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With planes back in the skies again, there’s a very good chance you’re thinking about your next vacation. Fortunately, Southwest just launched its highest-ever sign-up bonus on all three of its personal credit cards, as well as some new card benefits, which means you can pick up a nice chunk of points and some cool new perks all at the same time.
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 up to 100,000 bonus points in two tiers. You’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on the card within the first three months after opening the account, plus an additional 50,000 points after you spend $12,000 on the card within the first 12 months.
Or if you have a small business, right now you can earn 80,000 bonus points with the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months, or 60,000 bonus points with the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card after you spend only $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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 100,000 bonus points are worth roughly $1,400 toward Southwest travel. Plus, the points could potentially help earn you the coveted Southwest Companion Pass®, and if you do, it could be good all the way through the end of 2023.
New Southwest credit card perks
Aside from earning a massive number of points from the sign-up bonuses, Southwest credit cards also come with other benefits for Southwest flyers, and new perks have now been added to all five Southwest cards. If you expect to fly the airline regularly in 2022, 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 1.4 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 through 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.
• EarlyBird Check-In credits
If you purchase the least expensive Southwest fare type, known as “Wanna Get Away” fares, you’ll need to check yourself in for your flight starting 24 hours in advance, and your check-in time will determine your boarding position. However, if you don’t want to have to worry about checking yourself in as close to 24 hours ahead as possible, Southwest allows you to purchase an add-on option called EarlyBird Check-In that automatically checks you in for your flight before the traditional 24-hour mark.
As a brand-new benefit, the Southwest Plus, Southwest Premier and Southwest Premier Business cards all come with two EarlyBird Check-In credits per year. EarlyBird Check-In typically costs between $15 and $25 one-way per passenger, so this benefit is worth $30 to $50 per year if you use it.
• 25% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi
Up until now, an exclusive benefit of the Southwest Priority card was 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi purchases. Now all five Southwest credit cards have this benefit, and it’s been upped to 25% back. 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, since you can get complimentary Wi-Fi on essentially every Southwest flight you take with that card — up to 365 statement credits per year.
• A-List status qualifying points
Another perk now available on the Southwest Premier, Southwest Priority, Southwest Premier Business and Southwest Performance Business cards is the ability to earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points toward A-List status for every $10,000 you spend on a card.
Previously, this was a perk on only some Southwest credit cards, and there was an annual cap to how many tier-qualifying points you could earn. Now the cap has been eliminated, which means theoretically you could earn A-List and A-List Preferred status solely by spending money on your Southwest credit card.
However, it’d be a lot of spending to make it all the way to the top without flying at all. Just to earn A-List status would require spending well over $200,000 on your credit card. That’s almost certainly not worth it unless you’re making those kind of purchases anyway, but it’s still a useful perk if you combine it with tier-qualifying points earned by doing some flying on Southwest as well.
• Point transfer reimbursement
As a brand-new perk on both the Southwest Premier Business and Southwest Performance Business cards, you can now transfer Southwest points to another person and be reimbursed for up to $500 in fees for doing so each year. This can easily help you consolidate points between family members or gift Southwest points to business associates.
Southwest point transfers typically cost $5 for every 500 points transferred, so getting up to $500 in reimbursements each year means you can effectively transfer up to 50,000 points per year for free.
• 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 reentry 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.
How can these credit cards help you get a Southwest Companion Pass?
The Southwest 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. To get the pass, you typically need to earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points within a calendar year.
However, in 2021 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 Dec. 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 the full 100,000 bonus points on any one of these three cards by the end of the year will give you the full number of points required, and earn you the pass through Dec. 31, 2022.
You’ll just want to make sure to meet the minimum spending requirements needed for the card’s full bonus before your December monthly statement closes, as points typically post two to five days after that.
On the other hand, if you aren’t traveling for the rest of 2021, you can get one of these cards now but hold off on completing the minimum spending requirements until January so that you earn the points in 2022. The points will count during the year they’re earned, not the year when you applied for the card.
When you earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you get to keep it for the rest of the year you earn it, plus the entire following calendar year. So if you earn the pass at the top of 2022, you’ll have it for close to two years all the way until Dec. 31, 2023!
The one thing to keep in mind is that the extra 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points that Southwest awarded for 2021 won’t be around in 2022, so at that point you’ll need to earn the full 125,000 qualifying points. That means after you earn 100,000 points from the sign-up offer, plus 12,000 points from spending $12,000 on the card to meet the entire spending requirement, you’ll have 112,000 points — leaving you 13,000 points away from 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 limits you to having just one personal credit card at a time, there are no restrictions on having both a personal and business card.
Since you can currently earn 80,000 bonus points with the Southwest Performance Business card, if you add those 80,000 points to the points earned from any one of the three personal cards, you’ll immediately cross the required threshold to earn the Companion Pass.
Or, if the $12,000 total spending requirement on the personal cards is going to be tough for you to make, you can earn just the first 50,000 bonus points on any three of the personal cards and combine it with the Southwest Performance Business card offer. This means spending just $2,000 on the personal card to earn 50,000 points, and then an additional $5,000 on the Performance Business to earn 80,000 points for a total of 130,000 qualifying points. It also means only spending a combined $7,000.
Although this requires paying an annual fee on two cards and the Performance Business card is the most expensive Southwest credit card at $199 a year, the card comes with upgraded boardings, in-flight Wi-Fi credits, opportunity to earn A-List status and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit.
Or, if the minimum spend is still too much, you can instead combine one of the three personal cards with the 60,000 bonus points on the Southwest Premier Business card. Add those 60,000 points together with the 50,000 points from the first-tier bonus on any of the personal card offers and you’ll end up with 115,000 total points — 110,000 points from the combined welcome offer and 5,000 points from meeting the minimum spending requirement. While this won’t earn you the pass instantly, it’ll leave you just 10,000 points short.
Which Southwest credit card should you apply for?
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 sign-up bonus.
The benefits of the Southwest Premier card are similar to those of 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 now, with the card’s new benefits, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases with the Southwest Premier versus 2 points that you earn with the Southwest Plus. And the Southwest Premier also now allows you to earn more tier-qualifying points toward A-List status.
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 boardings per year and a 25% statement credit on in-flight 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.
Finally, 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, Wi-Fi statement credits and point transfer fee credit.
Is this the best time to get a Southwest credit card?
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 only have it for slightly over a year through Dec. 31, 2022.
But if you don’t think you’ll be traveling that much during the rest of 2021, you can still apply for any of these cards now and get these great bonus offers, but hold off on meeting the minimum spending requirement until 2022 to earn the pass then. You’ll then end up close to two years with a Southwest Companion Pass, as you’ll have it for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023.
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