Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card review: A good value for the cost

Feb 11, 2021

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here –  Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Overview

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is the middle of the pack when it comes to Southwest personal credit cards. While airline credit cards generally don’t come with too many perks, the lack of foreign transaction fees and 6,000 anniversary bonus points should help offset this card’s reasonable $99 annual fee. Card rating*: ⭐⭐⭐

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

Savvy TPG readers know that we generally don’t recommend building your points strategy around a cobranded airline credit card, as they tend to offer fewer perks and less flexibility than a comparably priced transferable points card. When it comes to the Southwest Rapid Rewards card portfolio in particular, you’ll generally get better earning rates and more flexible redemption options with cards — such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which then transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 rate.

That being said, the Southwest credit cards have remained very popular among Southwest fans, especially those looking to earn the coveted Companion Pass and the year of free flights it bestows on their designated travel companion. The mid-tier version of the three personal Southwest cards — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card — has a good balance of perks and annual fee that could make it worthy of a spot in your card collection, especially if you’re aiming to pick up a Companion Pass this year. Let’s take a look.

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Who is this card for?

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is ideal for regular Southwest flyers, along with anyone looking to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. All three Southwest personal credit cards — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card — are currently offering identical sign-up bonuses where you’ll automatically earn the Southwest Companion Pass, plus 30,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

If you earn the Companion Pass through this particular promotional offer, the pass will be good through Feb. 28, 2022. The Premier is a good choice for those looking for a cheaper annual fee than the Priority’s $149, while still enjoying perks such as no foreign transaction fees and a 6,000-point card anniversary bonus.

If you do fly with Southwest quite a bit throughout the year, the higher-tier Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card does offer a higher anniversary bonus and more perks for flying. But for most casual Southwest flyers, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is a perfectly adequate option to supplement your other travel credit cards.

Do keep in mind that all of Southwest’s cobranded cards are beholden to Chase’s infamous 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened more than five new accounts over the past 24 months (across all issuers, not just Chase), you’re almost certain to be denied for this card. Also note that because it’s a personal card, it will count toward your 5/24 tally. If you are planning to apply for other Chase cards in the near future, make sure this card is worth the slot it will take up.

Related: Comparing the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority, Premier and Plus Credit Cards

Current sign-up bonus

The current bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (as well as on the Priority and Plus cards) is unique: Instead of earning an increased number of Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you are instead earning the Southwest Companion Pass, plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of card membership.

First, let’s focus on the Companion Pass portion of the bonus. Typically, you need to earn 125,000 tier qualifying points within a calendar year to earn the pass. When you earn the pass through the traditional method, the pass is valid through Dec. 31 of the year following the year it was earned. However, if you earn the pass through this special credit card offer, the pass will expire Feb. 28, 2022. This means you’ll have the pass for approximately a year, depending on when you sign up for the card and meet the minimum spend requirement. This particular offer expires March 10, 2021.

The pass will show up in your account a few days after your statement closes in the month where you meet the $5,000 minimum spend requirement. So let’s say you apply for the credit card now and your statement closes on March 15, 2021. If you spend $5,000 on your card before your first statement closes (not including the card’s annual fee), the pass should show up in your account between two and five days after March 15. This timeframe is typically how it works when it comes to earning the Companion Pass when it has to do with credit card spend.

We say “should” since the terms and conditions of the offer state that the pass will post to your account within eight weeks. But in normal practice, the timeframe listed above is typically how it works when it comes to earning the Companion Pass when it has to do with credit card spend.

On top of earning the pass, you’ll also receive 30,000 points. TPG values Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, meaning 30,000 points are worth up to $450.

The value of this sign-up bonus truly depends on how much you’ll be traveling within the next year. If you don’t think you’ll be traveling at all in the next year, then this might not be the best time to apply for this credit card offer. Instead, you’d be better off applying during a higher point offer, where your points won’t expire as long as your account is kept open. However, even if you are only planning on flying twice (on expensive flights), this offer can still save you a good amount of money as your companion will fly for free (plus taxes and fees). You can also use the 30,000 points earned from the offer to book your flight and still add your companion on the flight.

Now, if you are eligible for a business credit card, you might instead want to consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. This card is offering up to a 100,000-point sign-up bonus — 70,000 points after $5,000 in spending in the first three months and another 30,000 points after spending $25,000 in the first six months of having the card. While this offer doesn’t come with the Companion Pass component, the 125,000 points you earn (100,000 as part of the bonus and 25,000 after meeting the full minimum spend requirement), will give you the exact number of points required to earn the pass. And with this method, you’ll actually earn the pass through Dec. 31, 2022.  

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

However, keep in mind that you can’t earn a sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card if you currently have any personal Southwest card, nor are you eligible if you earned a sign-up bonus on a personal card in the past 24 months.

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

Main perks and benefits

While you don’t expect an airline credit card with a $99 annual fee to come loaded with perks, there are a few on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card worth mentioning. The first is the 6,000-point anniversary bonus you’ll receive after renewing your card each year. Although the annual fee is not waived the first year, TPG values 6,000 Rapid Rewards points at $90, meaning that the anniversary bonus will almost entirely offset that fee from your second year on.

While the Companion Pass is technically a form of Southwest elite status, it doesn’t carry most of the common airline elite perks such as bonus points, priority boarding and so on. So if you’re taking the shortcut to earning the Companion Pass by combining sign-up bonuses, you may also be interested in earning Southwest A-List elite status to enhance your travels. Doing so requires 25 qualifying flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year. You can earn bonus TQPs by spending on the Premier card — 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent per calendar year, up to $100,000 (or 15,000 TQPs).

While all Southwest flyers get two free checked bags, A-List status also comes with automatic priority boarding (Southwest recently expanded this to those traveling with you), a 25% points-earning bonus, the ability do same-day standby flights, priority check-in and security lane access at participating airports, and a dedicated A-List phone line. Members of A-List Preferred, which kicks in after 50 one-way flights or 70,000 TQPs, receive all the benefits above, plus a 100% points bonus and free inflight Wi-Fi.

Related: What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth in 2020?  

Like other U.S. carriers, Southwest not only extended status for A-List and A-List Preferred members through Dec. 31, 2021, but it also extended Companion Pass benefits through Dec. 31, 2021, for eligible Rapid Rewards members (those who had the Companion Pass initially set to expire on Dec 31, 2020).

Earning and redeeming

The earning rates on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card follow the same standard as some other cobranded airline credit cards, although it’s a standard that’s slowly being usurped as other airlines improve their credit card offerings. You’ll earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and 1x on all other purchases. This gives you a return of 3% on Southwest purchases and 1.5% on everyday spending (based on TPG valuations), which isn’t much to get excited about. This isn’t the most rewarding card you can pick for long-term spending goals.

Related: The best airline credit cards of 2021

However, one of the best things about redeeming Southwest Rapid Rewards points is the simplicity of the process. Whether you select the cheapest Wanna Get Away fares or the most expensive Business Select tickets, the cost of your award ticket is tied to the cash price of the flight. This means you don’t have to worry about getting the highest possible cent-per-point redemption value; if you have Rapid Rewards points, it’s almost always a good idea to redeem them for Southwest flights — including options to Hawaii and international destinations.

Southwest also gives you the option to redeem your points for gift cards, merchandise, rental cars, hotels and experiences, although these redemption options offer a much worse value. Interestingly enough, Southwest also lets you redeem your Rapid Rewards points for international flights on other airlines. The exact redemption value varies, but it’s generally worse than you would get redeeming directly for Southwest flights. And remember, with your Companion Pass, your points stretch twice as far using them on Southwest-operated trips, so there isn’t much reason to be looking at redemption options other than on Southwest flights.

Which cards compete with the Southwest Premier?

The most obvious competitors to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card are the other two personal cobranded Southwest cards — the higher-end Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the lower-end Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. With all three cards offering identical sign-up bonuses, this competition comes down to which card offers the best perks in exchange for its annual fee. If you’re struggling to pick between the three, you can check out our head-to-head comparison.

While the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card only costs $69 a year, it has a 3% foreign transaction fee and a small anniversary bonus of only 3,000 Rapid Rewards points (worth $45). The Priority card, on the other hand, has a $149 annual fee but includes a $75 annual Southwest travel credit. That immediately knocks the out-of-pocket cost down to $74 a year. But remember that the Companion Pass doubles the value of your points and spending with Southwest, so for many people who have a Companion Pass, that $75 credit is actually worth $150.

This makes the Priority card essentially cost nothing out of pocket while you still get a 7,500-point anniversary bonus, four upgraded A1-A15 boardings (when available), 20% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi, and no foreign transaction fees. Many people who travel on Southwest even just a few times a year will be better off opting for the Priority card over the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card — at $74 a year (after subtracting the annual Southwest credit), the upper-tier Priority card is cheaper than the $99 Premier card.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Another card that gives the Premier card a run for its money is a long-time favorite: the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The CSP offers a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Those points are worth anywhere from $1,250 if you redeem them for travel through the Chase portal (with a 25% bonus) to up to $2,000 (according to TPG valuations) or more if you transfer them to Chase’s incredible collection of 10 airline and three hotel partners, including Southwest. But keep in mind that transferred points do not count toward the Companion Pass.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

Bottom line

The airline with perhaps the best public perception in the U.S. offers sign-up bonuses on all three of its personal credit cards. If you’re trying to earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, this sign-up offer will give you the fastest route — although you’ll only have it for one year at most.

To extend the pass for longer, you can always apply for one of the two Southwest business credit cards to add to the tier qualifying points you earn. Since you’ll already have 30,000 points with this offer, that only leaves you with 70,000 more points to earn within the calendar year (as long as you received the 25,000-point boost earlier this year). Even just meeting the first-tier minimum spend qualifications of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card will earn you the 70,000 tier qualifying points you need after spending $5,000 on the card within the first three months.

Remember that like most Chase cards, these are subject to the 5/24 rule, so if you’ve opened five or more cards in the last 24 months, your application will be automatically rejected.

If you decide to pursue the Companion Pass, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is a good avenue for doing so. Even though some people will come out ahead by opting for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the $75 annual Southwest travel credit it carries, the Premier offers a decent return with a lower upfront cost, and that’s before you even factor in the added savings that come with the Companion Pass.

Apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card here. 

Featured photo by John Gribben /The Points Guy.

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