How to Maximize Your Southwest Card Sign-up Bonus

Ariana ArghandewalSeptember 23, 2019
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The sign-up bonus on all three co-branded personal Southwest credit cards just increased. If you’ve been looking to give your Rapid Rewards account a boost, this is a great time to apply for one of these cards. Once you do, you’ll want to maximize not only the sign-up bonus, but also the various features associated with each card.

The following three Southwest cards currently offer this bonus: Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. That's nothing to sneeze at, since NerdWallet values Southwest points at 1.6 cents each.

Here are five ways to maximize these points.

1. Get the card that’s the best fit for you

With three card options, it’s important to pick the one that’s right for you. Even if the sign-up bonuses are the same across the board, the card features and annual fees are not. If you’re just looking for a big sign-up bonus with the lowest annual fee ($69), go for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. The card also comes with a 3,000-point renewal bonus and 2 points per $1 spent at Southwest.

Want a few more bells and whistles like no foreign transaction fees, a 6,000-point renewal bonus and credit toward A-list status? Then the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card with a $99 annual fee might be a better fit.

In exchange for a $149 annual fee, you can also go for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, which offers the following additional benefits:

  • 7,500 point renewal bonus.

  • $75 annual Southwest credit.

  • Four upgraded boardings per year (when available).

  • 20% back on in-flight purchases, like drinks and Wi-Fi.

2. Meet the minimum spending requirement

An important step in getting maximum value out of your Southwest card is to complete the minimum spending requirement to earn that sign-up bonus. Put this off too long, and you’ll miss out on those points and all the travel opportunities that come with them.

A great way to get this done is by charging all of your daily spending and household bills to your card. That includes trips to the grocery store, utility bills, insurance premiums and everything in between. Though you have a few months, it’s best to start planning (and spending) now so you don’t have to worry about it later.

3. Take advantage of card perks

All three Southwest credit cards offer 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest flights as well as with hotel and rental car partners. If you have any upcoming travel plans that involve Southwest, you’ll want to use your card for those bookings.

If you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, you’ll want to explore the option to upgrade to A-list status. Both cards issue 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TPQ) per $10,000 spent up to $100,000 annually. So whether you have some big purchases coming up or are looking for ways to maximize your daily spending, charging expenses to these two Southwest cards could really pay off. You’ll not only earn points, but you could get closer to A-list status.

Those with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card will want to be sure to take advantage of the additional perks like four upgraded boardings per year and 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi. You’re paying a higher annual fee for this card, so don’t let those perks go to waste!

4. Try to earn the Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best travel deals out there. It takes earning 110,000 points in a calendar year to get your hands on it. If you do, you can assign a travel companion to fly with you free of charge, even on award tickets.

But how do you earn 110,000 points? For starters, the sign-up bonus from these Southwest credit cards counts toward the requirement, getting you more than halfway there.

Next, you’ll want to strategize about exactly when to earn the pass. If you complete the requirements before the end of 2019, the pass will be valid through December 2020. Though you’ll get a leg-up from your sign-up bonus, you’ll still face the challenge of earning enough points in the next three months to meet the Companion Pass requirements.

If you wait until 2020 to earn your Companion Pass, it will be valid through the end of 2021. The catch? You’ll start from scratch, since it will be a new year and any sign-up bonuses earned in 2019 won’t count anymore.

So you either want to get a Southwest card now and complete the spending requirements by the end of the year, or wait until January to apply for a card and hope this sign-up offer is still around then. If it is, you’ll have more time to earn the Companion Pass.

5. Put your points to good use

Regardless of whether you’ve earned the Companion Pass or not, you’ll want to put the sign-up bonus from your Southwest credit card to good use. What can you do with that many Rapid Rewards points? A lot, if you follow these tips:

Book Wanna Get Away Fares

Wanna Get Away Fares are the cheapest fares offered by the airline. Since award prices are based on fare cost, you’ll get the most value out of your Southwest points by redeeming them for Wanna Get Away fares.

For example, a one-way flight between Oakland and Honolulu on Oct. 27 starts at just $164 or 10,916 points. Meanwhile, the Anytime and Business Select fares for the same flight cost about four times that amount:

Use the Low Fare Calendar and book in advance

There’s a myth that gets perpetuated sometimes that “last-minute deals” are a great way to save on travel. In reality, these deals are few and far between. After all, airlines and hotels prefer that bookings be completed far in advance so they can manage their inventory accordingly. While there are exceptions, you’ll most often find the best deals when you book in advance.

The same goes for Southwest fares, though the airline does offer a handy tool to help you book the lowest fare: The Low Fare Calendar. Just enter your departure, destination and travel months to see a calendar of low fares. You can even toggle between cash fares and point redemptions to figure out the best deals.

Redeem points for international flights

You probably know that Southwest flies internationally, primarily to Mexico and the Caribbean. But did you know you can use your Southwest points to fly virtually anywhere in the world, even on third-party airlines? Southwest’s Rewards portal lets you redeem points for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and more.

By selecting “Airfare” under the Travel tab, you can book flights on other carriers. This is great if you don’t live near a Southwest hub or are looking for ways to redeem points for flights further afield. Redemption rates are also pretty favorable, depending on when and where you’re traveling.

For example, we found a round-trip basic economy fare between San Francisco and Paris in October you could book for just 45,000 Southwest points.

With United, the same award costs 60,000 miles round-trip.

Not a bad way to put your Southwest sign-up bonus to use!

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 2020, including those best for:

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