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Flying for free: 9 ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Nov. 02, 2019
9 min read
Flying for free: 9 ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass
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My absolute favorite travel perk is the Southwest Companion Pass. It allows a friend or family member to fly with you for free (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times for a year or more. There are few restrictions and as long as there is one seat available, you can use your pass. It can save you thousands and thousands of dollars in airfare, which is why I've been a Companion Pass holder for over a decade.

One of the best ways to earn the Companion Pass is by signing up for Southwest's cobranded credit cards. The points from the sign-up bonus count toward the 125,000 qualifying points required for the pass, so applying for two cards (one personal and one small-business card) can help you on your way to earning the pass.

However, since not everyone is in a position to earn all the points needed in a calendar year from credit cards alone, we'll look at some other ideas too.

Top nine ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Get a Southwest credit card

The bonuses on Southwest credit cards fluctuate throughout the year, but the bonus points from the cards count toward the qualifying points you must have earned to trigger the Companion Pass.

Here are the current public sign-up bonuses on all of Southwest's cobranded credit cards:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card : Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. — $149 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card : Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. — $99 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months. — $69 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months — $99 annual fee.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening — $199 annual fee.

If you are looking to earn a pass and have it for both 2020 and 2021 (which I highly recommend), you will not want the points to post until at least Jan. 1, 2020. Do not meet the minimum spend requirement until then! The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year. If you meet the minimum spend now, you risk the chance of the points posting in 2019 and your Companion Pass is good only for 2020. But if your points post on Jan. 1 or later, the Companion Pass is good for both 2020 and 2021. Points typically post a few days after your monthly statement closes, although I have seen a few reports of it taking slightly longer. This means that meeting the minimum spend at any point after your December statement closes should put you in the clear. However, why not wait until Jan. 1 to avoid mistakes.

Refer your friends for the Southwest credit card

Many times throughout the year, Southwest will allow current card members to earn 10,000 bonus points for every friend they refer to the card (the friend must apply and be approved using that link). You are typically maxed at earning 50,000 bonus points but it is an amazing way to get you almost halfway to earning a Companion Pass.

Note: The welcome offer through the referral link is not always the same as the publicly available offer. Sometimes it's better, sometimes worse and sometimes the same.

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Make regular purchases on your Southwest credit card

Your family's everyday purchases will also count toward the Southwest Companion Pass. Since you want all the points to post in 2020, make purchases on your card after your December 2019 statement closes. All purchases made after your December statement date won't post until your January statement closes. That means points earned after that December closing date will count for your 2020 qualifications. Purchases made before this date will count toward 2019 and will be reset in 2020 for Companion Pass purposes — you do not want this to happen.

Mom at grocery store
(Photo via Getty Images.)

Shop online

My favorite everyday way to earn points toward the Southwest Companion Pass is by using the Rapid Rewards shopping portal. This shopping portal works like any other airline shopping site: You earn bonus points for purchases made online. You just need to start at the shopping portal first before making your purchase.

Let's say you are looking to make a purchase at Macy's, where Southwest is currently paying out 4 points per dollar spent. A $150 purchase, for example, will earn you 600 bonus points toward your Companion Pass. Yes, you will still have a long way to go but you'd be surprised how quickly these purchases add up if you use it on all online purchases made throughout the year.

However, make sure you want to earn the pass with these points: The Southwest Rapid Rewards site typically does not have payouts as high as some of the other airline and cash-back sites.

Dine out

If you eat out often, this is one of the easiest ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points. At all participating restaurants, as long as you use an enrolled credit card to pay for your meal, you'll earn 3 points per dollar spent. (You must opt in for their emails to earn this rate, otherwise you only earn 1 point per two dollars spent.)

It only takes a few minutes to set up an account and register your cards (you can register up to 12 credit or debit cards). From then on you'll be earning points with little to no effort. You do not have to pay with a Southwest cobranded card and you can even enroll your American Express® Gold Card which will earn you 4x points per dollar spent at restaurants.

Fly Southwest

With every paid Southwest flight you take, you'll earn qualifying points toward the Companion Pass. While I usually recommend using Southwest points if you have them, this might be a time when paying for your flight is in your best interest. For 2020, or until you earn the pass, consider paying for your flight.

The number of points you earn on Southwest depends on the fare type purchased:

  • Wanna Get Away Fare: 6 points per dollar spent
  • Anytime Fare: 10 points per dollar spent
  • Business Select Fare: 12 points per dollar spent

Book a hotel through Rocketmiles

Rocketmiles is a third-party hotel site where you'll earn a set number of airline miles over the hotel points you'd earn directly with a hotel. The prices are supposed to be the same as the best available rate you would get if you booked with the hotel directly, although you might not receive elite status benefits at a chain hotel. When searching the Rocketmiles site, you'll want to make sure to select the "Southwest Rapid Rewards" option in your search criteria. You'll then see an entire list of participating hotels and the points you'll earn.

A two-night stay in Fort Lauderdale can earn 9,000 bonus Southwest Rapid Rewards points toward the Companion Pass.

Make sure the rate is comparable to the best rate you'd receive in your location, especially if you are eligible for another discount code, such as AAA. Also note that some Rocketmile bonuses will not count toward earning the Companion Pass.

Credit rental cars to Southwest

When renting a car, you can almost always opt to earn points or miles with a participating airline or hotel. With Southwest specifically, you'll earn 600 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per rental with Alamo, Avis*, Budget*, Dollar, Hertz, National, Payless and Thrifty. With Avis and Budget, only participating locations allow you to earn partner miles/points (usually limited to just on-site airport sites). If you need a one-day car rental, pick one of these participating companies, find the cheapest rate available and make sure to select Southwest Rapid Rewards as your airline partner. Note: Some discounted rates (typically corporate rates), do not allow you to earn partner miles or points.

Send flowers

If you want to send flowers to someone, do it through 1-800-FLOWERS. This will earn you 1,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points on every purchase over $29.99. Use promotion code R22. If you are only 6,000 points shy of earning the Companion Pass, for example, you could send flowers to your six best friends and call it a day. Just be sure to wait until 2020.

Bottom line

You do not have to earn all of your Companion Pass-eligible points from one single method. Figure out your regular spending and travel habits and see how many points you think you'll be able to earn throughout the year. Ideally, it is best to earn the points as early in the year as possible since that will maximize the amount of time you are able to have someone fly with you for free -- the pass is valid through Dec. 31 of the year following the year in which it was earned. If the pass is earned in January 2020 or September 2020, it will still expire Dec. 31, 2021.

Of course, all of these points you earn to trigger the Companion Pass will also help you fly on Southwest "for free" on award tickets, so their value extends beyond just earning the pass. What is your strategy for earning the Southwest Companion Pass for 2020 and 2021?

Featured image by Alberto Riva
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.