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American Airlines vs. Southwest: Which One Is Best?
American Airlines vs. Southwest: Which One Is Best?
Apr 15, 2024 3:03 PM

» This article is being updated with 2023 Best-Of Awards data. See our newly-minted airline rewards program rankings here.

Planning to book a flight? Depending where you’re going, the choice could come down to two of America’s most popular airlines: Southwest or American. But how to choose?

Here’s a look at Southwest Airlines versus American Airlines to give you an idea of what sets these two airlines apart so you can pick the best one for your next flight — or even for your long-term loyalty.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flies to more than 100 U.S. cities, plus 10 other countries (and Puerto Rico) in the Americas. Its international destinations are in the list below:

Southwest international destinations

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Cancun, Mexico.

Cozumel, Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Ladyville, Belize.

Liberia, Costa Rica.

San Jose, Costa Rica.

Oranjestad, Aruba.

George Town, Grand Cayman.

Havana.

Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Nassau, Bahamas.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.

San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Technically, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have hubs. Its headquarters are on Dallas Love Field Drive in Dallas, Texas. It flies into and out of many major cities within the U.S.

American Airlines

American Airlines serves about 350 destinations in 50 countries. If you want an airline that can get you to lots more places, American is the better choice. The airline has several hubs throughout the country.

American Airlines hubs

Charlotte, North Carolina.

Chicago-O’Hare.

Dallas-Fort Worth.

Los Angeles.

Miami.

New York-John F. Kennedy.

New York-LaGuardia.

Philadelphia.

Phoenix.

Washington-Dulles.

Most options: American Airlines

Travel credit card availability

Southwest Airlines credit cards

Southwest Airlines offers both personal and business credit cards. Here are a few highlights of each card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card:

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

$69 annual fee.

2x points on Southwest purchases.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card:

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

$99 annual fee.

3x points on Southwest purchases.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card:

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

$149 annual fee.

3x points on Southwest purchases.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card:

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

$99 annual fee.

6,000 points awarded every cardmember anniversary.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card:

Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

$199 annual fee.

9,000 points awarded every cardmember anniversary.

How far you can fly with the bonus points from these credit cards? NerdWallet estimates that Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each when you redeem them for flights on Southwest.

Southwest Rapids Rewards credit card holders can take advantage of the Southwest More Rewards program, which allows international flight bookings with other carriers, expanding the number of international destinations they can fly to using points. These redemptions get you an average value of about 1 cent per point with this method.

American Airlines credit cards

American Airlines also offers personal and business credit cards. Here are a few highlights:

American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®:

Welcome bonus: Earn 15,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

$0 annual fee.

2x miles per dollar at grocery stores.

Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®:

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

2x miles at restaurants and gas stations.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®:

Welcome bonus: Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $7,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.

$595 annual fee.

10x miles on eligible rental cars and hotels booked through American Airlines.

4x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases.

Access to Admirals Club airport lounges.

Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®:

Welcome bonus: Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.

Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

2x miles for gas stations, rental cars, cable and satellite providers, and specific telecommunications merchants.

Based on our valuations, American Airlines credit card miles carry more value than that of Southwest: 1.7 cents a piece. Your American miles make it easier to get to more international destinations, and American’s redemption rates are very clearly outlined so you know what to expect when redeeming miles.

Winner for best airline credit cards: Southwest Airlines

Airline loyalty programs

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

You can earn Rapid Rewards points when you fly Southwest, shop and dine with partners, book with a qualifying partner hotel, or use a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. Points earned never expire as long as your account remains open. The number of points earned when flying depends on the fare type that you book. You’ll earn 6 to 12 points per $1 spent on your flight.

You can redeem your Rapid Rewards points for Southwest Airlines flights or, if you have a Rapid Rewards credit card, for international flights through other carriers. You can also redeem points for rental cars, hotels or gift cards. Points carry less value when redeeming for anything but Southwest flights.

One thing that sets Southwest Airlines' loyalty program apart is the chance to earn a Companion Pass. Once you earn this privilege, you can pick a person to fly with you and you won’t need to pay for their airfare — only the taxes and fees on their ticket. You can change your Companion up to three times per year that you hold a pass.

You can earn a Companion Pass by either flying 100 one-way qualifying flights per year or by earning 135,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points. Once you earn a Companion Pass, it’s good for the rest of the year and the following calendar year.

Some other important facts about the Rapid Rewards program:

The price of a flight in Rapid Rewards points corresponds to the cash price, which can depend on fare type, date and destination. You can redeem for Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus, Anytime and Business Select fares. Because they’re cheaper, you’ll get the best value when booking for Wanna Get Away fares.

Flights start at less than 3,000 points each way. For example, a recent fare search turned up Wanna Get Away fares from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for 2,671 points each way.

Southwest Airlines has limited international flight options and lacks true first- and business-class seating. If either is important to you, Southwest Rapid Rewards might not be right for you.

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