The Southwest Companion Pass: One of Churning’s Greatest Prizes

Southwest is my favorite airline for cheap domestic flights because of their benefits such as free checked bags, no cancellation fees, and everything else you’ve probably heard over and over again from their advertisements, but one of their amazing benefits is relatively unknown, the Southwest Companion Pass.  Normally reserved for frequent flyers that rack up a large amount of miles flying Southwest every year, the Companion Pass allows you to add a companion to any of your flights for free (plus $5-12 in taxes/fees).  This means you can essentially get buy one get one free on all flights that Southwest operates, and it doesn’t matter if the flight is booked with cash or points.  While you need either 100 one-way flights or 110,000 qualifying points earned to qualify for the Companion Pass, it is possible to earn those 110,000 points through credit card bonuses instead of earning them all in the air flying.  Below I cover how it is possible to earn the Companion Pass with credit cards and have 110,000 points at the end to spend on half-price flights for you and the companion of your choice.

More Details About the Companion Pass

As mentioned above, the person who earns the Companion Pass from Southwest can choose a companion to assign the pass to.  For as long as the pass is valid, that companion can be added to any of their reservations by just paying the taxes on the ticket.  For example, let’s say I earn the Companion Pass in February of 2015.  I select my fiancé, Becky, as my “companion” via Southwest’s website.  Until the end of 2016, anytime we both want to fly together on Southwest, I simply book my ticket with either cash or points, then add Becky to the reservation for the $5-12 in taxes her ticket requires.  That means for almost 2 years, we can fly anywhere Southwest does for half price!  Not to mention all the reward flights I’ll be able to book with the over 100k points I just earned.

Here are some of the finer details:

  • The Companion Pass is earned by completing either 100 one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying miles over the course of a calendar year.
    • This means your progress resets every January 1st, so all of the earning must take place in a single year
    • Qualifying points are either from paid flights, one of Southwest’s credit cards, or certain partner earning programs
  • Once earned, the Companion Pass lasts for the rest of the year it was earned in and the entire following year.
    • Earning it anytime in 2015 would mean it lasts until the end of 2016
    • This means earning it earlier in the year increases the total time that the pass can be used
  • The companion selected may be changed up to 3 times while the pass is still valid
    • This could be used at least once to give someone other that your normal “companion” a free flight as long as you are accompanying them.  Afterwards, you can change it back to your regular companion again, but this also counts as one of the 3 changes.

How to Earn the Companion Pass without Actually Flying

Southwest Credit Cards

By signing up for a couple of the Southwest Credit Cards when they have a signup bonus of 50,000 points, you can get ~95% of the points needed with the bonuses alone.  Southwest currently offers 3 different credit cards through Chase, 2 personal and 1 business:

  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card (Personal Card)
    • Annual Fee of $99 (NOT waived the first year)
    • Earns 2 miles/$1 on Southwest purchases and 1 mile/$1 on everything else
    • Earns 6,000 bonus points annually on your cardmember anniversary
    • NO Foreign Transaction Fees
    • Current signup bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first 3 months
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card (Personal Card)
    • Annual Fee of $69 (NOT waived the first year)
    • Earns 2 miles/$1 on Southwest purchases and 1 mile/$1 on everything else
    • Earns 3,000 bonus points annually on your cardmember anniversary
    • Current signup bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first 3 months
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card
    •  Annual Fee of $99 (NOT waived the first year)
    • Earns 2 miles/$1 on Southwest purchases and 1 mile/$1 on everything else
    • Earns 6,000 bonus points annually on your cardmember anniversary
    • NO Foreign Transaction Fees
    • Current signup bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first 3 months

See all 3 cards compared and their current signup bonuses here: Southwest Credit Cards

By applying for and receiving 2 of these cards with the 50,000 point bonus (the offers frequently fluctuate between 25,000 and 50,000) and completing the $2,000 of spend required on each, you will earn 104,000 points towards the companion pass (100,000 points from the signup bonus and 4,000 from the $4,000 spent to complete the signup bonus at 1 point/$1).  This means you only have to earn 6,000 more points to get the Companion Pass, which can be completed a number of different ways.

Signing up for 2 credit cards with the 50,000 points bonus is by far the easiest way to earn the Companion Pass without flying.  You might already qualify for a business card even if you don’t think of yourself as running a business.  Selling things on eBay, etsy, or craigslist are an obvious example, but just about anything that earns you money outside of your regular work may qualify.  See this MillionMileSecret’s post for more information: 3 Ways You May Qualify For A Business Credit Card.

If you don’t qualify for a business credit card, then it is still possible to apply for and get both personal cards.  Keep in mind that the same person must get both because the name on the rapid rewards account must match the name on the credit card.

Getting the Last 6,000 Points

If you are able to sign up for 2 Southwest cards with the 50,000 point bonuses and complete the required $2,000 of spend on each, you will have earned 104,000 points out of the required 110,000 for the Companion Pass.  Aside from the obvious choice of just putting another $6,000 of your spending on one of their credit cards, Southwest also offers several other ways to earn points that qualify for the Companion Pass.  Flying is an obvious one, as the points from any paid flight should count towards the Companion Pass, but Southwest offers several other ways as well.  The general rule of thumb is that regular points earned through Southwest’s partners count towards the Companion Pass, but “bonus” points do not.

  • Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Shopping
  • Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Dining
    • Earn 3 points/$1 spent at select restaurants by registering your card ahead of time
    • The new member bonus and review bonuses do NOT count toward the Companion Pass
  • Transfer from a Hotel Partner
    • While the terms and conditions of the Companion Pass state that transferred points do not count towards the Companion Pass, many people have had success by transferring hotel points from chains such as Marriott, Choice, or Hyatt.
    • Transferring directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards will NOT count towards the Companion Pass, but it is possible to transfer to a hotel and then to Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
    • These transfers typically have very poor transfer rates and you will lose some value when transferring, so I only recommend this method if you had no intentions of ever using the hotel points in the first place
  • Other Ways to Earn

If you are unsure whether or not a particular method of earning Southwest Points will count towards the Companion Pass, Google should be able to help.  Just search for “Do X points count towards southwest companion pass” by replacing ‘X’ with whatever method you are curious about.

Once you cross that 110,000 point mark, Southwest should mail you the “Companion Pass” that can then be registered to the companion of your choice.  It is also possible to call Southwest’s Rapid Rewards customer service line right after reaching the point threshold to select the companion sooner if that would benefit you.

Our Plan to Earn the Companion Pass for 2015-16

Back in November of 2014, Southwest was offering the 50,000 point bonus on all of their credit cards.  Since you have 3 months to complete the $2,000 in spend, it was possible to sign up for the card in 2014, but have the points post in 2015 and count towards the 2015 Companion Pass by completing the spending in January.  My fiancé and I have the intention on going on several domestic trips over the course of 2015 and 2016, so we decided to pursue the Southwest Companion Pass because it is one of the best ways to save money flying domestically.

I had recently obtained the IHG credit card which is also issued by Chase (see story here), so we decided my fiancé, Becky, would have a better chance at getting approved for 2 cards from Chase than I would.  She applied for the both the personal Premier and the personal Plus cards a few days apart online and was instantly approved for both.  The “hard” part was complete, so we just barely used them until January and then started putting all of our regular spend on them (I was added as an authorized user on one of the cards).  After spending $2,000 on each card to qualify for the 50,000 point bonuses, we needed to get an additional 6,000 points from something else.  None of Southwest’s point earning partners really line up with our habits, so we decided to just earn the last 6,000 points via spending money on the credit cards.

We had already booked a Southwest flight for each of us for February of this year, so we had a decision to make.  If we rushed to earn the Companion Pass before this flight, we could have cancelled my already booked flight (for free) and then re-added me to the reservation as Becky’s companion for free.  This would save us a few hundred dollars that could then be put towards a future flight on Southwest, but would require us to reach the 110,000 points very quickly once the new year rolled over.  The alternative was to just take this flight as normal and have the miles earned on that trip count towards earning the Companion Pass.  This saves us from putting an extra $6,000 of spend on the credit cards in January, and lowers the total amount we would have to spend by ~$2,000.

While it would be possible to manufacture the $6,000 in spend by buying pre-paid gift cards that we would use later on in the year, we decided to just take it slow and not try to rush on earning the Companion Pass.  While we miss an opportunity to save some money, this saves us the hassle of unloading a bunch of gift cards.  The next time we might use the pass would be in the summer and we will have well over $6,000 of natural spend to put on the cards by that point.  Once we cross the 110,000 point threshold and earn the Companion Pass sometime in late February or March, we’ll be able to fly half-price until the end of 2016!  For the cost of $168 in annual fees for the credit cards, we should be able to book 4-5 round-trip flights for each of us for only $5.60 in taxes each way.

Where Can 110,000 Points and the Companion Pass take you?

Unlike many airline frequent flyer programs, booking reward flights does not have a fixed cost per region.  Most airlines charge a flat fee depending on the origin and destination of a flight (for example, United charges 25,000 miles for any round-trip flight within the US) regardless of what the ticket normally costs.  Southwest on the other hand, bases the amount of points required to book the flight on the actual cost of the ticket at approximately 70 points per dollar for Wanna Get Away fares.  This makes the each point worth around 1.4-1.6 cents.  If you have the companion pass though, you are essentially doubling the value of your points every time you take your companion with you which makes them worth ~2.8 cents per point.  This means while earning the Companion Pass, you also earned over $3,000 dollars worth of points to use towards flights!  Because the point rate per flight is based on the actual cost, it is also possible to take advantage of sales that Southwest has on various routes during the year.

Southwest flies to most major cities in the US and several cities in Central America including Cancun, Aruba, San Jose (Starting in March), and many others.  Southwest has an Interactive Route Map in which you can explore all the different places that Southwest flies to.

 

We haven’t decided all the places we will visit yet with our shiny new Companion Pass, but you can bet we’ll make the most of it before it expires at the end of 2016.  My soon to be wife and I could even alternate getting the Companion Pass every 2 years and always have an extremely cheap way to fly domestically, but we don’t have to decide on that for a while.  How would you use the Companion Pass and 110,000 miles?


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