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Why now is the best time to apply for Southwest Airlines credit cards

Nov. 14, 2022
10 min read
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One of the best deals in travel is the Southwest Companion Pass. For the value it offers, you’d be surprised how easy it is to earn.

No other travel perk allows you to create your own buy-one-get-one airfare voucher that can last for nearly two years. This pass allows you to bring a partner, child, parent or friend with you on all of your Southwest flights — for just the cost of taxes and fees on their ticket.

Whether you book your Southwest flight with dollars or Southwest Rapid Rewards points, your designated companion can come along with the Southwest Companion Pass. That’s an amazing benefit no matter how you slice it — but the deal is even better when you time things carefully. And while it's true that earning the Companion Pass will be a little more difficult in 2023, you can offset that while also earning the Companion Pass with the absolutely simplest method possible.

I’ll show you how to secure a Southwest Companion Pass for nearly 24 months (if you hurry).

How to perfectly time a Southwest Companion Pass

Starting in 2023, earning the Southwest Companion Pass will require earning 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year (instead of the current 125,000 points).

Once you earn the Companion Pass, it's valid for the rest of the year in which you earn plus the entire next calendar year. Thus, if you earn the Companion Pass in November or December 2022, it will be valid through the rest of 2022 and all of 2023. However, if you earn the Companion Pass in January 2023, then it will be valid until the end of 2024 — nearly two years of validity.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

That means trying to earn the Companion Pass at the beginning of a calendar year is optimal.

Since the alternative for earning the Companion Pass requires taking 100 flights with Southwest, earning via points is the simplest path for most people. Here's how Southwest defines what types of points activity will count toward earning the Companion Pass:

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The following do not count as qualifying activity:

  • Purchases of points.
  • Points transferred between members.
  • Points converted from other loyalty programs or Valued Opinions surveys.
  • New member bonuses for joining Rapid Rewards.
  • Flight bonus points.
  • Partner bonus points other than Southwest Airlines credit cards.

Southwest also mentions that the Companion Pass is earned from points that post to your account within the same calendar year, so you must start again from zero on Jan. 1 of each year. What does all of this mean? Bonus points from sign-up bonuses on Southwest Airlines credit cards count toward earning the Companion Pass and (ideally) you want them to hit your account in January to earn a Companion pass that's valid for nearly 24 months.

This means opening a Southwest Airlines credit card late in the year and then completing the minimum spending requirement in early January can be your simplest path to a buy-one-get-one pass with Southwest Airlines.

Related: How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Earning the points you need to achieve the Companion Pass

Now is the perfect time to start plotting your Southwest Companion Pass acquisition. With elevated bonus offers on Southwest credit cards running through Dec. 5, 2022, you should apply for one — or even two — Southwest cards to earn the pass in 2023 and 2024.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card ($69 annual fee), Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card ($99 annual fee) and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card ($149 annual fee) all offer the same increased bonus right now. New applicants can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Offers end Dec. 5, 2022.

Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes

Remember that the Companion Pass requires earning 135,000 points in the same calendar year starting in 2023, so this bonus would put you well on your way to earning 135,000 points. And there are many ways to earn the remaining points, such as additional credit card spending, actually flying on eligible Southwest fares, partner activity — even opening a Southwest business credit card in tandem with your Southwest personal card.

In addition, Southwest's two small-business cards are currently offering eye-catching bonuses of their own:

Earning a bonus on a personal credit card and a business credit card from Southwest Airlines would be enough to earn the Companion Pass without any other qualifying activities.

Strategy for earning the Southwest Companion Pass in 2023-2024

Unfortunately, Chase doesn’t allow you to have more than one Southwest personal credit card open at a time. But those restrictions don’t apply to the business versions.

The easiest way to achieve a Companion Pass is by earning both a small-business card bonus and a personal card bonus — no additional spending or activity is required.

RANDOMHARTZ/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card offers several Southwest perks and comes with 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. If you were to open this card along with any Southwest personal card, you could earn the Companion Pass by:

  • Spending $3,000 on the Southwest Performance Business (60,000 points).
  • Spending $3,000 on a Southwest personal card (75,000 points).

Just $6,000 in spending would net you 135,000 points (worth over $2,000, according to TPG valuations) and a Southwest Companion Pass. Plus, you don't have to "cash in" your points to earn the Companion Pass. You still keep the points in your account and can use those for award flights — and bring your companion as well.

Related: How to redeem points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program

Again, transferring points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account do not count toward the Companion Pass. However, once you have the Companion Pass, you can transfer points to Rapid Rewards from Chase Ultimate Rewards to book your Southwest award tickets and have your designated companion fly with you for virtually free.

Since you want all of these points to show up in your Southwest account in early 2023, it's imperative that you don't complete your spending requirement on either of these credit cards before Jan. 1, 2023. Otherwise, bonus points may be deposited in your account in 2022 — ruining your plan for two years of Companion Pass.

Who is eligible for a new Southwest credit card?

The personal Southwest cards are offering their best-ever bonuses. If you’re curious about your eligibility, here’s what Chase has to say:

“The product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months. This does not apply to Cardmembers of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Card and Employee Credit Card products.”

This means that you can only get the new cardmember bonus on one Southwest personal credit card within a 24-month cycle, so be sure you are getting the best bonus possible. Also note that, if you currently have any Southwest personal credit card open, you won’t be eligible for these offers.

Passengers on a flight to Cancun. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

The same restriction does not apply to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. The business card restrictions state:

“This new Cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this business credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this business credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this business credit card within the last 24 months.”

This means you can earn a bonus from a small-business credit card and a personal credit card from Southwest in the same calendar year to trigger the Companion Pass. That’s how many of us have earned our passes in the past.

Related: Who qualifies for a business credit card?

Alternatively, you could get two small-business card bonuses; you just can’t get two personal cards.

And don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened five or more new personal credit cards across all card issuers in the last 24 months, you’ll likely be denied if you apply for a Southwest card.

Bottom line

Now is a great time to solidify your plans for earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

If you’re able to open a personal card and small-business card, you can time the sign-up bonuses so that they post to your account in early 2023. That’ll give you nearly two full years of Companion Pass.

Read our post on how to use the Southwest Companion Pass for everything you should know about one of the best deals in travel.

Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

Additional reporting by Chris Dong, Joseph Hostetler and Ryan Smith.

Featured image by KARL MAGNUSON/UNSPLASH
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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