How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
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. $300 in travel credits that post automatically each year? Sign me up!
However, there’s one benefit that truly stands above the rest — and isn’t too challenging to earn. I’m talking about the Southwest Companion Pass. While it has been true for years that you can earn the pass (much) faster thanks to the Southwest credit card welcome bonus offers, right now one offer is so high that you can earn the pass with just one credit card. Then, you’ll have well over a year’s worth of free companion flights.
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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 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 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for you and then bring your companion without using any more points.
TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents each. But earning the Companion Pass effectively doubles the value of your points (or cash) when flying on Southwest using the pass.
And with Southwest’s Hawaiian expansion, you can even put this perk to work on your next flight to (or within) the Aloha State, since the Companion Pass is valid on all Southwest-operated flights whether within the lower 48, to Hawaii or even international flights.
You can change your designated Southwest companion up to three times per calendar year. In other words, you can have four different companions 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’ll still count as one of your three allotted changes per calendar year.
Remember too 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
Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap. You’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to earn a Companion Pass.
And the old saying that “timing is everything” definitely applies to the Companion Pass: The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following calendar year. So if you meet the requirements at the beginning of 2020, you’ll get the pass for the rest of 2020 plus all of 2021. However, if you mistime it, you might miss out on the pass entirely.
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 cobranded credit cards (more on this in a moment). 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 Chase 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 closed the loophole in 2017 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 rest of this 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 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 that can take care of a large chunk of the 125,000 points you need to earn for the Companion Pass — or could even get you all the way there if you stack one or two bonuses.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
On the small business front, there is 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.
But, we’ve saved the best for last. If you get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you can earn enough Companion Pass-eligible points from one card. This card awards 70,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 in the first six months. Factoring in the spending you’ll have to put on the card to earn the bonus, that will total at least 125,000 points — the exact number you need in a calendar year to earn the pass.
This card confers really great perks when you fly, too. This includes four upgraded boarding positions each year, free Southwest WiFi credits, 9,000 bonus points each year, and more. (Read the card review.)
Now, before you go on an application spree, keep in mind that Chase has restrictions to Southwest personal credit cards specifically 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 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 Southwest personal card if you already have one, nor can you open a personal version if you earned a sign-up bonus on any of the Southwest cards 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.
However, the Southwest small business credit cards do not — as of now — have any of the same verbiage. Not only are they treated separately from the personal cards, they’re also exclusive from each other, so you could technically hold or open both of them and still be eligible for sign-up bonuses on both.
Of course, since all of the regular points you earn on these cards will also count toward the Companion Pass, you could always simply open the personal card and spend your way there — though there are two other options that should make the task easier. Keep in mind you’ll also still have all those points to use on Rapid Rewards award tickets — they don’t disappear when you earn the Companion Pass.
Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. To earn 125,000 qualifying points, you’d need to spend at least $20,833 on Wanna Get Away fares, or $10,417 on Business Select fares (note that the total spending is actually a little 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 Plus Credit Card (and earn the sign-up bonus), and spend $10,000 on Wanna Get Away fares, you’d have the following:
- Sign-up bonus (plus earnings from minimum spend): 41,000 points
- Flying: 60,000 points ($10,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away fares)
- Southwest airfare purchases on the card: 20,000 points ($10,000 x 2 points per dollar)
This activity would earn you 121,000 Companion Pass eligible points. You’d still need 4,000 more earned in that calendar year to get the pass, but there are lots of ways to do that, such as using the Rapid Rewards online shopping site. 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 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 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 — especially while one bonus is up to 100k points — makes quickly scoring the Companion Pass a vastly easier task than by flying alone.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull