In the past few days, I’ve talked to family members who travel rarely and friends who travel every week. They all love Southwest Airlines, and most have a Southwest Airlines Visa credit card. I tell each of them to cancel that card and get a Sapphire Preferred Visa instead. (Update: an even better option for some people is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which was launched in 2016 after this post was first published.)
Both cards are offered by Chase, and in some cases these people already held both cards–a clear case of unnecessary overlap. Often the people I know who prefer to fly Southwest do so because of the simplicity. Easy customer service, easy fares, and an easy rewards program, as I outlined yesterday. That’s great, and I’m not arguing in this post that Southwest has a bad credit card. But if you want to keep things simple, a Sapphire Preferred card is simpler and will also earn you more Rapid Rewards points from a larger variety of purchases.
More and Better Options
Ultimate Rewards Transfer to Southwest
This is the number one thing to remember throughout this post. The Ultimate Rewards points earned from a Sapphire Preferred card can be transferred instantly at a 1:1 ratio to Rapid Rewards. When you earn an Ultimate Rewards point, it is like earning a Rapid Rewards point, so all the other math after this will consider them identical: just points. You aren’t losing anything by earning Ultimate Rewards points instead of Rapid Rewards points.
Ultimate Rewards Transfer to Other Airlines and Hotels
But also remember an Ultimate Rewards point can be used for lots of other things if you prefer. You can transfer them to United or Avios for international awards. You can transfer them to Hyatt or Marriott or IHG Rewards for hotels. Options include:
- British Airways Executive Club
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
Because Ultimate Rewards transfer instantly, you don’t have to move them over to United or Avios or anywhere else until you find a good deal. By getting a Southwest Rapid Rewards card, you’re earning points that are mostly locked into the Southwest loyalty program, limiting your options to use a different airline if necessary.
Southwest lets you transfer points to some other partners (specifically hotels), but at a fixed value.
Ultimate Rewards Can Be Consolidated
Finally, you can consolidate your Ultimate Rewards points into a single account. My wife and I combine our points in one account so we can get more points and book bigger, better awards. If we have different cards that both earn Ultimate Rewards points, we can combine those, too. Maybe one of us is using a Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 points per dollar on travel, and another is using a Chase Freedom Unlimited card to earn 1.5 points per dollar on everything else.
Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve Earn More
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa earns 2 points per dollar on all purchases through Southwest.com, whether you are purchasing Southwest flights or reserving a hotel or car through a Southwest partner.
The Sapphire Preferred earns 2 points per dollar on ALL travel, including flights, hotels, train tickets, parking, cruises–you name it. And it doesn’t matter where or how you purchase it. You’ll also earn 2 points per dollar at all restaurants and for catering, too. If you get the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get 3 points per dollar in the same categories, but the annual fee is higher.
For both cards, if it’s not a bonus category you’ll get just 1 point per dollar.
Potentially Lower Annual Fee
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card, which offers an opportunity to earn tier qualifying points toward A-List status, has an annual fee of $99. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, which does not include this perk, has an annual fee of $69. Otherwise they’re mostly the same. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of only $95. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a much higher fee of $450, but you get a $250 annual travel credit that offsets this, so it’s a net $200 charge.
In my mind, these differences a small enough that they are not worth worrying about, and you shouldn’t worry about having to pay a higher annual fee to get all the additional benefits that come with a Sapphire Preferred card.
I will admit, however, that some people will want those tier qualifying points that you can earn with the Premier card. All I can say is more power to you. They seem expensive to earn at 1,500 per $10,000 spent, so you’ll need to put a lot of purchases on that card to make a meaningful contribution toward your elite status.
The Final Message
In short, you are guaranteed to earn at least a little more, and sometimes a lot more, points on the same purchases that you would make with the Southwest card, and you can do a lot more with them. But you can still turn those Ultimate Rewards points into Rapid Rewards points if you want. I’m not here to argue that Rapid Rewards is a bad program–in fact it’s a very good one. I just don’t think the Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa is a card that belongs in your wallet given that another Chase product can do as good a job or better.