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Sign-up bonuses are usually one of the best ways to differentiate middle-tier credit cards from their more premium competition. But with all three personal Southwest cards offering the exact same sign-up bonus (40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months), we’ll have to dig a little deeper to see which one comes out ahead.

As a reminder, Chase issues the following cobranded personal Southwest credit cards:

Let’s dive in and take a look at the differences between them:

Card Overview

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Southwest 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 2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners

1x everywhere else

2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners

1x everywhere else

2x on Southwest flights and hotel and car rental partners

1x everywhere else

Other perks N/A N/A $75 annual Southwest travel credit

Four upgraded boardings per year (when available)

20% back on inflight drinks and WiFi

Tier Qualifying Points N/A Earn up to 15,000 TQPs a year, 1,500 for each $10,000 spent Earn up to 15,000 TQPs a year, 1,500 for each $10,000 spent
Foreign transaction fee 3% None None

While Southwest travelers do have a choice to make, the spread in costs and benefits between these cards isn’t nearly as large as when you’re deciding between, say, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve (and yes, we have an article on that).

TPG values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, making the 40,000 points from this sign-up bonus worth $600.

So which card should you get? With identical earning rates and sign-up bonuses, this calculation really boils down to the annual fee and the benefits you get in return.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card makes a very compelling case for itself. If you are a Companion Pass-holding frequent flyer, you should have no trouble maxing out the $75 annual Southwest travel credit, dropping your effective out-of-pocket cost from $149 to $74. Remember, every dollar or point you spend stretches twice as far with a Companion Pass, so you can even argue that a $75 credit is actually worth $150, making the Priority Card free.

Even if you’re not willing to take that numerical leap, you’ll still end up spending less each year than if you opted for the mid-tier Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, and you’ll get more in return. The Priority card is the only one to offer any meaningful perks. In addition to the travel credit, you’ll get 20% back on inflight drinks and WiFi, and four upgraded boardings in the A1-A15 position a year, when available. (Note that this is not the same as Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In, which sells for between $15 and $25 a person when you’re booking a flight.)

The only argument against the Priority Card is that you do have to pay the full $149 up front. If you’re looking for a cheaper initial cost to acquire the Companion Pass, you can pick between the Premier Card (with a $99 annual fee) or the Plus Card (with a $69 annual fee). What does an extra $30 a year buy 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 increased fee.

If you opt for the cheapest card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, you’ll get hit with a 3% fee on foreign transactions. This isn’t a problem for most of Southwest’s primarily domestic route network, but the Companion Pass is a great excuse to take a trip to a Caribbean destination at an affordable cost, so you should definitely keep this in mind.

Eligibility

The thing that’s kept most people from earning the Companion Pass has always been Chase’s restrictions on credit card applications. First and foremost is the 5/24 rule, which applies to all of these cards. Chase will automatically reject applicants for most of its credit cards if they’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months. You can read this complete guide to the 5/24 rule, but if you’re over your five slots, do not waste an application here.

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

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.

If you currently hold a Southwest personal credit card, or have received a bonus for one in the last 24 months, you will not be eligible for this offer. 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 to fast-track the Companion Pass, you can still open a personal card and get it even sooner.

Bottom Line

Birmingham, AL, USA - March 26, 2018: Southwest Airlines departing Birmingham, AL

Whether you earn it with a single credit card, a year of dedicated flying or a combination of credit card points and flying, the Southwest Companion Pass represents a serious commitment to travel as much as humanly possible on Southwest. Anyone making this commitment 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 thanks to your Companion Pass), the elevated anniversary points bonus and other perks, this is hands-down the card that will add the most value to your year of companion travel.

$149 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.

Know before you go.

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

 

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 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.
  • Earn points on employee spending
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, bags fly free®, and no change fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$99
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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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