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A new year brings an array of opportunities to make the most of your points and miles. Many of these are related to travel rewards credit cards (like the $200 airline credit with the Platinum Card from American Express), but there are even more lucrative benefits that can be unlocked and maximized when January comes around. Today I want to provide an overview of how to quickly earn one of one of the most popular (and rewarding) perks in the travel industry: the Southwest Companion Pass.

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You could be toasting with a friend or family member on your next Southwest flight if you can earn a Companion Pass this year.

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.

Here’s why it can be so valuable to earn the Companion Pass early in the year: The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year. That means that you could get nearly two years of use out of it by meeting the requirements early this year.

Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap: You’ll need to earn 110,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to earn a Companion Pass. In addition, it’s important to note that not all points count toward qualification. 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 confirmed that it’s closing the loophole that allowed points transferred from hotel programs to count toward the Companion Pass.

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 end of 2019? Here’s a rundown of the three ways to do exactly that.

Credit Cards

As mentioned above, 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 three 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:

While Chase doesn’t publish any formal application restrictions, a general rule of thumb is that you can open one personal card and one business card every 90 days, though keep in mind the issuer’s 5/24 rule if you have opened several card accounts in the last two years. As a result, you could open either the Premier or Plus personal card and take home 52,000 points (after factoring in the points from the minimum spend requirements), or you’d get all the way with 115,000 points if you’re able to score Premier or Plus and the Premier Business Card.

Flying

CHICAGO - APRIL 3: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Midway Airport April 3, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Officials from Southwest and other airlines will testify at a safety hearing on Capitol Hill today following recent cancellations of flights by Southwest, United, American and Delta airlines as jets were taken out of service for safety inspections. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
One of the simplest (though not necessarily fastest) ways to earn a Companion Pass is by actually flying Southwest. Image courtesy of Scott Olson via Getty Images.

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.

Combination

Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of these methods. If you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card (and earn the sign-up bonus) and spend $3,000 on Business Select fares, you’d have 88,000 points. At this point you could take some additional flights or investigate completing some transactions with the various Rapid Rewards partners. Just be aware that bonus points you earn with partners probably won’t help; per the program’s terms & conditions, only the base points you’d earn will count toward the Companion Pass.

Bottom Line

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. This makes now a fantastic time to investigate the above options for earning a large haul of Rapid Rewards points quickly and thus a Companion Pass. Hopefully this post has given you some guidance for how to accomplish this very goal!

Feature photo by @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

With the Southwest Premier credit card you'll earn 6,000 points each year after your cardmember anniversary. Southwest also offers one of the most lucrative airline perks - the Companion Pass. Once you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, you can add a companion to your flight for the cost of the taxes and fees for the remainder of the first year you earn the pass and the entire following year.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 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 unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$99
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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