Chase recently introduced a more “premium” Southwest Airlines co-branded card. The Rapid Rewards Priority card joins the three existing Chase cards that earn Rapid Rewards points. You may have also seen the ads offering an eye-popping 65,000 points sign-up bonus. So is the new card worth getting, or upgrading an existing card for? I’ll take a detailed look at the upgraded benefits, and how the compare to Rapid Rewards’ existing cards.
A Quick Comparison Chart
First off, below is a quick chart comparing each card’s most important benefits. For this purpose, I look only at the three “personal” versions of the card (Plus, Premier, and Priority). Chase also offers a Rapid Rewards business card. I’ll briefly touch on that later.
|Point earnings on Southwest flights||2x||2x||2x|
|Earnings on other travel book on Southwest website||2x||2x||2x|
|Earnings on all other purchases||1x||1x||1x|
|Annual A-list tier qualifying points (per $10k spend)||0||1,500||1,500|
|Annual Southwest travel credit||$0||$0||$75|
|A1-15 boarding upgrades per year||0||0||4|
Chase does NOT waive the annual fee on any of the Rapid Rewards cards. Also note that all Southwest cards ARE subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule. You can view the specific terms and conditions, and apply for cards, at the Southwest website. (Link is for convenience only; neither Travel Codex nor I receive compensation for referrals.)
Now let’s take a look at the incremental benefits of the Priority card specifically.
The Priority’s sign-up bonus requires a VERY high minimum spend. New cardmembers earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. That’s the same as the other two versions of the card. However, cardmembers can then earn an additional 25,000 points by spending $15,000 within one year. $15k in one year isn’t a terribly difficult threshold, but does come with the opportunity cost of foregoing spending on other cards. YMMV depending on your typical non-bonused spending each year.
So assuming you can meet the minimum spend, what is the value of those extra 25,000 points? Rapid Rewards points carry a fixed value of 1.39 cents/point on Wanna Get Away fares, so that’s $347.50 worth of extra points compared to the Plus and Premier cards.
All Southwest-branded cards award bonus Rapid Rewards points on the cardmember’s anniversary date. The Priority card offers and extra 1,500 and 4,500 points ($20.85 and $62.55 value), respectively, compared to the Premier and Plus cards.
A-List Tier Qualifying Points
Both the Premier and Priority cards award 1,500 A-list tier points per $10,000 spent. Cardmembers can earn a maximum of 15,000 tier points per year from card spend. I talked about elite tiers (A-List and A-List Preferred) in my earlier series about Rapid Rewards. The two tiers normally require 35,000 and 70,000 tier points, respectively.
I find it hard to value this benefit, since it heavily depends from person to person. If you consistently find yourself just short of A-List, the points might have considerable value. If you typically earn 70,000+ points from butt-in-seat flying, they arguably have no value. It also depends on how much spending capacity you have. Assuming you meet the minimum spend for the 65k bonus ($25,000), that’s 3,000 tier points. For the sake of argument, let’s just call that a $50 value over the Plus card.
Boarding Position Upgrades
Southwest kind of makes a big deal about the four “boarding position upgrades” per year. If you fly Southwest regularly, you’ve probably seen the offer to buy up to an A1-15 boarding position. These used to cost a flat $40, but now vary based on itinerary. Chase will reimburse cardholders for up to 4 upgrade purchases per membership year. You can buy them individually, or up to 4 at a time if flying with others. On one hand, that sounds like a tremendous benefit. On my last Southwest flight, an A1-15 upgrade cost more than $200. So you can potentially reap upwards of $1,000 in value, right?
Well, maybe, but it’s complicated. If you’re already an A-lister, all you get is a bump-up to a Business Select boarding position. If all you’re after is a generic aisle or window, or two seats together, a regular “A” boarding pass gets you that. For that matter, you can just buy Early Bird for $15 if you’re not an A-lister. And don’t forget, an A1-15 upgrade has to actually be for sale on your flight. If Business Select sells out (and it sometimes does), you’re SOL.
So when can this come in handy? IRROPS, when that A boarding pass turns into a C on your replacement flight. Insurance to escape the middle seat by the lav for free has some real value in that case. Or you just really want a guarantee of a bulkhead or exit row 4 times a year. Still, it’s all too speculative to put much value on the benefit. Let’s say $25 each to be conservative.
Annual Southwest Flight Credit
This is pretty unique for a co-branded airline card. Priority cardholders receive a $75 Southwest travel credit each membership year. Importantly, the terms & conditions don’t seem to exclude gift card purchases, which adds flexibility. The only exclusions are in-flight purchases and A1-15 boarding upgrades.
The other benefit of note is a 20% discount on in-flight purchases. On Southwest, that means WiFi (normally $8 a day), movies, and booze. Southwest hands out tons of drink coupons, so the value here is really for the WiFi and movies.
Benefit Eligibility for Product Upgrades
The T&Cs do confirm that product upgrades from existing Plus or Premier accounts ARE eligible for all card benefits, except the sign-up bonus.
If you’re thinking about getting a Southwest credit card anyway, you might as well swing for the new Priority Card. Assuming you fly Southwest at least once a year, the $75 travel credit drops the effective annual fee down to $74. (Or more correctly, you’re prepaying $75 of airfare through the annual fee.) For less money than the Premier card, and only $5 more than the Plus card, you get some semi-useful extra benefits.
Of course, the rub is, Rapid Rewards points in general are considerably less flexible than other airline or credit card points currencies. Southwest has no partners, so hoarding Rapid Rewards only makes sense if you actually fly Southwest frequently. The high minimum spend to earn the 65k sign-up bonus also presents the opportunity cost of foregone points in other programs. I don’t know that $347.50 of RR points makes up for losing 15,000 points on other cards in my case.
Finally, if you want this card, give some thought to the timing of your application. Points earned on the card, including bonuses, count towards Companion Pass qualification. If you earned the full 65k bonus, and also applied for the Business Premier card and earned that 60k bonus, you’d easily cross the 110,000 point threshold to earn the Companion Pass. A Companion Pass, once earned, is valid for the remainder of the calendar year, plus the entire following calendar year. It might make sense, therefore, to wait until early 2019 to apply. Assuming you can knock out $15,000 of spending quickly, at least.