Which Southwest Credit Card Offers the Most Value in 2020?
Trying to decide between 3 cards…with similar benefits…offering the same sign-up bonus…inspired us to seek new ways to analyze value. We built this model to help guide our application decision. Now, we hope it supports your own quest for clarity!
Trying to decide which Southwest credit card offers the most value can prove challenging. Particularly, when all 3 cards currently offer the same sign-up bonus. Ultimately, it comes down to 1) personal choice and 2) a little bit of math. The former is yours to make. The latter is something we can help with.
How is this article different from all the other Southwest credit card comparison articles you’ve seen online?
- MANY will reiterate the details of each card (as will this one)—but stop right there.
- SOME dig a bit deeper: they crunch some numbers…and share a few key findings. Many of those can be quite helpful!
- THIS ARTICLE takes it several steps further: we’ll break down the numbers, show you the calculations, explain the results, and introduce some new ways to analyze credit card value—beyond the sign-up bonus.
Keep reading, and we’ll show you a numbers-driven approach to comparing the net value 3 personal Southwest credit cards offer, when factoring in sign-up bonuses, other perks, fees, and a hypothetical spend. By the end, you’ll understand how much positive or negative value each card represents at the beginning of a new 12-month billing cycle—even if it never leaves your wallet.
If you’re short on time, use the “jump to” links below to skip to the parts you’re most interested in.
In this post:
- Which Southwest credit card offers the most value in 2020?
- The model: 2-year net value comparison of 3 Southwest credit cards
Boring legal stuff: this page includes independent analysis conducted solely by us (travelhelix). We are not financial advisers, nor are we providing any financial advice. We’ve simply crunched the numbers…and are here to share the results.
The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer. We received no compensation to research or write this, and we have no compensatory relationship with either Chase or Southwest. However, the card application links on this page are our own personal referral links. If you use our links to apply for one of these cards — and you get approved — we may earn referral bonus points from Southwest. If this is you…then THANK YOU! And please let us know, because we won’t find out otherwise! #personalprivacylaws
Finally, we do value your feedback (good or bad!), so please leave comments or questions at the bottom of this page, or shoot us an email.
Which Southwest credit card offers the most value in 2020?
Chase is offering incredible sign-up bonuses on all 3 of its personal, co-branded Southwest credit cards. All 3 cards allow new card owners to earn up to 75k bonus Rapid Rewards points—worth an estimated $1125—after spending a total of $5k within the first 6 months of card ownership.
So, if all 3 cards offer the same sign-up bonus, how do you know which card is right for you?
Too many times, I have stared blankly at a comparative list of features, benefits and fees, trying to answer this type of question. This time, I decided to take it to the spreadsheet, and let the numbers do the talking.
Our model offers objective, math-based insight into which Southwest credit card offers the most value in 2020…and beyond. The results—and the calculations behind each of them—are all presented later on, but I’ll tell you this up front: the cards offer comparable value in year 1, but the value gap widens in year 2.
Also, since sign-up bonuses don’t last forever, we’ll address the question: “if I never take this card out of my wallet after year 1, am I losing money away? Or could I possibly be earning money, just by owning it?”
In other words: does the value of the card’s non-purchase-related benefits more than compensate for its annual fee? This calculation—which we call net value before spending (“NVBS”)—is one of many factors that may impact your application decision today.
But the clock is ticking: these bonus offers expire February 18, 2020.
Who’s eligible to apply?
Anyone who does not currently have one of these cards—and has not previously received a sign-up bonus for one of these cards in the last 24 months—is eligible to apply. Of course, your application is subject to credit approval.
However, if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards (Chase or any other*) in the last 24 months, we suggest reading up on 5/24 before applying.
*Exception: Southwest BUSINESS credit cards do NOT count toward 5/24. So if you’ve got 5 cards that fit the description of 5/24—regardless of whether they’re still open or not—but one of them is a Southwest business credit card…you may not be at your 5/24 limit.
2020 Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses from Chase
Today, Chase offers 3 co-branded Southwest credit cards for personal use:
- PLUS — $69 annual fee
- PREMIER — $99 annual fee
- PRIORITY — $149 annual fee
The current sign-up bonuses are at the highest levels I can remember…and I’ve had a few Chase Southwest cards in my wallet over the last 15 years.
The 75k bonus points are unlocked by achieving 2 tiers of qualifying spend:
- Tier 1 — earn 40k points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
- Tier 2 — earn another 35k points after you spend an additional $4,000 within the first 6 months.
Reminder to please spend responsibly: the wondrous appeal of a massive sign-up bonus will quickly wear off if you find yourself in credit card debt, after meeting a qualifying spend that was well beyond your budget. Been there. Not worth it.
What are 75k Southwest bonus points worth?
Credit cards offer value to their owners in a variety of ways: cash back, rental car insurance, flight perks, etc. The 3 Southwest credit cards are no exception, as we’ll explore shortly. But within the context of this article, most of the year 1 and year 2 card value exists in the form of Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
So, what’s a point worth?
The value of a single Southwest Rapid Rewards point fluctuates anywhere from 1.2 cents and 1.7 cents, depending on the redemption (itinerary & fare class drive this fluctuation). For the sake of simplicity, our model uses an estimated and generally agreed upon value of 1.5 cents per point (thank you TPG!).
At 1.5 cents each, 75k bonus points have an estimated value—or purchasing power equivalent—of $1125. In other words: you could spend $1125 cash on Southwest flights, or purchase those same flights for 75k points. Points may not pay the bills, but they do offer real purchasing power. So, if points help you save some cash…go pay your bills!
Do bonus points count toward the Companion Pass?
This question comes up a lot…and the answer is YES! These 75k bonus points DO count toward a Southwest Companion Pass—giving you a huge head start on achieving one of the most valuable perks in the airline industry. If you’re able to earn your way up to 125k points before the end of 2020, the Companion Pass can save you hundreds—if not thousands—in 2021.
In fact, we’re working our way toward our own Companion Pass as we speak. Objective: exceed our 2018 Companion Pass savings of $2475!
How ’bout business owners?! The fastest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is to apply for one of each, and capitalize on the bonus points, which—in any of the 6 combinations—more than exceed the points earnings requirement.
In this case study, we offer insights into one of the airline industry’s most coveted benefits, break down the numbers over 2 years, and demonstrate how you can potentially earn $5k worth of free airfare between now and the end of 2021.
Now, let’s get back to the point(s).
Think beyond the bonus
While these current offers are amazing, let’s remember that sign-up bonuses are a one-shot deal. Time will go on, and years from now these shiny bonus points will be redeemed and the magic will be gone. Then—those same years from now—you’ll still be the owner of that once-revered credit card.
Everyone has their own personal credit card strategy (even if that strategy is simply “don’t open up credit cards!”). When considering a new credit card, D and I try to remind ourselves to think beyond the bonus, as there are many other features and factors that can render the same card right for one person, yet wrong for another.
Let’s explore a few.
Southwest credit card overview & features comparison
Each of the 3 Southwest credit cards has different pros (perks) and cons (fees) that may impact you in different ways. When comparing the features of each card, ask yourself: “is this a benefit I would actually take advantage of?”
If the answer is yes, you can safely say that this benefit offers you personal value. Sometimes that value is financial. Other times it may come in the form of convenience or peace of mind.
But if the answer is no…probably best to remove that benefit from your own personal value equation.
First, let’s dissect what the 3 personal Southwest cards have in common:
- Max sign-up bonus of up to 75k points
- Earning multiple of 2 points per $1 on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
- Earning multiple of 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
“When all things are equal, the wise oyster shifts its focus to those that are not.”
— not a real quote
Now, let’s examine some key areas where they differ (important points highlighted):
So, which Southwest credit card offers the most value? Well, with the current sign-up bonuses being equal, we’ll need to take a closer look at the value (positive or negative) that exists within these different card features.
Time to dig in.
The model: 2-year net value comparison of 3 Southwest credit cards
This model factors in the key points of differentiation between the 3 personal Southwest credit cards, introduces a single assumed spending pattern, and delivers output in the form of overall net value per card, over different periods of time:
- Year 1 — net value after first 12 months of card ownership
- Year 2 — adjusted net value after anniversary bonuses & annual fees, but prior to additional spending
- Aggregate view of 1 + 2
While most of the inputs are fixed (specifically: those that come directly from Chase and Southwest), a few are variable (for example: how much you charge to the card in year 1). In these cases, we use the same hypotheticals across all 3 cards, for an apples-to-apples comparison.
Key inputs & assumptions
First, we introduce the following fixed variables for each card, per the T&C’s of the current bonus offers:
- Annual fees
- Sign-up bonus points
- Anniversary bonus points
- $75 annual travel credit
Then, we apply the following inputs & assumptions:
- Level of spend — year 1 spend is exactly the minimum in order to achieve the sign-up bonus ($5k within 6 months). Year 2 spend is zero.
- Mix: Southwest vs. non-Southwest — the $5k year 1 spend is entirely on non-Southwest purchases (1x points multiple).
- All purchases are domestic — no foreign transactions.
For points 1 and 2, any adjustments would, of course, impact the number of points earned. However, all 3 cards earn the same points multiples on Southwest purchases (2x) and non-Southwest purchases (1x). So, any changes to level of spend or purchase mix will impact all 3 cards equally, and the net value variances between them…will remain the same. #mathfacts
For point 3, the introduction of any foreign transactions to the mix would negatively affect the PLUS card, which applies a 3% fee on such charges.
Excluded from the analysis
For the sake of simplicity (and our own sanity)…
We do NOT include a couple of benefits offered with the PREMIER and PRIORITY cards:
- Earn tier qualifying points towards A-List status — does not apply to this model, as the $5k spend is not enough to achieve A-List or A-List Preferred status. To earn either status, you must either fly a lot of segments, or spend a lot on the card. If this sounds like you, feel free to explore the benefits and requirements.
- No foreign transaction fees — we’re the first to say we LOVE this (in general) as a credit card perk. When traveling or making international purchases, we never use a card that has foreign transaction fees (and there are plenty that do not!). While this point may help you decide NOT to choose the PLUS, we have elected to eliminate this variable from the model.
Finally, we exclude TWO MORE PERKS offered with the PRIORITY card:
- 4 upgraded boardings per year (when available) — if you enjoy being one of the elite A1-A15 folks that board first, then 4 times per year you could use your card to pay for this upgraded boarding privilege, and the charges would then be reversed (usually on the next statement). If you do take advantage of this perk, technically you could assign an additional “value” of $120-$200 per year, as upgraded boarding fees vary from $30-$50, depending on itinerary.
- 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi — if your dream flight involves sipping scotch and struggling to stream Netflix—AND you fly Southwest a fair amount—this perk may benefit you. Spend $200/year on WiFi and white wine, and you’ll have $40 coming back to you.
Despite their perceived value to many card owners, these last 2 perks fall more into the category of personal choice for some than tangible, universal value for all. If you’ve never paid for an upgraded boarding in your life and have no desire to do so, then perk #1 “saves you” $120-$200 that you never would have spent in the first place. In that sense, they’re subjective, so we’ve omitted them from the model.
OK, enough of all that.
Shall we look at the results?
Year 1 results: net value after 12 months of card ownership
Remember that we are spending exactly the minimum ($5k within the first 6 months) to achieve the max bonus (75k points).
The way this program works, if you spend enough to earn the maximum bonus, you don’t just score the bonus points; you also earn points on the dollars you spent to get there. This fact is sometimes overlooked!
Applied to this model, this means: in the process of spending $5k to achieve the bonus, you really earn a total of 80k points in year 1:
- 75k bonus points (worth $1125)
- 5k points for the actual $5k spend itself (worth $75)
With that in mind, let’s compare the total value of each of the 3 cards, netting the value of their benefits against their associated fees:
The Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit is a benefit that applies to the Southwest Performance Business card. Compare the benefits and value analysis behind both Southwest business credit cards in this post.
Clearly, all 3 cards deliver significant and similar value in year 1. Not surprising, as they have the same sign-up bonus offer, thus equal points value. The key driver of net value variance then comes down to 1) annual fee and 2) the $75 travel credit.
Despite its $149 annual fee, the PRIORITY card’s $75 travel credit more than covers the value gap with the PREMIER and nearly covers the value gap with the PLUS. The remaining $5 value gap with the PLUS could quickly be covered with one of its other perks: earning 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi, or cashing in on just 1 upgraded boarding ($30-$50).
Now, let’s see how each card’s net value changes after the first 12 months.
Year 2 results: net value before spending
This time, we’ll assess the value of each card after your 2nd annual fee is charged and your anniversary points are applied…but before you use the card to make any purchases in year 2.
The moment annual benefits take effect—and annual fees are applied—we see a shift in comparative net value. Now, the PRIORITY card clearly moves to the top, due to the 7500 anniversary points (worth $113) and the $75 annual travel credit. This combined value of $188 more than covers the $149 annual fee, delivering a net value before spending (NVBS) of +$39. And since both of those perks will continue to be triggered annually, you can safely say you will always come out at least $39 ahead each year by owning this card, even if you never use it to make purchases (that is, at least based on the current benefits & fees!).
The same cannot be said for the other 2 cards.
Both the PLUS and PREMIER cards yield smaller anniversary bonuses (3k and 6k, respectively) that do not compensate for their annual fees. This is not to say these cards aren’t a good choice (I happen to own one of them!). The calculation simply illustrates that with these 2 cards, you are starting the year from a negative net value position.
In order to achieve positive net value (or at least break even), you’ll need to use the cards to make purchases…thus earning points, which offer value in the form of purchasing power.
Points required to break even on net value before spending:
- PLUS — the initial NVBS of -$24 can be offset by earning 1600 Southwest points (at 1.5 cents each, 1600 points = $24 in value). As this translates to your credit card, 1600 points can be earned by spending $1600 on non-Southwest purchases…or $800 on Southwest purchases…or some combination.
- PREMIER — the initial NVBS of -$9 can be offset by earning 600 Southwest points (600 points = $9 in value). Similarly, spend $600 on non-Southwest purchases…or $300 on Southwest purchases…or a combination.
- PRIORITY — with an NVBS of +$39, no additional points needed for this card to represent positive value.
Of course, any additional spending drives additional (and equal) value—for all 3 cards. But these are the bare minimums to put on the cards, if it’s important to you to not be losing money through credit card ownership.
Combined results: total net value, year 1 + year 2 before spending
Finally, let’s combine the variables for year 1 ($5k spend; 80k total points earned) and year 2 (after cardmember anniversary; before spending) to analyze the overall net value of each card.
At this point, we’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
So, which Southwest credit card offers the most value?
You tell us! Math was only half this battle. But as you’ve seen, there a lot of factors that come down to personal preference and choice.
We do hope, at the very least, that this article has been useful, and maybe offered some new ideas on different ways to analyze credit card sign-up bonuses, benefits, and the net value that different cards deliver.
Did our model help you decide which card to apply for? Let us know, in the comments below!
▾ The Southwest Companion Pass: insights & long-term value strategy ▾
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