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Southwest’s Companion Pass, which lets a designated friend travel with you for free (minus taxes and fees), is understandably one of the most coveted airline perks out there. For those hoping to earn it, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how to time things just right so that you can enjoy the benefit for 23-plus months.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Last week we wrote about the return of the 50,000-point sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. You can earn the same sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card (also by spending $2,000 in the first three months). Signing up for both of these cards would put you just shy of the 110,000 points you’d need to earn a Companion Pass, one of the most lucrative and popular benefits in the world of frequent flyer programs.
One of the key aspects of the Companion Pass is that it’s valid for the rest of the calendar year in which you earned it — plus the entire following calendar year. Therefore, if you earn the 110,000 qualifying points as quickly as possible in the beginning of the year, you can have 23-plus months of free companion travel. However, qualification happens on a calendar year basis, meaning that must have 110,000 qualifying points post to your Rapid Rewards account between January 1 and December 31 — the counter resets at the beginning of the year.
This all distills down to one simple goal: You need both bonuses to post in early January 2016 to maximize the Companion Pass for almost two years. (You’d also need to earn the additional 10,000 points in early 2016, as well.)
Some of may crunch the numbers and quickly come to the realization that there are still more than three months left in 2015 — surely there’s no way to get the bonuses to post in January 2016 to make the most of the Companion Pass, right? Fortunately, there are a couple of ways you can do this with the current offers, here’s how to make each happen.
Option 1: Wait to apply
The first option is the simplest, but also involves some risk: Wait until later this month (or into next month) to apply for the cards, then wait until close to the end of the year to hit the minimum spend so that your two 50,000-point bonuses will post in early January 2016.
The footnote on the application page includes the following language in regards to the sign-up bonuses:
“Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your Rapid Rewards account.”
However, I’ve typically found that points will post a day or two after my statement closes. As long as your final qualifying purchase posts to a statement that closes in early January, you should be good to go — just be sure that you don’t cut things too close.
The big risk with this option is that the availability of Southwest offers can be unpredictable; some are around for just a couple of weeks, others have a published expiration date, some are extended beyond that cutoff, and others stick around for two months. The present offers don’t have specific timeframes, but if you choose to wait, the bonuses may disappear before you even have a chance to apply.
Option 2: Apply now and change your bill due date/statement date (if necessary)
There’s another option that would allow you to apply now (thus removing the risk of the offer disappearing) and then carefully plan your purchases to allow the two sign-up bonuses to hit your Rapid Rewards account in early January 2016. This simple solution takes advantage of the fact that points earned on a credit card won’t post to your loyalty account until the statement period closes: Apply for the card now, set up online access to the account (once approved) and then change your bill due date to the 28th of the month.
From my experience with this (and other) cards, Chase automatically selects a statement closing date that’s 2-4 weeks from your account approval date, and then your bill due date will be ~25 days after that. If you apply (and are approved) in early September, you’ll have until early December to spend $2,000 on the card. However, your first statement will likely close sometime in late September, and subsequent statements will also close on that date. Thus, if you make the final qualifying purchase on December 1, your statement will close on December 25, and the 50,000 points will likely post a few days later … in 2015!
Fortunately, changing your bill due date will, in my experience, change your statement closing date as well. I actually just did a test run of this on my IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. My bill due date was the 16th of the month, making my statement closing date on (or around) the 19th of the month. I changed my bill due date to the 28th, and when I called the customer service number on the back of the card, the rep confirmed that my next statement would now close on October 3 (rather than September 19).
You can certainly call to make this change, but here’s how to do it online (once your new cards appear in your account):
- Find your credit card and click on the “See more information” link at the bottom right.
- Locate the “Change bill due date” on the menu of options under the “I’d like to …” heading.
- Select the 28th from the drop down menu and click Next.
- Confirm your entry and click Change Due Date.
Once you’ve made this change, your first statement should close on October 3, and each of the following months should close on the 3rd, as well. Here’s how to make sure that your sign-up bonuses will hit in January:
- Spend ~$1,900 on each card before December 3 (remember that the $99 annual fee does not count towards the minimum spend threshold to earn a sign-up bonus).
- As soon as that statement closes, immediately make a purchase of at least $100.
- Wait until the January 3 statement closes and watch your sign-up bonuses post in early 2016, just as you planned!
Of course, all of this may not even be necessary. If you apply now (or within the next few days), your statement close date may automatically be in early October. However, if it isn’t, you’ll definitely want to change it to ensure that you can hit the minimum spend threshold on each card in early December, but not have the sign-up bonuses post until early January.
Remember, too, that these 50,000-point bonuses aren’t quite enough to get to the 110,000 qualifying points needed to earn the Companion Pass. You can earn the 10,000 additional points in a variety of ways, including flying, making purchases with Rapid Rewards partners, transferring points from hotel loyalty programs or using Southwest’s online shopping portal. However, transfers from Ultimate Rewards do not count as Companion Pass-qualifying points, nor do purchased points or points transferred from a friend or family member’s account.
The Companion Pass is an incredibly lucrative benefit, and being able to utilize it for almost two years makes it even sweeter. Hopefully, these new sign-up bonuses are timed out perfectly for those of you who plan to travel a bunch in 2016 and 2017 — because then you’ll be able to bring along a friend for free!
For more details on the Companion Pass, check out the following posts:
- Southwest Companion Pass: 16 Things Every Flyer Should Know
- Family Travel Tips for the Southwest Companion Pass
- Using Marriott Flight + Hotel Awards for the Southwest Companion Pass
- Southwest Companion Pass FAQ and Maximization Strategies
Are any of you planning to utilize this strategy to earn a Companion Pass in early 2016?
With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards