As was reported by a number of outlets yesterday, Southwest Airlines has announced that, effective January 1, 2020, the Southwest Companion Pass will require earning 125,000 Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year. That’s an increase of 15,000 points over the current requirement of 110K points. This only affects those looking to earn the pass in 2020 for use through December 31, 2021 — if you have earned or are en route to earning 110K points this year, you will still earn a companion pass valid through December 31, 2020.
A modest increase
Truthfully, this is a fairly modest increase as devaluations go. While the higher bonuses were set to expire recently, at the time of writing, there are still working links to increased bonuses on all of the various Southwest cards on our Best Offers page. Here are the best current offers:
At the time of writing, it is still possible to earn a companion pass with two new card welcome offers since there is one business card offering a bonus of as much as 80K and a couple of personal card offers that can fill the gap once you have met minimum spending requirements.
Note that the affiliate offers on most of the above cards have expired at the time of writing. There is no telling how long the public links for the above offers will last. If you have a Southwest Companion Pass in mind for 2020-2021, now is a good time to consider these offers because…
Now is the best time to go after a Companion Pass
Timing is everything when it comes to the Southwest Companion Pass. That’s because you need to earn the points required within a single calendar year in order to qualify for the Companion Pass. Once you earn the required points, your Companion Pass is good for the rest of the year in which you have earned it and the entire following calendar year.
Therefore, in order to maximize the value of a Southwest Companion Pass, you would want to meet the spending requirements to earn your welcome bonuses as early in the year as possible. Since you have 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirements, the best strategy is to open new Southwest cards at this time of year and then wait until after January 1st to meet the spending requirements. The bonus points will then post with your January statement and your Companion Pass will be good for nearly two years (until the following December 31st).
It is crucially important that the points must be earned in a single calendar year. If you have already earned one of the welcome bonuses this year, do not wait until January to meet the spending requirement for the second card. Particularly among those new to rewards, I find that there is a common misconception that the points need to be earned within a rolling 12 months, but that is not correct. You must earn all all of the required points within a single calendar year (i.e. 110K points if you are earning this year for a Companion Pass good through December 31, 2019 or 125K points if you are earning a Companion Pass after January 1, 2020 that is good through December 31, 2021). Also worth a mention is that you do not need to save up all of the points in your account waiting for the Companion Pass — the requirement is to earn the points in a single calendar year, you do not need to stockpile them (in other words, you can use your points as you earn them — you don’t need a balance of 110K / 125K at the same time, you just need to have earned that many total during the calendar year).
If you do choose to go after a new application(s) for Southwest credit cards, it would be smart to be cautious about using the cards until January. While some will likely spending up to within a couple hundred bucks of the requirement and then hold off until after January 1st to finish the spend, I recommend caution there. Every year, I read a report or two of someone who has accidentally met the spending requirements early — now and then due to fraudulent purchases that put them over the top of the spending requirements. Once you’ve met the purchase requirements, the points post on your next statement. I recommend holding off on as much spend as you can easily accomplish in the beginning of January.
Keep in mind that these cards are subject to 24-month language: if you have any of the personal Southwest credit cards currently or have received a new cardmember bonus on any of the personal cards within the past 24 months, you are ineligible for the bonus on a new personal card. You would need to close any currently open Southwest personal cards and be outside of the 24-month window since you last earned the bonus in order to earn a bonus again. Note that the 24-month clock starts when you last earned the bonus, not when you last opened the card.
Also note that all of the Southwest cards are subject to the Chase 5/24 rule.
|Chase's 5/24 Rule: With most Chase credit cards, Chase will not approve your application if you have opened 5 or more cards with any bank in the past 24 months.
To determine your 5/24 status, see: 3 Easy Ways to Count Your 5/24 Status. An even easier option is to track all of your cards for free with Travel Freely.
Other changes: Points don’t expire / slight change to standby policy
The other two key changes to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program are:
- Rapid Rewards points no longer expire (they previously expired after 24 months of inactivity
- A-list and A-list preferred members will still get mostly free same-day standby/changes, but beginning January 1, 2021 they will need to pay the government taxes & fees on those changes
The elimination of an expiration date on points is a very customer-friendly move. I just read a report in our Frequent Miler Insiders group yesterday from someone whose parents lost 91K Southwest Rapid Rewards points to expiration earlier this year. I’m glad to see that kind of thing will not happen to folks in the future.
The change to same-day standby is of minimal consequence to most folks. Not a big hit there.
It’s never nice to see a devaluation, but frankly I’m glad to see that the Companion Pass will still be achievable with credit card bonus points. The path has surely become more difficult with 24-month language and the Chase 5/24 rule. Furthermore, the timing on this change (just after increased offers were set to expire and at the ideal time of year to go after a Companion Pass) is poor. That said, it’s still possible to earn the pass through welcome bonuses at the time of writing and in my opinion, the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass continues to be the hands down best value in domestic award travel. See our Complete Guide to the Southwest Companion Pass for more.
H/T: Doctor of Credit