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Savvy TPG readers know that we generally don’t recommend building your points strategy around a cobranded airline credit card. They tend to offer fewer perks and less flexibility than a comparably priced transferable points card. This is especially true of the Southwest Rapid Rewards card portfolio, which doesn’t really measure up to the better earning rates and flexible redemption options of cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 rate).
That being said, the Southwest credit cards have remained very popular among those looking to earn the elusive 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 fees 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.
Who Is This Card For?
The Southwest Premier Card is ideal for regular Southwest flyers, along with anyone looking to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. While the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card are both currently offering identical 40,000-point sign-up bonuses as the Premier, the Premier is ideal for those looking for a cheaper annual fee than the Priority, while still enjoying perks like no foreign transaction fees, the ability to earn Tier points through spending and a 6,000-point card anniversary bonus.
The current bonus on the Premier Card (as well as on the Priority and Plus cards) is 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. TPG values Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, meaning 40,000 points are worth $600. This isn’t the largest sign-up bonus we’ve ever seen on this card, but it can be potentially combined with the current sign-up bonus on the brand new Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, which is offering a 80,000-point bonus after $5,000 in spending in the first three months to earn a Companion Pass.
Points from the sign-up bonuses on Southwest credit cards are Companion Pass-qualifying, meaning if you sign up for the Premier and the Performance together, you’ll earn 120,000 points in bonuses, easily surpassing the 110,000 points needed for the Companion Pass.
The earning rates on the Southwest Premier follow the same standard as many cobranded airlines cards. You’ll earn 2x miles on Southwest purchases (and when booking hotels or renting a car through a Southwest partner), and 1x on everything else. This gives you a return of 3% on Southwest purchases and 1.5% on everyday spending, which isn’t much to get excited about. This isn’t the most rewarding card you can pick for long term spending goals.
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 more 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 Southwest points, it’s almost always a good idea to redeem them.
Take the below example of a flight from Washington, D.C. (DCA) to Chicago (MDW).
Depending on which fare type and routing you select (i.e., connecting vs. nonstop), you’ll earn anywhere from 1.43-1.59 cents per point you redeem, with the best values coming from the cheapest Wanna Get Away fares.
When compared to the legacy US carriers that all charge a fixed amount of miles no matter the price of the ticket, with Southwest, you really don’t have to work hard or do any math to make sure you’re getting a good deal.
Southwest also gives you the option to redeem your points for gift cards, merchandise, rental cars, hotels and experiences, though 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, so there isn’t much reason to be looking at redemption options other than on Southwest flights.
While you don’t expect a card with a $99 annual fee to come loaded with perks, there are a few on the Southwest Premier Card worth mentioning.
The first is the 6,000-point anniversary bonus you’ll receive after renewing your card. While 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 your annual fee from your second year onward.
While the Companion Pass is technically a form of Southwest elite status, it doesn’t carry most of the common elite perks (bonus points, priority boarding, etc). Especially 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 of 35,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs) in a calendar year, but you can earn bonus TQPs by spending on the Premier card. You’ll earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent per calendar year, up to $100,000 (or 15,000 TQPs).
Which Cards Compete With the Southwest Premier?
The most obvious competitors to the Southwest Premier are the other two personal cobranded Southwest cards, the higher end Southwest Priority card and the lower end Southwest Plus 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 Plus card only costs $69 a year, it has a 3% foreign-transaction fee and a weaker 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 in many ways that $75 credit is actually worth $150. This makes the Priority card cost an effective -$1 out of pocket, for which you 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 like the Premier card. Many people will be better off opting for the Priority card over the Premier — even if you can’t requalify for the Companion Pass, at $74 a year (after subtracting the annual Southwest credit) the upper tier Priority card is cheaper than the $99 Premier card.
Another card that gives the Premier card a run for its money is an old-time favorite, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The CSP offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in three months. While it’s hard to put a value on the Companion Pass without knowing exactly how many times you’ll use it, those 60,000 points from the CSP are worth anywhere from $750 if you redeem them for travel through the Chase portal (with a 25% bonus) to $1,200 or more if you transfer to Chase’s incredible collection of airline and hotel partners. But keep in mind that transferred points do not count toward the Companion Pass, so if you’re aiming to pick one up while you can combine sign-up bonuses, the Sapphire Preferred isn’t the way to go at the moment.
The airline with perhaps the best public perception in the US earns another huge win by offering the Companion Pass, an unbelievably valuable perk, and being able to snag one by combining the bonuses on the Southwest Premier and Southwest Performance cards is icing on the cake. 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 by combining sign-up bonuses, 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 Priority 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.
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With the Southwest Premier credit card you'll earn 6,000 points each year after your cardmember anniversary. Southwest also offers one of the most lucrative airline perks - the Companion Pass.
- Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 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 unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
- Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.