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For most flyers, the best travel-rewards credit card is a card that awards miles in the program hosted by the airline they're already loyal to. There's no sense in signing up for a Delta-linked credit card if you're a United partisan, right?

What may come as a surprise, however, is that the card that awards the most miles in a particular program might not be that program's own co-branded card.

For Southwest partisans, there are several credit card choices available, each with its own set of virtues and drawbacks.

The following non-Southwest-branded cards allow accumulated points to be transferred to Southwest's Rapid Rewards program.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • Earn 2 points per $1 for travel and dining.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 for other purchases.
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 5,000 points for adding an authorized user who uses the card within three months.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.
  • APR: 17.99% - 24.99% variable, depending on credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Comment: Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred into a number of airline and hotel programs, including Southwest's Rapid Rewards at a 1:1 ratio, as well as redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. In the latter case, 50,000 points are worth $625.

Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card

  • Earn 6 points per $1 at participating Marriott hotels.
  • Earn 2 point per $1 for other purchases.
  • Earn 2 nights after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Annual fee: $95.
  • APR: 17.99% - 24.99% variable, depending on credit.
  • Comment: Marriott Rewards points transfer to Rapid Rewards at variable rates. Good program, solid card, big bonus.

Which Card Is Best?

There is no categorically best card for all Southwest loyalists. Which card works best for you will depend on your budget, your spending habits, and the frequency of your travel.

If you travel regularly, it might be worthwhile paying the $450 annual fee for the long list of travel perks that come bundled with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, including access to airport lounges, the airline fee credit, and so on. Earning three miles per $1 spent on Southwest tickets can't be beat.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, with its modest $95 annual fee (waived the first year), would be a sensible choice for occasional flyers who want to earn miles but want to pay as little as possible for the privilege.

And don't forget about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card, which awards points that count toward Southwest's most valuable travel perk, the Companion Pass.

Editor's Note: This content is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the aforementioned entities.

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