By: Bryce Conway – Founding Editor of 10xTravel.com
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Hi Travel Junkies,
The end of the year is fast approaching, which means it is time to talk about one of my favorite perks in the points and miles world.
The Southwest Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass is arguably the most lucrative airline perk on earth and an absolute must get for anyone who frequently travels with multiple people (couples, families, etc.).
Today we are going to cover how the Companion Pass works, how to maximize its value, and how to earn and use it for almost 2 full years.
Let’s get to it.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Southwest Companion Pass (often abbreviated as “CP”) is a perk that allows you to bring a companion on any Southwest flight that you fly. All you need to do is pay your companion’s taxes and fees, just like any other award booking.
Unlike most other “companion passes”, the Southwest Companion Pass can be used on both paid and award flights. Even if you weren’t the one who paid for your flight (work travel, generous friends/family, etc.).
Southwest Companion Pass = more trips to Vegas with friends
There are no blackout dates and there is no limit to how many times you can use your Companion Pass (trust me, I would have hit any limit long ago). As long as there is an open seat on the plane it can be booked with a Companion Pass.
The only exception is that you cannot book a companion ticket if you are on someone else’s companion ticket. This would be like trying to bring a plus-one to a wedding when you are somebody else’s plus-one.
Otherwise all of the 10xT readers would get together by adding each other as companions (I’d add a companion, who would add a companion, who would add a companion, and so forth) and have a party in the sky for the price of just one ticket.
Once earned, the Companion Pass is valid for the rest of the calendar year in which it was earned plus the entire following calendar year.
So earning the Companion Pass on December 30, 2017 would mean it would expire on December 31, 2018 (12 months of use).
However, if you earn the Companion Pass on January 1, 2018 it would be valid through December 31, 2019 (24 months of use).
You have to designate one person as your companion so, unfortunately, you cannot just pick a lucky stranger to fly with you every time you fly Southwest.
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) per year.
You can change your Southwest Companion 3X per calendar year
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.
Note that every time you switch your companion you will have to cancel any future companion pass bookings.
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.
Here’s the tl;dr (which stands for too long; didn’t read):
- The Southwest Companion Pass lets you take a companion on any Southwest flight you fly (unless you are flying on someone else’s Southwest Companion Pass) for just the taxes and fees. There are no blackout dates or restrictions on how often it can be used
- You have to choose one person to be your companion at a time, but can switch who this person is 3X per calendar year. In order to switch you have to cancel any future companion pass bookings.
- Once earned, Southwest Companion Pass is good for the rest of the year + the entire following calendar year
All good? Next let’s talk about how to earn one.
You can use your Southwest Companion Pass to take a friend (or your favorite travel blogger) to Mexico
How to Earn the Southwest 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 shot at getting the Companion Pass.
One more wrinkle here, not every Southwest Rapid Rewards point you earn counts as a “qualifying point” toward Companion Pass. So let’s take a quick look at what does and does not count.
Southwest defines “Qualifying points” as:
- Points earned from any of their Rapid Rewards credit cards (more on this later)
- Points earned from actually flying on Southwest revenue flights
- Base points earned from Rapid Reward Partners, which include Southwest’s dining program and shopping portal
- Base points earned from their “Home & Lifestyle” partners, which generally consist of energy and TV providers.
Which means that the following do NOT count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass:
- Points purchased from Southwest
- Points transferred from another Southwest Rapid Rewards member
- Points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs*
- Points earned from Rapid Rewards Program enrollment
*These points used to count until this loophole was closed in the Spring of 2017
So, how do you earn 110,000 Qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year?
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
There are currently 3 different Southwest credit cards out there (Personal Premier, Personal Plus and Business Premier) with varying signup bonuses that could get you most of the way to the 110,000 required points.
Usually each of these cards will offer between 40,000 and 60,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. At the time of writing Chase has no restrictions on getting multiple versions of these credit cards, meaning you could apply for two of them on the same day if you like and receive two bonuses.
For example, let’s say that each of these cards are offering a bonus of 50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 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 virtually impossible 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, paying fees is never ideal, but you’re getting a ton of value for your money.
Fees = not cool. But worth it when you can go to Harry Potter World for next to nothing
Step 2: Earn the remaining 6,000 points through credit card purchases or by flying on Southwest
You have a couple 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 (2 points per $1 on Southwest purchases), so spending ~$6,000 would help you earn the remaining 6,000 Rapid Reward Points needed to hit 110,000. This option is perfect if you have a large bill coming up or can reach this amount through organic spending.
Don’t forget that base points earned from Southwest’s dining program and shopping portal also count toward Companion Pass, so be sure to use these programs when you can with your Southwest Rapid Rewards cards or any other credit card you like.
- Option 2: Fly on Southwest
Option #2 is to earn the remaining points by flying revenue flights on Southwest. So consider booking any upcoming personal or work travel on Southwest whenever possible.
Of course a combination of options 1 and 2 would work just fine as well, provided it gets you over the required 110,000 qualifying points in a single calendar year. You can check on your progress any time you like by logging in to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account.
You can check on your Companion Pass progress in your Southwest Rapid Rewards Account
Now is a good time to remind you that points transferred to your Southwest account do NOT count toward earning the Companion Pass. This includes points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Every year, I make sure to mention this and every year I get dozens of emails from people who make this mistake. So please be careful.
Here’s the tl;dr on how to earn 110,000 Southwest points in a calendar year:
- Open two different versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card, ideally when they are each offering bonuses of 50,000+ points.
- Earn the remaining points by putting spend on the Southwest cards or by flying Southwest
- Remember that points transferred to your Southwest account (from partners or other people) do not count toward earning the Companion Pass
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 5:05 on some days).
The same principle applies to the Southwest 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) Cross the minimum spending requirements right after January 1 so your bonus points count toward the Companion Pass in 2018
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.
Two full years of Companion Pass = more free trips to San Francisco
The timing here is crucial. If you accidentally hit a minimum spending limit prior to January 1 your points could count toward the 2017 total, which would reset on January 1, 2018.
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.
Give yourself a $100 cushion at the very least.
Next let’s tackle some FAQs:
Let’s cover some FAQs:
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 $1,500 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 $1,500 of free airfare for a total of $3,000 of value.
This also assumes that you never use the pass on paid fares, which would cause the value to be higher.
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 by going to “My Trips” and clicking “Add Companion” to any existing itinerary. Note that you can add the Companion at any time, whether that be minutes after you book your own trip or hours before the flight departs (assuming there are seats available of course).
Do I have to buy the Companion Pass with the points I earned?
No. 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. Unfortunately there is no way to “team up” to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
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 Southwest 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 simply call Southwest Airlines 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.
Can I book a Southwest flight right now, then add my Companion Pass ticket to the reservation once I earn the Companion Pass?
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?
I earned 50,000 Southwest points earlier in 2017. If I earn another 60,000 in early 2018 will I get the Companion Pass?
No. Doing this would mean you earned 50,000 points in 2017 and 60,000 in 2018 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.
Companion Pass is not awarded to you just for earning 110,000 Southwest points over the course of your lifetime. The 110,000 points have to be earned in the same calendar year.
Can I sign up for the Southwest Credit Cards in 2017 but wait to earn their bonuses/a Companion Pass in 2018?
Yes. But be very careful not to accidentally hit the minimum spending requirement on the cards early. I see this mistake made by dozens of people each year and unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to correct it.
Note also that you only have 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement and earn the bonus points. So you can’t sign up for the Southwest cards in say, July, and meet the minimum spend in January of the following year.