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The best deal in family travel has to be the Southwest Companion Pass. No other travel perk gives you the ability to bring your partner, child, parent or friend on flights with you for free (other than taxes/fees). It doesn’t matter if you book your Southwest flight with dollars or Rapid Rewards points; as long as you have the Companion Pass, your designated companion gets to come along, too.

That’s an amazing benefit no matter how you slice it, but it can get even better if you time things very carefully. You see, the Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which you earn it plus the entire following calendar year. If you play your cards right (pun intended), you could get nearly two years to utilize it.

Make family travel cheaper with a Southwest Companion Pass
Make family travel cheaper with a Southwest Companion Pass

Points that Qualify for the Companion Pass

Since you have to earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points or take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights within a calendar year to earn the Companion Pass, that would usually take many months of flying. However, you can fast-track your earnings by strategically timing when you apply for, and ultimately earn, the bonuses from the line-up of Southwest co-branded credit cards.

Southwest defines the Rapid Rewards points that count towards this perk as follows:

“Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest, points issued on Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners in a calendar year.”

While most Rapid Rewards bonus points (such as a bonus in their shopping portal) don’t count towards earning the Companion Pass, the sign-up bonuses from the Southwest credit cards do count towards the 110,000 qualifying points you need to earn in a calendar year to get the pass. If you want to have the pass for nearly two full years, now is the best time of the year to get serious about applying for a Southwest credit card.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

This works because you have three months to hit the base spending requirements on the Southwest credit cards to trigger the bonuses that currently range from 40,000 – 60,000 Rapid Rewards points each. This means if you applied for a Southwest credit card in November and hit the spending requirement in January (2 months later), your bonus points would be deposited in your Rapid Reward account in early 2019. And as soon as you earn 110,000 eligible Rapid Rewards points in 2019, you would earn the Companion Pass for not just the rest of 2019, but also for all of 2020. Can you say aloha to Hawaii?!

Timing the Southwest Card Bonuses

Like with anything, there are some nuances to this very solid strategy of maximizing your time with a Southwest Companion Pass. First, you do not want to mess up your timing. Do not, and I repeat, do not hit the spending threshold early. If your bonus points are deposited in 2018, you can say adios to your 2019 Companion Pass plan. The Companion Pass is not earned when your Rapid Rewards account balance hits 110,000; it is earned when you earn 110k Companion Pass eligible points in the same calendar year.

How do you make sure this happens? It all hinges on the timing of the bonus posting to your Rapid Rewards account. The application pages for Southwest’s cobranded cards indicate that you should “allow up to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your Rapid Rewards account” after passing the applicable spending threshold. However, I’ve seen that Chase typically posts these bonuses just a couple of days after the statement period in which you reached the qualifying level of spending closes. Don’t hit the threshold on December 1, 2018 and assume it’ll take the full 8 weeks for the bonus to arrive! If you spend the required amount on a statement that closes December 15 or even December 25, there’s a high likelihood that your bonus will post in 2018, not 2019.

Remember too that your qualifying activity towards the Companion Pass will reset on January 1 each year, and you can track your progress towards this goal from within your Rapid Rewards account. If you want to earn the pass in early 2019 (in order to use it in 2019 and 2020), you should totally ignore any Companion Pass progress in your account for 2018, since you’ll be starting from scratch on January 1.

Here are the current sign-up bonuses on the four Southwest cobranded cards:

If this has prompted you to get serious about earning the Southwest Companion Pass, I recommend you take a look at our full guide on the topic. However, I do want to highlight that transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Rapid Rewards using points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card do not count towards earning the Companion Pass. However, you can transfer in points from Chase to book your Southwest Rapid Rewards award tickets to have your designated companion fly virtually for free along with you.

Strike While Bonuses Are Increased (if you can)

The sign-up bonuses on the Southwest credit cards change from time to time. We’ve seen them at 40k points, 60k points and we have even seen the offers come with a Companion Pass!

Being particularly choosy with the timing of your applications is especially important to consider because of the relatively new restrictions to Southwest personal credit cards that apply to the Southwest Priority, Premier and Plus cards:

“The product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapids Rewards® Credit Card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months. This does not apply to Cardmembers of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Card and Employee Credit Card products.”

What this means is that you can only get the new cardmember bonus on one Southwest personal credit card within a given 24-month cycle, so be sure you are getting the best bonus possible. The same restriction does not apply to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. The business card’s restrictions state:

“This new Cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this business credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this business credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this business credit card within the last 24 months.”

This means you could theoretically get both bonuses from both the small business and a personal version of the Southwest card in the same calendar year to trigger the Companion Pass (but not two personal cards). Also don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule. Most reports indicate that all of these cards are subject to this restriction, so if you’ve opened five or more new personal credit cards across all issuers in the last 24 months, you’ll almost certainly be denied immediately if you apply for a Southwest card now.

Bottom line

Now is the perfect time of year to solidify your plans for earning the Southwest Companion Pass for 2019 and 2020. Start off 2019 with a bang by carefully timing when you earn a sign-up bonus from one of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.

Featured image by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card


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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn points on employee spending
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, bags fly free®, and no change fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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