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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 every paid hotel stay? $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.
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.
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 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.
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 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, including a new one that was recently added to the mix:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn up to 65,000 points; 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months from account opening and another 25,000 points after you spend a total of $15,000 within your first year from account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
However, Chase did announce 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 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 is 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/or the business version of the card, you’ll be well on your way toward earning the 110,000 points needed to qualify for the Companion Pass. In fact, if you open the Southwest Priority and the Southwest Business Premier and are able to earn the full sign-up bonuses on both, you’ll take home at least 143,000 points, more than enough for the Companion Pass. Just be sure to time your purchases to ensure that the bonuses and other earnings don’t post in the wrong year!
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 $3,000 on Business Select fares as part of the minimum spending requirements, you’d have the following:
- Sign-up bonus: 65,000 points
- Flying: 36,000 points ($3,000 x 12 points per dollar on Business Select fares)
- Southwest purchases on the card: 6,000 points ($3,000 x 2 points per dollar)
- Regular purchases on the card: 12,000 points ($12,000 x 1 point per dollar)
This activity would earn you 119,000 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 launch of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card puts 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
Earn 2 points $1 on Southwest and Rapid Rewards car and hotel purchases and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. This card also comes with an annual $75 travel credit.
- Up to 65,000 points. Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 points after you spend $15,000 total on purchases within the first year.
- 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
- $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
- Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
- 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies.
- 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.
- No foreign transaction fees.