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The Verdict: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is like jet fuel for your travel budget, offering about $700 in airfare from first-year rewards alone. You get 40,000 points for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months your account is open and another 6,000 on your first account anniversary. The secret, however, isn’t necessarily how many points you get – although that is important – but rather what each point is worth.
Unlike most travel rewards cards, whose points and miles tend to carry no more than one cent of value apiece (far less in the case of many hotel-branded cards, for example), each Southwest Rapid Rewards point equates to a bit more than 1.7 cents, on average, when redeemed for a free flight. In other words, 40,000 points are redeemable for over $688 in airfare and the 6,000-point bonus you’ll receive each account anniversary will nearly cancel out the previous year’s $99 annual fee. This puts the card’s ongoing earning structure – 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards-family purchases and 1 point per $1 on everything else – into a new light as well.
Aside from the annual fee, the obvious downside to this offer is that it restricts you logistically. You can only redeem points for flights on Southwest Airlines and through Southwest.com. You can’t simply find the best deal for your itinerary on a comparison site like Kayak.com or Priceline.com and pay for it with points, even if Southwest is the carrier.
Finally, it’s important to note that Southwest Airlines and Chase currently more co-branded consumer rewards cards.
- $99 Annual Fee: With all this card offers, it’s perhaps easy to overlook what it takes in return. A $99 annual fee isn’t all that egregious relative to other top-shelf rewards cards for excellent credit, but it will effectively cancel out your anniversary points bonus.
Other Things To Consider
- No Foreign Transaction Fee: In the past, this would have amounted to a largely empty benefit because Southwest only flew domestic routes and someone in a position to rack up a lot of foreign transaction fees likely would have chosen to open a credit card affiliated with an air carrier operating in their destination of choice.
But now that Southwest has added flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, “no foreign transaction fee” is an essential feature. If the Southwest Card continued to charge foreign transaction fees, consumers who travel to the airline’s newly-added destinations would have a more complicated decision in terms of becoming brand-loyal Southwest Airlines passengers. Sure, the airline is known for low fares and the card offers solid rewards on tickets booked, but is seeing every purchase you make in your destination get inflated by 3% worth restricting your ability to comparison shop for flight deals? That would have been a tough sell considering the other lucrative no foreign transaction fee travel rewards credit cards that are available.
- 2 Free Checked Bags Per Flight: This is a perk of flying Southwest regardless of whether you have its eponymous Premier Card. So while this feature will certainly save you money, it’s not an outright reason to submit an application.
- No Seat Restrictions, Change Fees or Blackout Dates: Southwest Airlines doesn’t have assigned seats, so seating restrictions for reward flights are kind of a moot point. The same is true of change fees because Southwest Airlines simply doesn’t charge them. And while you don’t need to be a cardholder to avoid blackout dates either – a free membership in Rapid Rewards will provide that – it is nice to have the reassurance that red tape won’t derail redemption.
Compared To The Competition
Air travel is a competitive business. The same can also be said of the travel rewards credit cards that help you lift off more often at less of a cost. Any analysis of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card therefore is not complete without consideration of other popular offers.
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