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

Oct 14, 2019

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One of the best deals in all of travel has to be the Southwest Companion Pass. No other travel perk gives you the ability to bring your partner, child, parent or friend on all flights with you for free (other than taxes/fees). It doesn’t matter if you book your Southwest flight with dollars or Rapid Rewards points; as long as you have the Companion Pass, your designated companion gets to come along, too.

That’s an amazing benefit no matter how you slice it, but the deal can get even better when you time things very carefully. And now is potentially the very best time of the year to apply for the Southwest credit cards if you want to maximize the Companion Pass. On the flip side, you can also inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot if you get the timing wrong.

Make family travel cheaper with a Southwest Companion Pass
Make family travel cheaper with a Southwest Companion Pass. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

The Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which you earn it plus the entire following calendar year. If you play your cards right (pun intended), you could get nearly two years to utilize it. If you get the timing wrong, you can end up with no pass at all.

How to earn the Companion Pass

To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year. If you earned points all by flying, that’s a whole lot of flying.

However, you can fast-track your earnings 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.”

While most Rapid Rewards bonus points (such as a bonus in its shopping portal) don’t count toward earning the Companion Pass, the sign-up bonuses from the Southwest credit cards do count. And, those bonuses currently go up to 70,000 points — which gets you over 60% of the way there 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. As we are less than three months until the end of the year, now is the best time of the year to apply for a Southwest credit card.

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

Let’s start with what not to do. If you apply for a Southwest credit card toward the end of a calendar year and the welcome bonus posts to your account in say December, then one of two things happens. Either, those points were enough for you to hit 110k Companion Pass-eligible points earned in this year to earn the pass for the rest of the 2019 plus all of the following calendar year. That may be what you need to have happen given your situation. However, if you qualified for the pass in say January, it would be valid for about 23 months instead of about 13 months if you qualify in December.

Or, worse still, if you meant to have the bonus points post in January, but they accidentally posted in December, and you don’t have 110k points earned that year to qualify, then you end up with no pass at all.

The ideal situation is you get approved for a Southwest credit card with a big sign-up bonus in the last few months of the year (like now), but don’t hit the spending requirement to earn the bonus until January 1. Then, you can kick off 2020 with 40,000 to 70,000 Southwest Companion Pass-eligible points in your account. Close the gap to 110k and the pass is yours for the rest of 2020 and all of 2021. Remember, you have three months to meet the spending requirement on the cards, so time things carefully so you don’t start triggering the bonus until the calendar flips to 2020.

Here are the current sign-up bonuses on the four Southwest cobranded cards:

If you are curious about earning the Southwest Companion Pass by getting one (or two) Southwest credit cards, I recommend you take a look at our full guide on the topic. However, I do want to highlight 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. However, you can transfer in points from Chase to book your Southwest Rapid Rewards award tickets to have your designated companion fly virtually for free along with you once you have the pass.

Photo by Eric Helgas
Photo by Eric Helgas

Time applications while bonuses are increased (if you can)

The sign-up bonuses on the Southwest credit cards change from time to time. We’ve seen them at 30k, 40k, 60k and 80k points, depending on the card. We have even seen the offers come with a Companion Pass! Right now, the offers are at the higher end of the scale for a limited time, however they also come with some larger spending requirements than we have seen in the past. (Keep an eye on the application pages for any posted offer end dates.)

Being particularly choosy with the timing of your applications is especially important to consider because of the restrictions to 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 newer Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. The business card’s 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 could theoretically earn a bonus from a small business 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 could not get two personal cards.

So, if you got the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card now and only worried about spending $1,000 on the card in the first three months to earn 40k points and you got the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card and spent $5,000 on that card in the first three months to earn 70,000 points, you’d have 110,000 Companion Pass-eligible points as long as those bonuses both posted in the same calendar year. That would earn you the Southwest Companion Pass. Again, if you want the pass for 2020 and 2021, just be 100% sure not to trigger the bonuses until 2020.

Also don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule. Most 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 issuers in the last 24 months, you’ll almost certainly be denied immediately if you apply for a Southwest card.

Bottom line

Now is absolutely the most wonderful time of year to solidify your plans for earning the Southwest Companion Pass for the next couple of years if you act pretty quickly. With planning, you could start 2020 off with a bang by carefully timing when you earn a sign-up bonus from one of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.

Featured image by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card


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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn points on employee spending
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, bags fly free®, and no change fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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