CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.
With planes back in the skies again, there’s a very good chance you’re thinking about your next vacation. and it’s a great time to apply for a travel credit card so you can go on that trip for less. Fortunately, Southwest has just released new limited-time offers on all three of its personal credit cards, which can not only score you more points, but could potentially help earn you the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.
Right now, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card are each offering 65,000 bonus points to new card holders after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months after you open the account.
Southwest’s points are consistently worth about 1.4 cents each when you redeem them for the airline’s cheapest “Wanna Get Away” fares, which means those 65,000 bonus points are worth roughly $910 toward Southwest travel.
Not only can you earn a ton of Southwest Rapid Rewards points with these offers, they’re also perfect for earning the Southwest Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows a companion to fly with you for free (plus taxes) for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year.
That means if you get a card now and complete your minimum spend requirements quickly, you’ll be two-thirds of the way toward earning the pass this year. And if you do complete the requirements to earn the pass, it’ll be good all the way through the end of 2022!
To get the pass, you typically need to earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points within a calendar year. However, this year only, Southwest boosted the accounts of its frequent flyer members with 25,000 bonus Companion Pass-qualifying points. All members received these points as long as you had a Southwest Rapid Rewards frequent flyer account open as of December 31, 2020.
That leaves existing Southwest frequent flyer members needing just 100,000 qualifying points in 2021. Since the airline counts all Southwest credit card points toward the Companion Pass — including sign-up offers and regular spending on the card — earning 65,000 bonus points on any one of these three cards will get you 65% of the way to 100,000 points.
Additionally, Southwest is also targeting certain member accounts with the opportunity to earn an additional 10,000 qualifying points with a single flight through July 31, 2021. You’ll need to check your personal Southwest account promotions to see if you’re eligible. But if you are, that can put you even closer to earning the pass.
There are many other ways to earn the remaining Companion Pass points you need, such as using the Southwest shopping portal, crediting your hotel and car rentals to Southwest and ongoing usage of your Southwest credit card. But one of the easiest is to couple one of the personal Southwest credit cards with a Southwest business credit card. Although Southwest now limits you to having just one personal credit card at a time, there are no restrictions on having both a personal and business card.
Combining a personal Southwest credit card with a business one can earn you the Southwest Companion Pass.
Right now, you can earn an additional 60,000 bonus points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. Add those 60,000 points together with the 65,000 points from any of the personal card offers, and you’ll end up with 125,000 total points, enough to earn the Companion Pass without any additional points.
Or, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card, you can earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. This is the highest bonus offer right now across all of Southwest’s credit cards, but it’s also the most expensive card of the bunch and requires the most spending to earn the bonus.
However, while the $199 annual fee on the Southwest Performance Business might look like a lot on paper, the card comes with the same upgraded boardings as the Southwest Priority card, inflight Wi-Fi credits and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit.
Aside from earning a massive number of points from the sign-up bonuses, Southwest credit cards also come with other benefits for Southwest flyers. If you expect to fly the airline regularly as travel resumes, you may find some of them to be extremely useful.
• Yearly anniversary points
With all of Southwest’s credit cards, you’ll get bonus points on a yearly basis, starting at your first anniversary (meaning one year from the date you originally get the card) and every year thereafter. These points help significantly offset the cost of each card’s annual fee.
With the Southwest Plus card, you’ll receive 3,000 bonus points at your anniversary, while the Southwest Premier and Southwest Premier Business cards come with 6,000 bonus points. The Southwest Priority card offers 7,500 bonus points at each account anniversary, while the Southwest Performance Business card will increase your balance the most with 9,000 bonus points each year.
Again, Southwest points are worth approximately 1.5 cents per point when redeemed for “Wanna Get Away” fares, so these 3,000, 6,000, 7,500 and 9,000 anniversary bonus points are worth $42, $84, $105 and $126 in value, respectively.
• Annual travel credit
A benefit of just the Southwest Priority card is a $75 travel credit each account year (meaning you can utilize the first year’s credit any time you want after receiving the card). This travel credit can be used for essentially any Southwest purchases, including flights, taxes or even fees when using points, so long as you use your Southwest Priority card to pay for it.
• Upgraded boarding positions
Southwest has a different seat assignment policy than most other airlines — there are no assigned seats. Instead, the carrier has open seating, where you pick your preferred seat upon boarding the plane. Your boarding position — which you get when you check in for your flight — determines when you board. All passengers receive a boarding position between A1 and C60, with A1 being first to board and C60 being last.
With the Southwest Priority card specifically, you get four upgraded boarding positions per year to use on Southwest flights. This means you can purchase an A1-15 boarding position at the gate (if available), giving you the opportunity to board the plane before most other passengers, and you’ll receive a statement credit for the amount charged.
Purchasing an upgraded boarding position normally costs between $30 and $50, so this benefit is worth $120 to $200 per year.
• 20% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi
The Southwest Priority credit card offers 20% back on your inflight purchases, including Wi-Fi.
Again, an exclusive benefit of the Southwest Priority card is 20% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi purchases. While this isn’t a huge savings, it could save you a few bucks over time.
However, if you’re a small business owner who flies on Southwest often and typically pays for Wi-Fi on your flights, you might want to consider the Southwest Performance Business card instead, since you can get complimentary Wi-Fi on essentially every Southwest flight you take with that card — up to 365 statement credits per year.
• Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
Just pay for your application using your Southwest Performance Business card, and if you’re approved, you’ll be on your way to receiving expedited access at TSA security checkpoints in the US and quicker re-entry into the country with Global Entry after traveling abroad.
Even if you already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, you can use this benefit for a friend or family member who doesn’t have it. Just use your card to pay for their application fee — the names don’t have to match.
With five different Southwest credit cards on the table, it’s important to know which card is best for your individual needs. If your main goal is to increase your Southwest Rapid Rewards points balance and earn points toward the Southwest Companion Pass, then the Southwest Plus card is best. This card carries the lowest annual fee at just $69 per year, but offers the same 65,000-point sign-up bonus.
The benefits of the Southwest Premier card are similar to the Southwest Plus card, but you’re paying a higher annual fee at $99. Although you’ll earn more bonus points on your card anniversaries, you don’t earn them until you complete your first year as a card holder and pay your second annual fee.
But if you fly Southwest a decent amount throughout the year — or plan to as travel resumes more broadly — and you want a card rich in benefits, then the Southwest Priority card is your best option. Although it has a significantly higher fee at $149, the benefits alone are easily worth it if you can use them.
The Southwest Priority card’s $75 travel credit brings the effective cost of the card down to just $74. On top of that, you’ll receive four upgraded boarding per year and a 20% statement credit on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi. If you can maximize those benefits, you can easily be ahead in your first year alone. And starting with your second year, you’ll always be ahead once you add in the 7,500 bonus points at each card anniversary, which are worth $105 in Southwest flights.
And if you have a small business, you can get the Southwest Premier Business card and only pay a $99 annual fee, or get the Southwest Performance Business card with all its perks and a higher $199 annual fee. The more-expensive business card probably only makes sense if you’ll be able to take advantage of all its Southwest benefits, like the upgraded boarding positions and Wi-Fi statement credits.
If you’re not planning to fly much in 2021, you might consider waiting to earn the Companion Pass in 2022.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest perks of applying for a Southwest credit card is to get one step closer to earning the Southwest Companion Pass, which is valid for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year. If you apply for a Southwest card now — or even two — and earn the Companion Pass soon after, you’ll have it for roughly a year and a half through December 31, 2022.
But if you don’t think you’ll be traveling that much in 2021, you might want to put off applying for a Southwest card until early next year when you can earn the pass for 2022 and 2023. Of course, we don’t know what sign-up offers will be available at that time, and there’s always a chance that Southwest changes how it counts Companion Pass-qualifying points. But it could be worth taking the risk and waiting if you expect to travel more after 2021.
However, if you’re ready to hit the road now and want to bank a bunch of Southwest points or get one step closer to the Southwest Companion Pass, these limited-time bonus offers are excellent, so you may want to consider them while they’re available.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2021.