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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?
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
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
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
As of January 2019, Chase offers four Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business
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.
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
- 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
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
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.
Timing is everything
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
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
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”
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
Chase’s 5/24 rule can completely prevent you from
4. Apply for the small business card first (if you qualify)
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
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
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.
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
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
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
The Southwest cards’ welcome
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.
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.
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