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. Up to $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. And right now, sign-up bonus offers on three Southwest consumer cards could get you most of the way toward earning a Companion Pass.
Given that it’s already October, the timing of these new offers is perfect. After all, if you earn both tiers of the current sign-up bonus in early 2022, you could enjoy the privileges of the Companion Pass for almost two full years.
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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 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.
The Southwest Companion Pass is especially valuable because it applies to both paid and 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 effectively doubles the value of your points (or cash) when flying on Southwest using the pass.
Remember too that 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 will need to pay those taxes and fees for your companion, you can put this perk to work on any Southwest-operated flight.
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 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 allows you to cancel or change tickets without any fees, so locking in flights while you confirm other plans could be an excellent 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 the 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 2022, you’ll get the pass through the end of 2023. However, if you mistime it, you might miss out on the pass entirely.
In a nutshell, here’s what you need to do:
- Open your new credit card sometime in October (perfect timing with the new offers we’ll discuss below).
- Do not reach any minimum spend 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 in 2022 — and thus count toward next year’s qualification.
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 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 the sign-up bonus for 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.
So, given all of these restrictions, what are the best ways to earn the Companion Pass quickly and enjoy it for almost two years? Here’s a rundown of the three strategies to consider.
Southwest Credit cards
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 125,000 points required to earn the Companion Pass.
New offers just launched on the three personal Southwest credit cards that would get you very close to the qualifying threshold once you meet both tiers of minimum spend requirements. Specifically, new cardholders of the following cards can earn 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, plus earn an additional 50,000 points after spending $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Note that for both of these spending thresholds, you’d need to hit them (excluding annual fees) and have your next statement close before the bonus points are issued. As a result, timing is critical.
As noted above, do not hit either minimum spend threshold until after your December statement closes. You can spend some on the card, but don’t even flirt with the $2,000 level.
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 through the end of 2023. Here’s an example of how this might work:
|Late Oct. 2021||Apply and get approved for any of the three personal Southwest credit cards|
|Nov. 15, 2021||First statement closes with a balance of the annual fee (you haven’t spent anything yet)|
|Nov. 16 or 17||0 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account|
|Dec. 15, 2021||Second statement closes with a new balance of $0|
|Dec. 16 or 17||0 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account (now you can start spending)|
|Jan.15, 2022||Third statement closes with a new balance of $2,000|
|Jan. 16 or 17||At least 52,000 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account — all of which count toward the Companion Pass|
|Feb. 15, 2022||Fourth statement closes with a new balance of $10,000|
|Feb.16 or 17||At least 60,000 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account — and once again, all of them count toward the Companion Pass|
If you crunch the numbers, you’ve now earned at least 112,000 qualifying points toward the Companion Pass. And since all of them hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2022, you’re now almost 90% of the way to earning the pass for the rest of 2022 plus all of 2023. And it’s only mid-February.
In addition to the personal cards, Southwest also offers a pair of cards geared toward small businesses — though these bonuses aren’t as lucrative as the new offers on the personal ones.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
Now, before you go on an application spree, keep in mind 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 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 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 of 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.
Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. Southwest credited active Rapid Rewards members with 25,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points in 2021. As such, to earn 100,000 more qualifying points and a Companion Pass in 2021, you’d need to spend at least $16,667 on Wanna Get Away base fares or $8,334 on Business Select base fares.
But, in 2022, you’ll likely need to earn the full 125,000 qualifying points for a Companion Pass again. In that case, you’d need to spend at least $20,834 on Wanna Get Away base fares or $10,417 on Business Select base fares.
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 a lot of paid Southwest fares to earn enough Companion Pass qualifying points.
Combination of credit cards and flying
Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of these methods — and these new offers on the personal cards make it exceptionally easy.
Let’s say you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and earn the full sign-up bonus in 2022 by following the steps in the above table. Let’s assume part of your spending to reach the minimum spending requirements is $2,000 on Wanna Get Away base fares, all of which are on flights flown in Feb. 2022. This means the following:
- Sign-up bonuses (for reaching $2,00 and $12,000): 100,000 points
- Flying: 12,000 points ($2,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away base fares)
- Southwest airfare purchases on the card: 4,000 points ($2,000 x 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases)
- Other purchases on the card: 10,000 points ($10,000 x 1 point per dollar spent)
This activity would earn you 126,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points. And since these points will hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2022, your Companion Pass will be valid through Dec. 31, 2023. That’s about 22 months of flights with a 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 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 new bonuses of up to 100,000 points — makes quickly scoring the Companion Pass a vastly more manageable task than flying alone.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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