The best credit cards for you depend on your travel goals and spending habits. If you want to book Southwest flights for free, a Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit card may seem like an obvious choice. But you should also consider a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card.
A Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit card is not the only way you can earn Southwest points from credit card spending
There are 3 Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit cards. All of these cards earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
There are 3 Chase Sapphire cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards has 9 airline transfer partners. One of the Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners happens to be Southwest. That means that you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account at a 1:1 ratio. Then you can use the Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book flights.
Comparing Chase Sapphire and Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit cards
Here is a comparison of two of the most popular credit cards:
|Chase Sapphire Preferred®||Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier®|
|Annual Fee||$95 (waived for the first year)||$99|
|Bonus Categories||2 points per dollar on travel and dining||2 points per on Southwest flights|
|All other purchases||1 point per dollar||1 point per dollar|
|Reward currency earned||Chase Ultimate Rewards||Southwest Rapid Rewards®|
|Are points transferable?||Yes, there are 9 airline partners and 4 hotel partners.||No|
|Foreign Transaction Fees||No||No|
|Use points to pay for travel using Ultimate Rewards booking portal||Yes, at a value of 1.25 cents per point||No|
|Minimum spend requirement||$4,000 in first 3 months||$1,000 in first 3 months|
|Do points qualify for Southwest Companion Pass?||No||Yes|
There are 2 other benefits to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card:
- You can earn 1,500 Tier-qualifying points toward A-list and A-list preferred status per $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 Tier points per year.
- Every year at your anniversary you receive 6,000 Rapid Rewards points.
5 reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card is a better way to earn free Southwest flights
1. There is no annual fee for the first year on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card
The annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is $95, but it is waived for the first year. You can try it out and if you still aren’t convinced that it’s the best card for you, you can cancel before your card anniversary.
The annual fee on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card is $99 and not waived the first year.
2. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card has a better sign up bonus
The current sign up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. The current Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card bonus is 40,000 Rapid Rewards® points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.
The minimum spending requirement is higher on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but you earn 10,000 more points. That’s 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to Southwest.
3. Earn more points on everyday spending with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card
Both cards earn 1 point per dollar on most purchases. But the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card has bonus categories that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier card does not have.
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card earns 2 points per dollar on Southwest flights.
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card also earns 2 points per dollar on Southwest flights. But you get 2 points per dollar on all travel, not just Southwest flights.
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card also earns 2 points per dollar at restaurants.
4. You can use points for Southwest flights by transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest Rapid Rewards®, but you can also transfer to other airlines
Chase Ultimate Rewards has 9 airline partners and 4 hotel partners. One of the airline transfer partners happens to be Southwest. That means that you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. Then you can use the Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book flights.
You can also check other airlines that are direct or indirect Ultimate Rewards partners for lower cost redemptions. For example, last year I booked last minute tickets for my parents to come to Dallas from Florida. Roundtrip tickets on any airline were at least $700 roundtrip. On Southwest, the cost in points was 38,000 points each way. But I was able to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights for only 7,500 points each way! You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Airways.
You can only book Southwest flights with Southwest Rapid Rewards points
Southwest credit cards earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Southwest Rapid Rewards points cannot be transferred to hotel programs (such as World of Hyatt), bank programs (such as Chase Ultimate Rewards), or other airlines. Southwest is not part of an airline alliance and they do not have partner airlines. This means that you can only book Southwest flights with Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
5. Points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card give more redemption options
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of my favorite award currencies. These points are extremely versatile when it comes to redemption options. The two options that provide the most value for booking travel are:
- Transfer Ultimate Rewards to airline and/or hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio. There are 9 airline partners and 4 hotel partners.
- Use the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. This is basically using your points as cash to book through their portal. The value of Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from a Chase Sapphire Preferred card is 1.25 cents per point. For example, the 50,000 point sign up bonus would be worth $625 if you use them in the redemption portal.
1 reason to get Southwest credit cards instead of a Chase Sapphire card: The Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass allows a designated companion to fly with you for free anytime you book a Southwest flight. You can do this as many times as you want for the duration of your pass. The pass is valid for the year in which you earn it, plus the entire following year. You can add your companion to any ticket booked on Southwest, even tickets booked on points! Your only cost is taxes and fees (which is $5.60 for domestic flights). See terms and conditions on southwest.com.
How can I earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
There are two ways to earn it:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights in one calendar year
- Earn 110,000 qualifying points in one calendar year.
Points earned from Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit cards qualify for the Companion Pass. This includes the sign up bonuses. The easiest and quickest strategy to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is to open 2 Southwest credit cards. You can get a personal card and the business card.
Do Chase Ultimate Rewards count towards the Companion Pass if I transfer to Southwest?
Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest do NOT qualify for earning the Companion Pass.
So for those interested in a Companion Pass, Southwest cards are more important than a Chase Sapphire card. This is pretty much the only reason I would ever suggest a Southwest credit card over a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning credit card.
Chase 5/24 considerations
Are Chase Sapphire and Southwest credit cards subject to Chase 5/24*?
*If you do not know what I am talking about, read this post about Chase’s 5/24 policy.
Yes. All of these cards are subject to the 5/24 policy.
I am under 5/24. Can I open 2 Chase Sapphire or 2 Southwest credit cards?
There are some reasons you may want to do this:
- To earn another sign up bonus
- If you’re trying to earn the Southwest Companion Pass
Chase Sapphire cards: You cannot have both personal Chase Sapphire cards at the same time. But you can have a Chase Ink business credit card and a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Southwest cards: You cannot have both personal versions of the Southwest credit cards at the same time. This is a fairly new rule. But you can have the business card and one personal card.
Can I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® and a Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit card at the same time?
Yes, and I actually encourage it. If you’re trying to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you will need a Southwest Rapid Rewards business card and a Southwest Rapid Rewards personal card. So I would start with those. After that, a Chase Sapphire card should be your next move.
Remember, all of these cards are subject to 5/24, so you will want to open them early in your points and miles hobby! Once you’ve opened 5 cards, you will not be approved for any Chase 5/24 cards until 25 months after your 5th newest card was opened.
While you can have these cards at the same time, I do not recommend trying to open them at the same time.
Space out your applications to avoid scrutiny by Chase if you plan to open multiple cards
This applies to any Chase card, not just the cards discussed in this post! Chase has been known to flag or even shut down people who open too many accounts too quickly.
More about the Southwest Rapid Rewards program
Southwest is a great airline for many reasons: low fares, free checked bags, friendly employees, free changes/cancellations, and an easy-to-use loyalty program. If you live in a city that Southwest serves and mostly fly domestic, Southwest Rapid Rewards® is a great loyalty program.
- Points are easy to earn and use
- Award ticket availability isn’t limited like other US airlines
- Low fares=low redemption costs
- The Southwest Companion Pass makes your points even more valuable
The Southwest Rapid Rewards program does not have an award chart
Southwest award flights are usually priced according to the paid fare at the time of booking. In other words, a lower fare will cost a lower amount of Southwest Rapid Rewards points. On the other hand, a higher fare is going to cost more points. But the good news is that if a seat is available, you can book it on points.
With Southwest, you do not have to worry about award ticket availability
Southwest does not limit the amount of tickets available to book on points like American Airlines and most other airline programs. You will always be able to book flights with Southwest points (unless the flight is sold out), but it might not be the lowest redemption option.
If you want to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points but you do not think you can meet the requirements to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card instead of a Southwest credit card. You can transfer points earned from the CSP to Southwest. So it’s like having the Southwest card, but with many more redemption options.
It makes more sense to earn points that are flexible. By collecting Ultimate Rewards, you can still book Southwest flights, but you also have access to other airlines, hotels, and the Ultimate Rewards redemption portal.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Credit Card (Terms)
- Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 Months
- Annual Fee: $95, but waived the first year
- Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining