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One of the best travel deals that I’ve come across is the Southwest Companion Pass. It’s one of those things that I had heard of for many years, and only in the last few years did I take the time to understand how it works and how to earn it. It’s a confusing reward product, so we’re going to breakdown how to get a Southwest Companion Pass and share some tips to help you with the process.

What is the Southwest Companion Pass?

Two Southwest Rapid Rewards Companion Pass cards on wood tabletop
Our 2018 and 2019 Southwest Companion Passes

The Southwest Companion Pass is the top reward that you can earn in Southwest Airline’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program. Once you have it, you can book a companion ticket for every flight that you take as long as the pass is valid. There are no limits on the number of companion flights you can book. Though you’ll still have to pay the taxes and fees for the companion ticket. Also, the Companion Pass will work on award ticket redemptions. For example, if I want to book a Southwest flight for myself using points, I can still bring Fiona, my Southwest Companion along for the flight and just pay the taxes on the booking.

How to earn a Southwest Companion Pass

Southwest Rapid Rewards account dashboard showing Companion Pass requirements
The Southwest Rapid Rewards account dashboard shows your progress toward earning a Companion Pass

There are basically two ways to earn a Companion Pass:

  • Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
  • Earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest points in a calendar year

Obviously, unless you’re a frequent flyer, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take 100 qualifying flights. For most people, getting 110,000 Southwest points is the easier option, especially with the help of some credit cards.

Using Southwest Credit Cards

Comparison of Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards personal credit cards
Chase offers multiple Southwest Rapid Rewards cards

As of January 2019, Chase offers four Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards:

The easiest way to get with range of earning a Companion Pass is to get a personal and business Southwest credit card within the same year. The Southwest credits cards are also a great way to earn bonus points on Southwest flights while receiving travel and purchase protections. If you’re curious whether you qualify for a small business credit card, see our post/video on the topic.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit cards on wooden tabletop
Having both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card helped us to earn our Companion Pass

You may be wondering whether you can get two personal Southwest cards. Unfortunately, the answer is no. In April 2018, Chase introduced a rule where you can only earn the bonus from any personal Southwest card once per 24 months. That means getting two different versions of the personal Southwest card is no longer a viable option. However, getting a small business and personal card is allowed.

Earning additional Southwest Rapid Rewards points for your Companion Pass

Suppose you’re able to get around 100,000 Southwest points through the welcome offers on your cards. You would still need to get 10,000 Southwest points in order to earn the Companion Pass. For most people, I recommend the following ways to earn qualifying points.

Ways to earn additional qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points

10,000 points per night offer on Southwest Hotels
Southwest Hotels offers up to 10,000 points per night on some bookings
  • Booking Southwest flights (preferably on a Southwest credit card to earn additional bonus points)
  • Shifting your daily spend onto your Southwest credit card
  • Using the Rapid Rewards Shopping and Dining program
  • Booking hotel stay on Southwest Hotels
Hotel confirmation showing 5,000 Rapid Reward points earned for hotel stay using Southwest Hotels
We easily earned 5,000 qualified points using Southwest Hotels

You can earn up to 10,000 points on a hotel booking on Southwest Hotels. I needed 5,000 points last year in order to get my Companion Pass renewed, so I paid for a night at a hotel near me that offered 5,000 points per night. It may sound crazy, but I was confident that the cost of the room was worth it so we could have the Companion Pass for another year.

Transferring or purchasing points

Transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards site to Southwest Rapid Rewards program
Unfortunately, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account do NOT count toward the Companion Pass

You may be wondering whether you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points into your Southwest account to meet the Companion Pass points requirement. The answer is no. It used to be easier to convert other loyalty and flexible points into Southwest points in order to qualify for the Companion Pass. Though in the past few years, Southwest has become stricter on the type of points that can be used. Even purchased points from Southwest will not count toward a Companion Pass.

Southwest Buy Points page
Purchased points from Southwest do NOT count toward a Companion Pass

Timing is everything

End of yearly planner page and gold pen
Timing your Companion Pass can make a huge difference on how long it’s valid

If you earn 110,000 points, you’ll get the Companion Pass which is valid for the remainder of the calendar year that you earned it AND the following calendar year. This is an important detail to keep in mind since you can essentially have the Companion Pass valid between 12 to 23 months, depending on when you earn it.

Using your Southwest Companion Pass

Option to Add Companion to current Southwest flight booking
The process for adding a companion was confusing until I realized that I needed to book my own flight first

Once you’ve qualified for your Companion Pass, you’ll receive a card in the mail from Southwest. You’ll then designate your companion online in your Southwest account. Once you’re ready to reserve a flight, you’ll first book your own flight, then add your companion after it’s complete. This confused me when I first received the pass since I assumed that I would need to complete both bookings at once.

Tips and considerations when getting a Southwest Companion Pass

Below are some tips and considerations if you have or are pursuing a Southwest Companion Pass.

1. Get it early in the calendar year

Timeline for Southwest Companion Pass
Timing matters! Depending on when you earn your Companion Pass, it may be valid between 12-23 months.

This is the big mistake that I made. I rushed and earned my initial Companion Pass in December 2017. Since I earned it in the 2017 calendar year, it was set to expire in December 2018. My hard-earned Companion Pass was only valid for 13 months!

Had I timed it better, I would have earned my Companion Pass in early 2018. This would have made it valid until the end of 2019.

2. Be careful of Rapid Rewards Shopping and Dining “bonuses”

Bonus points offer on Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining Program
Southwest points labeled as a “bonus” typically do NOT count toward your Companion Pass qualification

While spending through these programs is a great way to earn Rapid Rewards points that count toward your Companion Pass, be wary of offers with the word “bonus”. In general, these points do not count toward your Companion Pass, which is misleading and confusing.

3. Watch out for Chase’s 5/24 rule

Stack of credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Gold Card
Chase’s 5/24 rule can be a limiting factor when trying to get Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards

Chase’s 5/24 rule can completely prevent you from get approval for the Southwest credit cards. If you’re serious about getting a Southwest Companion Pass with the help of credit cards, then you’ll want to plan accordingly and know where you stand with this strict rule.

4. Apply for the small business card first (if you qualify)

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card

If you’re eligible for a small business card, I would recommend applying for it before the personal card. The reason is that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card will not count toward your 5/24 standing. However, there is a catch! You have to be below 5/24 in order to get approval for the business card. Therefore, if you’re close to the limit on 5/24, you’ll want to get the business credit card first.

5. Beware of bookings near your expiration date

Southwest Airline branding on airplane wing tip
Booking a trip with a Companion Pass around New Year’s can be a challenge

If your Companion Pass expires at the end of December, you might have issues if you book a New Year’s Eve trip. If your Companion Pass is not renewed for the upcoming year, you’ll have to book one-way tickets instead of a round trip to use the Companion Pass for part of the trip.

We experienced this issue last year. Though after I requalified for another year of the Companion Pass, I was able to cancel and rebook our return flight and add Fiona as my companion. Luckily, Southwest doesn’t charge change fees, making the process a lot easier.

6. Consider the early-bird check-in service

Southwest EarlyBird Check-In page and details
EarlyBird Check-In is an extra fee, but is convenient if you want the best odds of picking your own seat and securing overhead bin space

Since Southwest doesn’t assign seats, I personally prefer to pay the EarlyBird Check-In fee. Basically, Southwest will automatically check you into your flight for a $15-20 fee. This allows you to board the plane after the A-list members but before most other passengers. You’ll get to pick your seats and get access to more overhead luggage bin space.

The American Express Platinum card offers a $200 airline fee credit to cardmembers. Learn more about American Express cards.

I justify the EarlyBird Check-In fee since we usually pay so little for the flight, especially with the Companion Pass. Also, if you have a credit card that covers a certain amount of flight incidentals or travel expenses, like the American Express Platinum and Gold Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, then it’s much easier to justify.

7. Change your companion

View from passenger inside an airplane
Southwest allows you to change your companion up to three times per calendar year

You’re allowed to change your companion three times per year by calling Southwest to request it. I personally haven’t done it, but I think it could be useful for a lot of people. Just be careful with any future booked trips. If you change companions, then you’ll have to cancel any bookings with your previous companion before you can use it with your new companion. This can make the process of changing companions complicated and difficult.

8. Check out Southwest’s flight routes

Map of Southwest Airlines flight destinations
Southwest has flights to many Central American and Caribbean destinations too!

While most people think of Southwest as a domestic carrier, they actually have international flights to Central America and the Caribbean. Also, Southwest is planning to launch flights to Hawaii this year, so that might be another way to get value from a Companion Pass.

9. Look out for special offers

2017 Southwest Companion Pass promotion for California residents only
Southwest is known to offer special promotions, like this Companion Pass offer for California residents in 2017

The Southwest cards’ welcome offers tend to hover between 20,000 to 60,000 points. You’re probably better off waiting for the best possible welcome offer. Also, every once in a while, Southwest will offer a crazy promotion on their Companion Pass. In fact, we took advantage of one in 2017 when they offered the Companion Pass for California residents who applied for their credit card.

You can never predict when these things will happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Southwest does a promotion this year, especially when their new Hawaii routes are launched.

Final thoughts

Southwest Companion Pass card
The Southwest Companion Pass is truly one the best travel deals ever!

As you all can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of the Southwest Companion Pass. If you’re someone that often travels with another person, then the Companion Pass is an awesome program that’s worth considering. Though I recommend strategizing on how and when you want to get the Companion Pass. I think a lot of us, myself included, rushed into getting it and ended up either making mistakes or feeling a lot of pressure to earn points at the end of the year. If I had to do it again, I would have planned out my strategy earlier on how I was going to get it, and then mapped out my credit cards, spending, and travel accordingly.

What are your thoughts on the Southwest Companion Pass? Do you have one, or are you planning to get one? Let us know in the comment section below.

If you’re interested in applying for a Chase Southwest card, or any other credit card, we encourage you to compare credit cards offers. We do receive a commission if you use our link. It’s an easy way to support our channel, especially if you’ve found our content to be valuable and helpful.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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