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TPG reader Mercedes sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning the Southwest Companion Pass:
“I’m about 23,000 points away from earning the Companion Pass this year. I was thinking about buying ink cartridges through Rapid Rewards online shopping (to earn a bonus of 20 points per dollar), or maybe taking a quick trip somewhere. Do you have any other suggestions?”
I always get a lot of questions about earning elite status this time of year, as frequent flyers try to resecure their existing status or reach for the next tier. While the Southwest Companion Pass isn’t an elite status level in the traditional sense, it can be highly valuable.
Usually, one good way to earn points quickly is with a sign-up bonus from a co-branded credit card. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier currently offers 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. However, you’d need to sign up, meet the spending requirements in your first monthly statement and have the bonus reach your account by the end of the year. It’s doable, but you’d be cutting it pretty close. Fortunately, there are some other possibilities.
The Rapid Rewards shopping portal is one good option, especially during the holiday season (when bonuses tend to be higher and more frequent). Through Thanksgiving, Southwest is offering 5,500 bonus points when you spend $1,500 on qualifying purchases through the portal, and that’s in addition to whatever points you would earn normally. If you have shopping to do, you should at least check the bonuses offered by your favorite retailers.
That said, I don’t recommend buying stuff you don’t need or want just for the points. Even at 20 points per dollar, you’d have to spend $1,150 on ink cartridges to earn those 23,000 points. Unless you have a use for all that ink or you’re certain that you’ll get significantly more value than that from the Companion Pass, it doesn’t seem worthwhile.
Another option is to transfer points in from hotel programs like Marriott Rewards, Choice Privileges or Hyatt Gold Passport. While the transfer ratios aren’t great, you’ll come out ahead if you get a lot of mileage from the Companion Pass. If you have any upcoming vacation plans that involve a lengthy hotel stay, you should also check out Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages. Unfortunately, transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count toward Companion Pass status, so don’t try to hit your goal that way.
Southwest has other partners that offer Rapid Rewards points, including hotels, rental cars, dining programs and more. None of those are likely to get you a large haul of points at once, but incorporating them into your long-term rewards strategy could help you qualify this year or in the future.
As for actual flying, Southwest awards points based on your fare, so mileage running won’t help. You’d need to spend about $1,900 on Business Select fares or $3,800 on Wanna Get Away fares to earn 23,000 points, so you’d be better off with the other options above. However, you can qualify for the Companion Pass with 110,000 points or 100 one-way flights, so flying could make sense if you’re close to meeting the flights requirement and there are cheap tickets available.
Finally, keep in mind that the Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it, plus the entire following year. That means in general you should aim to earn it early in the year, so you can maximize the time you have to use it.