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How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Feb. 09, 2023
14 min read
Southwest plane
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

Some perks in the frequent flyer universe can be incredibly rewarding, taking on an almost too-good-to-be-true aura. Automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status from a credit card? Totally possible. Up to $300 in travel credits that post automatically each year? Sign me up.

However, one benefit stands above the rest — and isn’t too challenging to earn. We’re talking about the Southwest Companion Pass. With the Companion Pass, you can bring a designated friend or family member for (almost) free on any Southwest flight you take. You’ll need to pay the taxes and fees on the second ticket, just like you would on an award ticket — but other than that, your companion flies for free.

Moreover, this applies whether you paid for your flight with cash or with Rapid Rewards points. Speaking of points, points earned from credit card spending and credit card welcome bonuses count toward earning the Companion Pass.

That’s an incredible deal. If you earn a Companion Pass, you’ll have nearly one year of nearly free BOGO Southwest flights. Here's how.


You could be boarding a Southwest plane with your companion soon. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

The ability to bring along a travel companion for nearly free is not unique to Southwest. Many credit cards offer some form of single-use companion fare, allowing you to bring along a travel companion at a heavily discounted rate.

However, the magic of the Southwest Companion Pass is that you can use it as many times as you want until the pass expires. Even if you were to fly every day of the year, your companion could come with you for just the cost of taxes and fees. It even applies to award tickets, allowing you to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points for yourself and bring your companion without using any more points.

TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents each. But earning the Companion Pass can effectively double the value of your points (or cash) when flying on Southwest using the pass.

Remember, you’re not limited to flights within the lower 48 states, either. Over the last several years, Southwest has expanded to (and within) Hawaii and added short-haul international flights. So while you must pay those taxes and fees for your companion, you can put this perk to work on any Southwest-operated flight.

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In addition, you can change your designated Southwest companion up to three times per calendar year. In other words, you can have four different companions in the first calendar year, then three in the second year (up to seven total across the life of your Companion Pass). It’s worth noting that even if you switch back to a previous companion, it still counts as one of your three allotted changes per calendar year.

Remember, too, that Southwest allows you to cancel or change tickets without fees. Locking in flights while you confirm other plans could be an excellent way to snag some of these seats before they’re gone.

Related: How to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points

Timing and qualification

You can designate one person, such as your child, as your companion. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap. Earning the Companion Pass requires accruing 135,000 qualifying points or taking 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year. That sounds like a lot, but when you consider the mountains of points available from Southwest Airlines credit card bonuses, it's not as difficult as it first appears.

Plus, the Companion Pass has an impressive shelf life: It's valid through the end of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year. If you time it correctly, that could be nearly two years of buy-one-get-one privileges.

So what are “qualifying points" for earning the Companion Pass?

It’s important to note that not all Rapid Rewards points count toward the 135,000-point requirement. Here’s how Southwest defines points that will count:

“Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest®, points earned on Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Cards, and 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 cobranded credit cards (more on this in a moment). Where things get a bit trickier is the “base 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, many things do not count toward earning the Companion Pass. The first is any transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards. So if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for example, and were hoping to transfer your points to earn the Companion Pass, you’re out of luck. Purchased points also don’t count, nor do flight bonus points and points transferred from hotel and car loyalty programs.

In a nutshell, here’s the best strategy to earn a traditional Companion Pass:

  • Open a new Southwest credit card (or two) sometime in November.
  • Do not reach any minimum spending requirements until after your December statement closes.
  • As soon as your December statement closes, begin spending to reach those thresholds.

Doing this will ensure that any bonuses you earn will post to your Rapid Rewards account early in the following year — and thus count toward next year’s qualification. However, you could miss earning the pass entirely if you don't time it correctly. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of three strategies.

Related: How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

Southwest credit cards

Southwest credit cards can help you earn a Companion Pass. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Again, points earned from Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards count toward the Southwest Companion Pass. And at the time of writing, this includes any sign-up bonuses you receive from the cards. There are now five different Southwest cards out there with varying sign-up bonuses. So, new applicants can leverage these bonuses to accrue a large chunk of the 135,000 points required to earn the Companion Pass.

In addition, Southwest cardholders will enjoy an annual boost of 10,000 points toward Companion Pass qualification every year. This will post within 30 days of opening your account and then again at the beginning of every calendar year. This effectively reduces the number of points you must earn to 125,000.

The three personal Southwest cards — Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card — offer the same welcome bonus. You can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

50,000 points go a long way toward meeting the 135,000-point threshold. This is especially true when you consider each card gives 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points every year.

As noted above, you’ll maximize the validity of your Companion Pass by earning it as early in the year as possible. A good strategy is to open a Southwest credit card in November or December and begin spending on the card but wait to complete your minimum spending requirement until you’ve entered the new year.

You might even want to wait until your December statement closes to begin spending on your new card. After all, this will ensure all the points you earn on your new card will count toward earning a Companion Pass, valid for up to two years. Here’s an example of how this might work:

November 2023Apply and get approved for a Southwest credit card.
December 2023The first statement closes with a balance of the annual fee (you haven’t spent anything yet). Now, start spending.
December 20230 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account.
January 2023The second statement closes with a new balance of $3,000 or more.
January 2023The sign-up bonus and points earned from minimum spending are credited to your account — all of which count toward the Companion Pass.

If you include the new 10,000-point boost for cardholders, you’ve now earned at least 63,000 qualifying points toward the Companion Pass (50,000 bonus points, 10,000 anniversary points and at least 3,000 points from the spending activity). And since all of them hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2024, you’re now almost halfway to earning the pass for the rest of 2024 and all of 2025.

You can further accelerate your progress with Southwest's small business cards. If you combine one of these with a personal card (and again time your spending carefully), you could qualify for a Companion Pass without any additional activity.

Thus, opening two Southwest credit cards is one of the best ways to earn a Southwest Companion Pass. You can easily meet the 135,000-point qualification threshold with credit card bonus and the points from the spending activity required to earn those bonuses.

Related: Choosing the best Southwest credit card

Chase application restrictions

Before going on an application spree, remember that Chase has restrictions on Southwest credit cards related to sign-up bonuses. The following verbiage 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 Rapid 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 Southwest personal card if you already have one or earned a sign-up bonus on one within the last 24 months. You’ll also want to ensure you’re familiar with Chase’s general application restrictions, including the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule and the general rule that you can open one personal card and one business card every 90 days.

However, the Southwest small-business credit cards do not — as of now — have the same verbiage. Instead, the business cards note:

“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.”

Of course, all the points you earn from spending on Southwest cards also count toward earning the Companion Pass. So, you could spend on your card to earn a Companion Pass. But, two other options I’ll discuss below should make the task easier.

Related: The best credit card pairings to earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Flying with Southwest

Earn Companion Pass qualifying points on paid Southwest flights. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. If you don’t have a credit card and plan to earn the Companion Pass through flying in 2023, you’ll need to earn the full 135,000 points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights. This translates to the following spending on base fares:

  • $22,500 on Wanna Get Away.
  • $16,875 on Wanna Get Away Plus.
  • $13,500 on Anytime.
  • $11,250 on Business Select.

If you have travel planned early next year, consider booking with Southwest to earn points toward the Companion Pass. But, as you can see, you’d need to fly on many paid Southwest fares to earn enough Companion Pass qualifying points.

Related: Cool places you didn’t know you could fly on Southwest

Combination of credit cards and flying

A combination of credit card spending and flying can help you earn a Companion Pass. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of flying and credit card bonuses.

Let’s say you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card at the end of this year and earn the full sign-up bonus in early 2024. In addition, let’s assume you spend a total of $10,000 on the card, and part of that spending is $2,000 on Wanna Get Away base fares, all of which are on flights flown in January or February 2024. You would earn:

  • Sign-up bonus (for spending $5,000): 80,000 points.
  • Flying: 12,000 points ($2,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away base fares).
  • Southwest airfare purchases on the card: 8,000 points ($2,000 x 4 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases).
  • Other purchases on the card: 8,000 points ($8,000 x 1 point per dollar spent).

This activity would earn you 108,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points, and when you include the 10,000-point boost as a Southwest cardholder, you’re now just 17,000 points away. If you can leverage other earning opportunities — like Rapid Rewards Shopping or a car rental through Southwest — you could easily make up that difference.

And since these points will all hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2024, your Companion Pass will be valid through Dec. 31, 2025. That’s a lot of "buy one, get one" time to use your Companion Pass.

Remember that your credit card points won’t appear in your account until a few days after your monthly statement closes, while any points from flying won’t post until a few days after you take the trip. Again, timing is crucial to ensure you earn the Companion Pass and can utilize it for as long as possible.

Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes

Bottom line

The Southwest Companion Pass can be an incredibly lucrative benefit, especially if you can earn it relatively early in a calendar year to enjoy almost two years’ worth of free companion travel.

For those eligible, getting a nice bonus from a Southwest credit card or two makes quickly scoring the Companion Pass a vastly more manageable task than flying alone.

Additional reporting by Summer Hull, Sarah Hostetler and Ryan Smith.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.