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|The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card is the cheapest Southwest credit card on the market, which is either a strength or weakness depending on how you look at it. While the $69 annual fee is nice and low, the Plus card doesn’t have many perks to keep you interested past the initial welcome bonus||Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐|
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
In a hobby now dominated by ultra-premium credit cards with $450+ annual fees and a laundry list of luxury perks, I never thought I’d be saying that a $69 credit card — the most bare-bones version that Southwest offers — might be valuable to loyal Southwest customers, but only under the right conditions.
Southwest is already relatively unique in that it offers three affordable, non-premium personal credit cards. With all three cards offering an identical sign-up bonus of up to 60,000 points: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first three months, plus 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months. It’s even more important to look at the differences between your three choices.
Premium credit cards usually earn our loyalty by making up for their hefty fees with even more valuable perks, but unless you’re planning on using a Southwest credit card for a majority of your spending, you might be better off sticking to the cheapest version here. Let’s take a look at how the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card measures up.
Who Is This Card For?
This is not the card that’s going to unlock the doors of fancy first-class suites or give you all the trappings of elite status, but that’s not what Southwest has ever been about. The Southwest Plus card is the cheapest and quickest way to score a large number of Southwest points, made even more valuable if you have the carrier’s elusive Companion Pass.
Whether you settle on the Southwest Plus Card or opt for one of its siblings instead (the mid-tier Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or the higher-end Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card), you’ll earn the exact same sign-up bonus after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months: 60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points, worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations.
It’s worth noting that when TPG decided to value Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, we were considering the average redemption value one could hope to achieve. Having a Companion Pass essentially doubles the value of your points, as every ticket you book becomes a two-for-one. This means that 60,000 points are worth about $1,800, and if you have or are currently pursuing the Companion Pass, it should be easy to get this type of elevated return on your sign-up bonus.
Further Reading: How to Quickly Earn the Southwest Companion Pass
As you would expect from a card with an annual fee of only $69, there aren’t many perks here to speak of. The only thing you really get to offset your annual fee is 3,000 bonus points on your account anniversary, worth about $45 based on TPG’s valuations. While the Plus might not be the most rewarding card for long term spending, there are a few other benefits and protections worth mentioning:
- Secondary car rental insurance and collision damage waiver
- Baggage delay insurance: Up to $100 a day for up to three days when your bags are delayed over six hours
- Up to $3,000 in reimbursement for lost luggage
- Roadside dispatch
- Travel accident insurance (up to $500,000 depending on whether you hold the Visa Signature or Visa Platinum version of the card)
- Extended warranty protection: Up to one year added to eligible manufacturers’ warranties of three years or less
- Purchase protection: Up to $500 of damage or theft coverage for 120 days after making eligible purchases on your card
How to Earn Points
The one area where most cobranded credit cards fall short is in the bonus categories, and the Southwest Plus Card is no exception. You’ll earn 2x points (or 3% back based on TPG’s valuations) for Southwest purchases and purchases with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, and 1x (1.5%) everywhere else. Whether you’re looking to rack up cash or points, there are plenty of cards that offer a better return on everyday spending. When it comes to travel bookings, it’s even possible to earn more Southwest points on your purchase by using a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead, but more on that later.
While most of Southwest’s route network is concentrated on domestic US flights, if you use your Companion Pass to take your friends or family to Mexico or the Caribbean, be warned that the Southwest Plus Card has a 3% foreign transaction fee. When you combine this with the relatively low earning rates, it’s easy to say that this is not going to be the most rewarding card for you to spend on long-term. Even if this card ends up in your sock drawer after the first three months, it might still be worth opening just for the bonus.
Further Reading: Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees in 2019
Rapid Rewards offers a few low-value redemption options including gift cards, merchandise, hotel stays, rental cars and travel experiences. You can even redeem for international flights on other carriers — but for all of these options the rates are worse than what you’d get by redeeming for Southwest flights. And of course, with the Companion Pass, your points are worth twice as much when you use them for Southwest flights.
The real value comes with award flights on Southwest. The airline offers three tiers of fares, ranging from the cheapest Wanna Get Away tickets to the more expensive Business Select ones.
The award rates are loosely tied to the cash price of the ticket, unlike most other US airlines that use fixed-value charts. This means you don’t have to worry too much about saving up for a good redemption opportunity. If you have Southwest points, it’s almost always a good idea to use them.
In the above example, you can see that redemption rates fluctuate between about 1.4-1.6 cents per point, hence TPG’s valuation of 1.5 cents. The best values come from booking cheaper Wanna Get Away fares, but other than that it’s nice not having to worry too much about the exact numbers.
Further Reading: How to Redeem Points With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Program
Further Reading: How to Score the Best Seats When Flying Southwest Airlines
How Does the Southwest Plus Card Stack Up?
The most obvious competitors to the Southwest Plus Card are the Southwest Premier and Priority cards. You can read this guide for a full head-to-head comparison if you’re still having trouble deciding, but here’s an overview: The Premier has a slightly higher annual fee of $99, a better anniversary points bonus (6,000 points) and no foreign transaction fees. Other than that, there’s not much else to help it stand out.
If you’re interested in getting more out of your Southwest credit card, you should set your sights on the Priority card. Your $149 annual fee is cut in half thanks to a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, which is really worth $150 while you have the Companion Pass. This essentially makes the Priority card free for any year that you have the Companion Pass, and less expensive than the mid-tier Premier card if you don’t. The Priority card also has a 7,500-point anniversary bonus and offers four upgraded A1-A15 boardings and a 20% discount on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi.
The question you ultimately need to answer for yourself is do you want the cheapest card (the Southwest Plus) or are you willing to pay more money upfront and essentially have it returned to you in the form of Southwest travel credits and anniversary points bonuses?
The Southwest Plus card is the cheapest way to get your hands on the 60,000 point bonus, but as usual you get what you pay for. Loyal Southwest fliers or those looking for additional perks to enhance their travel should strongly consider paying up for the Southwest Priority card instead.
While 60,000 points is a solid bonus, especially for those with the Southwest Companion Pass, it doesn’t change the underlying fundamentals of the Southwest Plus Card. A shiny new sign-up bonus is more than enough reason to apply for a card, but like many cobranded airline cards, this one can’t hold its own when it comes to return on spend and travel perks offered.
It’s also worth noting that this offer doesn’t bypass Chase’s 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened five or more cards in the last 24 months, you’ll be automatically rejected when applying for this card. Make sure to check your credit report carefully so you don’t waste a hard pull for nothing.
Apply here for the Southwest Plus Card with an up to 60,000-point sign-up bonus.
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