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

Feb 4, 2020

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Editor’s note: This is a recurring article that is periodically updated. It was last updated on Feb. 4, 2020.

One of the best deals in travel is the Southwest Companion Pass. No other travel perk allows you to bring your partner, child, parent or friend with you on all flights 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 gets to 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 maximize the Companion Pass. This is true in part because the increased Southwest card offers of up to 75,000 bonus points that are available on our site are set to expire on Feb.10!

Offer ends 2/10/20: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card earn up to 75,000 points; 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months account is open and an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first six months account is open ($69 annual fee).

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

The reason that timing matters 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. 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

How to earn the Companion Pass

To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to earn 125,000 Companion Pass-qualifying Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year.

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.”

Although 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 75,000 points — which gets you well over halfway to a Companion Pass in one shot.

Related reading: 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 still early 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 and have the bonus post as early in the year as possible. Then, get the rest of your 125,000 Companion Pass-eligible points and the pass is yours for the rest of 2020 and all of 2021.

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

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Up to 75,000 points; 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months account is open and an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first six months account is open ($149 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Up to 75,000 points; 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months account is open and an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first six months account is open ($99 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Up to 75,000 points; 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months account is open and an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first six months account is open ($69 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months; 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded each account anniversary ($99 annual fee).
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 70,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months; 9,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points awarded after each account anniversary ($199 annual fee).
(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 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 reading: 12 lessons from having a Southwest Companion Pass for 12 years

Increased bonuses ending soon

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 (though that’s rare). Right now, most of the card bonuses are temporarily increased, but only until Feb. 10 when applying via the links on our site.

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 newer 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.

So, if you get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card while the bonus is increased and spend $5,000 in the first six months to earn the full 75,000 bonus points and then get 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 more than enough Companion Pass-eligible points as long as those bonuses both post in the same calendar year. If you do that in early 2020, the pass will be valid for the rest of 2020 and all of 2021. You’d also have all those valuable points to spend on Rapid Rewards tickets.

But — 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

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 2020 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

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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