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

Jun 20, 2021

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One of the best deals in travel is the Southwest Companion Pass.

No other travel perk allows you to 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 and 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.

With travel making a comeback, now might be the perfect time to start plotting out your future travel plans. And with enhanced Southwest credit card offers, this is a great time to apply for one — or even two — of the cards to earn the pass through Dec. 31, 2022.

Yes, earning the pass now will allow you to reap the pass benefits of having a companion fly with you for almost free for 18-ish months.

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

This is because all three Southwest personal credit cards — Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card — are offering an increased bonus where you’ll earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

To earn the pass, you need to earn 125,000 tier-qualifying points during the calendar year. However, for 2021 only, Southwest awarded members who had an account open by Dec. 31, 2020, with 25 qualifying flights and 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points, which means you only need to earn 100,000 points for this year.

Related: Guide to airline companion tickets

In This Post

Earning the points required for the Companion Pass

(Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography for The Points Guy)

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. 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.”

This means, with the 65,000 points earned from the bonus offer and the 2,000 points earned to meet the minimum spend requirement, you need to earn an additional 33,000 points in 2021 — assuming you receive the 25,000 point boost at the beginning of the year. This puts you at over two-thirds of the way to earn the pass through the end of 2022.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Although a single credit card offer on its own at the 65,000 point level won’t earn you the pass, there are many ways to earn the remaining points. While you can continue to earn the points needed by additional credit card spend, flying on eligible Southwest fares or partner activity, one of the easiest ways to rack up the miles needed for the Companion Pass is to combine a Southwest personal credit card with a Southwest business credit card.

Unfortunately, Chase doesn’t allow you to have more than one Southwest personal credit card open at a time, but those restrictions don’t exist when it comes to the business version of the card.

There are two Southwest business cards and when combining the offer with the personal card offer, you’ll be able to receive the Companion Pass right off the bat. No additional spending or activity required.

Related: 5 ways you might be eligible for a business credit card without realizing it

For example, if you are also approved for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, that will allow you to earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. Ultimately, this will earn you a total of 125,000 bonus points in addition to any spending put on the credit card. This is the exact number of points required to earn the pass, so even if you weren’t eligible for the 25,000 point boost from earlier this year, you are good to go.

Or, if you prefer Southwest’s higher-end business card, which offers significantly more perks, you can instead opt for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. This card offer requires you to spend a slightly higher $5,000 on the card within the first three months, but you’ll earn a significantly higher 80,000 bonus points. Again, combining this offer with any three of the personal card offers will put you well over the amount needed to earn the pass.

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Now, to fully recap, here are the current sign-up bonuses on the five Southwest cobranded cards:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($69 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($99 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn 65,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($149 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($99 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($199 annual fee).

However, I want to emphasize that while welcome bonuses from Southwest credit cards do count toward earning the Companion Pass, 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: 13 lessons from having a Southwest Companion Pass for 13 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 100,000 points, depending on the card and the day. And while we’ve seen them come with an automatic special Companion Pass in the past, it’s typically rare and usually only extends the pass for a limited amount of time.

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 traveling again, or believe you will be over the next year or two, now is a wonderful time of year to solidify your plans for earning the Southwest Companion Pass over the next 18-months.

However, if you don’t believe you’ll be traveling in 2021, and prefer to earn the pass for 2022 and 2023 instead, you should probably hold off on applying for these cards until later this year. Of course, we don’t know what the credit card offers will be like at that time and there’s always the chance that Southwest changes how they count qualifying points.

Ultimately though, the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards are the ideal way to earn the amazing Southwest Companion Pass especially with these increased offers.

Related: How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

Additional reporting by Chris Dong. 

Featured photo by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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