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Southwest is currently offering increased sign-up bonuses on all three of their personal credit cards, which include the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. Now through February 10, you can use the links in this story to earn up to 75,000 Rapid Rewards bonus points — 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening, plus an additional 35,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first six months from account opening. This is actually the highest publicly available offer we’ve seen for these cards.
Those are generous bonuses, but thanks to the way Southwest counts credit card bonus points, you can actually combine any one of these personal credit card offers with one of the Southwest business credit card offers to earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. This pass allows another passenger to fly with you for free (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year. That means if you earn the pass now, you’ll have it until December 31, 2021 — almost two years of flying.
How does this work? Is it something you should do? What if you don’t have a business? Let’s dig into the details and find out if getting a Southwest Companion Pass makes sense for you.
Earning the Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is truly a no-strings-attached perk, as it comes with very few restrictions. The primary requirement is that there must be at least one seat available for sale in any fare class on a flight for which you’ve purchased your own ticket, either with cash or Southwest points. You are allowed to change your companion three times per year (not including the initial companion), meaning in theory you could have up to seven people as your companion over two calendar years.
To receive the pass, you must earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying flights with Southwest in a calendar year. These points can be earned in three ways: paid flights booked through Southwest, base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners and points earned on Southwest credit cards. That last one is the most important, because bonus points earned from Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses qualify for the Companion Pass as well.
This means signing up for just one Southwest personal credit card and meeting the minimum spend requirement can earn you more than half the number of points required. With the current 75,000-point bonus offers — plus the 5,000 points earned from meeting the minimum spend — you’d only need 45,000 more qualifying points to earn the pass from just one credit card alone.
You could earn those remaining Companion Pass points by using your newly-acquired Southwest credit card on everyday purchases, combined with flying Southwest and partner activity. Some partner activities include shopping online through the Southwest shopping portal, purchasing flowers and car rentals. But you can also consider applying for a second Southwest credit card. However, the important caveat here is that the second card must be a business credit card. That’s because Chase restricts you to having just one personal Southwest credit card open at a time, but you’re still allowed to apply for both a personal and business credit card.
What business credit cards does Southwest offer? There are two.
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first three months. This card comes with a $99 annual fee, but earns 6,000 bonus points (worth $90 at 1.5 cents per point) on every cardholder anniversary (meaning every 365 days from when you were first approved for the card).
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you’ll earn 70,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within the first three months. This card carries a higher $199 annual fee, but the benefits include 9,000 bonus points on your cardholder anniversary (worth $135), four upgraded boardings per year, inflight Wi-Fi credits and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit up to $100.
In either case, you’ll automatically earn the Southwest Companion Pass after being approved and meeting the minimum spend requirements on both a personal and business card.
Now, it’s important to note that you’ll need to spend a significant amount of money in order to meet the minimum spending requirements on two credit cards. For example, let’s say you apply for both the Southwest Plus credit card and the Southwest Premier Business credit card. With the Southwest Plus card, you’ll need to spend $5,000 in the first 6 months to earn the full 75,000 points, while on the Southwest Business Premier card, you’ll need to spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to earn 60,000 points. That’s a total of $8,000 in spending, which will earn you 135,000 qualifying bonus points, 10,000 more than the 125,000 points required for the Southwest Companion Pass.
While spending $8,000 on credit cards might sound like a lot, the fact that you have six months to complete it all under these bonus offers means you’re only looking at $1,333 in spending per month, which is a potentially manageable number for most families. Just remember that since these are all Chase credit cards, all applicants are subject to Chase’s “5/24” rule. Under this rule, if you’ve been approved for five or more credit cards across all banks in the past 24 months, Chase will automatically deny your application.
Since you earn the Companion Pass for the current year plus the entire following year, the best time to earn the pass is as early in the calendar year as possible. And since we’re currently only in February, now’s a perfect time to earn the pass. Note that the bonus points received from sign-up offers don’t post to your account until a few days after your credit card billing cycle ends, so you won’t get the Companion Pass immediately after completing all the spending, but rather once your credit card statement closes.
The best part about the Southwest Companion Pass is that you can use all the Southwest points you earned from the sign-up bonus offers to book flights and still add your companion onto your ticket using the pass. This means both passengers are essentially flying for free except for taxes and fees, essentially doubling the value of the sign-up offers.
I’ve personally been a Southwest Companion Pass holder for 12 years now, and it’s saved my family tens of thousands of dollars on travel. The pass allows my husband, my children, my parents and even friends to fly with me on every Southwest flight I take just for the cost of taxes. (Domestic taxes are $5.60 each way, while international taxes vary depending on the destination).
What if I don’t have a business?
Just because you’re not a huge corporation doesn’t mean you’re not eligible to get a business credit card. In fact, you might already have a business and not even know it. If you’re a rideshare driver, or you sell products online, or even if you just have a side hustle that you do in your spare time — basically, if you participate in the “gig economy” at all, you may very well have a business as a sole proprietor.
If so, you can legitimately apply for either of the Southwest business credit cards using your Social Security number instead of a company Employer Identification Number. And if your business is new, don’t let that dissuade you either — just be honest about your business and personal income on the application, and the fact that you’ve only been in business a short time.
Which Southwest credit card should you get?
With three different personal Southwest credit cards, you might be wondering which card is best for you. All three Southwest credit cards earn the same number of points on your everyday purchases. You’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on Southwest as well as on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
Compared to other credit cards that earn rewards, that’s not the most lucrative earning rate. For instance, CNN Underscored’s benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off. But while you probably won’t want to make your primary card a Southwest credit card, remember that with the current sign-up offers, you’ll get about $1,125 in flights on Southwest just from the bonus points alone. This is based on Southwest’s points being worth approximately 1.5 cents per point when booking Southwest’s lowest “Wanna Get Away” fare. The airline has what’s known as a fixed-redemption frequent flyer program, where the amount of points redeemed is directly tied to the cash price of the fare.
Even though the earn rate is the same, there are still significant differences between the cards, which include the annual fee, the anniversary bonus points received, travel credits earned and the option to buy up a better boarding position.
You’ll find the benefits of the Southwest Plus card and the Southwest Premier card to be similar. The Plus costs $69 on an annual basis, while the Premier costs $99 annually. The difference between the two is the bonus points you receive every year after you pay the annual fee. The Southwest Plus card comes with 3,000 bonus points (worth $45 at 1.5 cents per point) on every card anniversary (meaning every 365 days from when you were first approved for the card), while the Southwest Premier card comes with 6,000 bonus points at each card anniversary, which are worth $90 at 1.5 cents per point. Although the Southwest Plus card is the least expensive option for the first year, if this is a card you believe you’ll be keeping for years to come, you’ll find the Southwest Premier to be the better long-term value thanks to the bonus points.
The Southwest Priority card is where the big difference lies. The annual fee is significantly higher at $149 per year, but the benefits are enormously better. Not only do you earn 7,500 bonus points (worth $113) at each card anniversary, you’ll also receive a $100 travel credit every year and four upgraded boarding certificates annually. The $100 travel credit can be used toward any Southwest flight purchase — just pay for your flight or taxes on your Southwest card and you’ll receive a statement credit up to $100.
The upgraded boarding certificates are unique to Southwest. The airline boards its airplanes very differently than most other airlines, since there’s no assigned seating. Instead, you receive a boarding position based on your flight check-in time. Passengers are assigned into groups A, B and C, and can be anywhere between 1 and 60 within each group. Upgraded boarding certificates normally allow you to purchase an A1-15 position at the gate (if available), giving you the option to be one of the first passengers to board and choose almost any seat you’d like, ensuring you’re not stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat. Upgraded boardings typically cost $30 to $50 each, so if this is something you’d purchase anyway, you can put a $120 to $200 value on this benefit.
Taking into consideration all of the benefits, you’ll notice the value of the Southwest Priority card far surpasses the value of the other two personal cards, both within the first year and every year thereafter.
Is a Southwest credit card right for you?
Southwest has been my family’s airline of choice for many years thanks to their extremely generous policies and and the Southwest Companion Pass. If you need to cancel a flight booked with points, the points will go straight back into your account with no fees charged. The airline even allows you to reprice a flight if the fare goes down — again, the difference in points will go back into your account at no charge. This is a breath of fresh air compared to the hefty change and cancellation fees you’ll incur with other airlines. Southwest’s customer-friendly policies, combined with the ease of using its points, makes it a great airline to focus on.
But even if a Southwest Companion Pass isn’t on your travel radar, if you’re considering getting a Southwest credit card, make sure you do it while the sign-up bonuses are high. We often see different bonuses on Southwest cards, so it’s entirely possible (though not guaranteed) that we’ll see bonuses like this again down the line. But if you want to lock in the bonus now — or if you want to go for the Southwest Companion Pass and maximize the amount of time you have it — now’s the time to grab one or even two of these Southwest credit cards and get them working for you.
Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.
Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.
Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card.
Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its “Best credit cards of 2020.”
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.
Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.