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Last-Minute Ways to Renew Your Companion Pass for 2019 (Without Credit Cards)

Nov. 23, 2018
11 min read
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I've been a long-time Southwest Companion Pass holder – and fanatic – since 2012. In case you've never heard of one of the best perks in the US commercial travel space, the Companion Pass allows you to bring along a designated friend or family member pretty much for free on any Southwest flight you fly. You only need to cover the taxes and fees, just like you would on any other award ticket. This Pass is especially valuable since it applies to both revenue and award tickets, allowing me to redeem Rapid Rewards points for myself, and then bring a buddy for free without costing either of us any additional points.

I, like many other pass holders, earn my Companion Pass every two years by signing up for the Southwest Personal Plus and the Southwest Business Premier credit card toward the end of the calendar year, then making sure I hit my required spend at the very beginning of the next year so that the sign-up bonuses hit my account in January.

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But last November, I messed up for the first time in my application process, overcharging just one holiday purchase too many onto one of my new Southwest cards. As a result of that $65 miscalculation, I reached my required spend a few days early, and the points posted far more promptly than I wanted them to, landing in my account in late 2017 instead of early 2018. This meant that, instead of earning my Companion Pass for nearly 23 months between January 2018 and December 31, 2019, I earned the Companion Pass for just over 12 months instead: between December 2017 and December 31, 2018. And since cardholders are only eligible for sign-up bonuses once every 24 months, I couldn't simply repeat the sign-up bonus process again in fall 2018 to earn the Companion Pass for 2019.

This meant that I would have to earn 110,000 Southwest Companion Pass-qualifying points between January 1 and December 31, 2018 in order to maintain my Companion Pass in 2019. While most earned points qualify toward Companion Pass status – unlike A-List qualifying points, which are far more restrictive – not all points count, such as purchased Southwest points.

So what's a girl from a single-person household gonna do to earn 110,000 points in a year without spending $110,000?

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus

My first move was to apply for a third Southwest credit card, using up one of my precious 5/24 Chase slots in exchange for a 40,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 on the card within my three months. That meant just 70,000 points to go. The Southwest credit cards have recently seen a bump in sign-up offers:

Here are the current public sign-up bonuses on the four Southwest co-branded credit cards:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year.
  • 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 and another 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year.
Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Southwest Rapid Rewards Personal Plus40,000$1,00070,000

Southwest Flights

Although I was sitting on a decent number of points from my 2017 Companion Pass qualifying activity, I booked a few revenue tickets via Southwest this year in order to earn extra points toward my lofty 110,000-point goal. A couple of those flights also counted toward an A-List status match challenge which required me to book and fly six flights within 90 days.

Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Southwest Revenue Flights5126$1,01164,874

It took me entirely too long to find the dashboard which breaks down your year's earnings by date, qualifying point-type and earnings category. If you're as lost as I was, I can save you some time: you'll log in to your Southwest account, then click on "My Account" and select the "Recent Activity" tab on the left side of the screen. From the screen that appears, click on the small text link marked "view all activity" toward the center right of the page in order to access your full dashboard, which looks something like this:

Rapid Rewards Dining

Dining portals are a fantastic way to double-dip earnings on money you were going to spend anyway. I often forget to register my credit cards, but I finally remembered to update my Southwest Rapid Rewards dining account late in the summer, and earned myself a few points that way.

Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining145$14564,729

Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal

I switch up my shopping portal strategy based on the most lucrative earnings for my online purchases. I've been trying to earn more Chase Ultimate Rewards points and United MileagePlus miles for the most part, and sometimes cash [back] is king. Thus, I only earned around 6,000 Rapid Rewards points from purchases this year. Some of my larger purchases included appliances for my home. I also took advantage of a few Rapid Rewards promotional bonuses for a quick points boost:

Finally, I was randomly targeted for a 100-point promotional bonus, which I was happy to receive and which coded under the "retail" category in my Rapid Rewards dashboard.

All told, these weren't the most lucrative earnings available through a shopping portal; however, my end goal was to re-earn the Companion Pass as cheaply as possible. Overall, I was pretty pleased with my outcome, considering I was able to average roughly 5 Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent through the Southwest shopping portal after the promotional bonuses were tallied up.

Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping6,133$1,20758,596

Stealth MVP: Rocketmiles

By October, I was starting to get a little bit concerned about the fact that I was still tracking about 35,000 points shy of my 110,000 goal. I knew I would earn some points from the 1 point/dollar rewards on the credit cards themselves, but I didn't feel like going through each of my transactions and tallying up my spending to possibly fall short through miscalculations. This is where Rocketmiles helped me shoot far past my original goal.

I'm partial to Airbnb, so travel enthusiasts like my colleagues Zach or TPG himself spend far more days in hotels each year than I do. When I do stay in hotels, my favorite hotel loyalty program is still third-party Hotels.com since I'm pretty brand-agnostic overall. But a friend introduced me to Rocketmiles early this year, and I've fallen in love with the program since. Rocketmiles allows infrequent hotel visitors like myself to credit their stays to their airline of choice instead of with a hotel brand they may not frequent again in future. Most of the time, I've found that Rocketmiles doesn't offer the lowest hotel rate amongst third-party booking agencies such as Hotels.com or Expedia. But to me, it was worth the extra price difference to get me closer to that coveted Companion Pass renewal.

Here's the breakdown on how I earned 16,000 Rapid Rewards points:

  • 1,000 points: New member bonus for signing up through a friend's referral link and completing my first hotel stay
  • 5,000 points x 3: Three separate hotel stays, each worth 1,000 base Rapid Rewards points. Rocketmiles offers an option which allows you to pay a cash up-charge to multiply your mileage earning potential. As a general rule, you can stick with the base rate, select a "boost" option which doubles your earning potential for a slight price increase, or go for the "ultra boost" of 5x the original mileage earnings for a higher up-charge.

I wasn't sure if the ultra-boost miles would count toward Companion Pass qualification, since Southwest's fine print is really technical but also rather ambiguous at the same time. I saw some conflicting reports online which suggested that only the original 1,000 points per night would count toward pass qualification, so I figured the only way to know for sure would be to test for myself. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that within a day or two of completing my stays, the full amount of 5,000 points per night showed up in my dashboard under the "Companion Pass qualifying points" category!


This put me in a great place of only needing a final 42,000 points or so, down from the original 110,000.

Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Rocketmiles credited to Southwest16,000$1,03842,596

Everyday Spending

Finally, between January 1 and October 24, I earned 42,861 points by putting a significant portion of my year's expenditures on my Southwest credit cards. This total sum included everyday spending at one point per dollar, plus the additional point per dollar I spent on revenue flights. As you can see, this just barely tipped me over the earning threshold, and the 2019 Companion Pass was mine!

Earning MethodPoints EarnedAmount Spent Earning PointsPoints to Go
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining42,861$37,735-265

Bottom Lines

Earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in one calendar year can be a challenge. But it doesn't have to cost $110,000 in spending. All told, I spent $42,136 over 10 months to re-earn my Companion Pass, which included all of my business expenses, home renovation bills, daily expenditures and personal travel costs. I probably would've gotten more value out of diversifying my spend onto my usual portfolio of credit cards, but I have a number of trips coming up next year where the Companion Pass will come in handy. So I personally felt comfortable deviating from my normal, more logical spending habits to focus on earning my pass the "hard" way this time around. But make no mistake: I'm going to check my spending very carefully next year when it comes time to earn my Companion Pass the traditional way, so that I never have to do this again.

Featured image by Change your companion up to three times per calendar year.
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.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases