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You’re probably familiar with Southwest, the popular airline famous for its free checked bags and laissez-faire approach to seating. With thousands of flights per day and a robust route network, Southwest is a strong competitor in the U.S. airspace — which makes the airline’s co-branded credit cards an appealing option for travelers.
But when is the best time to sign up for a Southwest credit card? Not all timelines are as smart as others, and figuring out when to apply for a Southwest credit card is a strategic choice all on its own. Here's what to think about as you coordinate the timing of applying for a new Southwest credit card.
1. When you have upcoming trips
One of the best reasons to get a travel rewards credit card is to help smooth the way for your future travel. Different cards offer different perks, and Southwest’s credit cards are no exception. With three different consumer options and even a business card, you’ll find a variety of Southwest Airlines credit card benefits available to you.
Things like complimentary EarlyBird Check-In offered by the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card can score you better seats, while the $75 annual travel credit available with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card can minimize your flight costs.
If you have future travel plans and want to take advantage of these perks, you’ll want to be sure you apply for your card before you book.
Of course, we can’t talk about the timing of applying for these cards without talking about the sign-up bonuses. For the unfamiliar, sign-up bonuses offer a one-time lump sum reward of points after meeting a certain spend threshold.
If you’re looking to travel with the Rapid Rewards points you’ll earn as a cardholder, note that it takes time to both earn those points and have them deposited into your account. We recommend getting the card at least five months in advance of your trip to be sure that your points post.
» Learn more: The best travel credit card welcome bonuses right now
2. When you anticipate spending a lot
As we mentioned above, you’ll only receive your welcome offer after spending a certain amount of money on your card. Take the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, for example. It comes with this welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Not all your expenses can be put on a credit card, and meeting the threshold may be difficult for you if you don’t regularly spend a lot of money. This is one reason why you’ll want to time your credit card application appropriately. Do you have a home renovation coming up, or maybe a payment for property taxes?
These large, one-time purchases can be an easy way to meet your spend goal without incurring additional expenses.
3. When a limited-time offer is available
Every Southwest credit card comes with a sign-up bonus, but these bonuses actually fluctuate throughout the year. Card issuers can — and do — provide limited-time elevated offers a few times each year.
Increased rates can vary, but it may offer as many as 50,000 points more than typical sign-up offers — which is significant. If you’re not desperate to acquire a Southwest card, waiting for one of these elevated offers can generate far more points than a standard bonus.
4. When you can squeeze value out of a Companion Pass
Even if you’re a frequent flyer, the Southwest Companion Pass may not have come up on your radar — but it should. The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most generous perks passengers can earn.
The Companion Pass allows you to bring along a designated person with you, for nearly free, on all your flights. This is true whether it’s a paid ticket or you’re using award points; they’ll be able to come along for just the taxes and fees.
You can change your designated travel companion up to three times per calendar year.
Beyond passes that come with a Southwest card's sign-up bonus, you’ll need to have either taken 100 qualifying flights or earned 135,000 qualifying Southwest points in a calendar year to earn a Companion Pass. Since 100 flights is a lot, 135,000 points can be a much more achievable goal.
Earning these points can be accomplished through a variety of methods, including flying, dining, staying at hotels and spending on credit cards. However, it's not just the spend on your credit cards that qualifies you for a Companion Pass — the welcome offer on your card counts towards those 135,000 points as well.
This means that pairing your card application with an elevated offer can get you most of the way toward a Companion Pass without ever stepping on a plane.
Finally, the Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which you earned it, plus the year after. What does this mean in practicality? Let’s say that you signed up for a Southwest credit card in November 2022. You’ll have three months from the time you open the card to meet the minimum spend goal, which means your deadline will be sometime in February 2023.
Be aware, you won’t want to earn your bonus during November or December, since that means your spend will qualify for the calendar year that’s about to end. Instead, you’ll want to complete your minimum spend during the new calendar year. Depending on how high the welcome offer is, this can get you most of the way toward earning a Companion Pass.
Now, let’s say you were able to earn all 135,000 of those required points by February 2023. As a result, you’ll net yourself the Companion Pass for the remainder of 2023 and all of 2024 — which means nearly two years of (almost) free flying for a companion.
» Learn more: The pros and cons of Southwest’s Companion Pass
If you want to sign up for a Southwest credit card
Timing is an important consideration when you’re deciding on when to open up a Southwest credit card. Figuring out the best time for you to sign up for a Southwest credit card is going to vary based on several factors, including your upcoming travel plans, any major expenses you have, the card’s welcome offer and your desire to earn a Companion Pass.
While not all of these may apply to you, be sure to evaluate your situation before you make a decision to apply.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card