In the world of domestic travel credit card rewards, the Southwest Companion Pass is King. And, I got mine earlier this month.
The title of this post is not a typo. By applying for two credit cards and putting a small bit of normal spending on them, I can now fly on Southwest with my “companion” until the end of 2019 for essentially free ($5 or so in taxes per ticket for domestic flights).
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
As explained by Southwest, the Companion Pass is “a benefit from Soutwest airlines that allows you to choose one person to fly with you, free of airline charges (does not include taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way) every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight.”
How do you get the Soutwest Companion Pass?
There are two ways to get a Southwest Companion Pass:
- You fly 100 “qualifying” one-way flights on Southwest
- You earn 110,000 “qualifying” points in a calendar year
Once you’ve earned the Companion Pass, it is good until the end of the calendar year you’ve earned it. And, for the next entire calendar year.
So if you earn the Companion Pass in January, it is good for essentially two years. the later in the calendar year you obtain the companion pass, the less the amount of time it is good for.
Now, obviously few people are flying 100 one-way flights in a year.
And, few are flying enough to earn 110,000 qualifying points.
So, that’s where credit cards come in to play.
Southwest currently has three credit card products:
- Southwest Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Premier Personal Credit Card
- Southwest Plus Personal Credit Card (I may receive bonus points if you use this last link and apply for a credit card, I don’t believe I receive anything for the other two)
Each of these cards have Bonus sign-up offers where you earn around 40,000 – 60,000 Rapid Rewards points for spending $1,000 – $3,000 over the course of three months. The offers vary over the course of the year. But if you can apply for one when it is giving 60,000 points and one when it’s giving at least 50,000 points, you’ve earned the 110,000 points necessary for the Southwest Companion Pass. The credit cars do come with annual fees of $69-$99, but they are well worth it in this case. And, you can just cancel the cards once you’ve earned your pass.
In addition, Chase (who is the bank behind the credit cards) is very generous about matching offers. So, if you applied when the bonus was 40,000 and some time within the first 3 months of your having the card the bonus goes up, you can send a message to Chase through their secure online messaging service and they will honor the new bigger bonus.
As of the date of this post, the points you earn from credit card bonuses count as “qualifying” points for the purposes of earning a Southwest Companion Pass. In addition, the regular points you get for each dollar you spend on the cards also count towards the Companion Pass.
Note that one single person has to obtain the credit cards. I don’t believe that you and your companion could each apply for one but direct the points to a single account. However, in two years once your companion pass is up, the other person could apply for the credit cards and get you another two years. By the time your companion’s companion pass has expired, you would be eligible to apply for the cards yourself again, and you could continue this forever until Southwest and Chase changes their policy.
This is also much easier if you have a business, because you can apply for the credit cards at the same time in that instance. If you are going to go the route of applying for two personal cards, there may be a 60 or 90 day waiting period between applications before Chase will approve you for another one. I’ve heard some people get around this by applying for both on the same day, but your mileage may vary as they say.
How did I get the Southwest Companion Pass?
The bonuses at the time I applied were 60,000 for the Business Credit Card after $3,000 of spending and 40,000 for the Personal Credit Card after $1,000 of spending.
I made sure that my 90-day period would spill over into 2018 by applying in November. I’ve heard that you really get 115 days with Chase cards, but I wasn’t taking chances.
After a couple of weeks I received both of those cards.
Because I would only get 100,000 points for the total of my bonuses, I waited until 2018 to do any spending on the cards. This was so that the actual spending I did on the cards would also have occurred in 2018 and therefore count towards the companion pass. Points earned one year don’t carry over to the next.
Technically, I think as long as the statement didn’t close until 2018 I would have been fine. And, I think there are some ways to game the system by pushing credit card statement dates back. But, I’m relatively conservative with the points earning (if you spend a few minutes reading message boards about credit card churning your head will explode).
If the sign-up bonuses had added up to 110,000, I would have done some spending in 2017, but would have waited until 2018 to cross the bonus threshold.
In the end, however, the bonus on the Plus card was raised to 50,000 points in January for $2,000 of spending. So, I messaged Chase and they told me that I would get the 50,000 points if I spent $2,000. So, I got 110,000 points just from the bonus offers. And, also had a few more points from the spending I did on the cards.
Once both of my credit card statements closed in January, the points showed up in my Southwest Rapid Rewards Account the next day.
I was expecting to get an e-mail saying that I had earned my Companion Pass, but never did. Instead, I just logged onto my Rapid Rewards account and the profile screen told me that I had earned my Companion Pass and that I could choose my companion.
I then sent this snapchat to my girlfriend.
Why do I get to fly for free?
The other nice thing about the Southwest Companion Pass is that you don’t actually have to use the 110,000 points to “buy” the pass.
You simply get the pass once you’ve earned 110,000 points. You then can also use those points to buy flights with Southwest.
The way Southwest works, you can use points on any flight. I think there is a formula for how dollars and points convert to one another, but I don’t know what it is.
However, I just arbitrarily picked a weekend in March for a flight from Newark to Fort Lauderdale (the route I would most likely be using), and it cost around 13,000 points. I could take that trip 8 times with the bonus points from the credit card.
The Southwest Companion Pass works for flights bought with points, so my companion could come on those 8 flights with me as well.
I’ve heard the Southwest is opening up routes to Hawaii later this year. So, that could be an intriguing option too. It also has flights to the Caribbean and Mexico.
And, if I do happen to use up my Southwest points before the two years are up, I still get the free companion fare.
Another nice thing about Southwest is that if you need to cancel your flights, there are absolutely no consequences if you paid for the flight with points. You simply are refunded the points. If you bought the flight with cash, you might not get the money back, but you can use the value to buy another flight without any cancellation fees.
If you have someone you fly with a lot and are near a Southwest Hub, the Southwest Companion Pass is an excellent, fairly easy option.
To read about someone who takes full advantage of travel rewards while raising twins, check out the blog of my childhood neighbor and friend at Double Duty Daddy.