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Southwest frequent flyer changes: Are the airline’s credit cards still worth it?

Southwest makes miles permanent and raises the bar for the Companion Pass

Summary

Southwest recently announced changes to its Rapid Rewards program and the Companion Pass. While some changes are welcome, others require a harder look at the airline’s credit cards – and whether or not they’re still worth it to frequent flyers.

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Dear Cashing In,

I saw that Southwest is making changes to its frequent flyer program. I’ve been thinking about getting one of their credit cards, but now I’m a little hesitant. What do you think? – Jill

Dear Jill,

Let’s examine the changes, then explore whether it’s still worth it to sign up for one of the credit cards Southwest Airlines offers.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Tony a question.

See related: Airline miles that no longer expire the new card perk?

Changes to Rapid Rewards

In October 2019, Southwest announced several changes to its frequent flyer program, Rapid Rewards. It also announced a pretty significant change to its highly coveted Companion Pass (which allows a friend or family member to travel for free with the person who holds the pass).

The main change to Rapid Rewards is that, effective immediately, the Rewards points do not expire. Previously, a customer’s account required activity at least every 24 months. Otherwise, the points would disappear.

This is a welcome change, and it follows similar moves by Delta and United. Those miles don’t disappear – even if you have no activity on your account for a long time.

Changes to Companion Pass

The other and more significant change regarding Southwest is to its Companion Pass.

Previously, customers needed to earn 110,000 qualifying points in a single calendar year to earn the pass. Now, Southwest has raised the requirement to 125,000 points, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Customers can also earn the pass by flying 100 one-way flights in a year. That option isn’t changing.

The Companion Pass is valuable because it is good for the year in which you earn it, plus the following year. It allows a companion to fly almost for free – paying only airport and security charges – regardless of whether the pass holder paid for the ticket or redeemed points for an award ticket.

Although earning that many points sounds challenging for almost anyone (aside from the most frequent Southwest flyers), the workaround is that sign-up bonuses and spending on Southwest credit cards count toward the total.

A common tactic to earn the pass was to sign up for two Southwest credit cards. The sign-up bonuses on two cards would get you the 110,000 points you needed. However, that threshold is now a little further away.

Card options

Chase and Southwest offer five different credit cards – three personal and two business:

Annual feeSign-up bonusPerks
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card$6940,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first three months
  • 3,000 bonus points each account anniversary
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card$9940,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first three months
  • 6,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card$14940,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first three months
  • 7,500 points each card anniversary
  • A $75 annual travel credit.
  • Four upgraded boardings per year
  • 20 percent off in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card$9960,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in first three months
  • 6,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No cost for additional employee cards
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card$199
  • 70,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in first three months
  • Additional 30,000 points after spending $25,000 in first six months
  • 9,000 bonus points each anniversary.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Four upgraded boardings per year
  • In-flight Wi-Fi credits

With the sign-up bonuses, if you get a business card and a personal card, you’ll either hit 110,000 points or get really close – and that’s without purchasing flights. That alone is enough to earn the Companion Pass in 2019 and get you close in 2020.

It’s still a good deal, but it will take more work than it used to. As always, you’ll have to decide whether the card or cards are right for you.

Companion Pass aside, co-branded credit cards usually make the most sense for people who are frequent users of the company offering the card. If you fly Southwest a lot, you’ll want to look hard at these cards. If not, and if you don’t want the Companion Pass, then you might want to look elsewhere.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: April 1st, 2020
Business
14.07%
Airline
15.85%
Cash Back
16.16%
Reward
16.06%
Student
15.87%

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