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

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

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.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • $69 annual fee.

  • 2x points on Southwest purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • $99 annual fee.

  • 3x points on Southwest purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • $149 annual fee.

  • 3x points on Southwest purchases.

  • 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.

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

  • $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 1.4 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 — about the same value as American Airlines miles, but less value than if you used them on Southwest flights.

American Airlines credit cards

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

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • $0 annual fee.

  • 2x miles per dollar at grocery stores.

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

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $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 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • $450 annual fee.

  • Access to Admirals Club airport lounges.

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 less value than those of Southwest Airlines: 1.2 cents a piece. But 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 125,000 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, 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.

Nerdy tip: Getting a Southwest Airlines credit card can make earning a Companion Pass easier since these cards come with welcome bonus points.

American Airlines

AAdvantage is the American Airlines loyalty program. You’ll earn miles based on the dollar amount that you spend on airfares. Depending on your AAdvantage status level, you’ll earn 5 to 11 miles per $1 spent.

You can earn AAdvantage miles in many ways, like flying with American or with a partner airline, through hotel stays, car rentals, vacations, cruises and dining, and when shopping online or using an AAdvantage credit card. You can redeem miles for flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals, vacations and Admirals Club lounge access.

AAdvantage miles expire if you have no earning or redemption activity for 18 months.

Some other important facts about American Airlines’ AAdvantage program:

  • If your travel plans are flexible, you can maximize the value of your AAdvantage miles by booking MilesSAAver award flights.

  • You can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 7,500 miles each way when redeeming for a domestic MilesSAAver award flight in economy class.

  • You can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 15,000 miles each way when redeeming for a domestic MilesSAAver award flight in first or business class.

  • For international journeys, the number of miles you need for an award flight depends on the region: If you’re headed to Central America, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 12,500 each way for an off-peak MilesSAAver award flight in economy. If you’re going to Europe, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for as little as 22,500 each way for the same ticket type.

Winner for ease of miles: Southwest Airlines

Extra fees

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is known for being generous, and the brand includes a lot of extras in your ticket price.

  • Your first and second checked bags are free.

  • A third checked bag costs $75.

  • If your checked bag is overweight or oversized, you will be charged $75.

  • There is no fee to change your flight.

  • There is no fee to cancel a flight.

  • If you want early-bird check in, you’ll pay $15, $20 or $25 each way.

  • If you want to upgrade your boarding group, you’ll pay $30, $40 or $50 for each segment.

  • In-flight Wi-Fi costs $8 per day.

American Airlines

With American Airlines, you’ll pay for most extras.

  • Baggage fees range from $30 to $75 for a checked bag, depending on where you’re flying to and from and the ticket class purchased.

  • Second bag fees range from $40 to $100 depending on where you’re flying to and from and the ticket class purchased.

  • Third bag fees cost $150 or $200 for most flights.

  • Overweight bag fees range from $100 to $450 depending on where you’re flying, the weight of the bag and the ticket class purchased.

  • Oversized bag fees range from $150 to $200.

  • Same-day flight changes range from $75 to $150 for main cabin.

  • In-flight Wi-Fi is available on some flights and prices begin at $10.

Is American Airlines cheaper than Southwest? Not when it comes to fees.

Winner for lowest fees: Southwest Airlines

In-flight experience

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is known for its excellent customer service. The airline offers complimentary snacks and drinks plus alcoholic beverages available for purchase. Meals are not available for purchase. There’s free in-flight entertainment (but you must bring your own device) and $8 Wi-Fi.

Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer separate business- or first-class cabins. Instead, it offers Business Select fares. These are pricier but include perks like priority boarding, the ability to earn more points and a complimentary premium drink.

American Airlines

American Airlines offers a typical airline experience, and many flights offer first- and business-class seating. The airline offers complimentary beverages and snacks on some flights, and alcoholic beverages can be purchased. For some international flights, a meal and alcoholic beverage are included. Wi-Fi is available on many routes starting at $10.

Winner of the sky: American Airlines

American Airlines vs. Southwest: The results

When considering Southwest Airlines versus American Airlines, our vote goes to Southwest Airlines. It charges less in fees, it gives guests the ability to earn a valuable Companion Pass, its points offer more value and it’s known for great customer service.

The information related to the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

Leave a Reply