Why now is one of the best times to apply for Southwest Airlines credit cards

Oct 13, 2020

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One of the best deals in travel is the Southwest Companion Pass. No other travel perk allows you create your own reusable buy-one, get-one promo so you can bring your partner, child, parent or friend with you on all of your flights with that airline for free (other than taxes/fees).

It doesn’t matter if you book your Southwest flight with dollars or Southwest Rapid Rewards points; as long as you have the Companion Pass, your designated companion can come along, too. That’s an amazing benefit no matter how you slice it, but the deal is even better when you time things carefully.

For many reasons, now is one of the best times of the year to apply for the Southwest credit cards if you want to truly maximize the Companion Pass.

Related: Targeted: Earn a Companion Pass with a new sign-up bonus offer on the Southwest Plus credit card

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

The reason that timing matters — and that this is a really good time to consider the pass — is that the Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which you earn it, plus the entire following calendar year. (Due to COVID-19, Companion Passes set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, were largely extended to June 30, 2021.)

If you play your cards right (pun intended), you could get nearly two years out of your Companion Pass. If you get the timing wrong (by having your credit card bonus post during the wrong year), you can end up with no pass at all.

Related reading: Guide to airline companion tickets

Now, that said, this year is far from normal. If you aren’t yet ready to fly again and aren’t sure if you will be back in the air in 2021, then I wouldn’t actively work hard toward the Companion Pass until the time is again right for you to regularly fly Southwest Airlines.

In This Post

How to earn the Companion Pass

To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you typically need to earn 125,000 Companion Pass-qualifying Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year. (In 2020, Southwest awarded members 25 qualifying flights and 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points due to the slowdown in air travel related to COVID-19.)

You can fast-track your earnings toward the Companion Pass by strategically timing when you apply for, and ultimately earn, the bonuses from the lineup of Chase Southwest cobranded credit cards.

Southwest defines the Rapid Rewards points that count toward this perk as follows:

“Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest, points issued on Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards and base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners in a calendar year.”

Although most Rapid Rewards bonus points (such as a bonus in its shopping portal or transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards) don’t count toward earning the Companion Pass, the sign-up bonuses from the Southwest credit cards do count. Right now, those bonuses currently go up to 40,000 points —  which gets you nearly halfway to a Companion Pass in one shot.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Timing the Southwest credit card bonuses

If you want to have a Companion pass for nearly two full years, timing is everything.

Because it’s late in 2020, now is one of the best times of the year to apply for a Southwest credit card.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

The ideal situation is to be approved for a Southwest credit card with a big sign-up bonus toward the end of the year and then have the bonus post as early in the next year as possible. Then, you’ll start the year with a big jolt of Companion Pass eligible points and be on your way to earning the rest of your 125,000 Companion Pass points to unlock the pass for the rest of 2021 and all of 2022.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest)

As an example, if you are approved for Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card in late-October but don’t spend the full $5,000 on the card to earn the first 70,000 points of the bonus until after Jan. 1, 2021, when those 70,000 points post in January, you’ll be well on your way to earning the pass next year.

That card also awards an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first six months, so you’d have until late-April 2021 to trigger that part of the bonus if you wanted to go all-in on that card.

Here are the current sign-up bonuses on the five Southwest co-branded cards:

However, there is a targeted offer on the Southwest Plus card where you can earn 30,000 Rapid Rewards points and the coveted Companion Pass after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. The pass is valid through Dec. 31, 2021, and the targeted offer expires on Nov. 13, 2020. The information for this offer has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)

If you are curious about earning the Southwest Companion Pass by getting one (or two) Southwest credit card bonuses, I recommend you take a look at our full guide on the topic.

However, I want to emphasize that transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Rapid Rewards using points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card do not count toward earning the Companion Pass.

You can transfer points to Rapid Rewards from Chase Ultimate Rewards to book your Southwest Rapid Rewards award tickets and have your designated companion fly virtually for free along with you once you have the pass.

Related: 12 lessons from having a Southwest Companion Pass for 12 years

Who is eligible for a new Southwest credit card

The sign-up bonuses on the Southwest credit cards change from time to time. We’ve seen them vary from 30,000 to 80,000+ points, depending on the card. We’ve even seen the offers come with an automatic Companion Pass a couple of times (like the targeted Southwest Plus card offer that expires Nov. 13, 2020), although that’s historically rare and often targeted.

Being particularly choosy with the timing of your application is especially important because of the restrictions on Southwest personal credit cards that apply to the Southwest Priority, Premier and Plus cards:

“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.”

What this means is that you can only get the new cardmember bonus on one Southwest personal credit card within a given 24-month cycle, so be sure you are getting the best bonus possible.

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 theoretically earn a bonus from a small-business version and a personal version of the Southwest card in the same calendar year to trigger the Companion Pass. Alternatively, you could get two small-business bonuses. You cannot get two personal cards.

And don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule. Reports indicate that all of these Southwest cards are subject to this restriction, so if you’ve opened five or more new personal credit cards across all card issuers in the last 24 months, you’ll almost certainly be denied immediately if you apply for a Southwest card.

Bottom line

If you are again traveling, now is a wonderful time of year to solidify your plans for earning the Southwest Companion Pass for the next couple of years. With planning, you could start 2021 off with a bang by carefully timing when you earn a sign-up bonus from one of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.

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Featured image by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

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