By: Bryce Conway
Hi Travel Junkies,
It’s that time of the year again!
Time to make holiday travel plans, get going your Christmas shopping, and start thinking about earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass is arguably the best airline perk in the business and an absolute must for anyone who frequently travels with friends and family.
My wife and I each have the Companion Pass (we love to take friends with us when we travel) and we have used it to travel to Vegas (six times), Disney World, Austin, New Orleans, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, NYC, and many other destinations in the last 12 months alone.
Unlike my Companion, this money suit did not make it home from Vegas
Today we are going to talk about how you can do the same by earning the Southwest Companion Pass for almost 2 full years.
But before we do that, let’s take a quick look at Southwest Companion Pass works.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Southwest Companion Pass allows you to bring a companion on any Southwest flight that you fly on for free.
It doesn’t matter if you paid for your Southwest flight with points, cash, or if someone else booked it for you (work travel, friends, etc.). As long as you are physically on the plane you have the ability to bring your companion with you for just the taxes and fees.
Beer Week with friends in Austin, TX, thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass
The only exception is that you cannot book companion tickets if you are on someone else’s companion ticket. Otherwise all of us 10xT readers would get together (I’d add a companion, who would add a companion, who would add a companion, and so forth) and have a party 30,000 feet above the earth.
Once earned, the Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which it is earned plus the entire following calendar year.
If you earned the Companion Pass today it would be valid through December 31, 2017. But if you earned it after January 1, it would be valid through December 31, 2018. More on that in a second.
There is no limit to how often it can be used (trust me, I’ve tried) and there are no blackout dates whatsoever.
As long as there is an open seat on the plane you can book a ticket for your companion.
Harry Potter World in Orlando, FL
You have to designate a companion so, unfortunately, you cannot take a different person every time. You can however change your companion three times per calendar year, meaning that you can use it with up to 4 people (start with person A, then switch to B, C, and D).
You can also switch the name back to someone who was already listed as your companion (start with person A, then switch to B, C, and back to A), though that counts as one of your changes.
Your companion has to travel on the same itinerary as you do, so they cannot fly unless you are physically on the plane with them. Trust me, Southwest does not mess around with this rule. Your companion will be removed from the plane if you are not also on board.
So far so good? Great, let’s talk about how you can get one.
Earning the Companion Pass
There are two ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass:
1) Fly on 100 qualifying Southwest flights in a calendar year
2) Earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards* points in a calendar year
*Rapid Rewards points are Southwest’s frequent flyer miles
Unless you plan on flying Southwest 100 times in the next year (which would be ~2 times per week), earning the 110,000 qualifying points is your only legitimate way to get the companion Pass.
So, how do you do that?
Simple. By following these steps:
(Don’t do any of these until you read the rest of this post. Timing is crucial here)
Step 1: Open Two Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.
Southwest, currently, has three co-branded credit cards (Personal Premier, Personal Plus and Business Premier) and each of them offer between 20,000 – 50,000 points as a sign-up bonus. The minimum spending amount required to earn the bonus points for each card is $2,000 in the first three months.
By opening two of these cards while they are offering bonuses of 50,000 points each and meeting the minimum spending limits, you could earn (50,000 bonus + 50,000 bonus + 2,000 spend + 2,000 spend =) 104,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Which gets you more than 90% of the way to the 110,000 qualifying points needed to earn the Companion Pass.
Note that the Southwest cards are currently under Chase’s 5/24 rule, so approvals will be difficult for anyone who has opened 5+ credit cards in the previous 24 months.
The Southwest cards have annual fees of $69 to $99 that are not waived for the first year, meaning that you’ll have to spend a little money out of pocket to earn these points. Yes, that sucks, but you’re getting a ton of value for your money.
Step 2: Earn the remaining 6,000 points through purchases, qualifying transfers, or flying.
You have a few options for earning the remaining 6,000 points that are required for the Companion Pass.
- Option 1: Spend $6,000 on your Southwest credit cards
You earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest credit card, so spending $6,000 would help you earn the remaining 6,000 Rapid Reward Points. This option is perfect if you have a large bill coming up or can reach this amount through organic spending.
- Option 2: Transfer points from Rapid Rewards partners
Transferring points from Southwest’s partners (Hyatt, Marriott, etc.) is another way to earn the remaining 6,000 points. Be sure to check what the conversion rate is first (most are not 1 to 1) and whether the points qualify toward the Companion Pass.
Note that points transferred to Southwest from Chase Ultimate Rewards do NOT count toward the Companion Pass.
I repeat, points transferred to Southwest from Chase Ultimate Rewards do NOT count toward Companion Pass.
Every year, I make sure to say this twice and still many people fall victim to this mistake. So be careful.
- Option 3: Fly on Southwest
Don’t forget that you can earn Rapid Reward miles by actually flying on paid Southwest flights.
Now that you know how to earn a Companion Pass, let’s take a look at how you can get the most value out of it.
Maximizing the Value of Your Companion Pass
When it comes to maximizing the value of a Companion Pass I have found that it is best to think of it as a happy hour at your favorite bar. If happy hour runs from 6-8, would you rather show up at 6:00 or 7:45?
If you’re like my friends you’ll be there at 6:00 (or even 5:00 on some days).
The same principle applies to the Companion Pass. Because the Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned, plus the entire next calendar year, it is best to earn it as early in the year as possible.
Here’s how you can do this:
1) Sign up for 2 Southwest credit cards late in the year (November or December is best). Ideally submit both applications on the same day
2) Spend all the way up to, but not over, the minimum spending requirement on both cards
3) Meet the minimum spending limits right after January 1 so your bonus points count toward the Companion Pass in 2017
4) Earn the remaining 6,000 points as soon as you can after January 1, which will help you earn the Companion Pass for almost a full 24 months.
The timing here is crucial. If you accidentally hit a minimum spending limit prior to January 1 your points could count toward the 2016 total, which would reset on January 1, 2017.
I would suggest not getting too close to the minimum spending number before January 1. Every year I get dozens of emails from people who accidentally hit the minimum spend when their spouse used the card to buy a coffee or some other small purchase.
Now let’s cover some frequent asked questions:
How much is the Southwest Companion Pass “worth”?
While it is difficult to assign a specific value to the Companion Pass, you can come up with a rough number by looking at the value of Southwest points. 110,000 Southwest points is worth roughly $1,400 in travel when booking Southwest “Wanna Getaway Fares”. If you bring your companion on all the flights that you book with those points, you would be getting an additional $1,400 of free airfare for a total of $2,800 of value.
This also assumes that you never use the pass on paid fares. So, I value it at roughly $2,500 of value.
How do I book a flight for my companion?
You have to book your own flight first, then add the companion ticket once your booking has been confirmed. You can do this online in your Rapid Rewards account page or by calling Southwest.
Do I have to buy the Companion Pass with the points I earned?
Nope. Once you earn the 110,000 points the pass is simply given to you. You still have those points to redeem for free flights on Southwest.
Can I sign up for one Southwest card and have my wife/roommate/friend sign up for the other?
No. The 110,000 qualifying points have to be earned by the same person.
Do miles purchased from Southwest count toward the Companion Pass?
Can I use my points to book flights for people other than my companion?
Yes. Your points can be used to book flights for anyone you’d like. Remember, however, that your companion can only fly with you.
Can the Companion Pass be used on Southwest flights that are booked with points?
Yes. The Companion Pass can be used on any type of ticket (unless you are booked as someone else’s companion).
How quickly does my designated companion go into effect?
When selecting or changing your companion the new name goes into effect immediately. You do not have to wait for the new Companion Pass card to arrive by mail. To change the name of your companion, call Southwest Customer Service and they can change it immediately.
Remember that this can only be done three times per calendar year.
Note that you have to cancel any future companion tickets before changing the name. You can rebook them later, provided there are still seats available.
Do I need to have my Companion Pass with me when I travel on Southwest?
No. In fact, the physical Companion Pass card that you receive in the mail is worthless. I just throw it away.
Do points transferred from other loyalty programs count toward the Companion Pass?
Some do and some do not. Any points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards do NOT count. Points transferred from Hyatt, Marriott, Wyndham, Club Carlson, and Choice Hotels do count towards the companion pass. Note that the transfer rates are often not 1:1.
I earned 50,000 Southwest points earlier in 2016. If I earn another 60,000 in early 2017 will I get the Companion Pass?
No. Doing this would mean you earned 50,000 points in 2016 and 60,000 in 2017 and would not earn a Companion Pass. All 110,000 points must be earned in the same calendar year. This is perhaps the most common mistake I see when it comes to Companion Pass.