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Some perks in the frequent flyer universe can be incredibly rewarding, taking on an almost too-good-to-be-true aura. A fourth night free on paid hotel stays? $300 in travel credits that post automatically? Sign me up!
However, there’s one benefit that truly stands above the rest and (incredibly) isn’t too challenging to earn. I’m talking about the Southwest Companion Pass, and today I want to provide an overview of how to quickly earn this perk to enjoy over a year’s worth of free companion flights.
Let’s start with a quick overview of this benefit and why it’s so valuable. In essence, the Companion Pass allows you to bring along a designated friend or family member for (almost) free on any Southwest flight you take (you’ll just need to pay the taxes and fees, just like you would on an award ticket). This is especially valuable because it applies to both paid and award tickets, allowing you to redeem Rapid Rewards points for you and then bring your companion without using any more points.
This recently got even more valuable now that Southwest has started selling tickets to Hawaii. Since you can bring a companion on all Southwest-operated flights, you can now utilize this perk to fly to (or within) the Aloha State:
If you’ve been patiently waiting for these flights to launch for the last 16 months, I’d recommend booking sooner rather than later, as we’re seeing availability quickly book up (which isn’t surprising given some of the initial prices). Remember that Southwest does allow you to cancel or change tickets without any fees, so locking in flights while you try to confirm other plans could be a good way to snag some of these seats before they’re gone.
Timing and Qualification
The old saying “timing is everything” definitely applies to the Companion Pass, for one main reason: The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year. If you time it correctly, you could get nearly two years of use out of it by meeting the requirements early in the year. However, if you mistime it, you might miss out on the pass entirely.
Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap: You’ll typically need to earn 110,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to earn a Companion Pass. If you can successfully reach those thresholds in 2019, your Companion Pass will be valid through the end of 2020.
All that said, it’s important to note that not all Rapid Rewards points count toward the standard qualification requirements. Here’s how Southwest defines points that will count:
“Companion Pass Qualifying Points are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned by making purchases with a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners.”
As you can see, all revenue flights booked on Southwest will count toward earning the Companion Pass, as will points earned on Southwest’s co-branded credit cards (more on this below). Where things get a bit trickier is the “points earned from Rapid Rewards partners” verbiage. Do all partners count?
The Companion Pass page on Southwest’s website provides some examples of partner activity that will count toward qualification, including:
- Rapid Rewards credit cards, including sign-up bonuses
- Shopping and dining partners, including Rapid Rewards dining
- Home and lifestyle partners
However, there are many things that do not count toward earning the Companion Pass. The first is any transfer from Ultimate Rewards, so if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for example, and were hoping to transfer the sign-up bonus for the Companion Pass, you’re out of luck. Purchased points also don’t count, nor do bonuses earned on flights or with partners. Finally, Southwest did close the loophole that allowed points transferred from hotel programs to count toward the Companion Pass in 2017.
So… given all of these restrictions, what are the best ways to earn the Companion Pass as quickly as possible to enjoy those privileges through the rest of the year and all of next year? Here’s a rundown of the three ways to do exactly that.
Points earned from Rapid Rewards credit cards do count toward the Companion Pass, and at the time of writing, this includes any sign-up bonuses you receive from the cards. There are currently four different Southwest cards out there with varying sign-up bonuses that can take care of a large chunk of the 110,000 points you need for the Companion Pass.
Now through June 10, 2019, the following three cards are offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
There’s also the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, which is currently offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
However, keep in mind that Chase announced new restrictions to Southwest personal credit cards in April 2018 specifically related to sign-up bonuses. The following verbiage now appears on the application pages for the 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.”
As a result, you can’t open a new personal version if you already have one, nor can you open a personal version if you earned a sign-up bonus on any personal one in the last 24 months. You’ll also want to make sure you’re familiar with Chase’s general application restrictions, including the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule, and the general rule of thumb that you can open one personal card and one business card every 90 days.
All that being said, if you are able to get approved for a personal card and the business version of the card and are able to earn the sign-up bonus on each, you’ll earn enough points to qualify for the Companion Pass. And if you can only get one of the cards, meeting the minimum spend and earning the sign-up bonus will net you 62,000 points, putting you over half of the way there.
Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. To earn 110,000 qualifying points, you’d need to spend $18,333.33 on Wanna Get Away fares or $9,166.67 on Business Select fares (note that the total spending is actually higher, since you only earn Rapid Rewards points on the base fare). If your company typically covers a Business Select ticket or you have extensive travel planned during the first couple months of the year, consider booking with Southwest to begin earning points toward the Companion Pass.
Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of these methods. If you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card Credit Card (and earn the full sign-up bonus), and spend $6,000 on Wanna Get Away fares, you’d have the following:
- Sign-up bonus (plus earning from minimum spend): 62,000 points
- Flying: 36,000 points ($6,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away fares)
- Southwest purchases on the card: 12,000 points ($6,000 x 2 points per dollar)
This activity would earn you 110,000 points and qualify you for the Companion Pass, assuming that all of the points are earned and post to your Rapid Rewards account in the same calendar year. Remember that your credit card points won’t appear until a few days after your monthly statement closes, while any points from flying won’t post until a few days after you actually take the trip. Again, timing is crucial to ensure you not only earn the pass but can utilize it for as long as possible.
The Southwest Companion Pass can be an incredibly lucrative benefit, especially if you can earn it early in a calendar year to enjoy almost two years worth of free companion travel. The new offers on the personal Southwest credit cards put this perk even closer to your grasp, especially when combined with the other options for earning Rapid Rewards points detailed above. Hopefully this post has given you some guidance for how to accomplish this very goal!
Feature photo by @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20
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