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How to Get the Southwest Companion Pass Starting with a 50k Sign-Up Bonus

May 16, 2016
8 min read
Southwest Airlines Participates in Annual Kidd's Kids Event - featured
How to Get the Southwest Companion Pass Starting with a 50k Sign-Up Bonus
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With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card currently offering a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, the airline's popular Companion Pass benefit is relatively easy to earn. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele shows you how below.

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is not just extremely valuable; it's invaluable. Once you earn this benefit, as long as it's valid you never pay any additional airfare to add a companion ticket to any reservation made in your name, either with cash or points. Now that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is once again offering a 50,000-point sign-up bonus after $2,000 spent within the first three months, I wanted to use today's post to explore ways to bridge the gap between that offer and the 110,000 points you need to earn this calendar year to get the Companion Pass through the end of 2017.

Start with the Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase

This Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is currently offering 50,000 bonus points after new applicants use their card to spend $2,000 within three months of account opening. This card offers 2x points for Southwest purchases, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. There's a $99 annual fee for this card, a 6,000-point annual anniversary bonus and no foreign transaction fees. So by the time you earn that sign-up bonus, you'll have at least 52,000 points toward the Companion Pass, leaving you 58,000 short.

Here are nine ways to earn the rest:

1. Continued Spending on the Rapid Rewards Premier Card

According to TPG's latest valuations, Rapid Rewards points are worth approximately 1.5 cents each, so this would seemingly represent a poor rate of return on non-bonus spending compared to other cards such as new Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, which TPG values at 2.1 cents each, for a total of 3.15 cents in value when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Still, you can get significantly more than 1.5 cents per point in value if you hold the Companion Pass, since a friend or family member travels with you for free.

In addition, holders of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card earn 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases — up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year. You earn A-List status after reaching 35,000 points, and this status gets you priority boarding, priority check-in, standby priority, a 25% earning bonus and a dedicated member phone line.

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2. Purchasing Southwest Tickets

Earn at least 6x points when you purchase Southwest tickets — or 8x if you use the Rapid Rewards Premier Card.

Regardless of what credit card you use, when you purchase revenue tickets with Southwest, you earn 6x points for its Wanna Get Away fare class, 10x for Anytime fares and 12x for Business Select fares. This works out to $7,250 in airfare purchases to earn the 58,000 remaining points, assuming you earn 8x by using your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card to purchase Wanna Get Away fares. That's a lot of airfare, but certainly a frequent business traveler could make a dent in that this year, especially if he or she needs to buy more expensive Anytime and Business Select airfares, which are often the only ones available when you book with little advance notice.

3. Transferring Hotel Points

Several different hotel loyalty programs offer point transfers to Southwest Rapid Rewards, including Best Western, Choice Hotels, Club Carlson, Hyatt and La Quinta. Of these, Hyatt offers by far the best transfer ratio. 1,250 Hyatt points can be transferred to 500 Southwest points, but transfers of 50,000 points or more will earn you a bonus of 6,000 Rapid Rewards points. Therefore, the effective rate of transferring 50,000 Hyatt points to 30,000 Southwest points is 1.7:1. The advantage here is that Hyatt points are easily available from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, but just be sure to remember that points transferred directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest are not eligible toward your Companion Pass, only points transferred directly from Hyatt.

Among the remaining options, Choice hotels has the best offer: 6,000 Choice Privileges points for 1,800 Rapid Rewards points, a 2.8:1 ratio. Rounding out the bottom are Best Western at 4.2:1, La Quinta at 5:1 and Club Carlson at 10:1. All of these could be attractive options if you have some orphaned points in one or more of these programs that you don't intent to use.

4. Points from Staying at a Hotel

St Regis Beijing feat
Earn points on eligible Starwood stays at properties like the St. Regis Beijing.

Additionally, several hotel chains offer Southwest points for your stay. For example, Best Western, Choice Hotels, Club Carlson, Hyatt, La Quinta, Marriott and Starwood offer 600 points per qualifying stay. In addition, the Rocketmiles hotel-booking site offers between 1,000 and 10,000 points per night.

5. Rapid Rewards Shopping

Like some other airlines, Southwest has its own online shopping portal that allows you to earn additional points for your purchases. Most retailers offer 1 or 2 points per dollar, but some offer more. Currently, and are offering 6x; Rite-Aid, Bass Pro and Lord & Taylor are all offering 4x; and JCPenny is offering 3x. In addition, some companies offer large lump-sum bonuses, including 8,600 from DirectTV and 3,600 from AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon.

6. Rapid Rewards Dining

Earn additional points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program.

This works much like other airline dining programs in that you register up to five credit cards and automatically receive points when one is used for dining at participating restaurants. You earn 3x points on all qualifying dining, but there are plenty of opportunities to earn bonus points, including 10 points for each review you complete. All reports indicate that the points earned from dining with this program count toward the Companion Pass, but not some bonuses.

7. Rental Cars

Most of the major rental car companies are Rapid Rewards partners and offer points for renting. Unfortunately, these companies will impose "frequent flyer" fees to offset the cost of the points. Since it's very difficult to find out in advance what these fees are, it's hard to say if it's worth paying. Normally, I probably wouldn't pay these fees, but I might consider it if it was necessary to earn a Companion Pass.

8. Hotel, Car and Vacation Packages

You can also earn points toward the Companion Pass when you book Southwest vacation packages.

Southwest offers additional travel services, and these purchases count toward the Companion Pass in addition to earning you 2x points when you pay with your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. In general, you'll find competitive options from most major rental car companies and a hotel selection that's similar to what you'd find at other online travel agents.

9. Marriott Travel Packages

An interesting final option is a Marriott hotel + air package, which includes seven nights in a hotel plus frequent flyer points or miles. For example, 55,000 Southwest points plus seven nights in a Category 1-5 hotel costs 200,000 Marriott points and gets you nearly all the way to a Companion Pass after receiving the sign-up bonus from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card. The value of this option depends on how you value Marriott Rewards points. Each night in a Marriott Category 5 property normally costs 25,000 points — with your fifth night free — meaning that this package is offering 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for a mere 50,000 additional Marriott points. This presumes that you would have used 150,000 Marriott points for a seven-night stay (which accounts for your fifth night free).

Marriott also has five-night travel package options starting at 185,000 points to purchase 70,000 points and five nights in a Category 1-5 hotel. The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase is currently offering new applicants 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first three months after account opening, as well as an additional 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase during that time period. And better yet, Marriott allows spouses to combine points for free when redeeming for a specific award.

Bottom Line

The Southwest Companion Pass is clearly a very valuable perk, letting a designated friend or family member travel with you for free (minus taxes and fees), and if you time it right you can even earn this benefit for nearly two years. Hopefully, this post has demonstrated how leveraging one credit card sign-up bonus can get you almost half-way toward earning the Companion Pass, in addition to providing tips for getting the rest of the way there.

Featured image by Wieck