Best Credit Card For Earning Southwest Points

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Update: This offer for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite Mastercard® is expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

With the different credit cards rewards systems out there, it’s funny how sometimes a program’s own co-branded card isn’t the best option for earning points in that program.

One extreme example is for Hyatt Stays. The Chase Hyatt Visa Card offers three Gold Passport points per dollar spent at Hyatt, while the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express offers one Starpoint per dollar spent plus 5% cash back through the AmEx OPEN Savings program. As backwards as it seems, the best “return” I can get on paying for a US Hyatt stay is with a co-branded Starwood Card.

How do you maximize points for Southwest travel?

While not specific to spend on the airline, one interesting program for maximizing points is Southwest Rapid Rewards. Southwest Rapid Rewards is a revenue based frequent flyer program, so what’s the best credit card for racking up cheap travel on Southwest through everyday credit card spend?

Southwest’s co-branded credit card

Southwest does have a co-branded card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. You would earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases and participating Hotel and Car Rental partners, and  1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers AT LEAST a 50% better return

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® is a cash back card. You earn two miles per dollar spent, and each mile can be redeemed for one cent towards the cost of travel. So that means for every dollar you spend on the card you get two cents towards the cost of travel.

On top of that, you get a 10% refund for any redemption, which means you’re really earning a return of ~2.2% towards the cost of travel.

Meanwhile the most value one Rapid Rewards point would get you is ~1.4 cents per point. That means if your goal through credit card spend is free travel on Southwest, you’d be earning at least a 50% better return using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® than the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

That doesn’t even factor in that you’d earn Rapid Rewards points for the travel you paid for using Arrival points, while you wouldn’t earn points for flights you take when you redeemed Rapid Rewards points.

Southwest Companion Pass — only reason to spend on their card

There’s only one reason that anyone should put a substantial amount of spend on Southwest’s co-branded credit card, and that’s the Companion Pass Southwest offers when you earn 110,000 points in a year (which doesn’t include transferred points). If you have Companion Pass you can have someone else fly with you and only pay the taxes — it’s the best value out there for domestic travel, in my opinion.


If you can achieve Companion Pass and would get value out of it (by having a companion and traveling a fair bit domestically), I definitely think it’s something worth striving for.

Bottom line

It amazes me how many people I see using the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, and I’m assuming a vast majority of them aren’t spending enough on the card to earn Companion Pass.

If you are earning Companion Pass it can be well worth it to put spend on that card vs. another, though otherwise you should be using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® to earn free travel on Southwest, as you’ll be getting a better return by over 50%.

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  1. Giving them the (narrow) benefit of doubt, some could be using it to increase tier points for status. I would argue that is generally NOT worth it.

  2. In practice you get ~1.62-1.7 cents per point (double with CP) (Just looked up a random LAS-FLL flight and (142.10-5.60)/8075= 1.69+). Cross country flights from 8-9k points each way is pretty great (free cancels too). The best card for this is clearly an Ink card, not only from getting points via MS but also buying SW giftcards at staples.

    Don’t Hyatt point transfers count for CP still? Only useful if you can’t spend that extra bit to get the CP or want to speed it up for an upcoming flight.

    Also, unless you are clearing around 28k+/year (to cover the AF) on this arrival card, the fidelity amex would be better. 2.0 Cash can also be used for many more things than ~2.28 for travel.

    Still a good sign up bonus so go ahead and sign up for it!

  3. I’d argue that the Sapphire Preferred card is actually the best, since it earns 2 pts/dollar on travel, and you can transfer those points to Southwest (or any other transfer partner, United, etc.). And while it still has a 7% points dividend, that makes it even better, while it lasts! 🙂

  4. Ben, looking at the above comment, how would you compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred to the new Barclaycard Arrival Plus for those of us primarily interested in point use for premium international flights? (If too complicated, perhaps this could be the subject of another blogpost).

  5. I just use a Chase Ink, and buy a Southwest Gift card from Staples – 5x Points per dollar.

  6. Wonder no more! The reason people get the SW card (and most other cards) is for the sign-up bonus.
    Can you think of any airline cards that are not worth the sign-up bonus?

  7. Ben I generally agree. The only reason that I get a Chase SW card is to annually churn it between the business and [personal card to score the sign-up bonus to renew my Companion Pass perk. After that, I pivot spending to other cards. My goal is to always renew my SW C-Pass in the 1st quarter of each year via spend and flights, and then pivot spend to other goals via other cards (eg, Chase Sapphire Preferred). After C-Pass renewal my SW card sees almost no spend thereafter until the first quarter of the next year when I will cancel the current card and get a new card for the sign-up bonus. The sign-up bonus is a BIG help in getting the C-Pass renewed by the end of March. I only do domestic travel for business and my wife likes to come along on a number of trips. Thus, the C-Pass is great for me (and her I should add – happy wife/happy life).

    But a slight correction to your statement that point transfers don’t count for C-Pass status. They do if you first laundry them as hotel points and then transfer from the hotel program to SW RR. I did that this past year with some orphaned points in the Choice and Best Western hotel programs – even buying some points in each before making the transfers. Both transfers counted in full for C-Pass renewal.

  8. If you are earning Companion Pass it can be well worth it to put spend on that card vs. another, though otherwise you should be using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® to earn free travel on Southwest, as you’ll be getting a better return by over 50%.

    I am new at this. Can you explain why/how I should be using the Barclaycard vs. the Southwest card?

  9. @ Lynn — If your goal is to redeem points for international premium cabin tickets, you’re definitely best off with a card accruing a traditional points currency. So you’d definitely something like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and not the Arrival.

  10. @ Don — With the Arrival Card you get ~2.22% return per dollar spent which can be applied towards travel. That’s just the rewards structure. Meanwhile the Southwest Card gets you one Rapid Rewards point per dollar spent, which is enough for ~1.43 cents towards the cost of a Southwest ticket.

  11. @JOHN: there are an absolute ton of Airline credit cards that are not worth the hard pull given how stingy the bonus is. For example the US card for a lot of asian airlines, such as the Asiana Airlines amex from BOA, which is only a 10k, non-waved annual fee card. And to my knowledge has never been higher. You just never hear about those cards.

  12. Why you keep ignoring the Fidelity 2.0% cash back card is becoming almost pathological, given that it’s clearly a better card than the Barclays card for otherwise unbonused spend (a more cynical person might ask if there is no referral link to the Fidelity card)

    I’d wager that there are, at best, less than 1% of even readers of this blog that clear 30k a year in unbonused spend to make the Barclays card worth it.

    You routinely ignore the ongoing costs of annual fees in your card analysis, which makes most of your card advice suspect.

  13. I think the 1.4 cents calculation doesn’t include taxes and fees. Just looked at a random $73 Southwest flight and it was asking 3,777 points.

    That’s 1.932 cents a point. That’s getting awfully close to 2.22.

  14. The title of this page is kind of misleading. I would call it “Best Credit Card for Earning Free Southwest Flights.” If you have a bunch of Southwest points from flying and want to top them off with credit card spend, the Southwest card (or a card that earns a currency that can be transferred into Southwest points) is still your best bet.

    The first analogy is also a bit misleading since the unique thing about using an OPEN card at Hyatt is that a third-party bonus on Hyatt spend outweighs Hyatt’s own bonus on Hyatt spend. That’s not at all comparable to the Southwest example, since the Southwest card is still better than the Barclays card for Southwest spend. A more comparable example to the Hyatt example is the Amex Gold Rewards card, which earns you more potential Delta miles (via MR) on Delta spend than buying Delta tickets with a Delta Amex.

  15. What if you go for the no annual fee Barclay World Arrival Card? Is that card still more lucrative for travel on SWA than the co branded card?

  16. @ Tom — That card offers a return of ~1.1% on everyday purchases and ~2.2% on travel and dining. So I’d say at that point the Southwest Card is probably more lucrative.

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