August 11, 2022

Why the Southwest Priority Credit Card Is the Best Deal for Flyers

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Why the Southwest Priority Credit Card Is the Best Deal for Flyers

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Paying an annual fee for a credit card can make sense if the benefits you receive outweigh the yearly cost. While there are plenty of no-annual-fee credit cards that come with decent perks, the best travel credit cards usually aren’t fee-free.

In most cases, the higher the annual fee, the more benefits you’ll receive, and sometimes the welcome bonuses are higher on more expensive cards offered by the same loyalty program.

With the Southwest personal credit cards, you’ll definitely get better perks from the pricier versions — but all three cards offer an identical welcome bonus of a Companion Pass® through 2/28/23 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months:

If you’re not a frequent Southwest flyer or just want to earn the welcome bonus for the lowest out-of-pocket cost, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card appears to be the best deal at first glance.

However, if you factor in the benefits, you can actually get a better value from the higher-priced cards in the long term, even though the annual fee is $30 higher on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and $80 more on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

Read more: Guide to the best Southwest credit cards

I have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card for this very reason. Here’s why it’s the best deal for most Southwest flyers, especially if you’ll keep the card beyond the first year.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card is the best value


Regular APR


15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Recommended Credit Score


Good to Excellent


Regular APR


15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Recommended Credit Score


Good to Excellent

Pros

  • Generous annual benefits, including a Southwest travel credit and 7,500 points, plus upgraded boardings and in-flight discounts
  • If you fly Southwest several times a year, the benefits easily outweigh the annual fee
  • Annual fee is low compared to other premium airline credit cards

Cons

  • Highest annual fee among Southwest consumer cards

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More Information

  • Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® through 2/28/23 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • With Companion Pass®, every time you fly, your friend can too
  • 7,500 anniversary points each year.
  • New! Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • New! Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • New! Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

It may seem a little counterintuitive to opt for the most expensive Southwest personal card when all three come with the same bonus, but when you consider the benefits offered by each card, the value is clear.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

The key points to note here are each card’s anniversary points bonus, which you can redeem for Southwest award flights, and unique perks that have a dollar value, such as EarlyBird Check-In, Southwest credits, and upgraded boarding. 

Anniversary points bonus

Each of the Southwest cards awards bonus points each year on your card anniversary. Southwest points are worth, on average, 1.4 cents each based on Insider’s valuations, so it’s fairly easy to calculate the value of this benefit.

Keep in mind Southwest points never expire, so these points are yours to use whenever you’re ready to travel.

EarlyBird Check-In

Only the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offer EarlyBird Check-In benefits. When you use your card to pay the EarlyBird Check-In fee ($15 to $25, depending on the flight), you’ll receive a statement credit in the amount up to twice per account anniversary year.

EarlyBird Check-In allows you to automatically check in for your flight 36 hours prior to departure. Because Southwest assigns your boarding position based on the time you check in, this perk can help you get on the airplane earlier and allow you a better opportunity to select your desired seat.

Looking at the best-case scenario, if you maximize this perk by using both EarlyBird Check-Ins each anniversary year, you could get a value of $30 to $50 annually with either of these cards. However, you can get an even more useful boarding perk with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

Upgraded boardings

Of the three personal Southwest cards, only the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card offers four upgraded boardings (when available) per year as a benefit. This is different from EarlyBird Check-In, and potentially more valuable.

You would normally purchase EarlyBird Check-In at the time of ticket purchase, but there’s no guarantee as to the boarding position you’ll receive — it depends on how many others have also opted into this feature, among other factors. Upgraded boardings are available to purchase at the airport only if there are slots available in the first boarding group (A1 to A15), and it’s more expensive at $30, $40, or $50 per flight, depending on the itinerary.

Read more: Guide to the best credit cards with priority boarding

Purchasing an upgraded boarding position pretty much guarantees you’ll get the first crack at the most desirable seats, and it’s extra useful if you’re traveling with kids or a group that needs to sit together. I’ve used this perk while traveling with my children, and it relieves the anxiety of wondering whether there’ll be seats left together by the time we’re on board.

If you were to max out this benefit by using all four upgraded boardings every year, you could get a value between $120 and $200 annually.

Southwest credits

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the only card to offer up to $75 in Southwest credits each anniversary year. You can cash in these credits by using your card to pay for Southwest Airlines purchases (except inflight purchases and upgraded boarding), including:

  • Southwest airfare 
  • EarlyBird Check-In
  • Southwest gift cards (purchased directly from Southwest)
  • Bag fees (after the first two free checked bags) including overweight or oversize bags
  • Sporting equipment
  • Pet fees
  • Unaccompanied minor fees

You’ll receive a statement credit for the amount, up to $75 per year, shortly after the transaction posts to your account. I’ve used my Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card to buy Southwest gift cards for future use when I’ve needed to use the credit but don’t currently have travel to book. The gift cards don’t expire, so I’ll be able to use them when I’m ready.

Calculating your net cost after benefits

Looking only at the anniversary points and statement credits offered by these cards, here’s a look at the dollar value and net annual cost you can expect with each:

In the case of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, you’ll actually get a value that exceeds the annual fee. And you’ll get an even bigger return if you max out the four upgraded boardings per year (worth up to $200).

With the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you can still get extra value by using the two EarlyBird Check-Ins each year (worth $30 to $50). If that’s something you would have paid for anyway, you can get more from the card than your annual fee costs.

The math changes if you aren’t planning on keeping the card long-term

Keep in mind you’ll only receive the annual bonus points on your account anniversary, so if, after the first year, you decide the card isn’t right for you and cancel it, you’ll have to take those points out of the equation.

If that’s the case, and you’re sure you won’t use any of the perks, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card could be the best choice. Just keep in mind it’s the only card that adds foreign transaction fees, so if you plan to make international purchases, one of the other cards is a better bet.

Read more: The best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees

I’ll continue to keep the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card because it effectively puts money (or points) back in my pocket every year worth more than the annual fee. My family flies Southwest a couple of times a year, so it’s a no-brainer to use the benefits, whether we’re paying for our flights or cashing in points for award tickets.

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