a personal card. Likewise, these and other small-business credit cards that you may have opened recently generally should not count toward Chase’s 5/24 card limit, so you could still be good to apply.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Southwest credit card eligibility

Bottom line

A Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. © 2019 Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/The Points Guy)

The Southwest credit cards have always been popular. Right now, you can earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months on all three of the carrier's personal cards.

Anyone who flies Southwest even just a handful of times per year should have no problem maxing out the travel benefits that come with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. After accounting for the $75 annual Southwest travel credit (worth twice as much if you have the Companion Pass), the elevated anniversary points bonus and other perks, this is, hands down, the card that will add the most value to your wallet.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card‘s $149 annual fee is relatively cheap in today’s world of hyper-expensive premium credit cards. But if that still feels like too much, it’s possible to get a good return from the Premier and Plus cards as well.

Official application link: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
Official application link: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.
Official application link: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Additional reporting by Ryan Wilcox, Stella Shon and Eric Rosen.

Featured image by (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.