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Our quick take: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the least expensive Southwest card on the market, and although its benefits are limited, it’s a great entry point to see if the Southwest frequent flyer program works for you.

Pros:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on Southwest purchases, local transit and commuting purchases (including ride-shares), internet, cable, phone services and select streaming purchases and hotels and car rentals booked through the Rapid Rewards travel site.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • All points earned with your card count toward the Southwest Companion Pass.
  • 3,000 bonus points every year on your card member anniversary starting with the second year you have the card.
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.
  • Two EarlyBird Check-In credits per year.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions when redeeming points.

Cons:

  • Limited bonus categories.
  • Not as many travel protections as other Chase credit cards.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • No introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers.
  • $69 annual fee.

Current sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus points — 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in three months after opening the account, and an additional 50,000 points after you spend a total of $12,000 in 12 months.

Best for: Southwest flyers who are looking for the cheapest credit card that earns points toward flights on Southwest, as well as Southwest Companion Pass qualifying points.

See if you qualify for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Digging into the Southwest Plus credit card

The Southwest Plus credit card costs just $69 per year, which makes it one of the least expensive travel credit cards available. And despite minimal benefits, there are two very good reasons to get this card.

The first is to increase your Southwest frequent flyer account balance, and there’s never been a better time to do it. That’s because the Southwest Plus currently has the highest bonus offer we’ve ever seen on it. Right now you can earn up to 100,000 bonus points, split into two tiers. You’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in three months after opening the account, and an additional 50,000 points after you spend $12,000 total in 12 months.

When you use those points for Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” fares, they’re typically worth about 1.4 cents apiece, which makes 100,000 bonus points worth approximately $1,400 toward travel on Southwest. That’s an outstanding sign-up bonus for a card with just a $69 annual fee.

The second reason to apply for the Southwest Plus card is to get one step closer to earning the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows a friend or family member to fly with you for free (plus taxes and fees) an unlimited number of times during the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year. Think of the pass as an unlimited buy-one-get-one deal that could save you thousands of dollars while you have it.

All points earned with the Southwest Plus card or any Southwest credit card count as qualifying points needed to earn the pass. That includes the 100,000 bonus points earned from the sign-up offer, along with any points you earn from using the card.

So if you plan correctly, you could get the card now, but hold off until after Jan. 1 to meet the minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus. That will get you a Southwest Companion Pass early in 2022, which means you’d have it all the way through Dec. 31, 2023. This strategic planning could give you close to two years of free flights for your companion.

Advantages of the Southwest Plus credit card

While the Southwest Plus card is somewhat limited on the benefits front, especially compared to other Southwest credit cards, a few enhancements were recently added to the card.

The card has traditionally earned 2 points for every dollar you spend on Southwest purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. But now you’ll also earn 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting purchases (including ride-shares) and internet, cable, phone services and select streaming purchases.

You’ll also receive 25% back on in-flight purchases and two EarlyBird Check-In credits per year with the Southwest Plus card. The EarlyBird Check-In option is usually a paid upgrade that allows you to automatically check in for your flight before the traditional 24-hour mark. Since customers who check in earlier get better positions in Southwest’s boarding system (which doesn’t include seat assignments), you’ll get a chance to choose a better seat on the airplane.

southwest interior plane early boarding
Southwest Airlines
With Southwest EarlyBird Check-In, you can be one of the first people to board and choose your seat.

Typically, EarlyBird Check-In costs between $15 and $25 one way, so the two credits per year on the Southwest Plus card can save you up to $50. If this is a benefit you already use, then it easily helps offset the card’s $69 annual fee.

The Southwest Plus card continues to earn 3,000 points on every card member anniversary starting with the second year you have the card, which also helps offset the annual fee. Since Southwest points are worth about 1.4 cents each when used for “Wanna Get Away” fares, these 3,000 anniversary points are worth $42 toward flights, making your effective cost for the card just $27 a year.

Additionally, points earned on the Southwest Plus card never expire, and you’ll never have to worry about blackout dates or seat restrictions when redeeming your points. As long as there’s one seat remaining on the plane, you can get it with points, although the number of points varies depending on the cash price of the ticket at the time you redeem. Southwest also doesn’t charge any change or cancellation fees when altering a ticket booked with points, so if your plans change, you won’t pay a penalty to change or cancel your flight.

Other perks of the Southwest Plus card include shopping protection and extended warranty benefits. Purchases made with the card are protected for 120 days against damage or theft (up to $500 per claim and up to $50,000 per year), and the card also extends the US manufacturer’s warranty on your purchased items by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

You’ll also receive a few travel-related protections if you use your Southwest Plus card to pay for your next trip, such as coverage if your luggage gets lost or delayed, along with travel accident insurance and secondary auto rental collision insurance. Unfortunately, though, you won’t receive trip cancellation and interruption insurance or trip delay insurance, but those aren’t typical perks for a card that only charges $69 per year.

Earn bonus points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Disadvantages of the Southwest Plus credit card

Even with the recent enhancements, the Southwest Plus card doesn’t offer too many bonus opportunities when it comes to earning points. While the new additional bonus categories are nice, they still pale in comparison to the options on other travel credit cards.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, with an annual fee of $99 (which is only $26 more than the Southwest Plus), earns 3 points per dollar on dining (including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out), select online grocery purchases and select streaming services, as well as 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases (or 5x points total if purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards) and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. You can also transfer your Chase points to Southwest or to one of 13 other airline and hotel partner loyalty programs for more flexibility.

Or, if you want pure cash back — which you can then use for Southwest flights — the Citi® Double Cash Card earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off — and doesn’t even charge an annual fee.

That’s why the Southwest Plus card isn’t an ideal choice when it comes to earning rewards on your everyday purchases, unless you’re aiming to get a Southwest Companion Pass. That can be a great reason to use the Southwest Plus card even if you might be leaving some points on the table.

Other credit cards similar to the Southwest Plus

Within the Southwest family, there are two other personal cards to consider. Both the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card are more expensive than the Southwest Plus, with the Premier costing $99 (a $30 difference) and the Priority costing $149 (an $80 difference).

The Southwest Premier is similar to the Plus, with neither card offering a ton in terms of benefits. The main difference is that the Southwest Premier card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and offers the opportunity to earn tier-qualifying points toward Southwest’s A-List and A-List Preferred elite status. With the Southwest Premier, you’ll also earn 3 points per dollar on all Southwest purchases. If any of these benefits are valuable to you, then it may be worth paying a little bit extra each year for the Premier card.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a card that’ll provide you with a number of Southwest benefits, then you’ll instead want the Southwest Priority card, which comes with a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, four upgraded boardings per year, 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi and 7,500 bonus points on every card holder anniversary,

Alternatively, you might want to opt into a more flexible card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, since the points are more flexible and can be transferred to many partner programs aside from Southwest, such as JetBlue, United and Hyatt, or redeemed at a fixed rate through Chase’s travel portal. But keep in mind that points earned on the Sapphire Preferred won’t count toward the Southwest Companion Pass, even if you transfer them to Southwest.

Should you get the Southwest Plus credit card?

southwest plane from underneath cloudy sky
Southwest Airlines
The Southwest Plus card can be a great choice if you're looking to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

If your main goal is to earn the Southwest Companion Pass as inexpensively as possible, then the Southwest Plus card is your best option. With an incredibly low annual fee and a number of basic benefits that can offset the fee, there’s no reason to look elsewhere.

However, if you’re looking for a Southwest card that offers slightly more on the benefits front, you might want to consider either the Southwest Premier or Southwest Priority card, depending on the perks you need.

Just remember that with all three Southwest personal credit cards — the Plus, Premier and Priority — you’re only eligible as long as you don’t currently already have a personal Southwest credit card, and haven’t received a sign-up bonus of any of the three cards within the past 24 months. This makes right now one of the best times to apply for the Southwest Plus card.

Learn more and apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2021.

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