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

Feb 15, 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.

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.

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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 — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card — are offering the Southwest Companion Pass as part of its sign-up bonus offer. This promotion will earn you the pass through Feb. 28, 2022 — giving you about 12 months to have a companion fly with you.

This is truly the easiest way to earn the pass — no extra credit card spend or tier qualifying points needed. This will allow you to secure the pass as quickly as possible and allow you to start using the pass pronto.

But the real reason that timing matters is that in addition to earning the pass through the personal card sign-up offer, you can continue to earn the required points needed to earn the pass through the normal method, and extend the pass for another 10 months of use. This typically requires you to earn 125,000 tier qualifying points during the calendar year, but, 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 the year.

Since you’ll already have the pass in your back pocket through the personal card offers, you can then use the rest of 2021 to earn the full number of points required, at a more leisurely pace.

Earning the pass the normal way — and not as part of the credit card sign-up bonus — allows you to have the pass the rest of the calendar year in which it was earned, plus the entire following calendar year. That means if you earn the required 125,000 points in 2021, you’ll then have the pass through Dec. 31, 2022 — a 10-month extension on when the promotional pass is set to expire.

If you play your cards right (pun intended), you could get nearly two years out of your Companion Pass by getting the pass as early in 2021 as possible.

Related: 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 and maybe even 2022, then I wouldn’t actively work hard toward the Companion Pass until the time is again right for you to regularly fly Southwest Airlines. But if 2021 is looking quite promising for you, now may be the time to strike.

In This Post

Timing Southwest credit card bonuses to earn the companion pass

(Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography for The Points Guy)

So let’s say you want to earn the pass right away — the easy way with the current credit card sign-up bonus — and then extend the pass to earn it even longer. We will show you how.

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. That means, with the personal card offers, you’ll earn the pass now, but also receive 30,000 points, which count toward the yearly Companion Pass requirement.

That’ll get you almost one-third of the way to earning the pass through the end of 2022.

Then, at some point during 2021, or even right now if you can swing meeting two minimum spend offers at the same time, you’ll want to apply for one of Southwest’s two business credit cards. This will then unlock the pass for you for the rest of 2022.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

As an example, if you are also approved for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, that will allow you to earn up to 100,000 bonus points due to its incredibly high sign-up offer. However, keep in mind that this offer can always change at some point during the year if you wait on combining sign-up offers to earn the pass.

This particular offer will award you 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on the card within the first three months, and another 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first six months. While this offer can in fact secure you the pass on its own, the second-tier minimum spend requirement might be difficult for most credit card holders to meet. If this is true for your situation, then combining this card offer with the personal card could be the perfect solution.

You’ll earn 30,000 points from the Southwest Priority card, the Premier card or the Plus card, plus another 70,000 points from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card — after you meet the minimum spend on each card. This will then earn you the 100,000 points required to earn the Southwest Companion Pass through the normal method — and extend the pass through Dec. 31, 2022.

And since you will already have the pass from the personal card, you can apply for the business card when the time is right for you. You just want to make sure that you hit the minimum spend on the card before your December 2021 credit card statement closes so the points post in 2021. We even suggest not waiting that long, so there is no mishap with the points posting in time. Tier qualifying points do not carry over year to year and reset on Jan. 1 each year.

This same scenario can also be applied to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card as well. This card has a slightly lower annual fee, but doesn’t offer as many benefits. Currently, this card offer will earn you 60,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Combining the personal card and business card will earn you 98,000 tier qualifying points (90,000 points total from the sign-up bonuses and 8,000 points from meeting the minimum spend requirement for the two offers).

This puts you just 2,000 points shy of the 100,000 points required, as long as your account was eligible for the 25,000 tier qualifying point bonus. You can then earn the remaining points with additional credit card spend, using one of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards partners or using the Southwest shopping portal. Again, make sure those points post in 2021.

This 60,000-point offer has been the standard offer for the Southwest Premier Business card for quite some time, so there is a good chance we will continue to see the offer throughout 2021, but of course there is no guarantee.

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

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 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 80,000-plus points, depending on the card and the day. And while we’ve seen them come with an automatic Companion Pass in the past, it’s typically rare. That is what makes this current offer on the personal cards so unique — it’s an offer we don’t see too often.

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, 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. Whether you want the pass for the next 12 months or are able to secure it through the end of 2022, the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards are the ideal way to earn it, especially now with these unique offers.

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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