Some perks in the frequent flyer universe can be incredibly rewarding, taking on an almost too-good-to-be-true aura. Automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status from a credit card? Totally possible. Up to $300 in travel credits that post automatically each year? Sign me up.
However, one benefit stands above the rest — and isn’t too challenging to earn. We’re talking about the Southwest Companion Pass. With the Companion Pass, you can bring a designated friend or family member for (almost) free on any Southwest flight you take. You’ll need to pay the taxes and fees on the second ticket, just like you would on an award ticket — but other than that, your companion flies for free.
Right now, sign-up bonus offers on all three Southwest personal credit cards come with 30,000 bonus points plus a Companion Pass (excludes taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way) valid through Feb. 28, 2024, after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This offer ends on March 13, 2023.
That’s an incredible deal. If you earn a promotional Companion Pass from one of these cards, you’ll have nearly one year of nearly free BOGO Southwest flights.
The ability to bring along a travel companion for nearly free is not unique to Southwest. Many credit cards offer some form of single-use companion fare, which allow you to bring along a travel companion at a heavily discounted rate.
However, the magic of the Southwest Companion Pass is that you can use it as many times as you want until the pass expires. Even if you were to fly every day of the year, your companion could come with you for just the cost of taxes and fees. It even applies to award tickets, allowing you to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points for yourself and bring your companion without using any more points.
TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents each. But earning the Companion Pass can effectively double the value of your points (or cash) when flying on Southwest using the pass.
Remember, you’re not limited to flights within the lower 48 states, either. Over the last several years, Southwest has expanded to (and within) Hawaii and added short-haul international flights. So while you will need to pay those taxes and fees for your companion, you can put this perk to work on any Southwest-operated flight.
In addition, you can change your designated Southwest companion up to three times per calendar year. In other words, you can have four different companions in the first calendar year, then three in the second year (up to seven total across the life of your Companion Pass). It’s worth noting that even if you switch back to a previous companion, it still counts as one of your three allotted changes per calendar year.
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Remember, too, that Southwest allows you to cancel or change tickets without fees. Locking in flights while you confirm other plans could be an excellent way to snag some of these seats before they’re gone.
Related: How to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points
Timing and qualification
Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap. Earning a traditional Companion Pass requires that you accrue 135,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year. That’s why getting a promotional Companion Pass from a Southwest consumer credit card’s sign-up bonus is a big deal — it’s just so easy to earn.
But there’s one important distinction between this promotional Companion Pass and a traditional Companion Pass: the expiration date.
When you earn the currently offered promotional Companion Pass, it’s valid through Feb. 28, 2024. When you earn a traditional Companion Pass by collecting 135,000 qualifying points, you’ll be able to use it for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following calendar year. So if you meet the requirements in early 2024, you’ll get the Companion Pass through Dec. 2025. This makes a traditional Companion Pass superior, as it’s valid for potentially around two years if you time it right.
So what are “qualifying points”?
It’s important to note that not all Rapid Rewards points count toward the 135,000-point requirement. Here’s how Southwest defines points that will count:
“Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest®, points earned on Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Cards, and base points earned from Rapid Rewards® partners.”
As you can see, all revenue flights booked on Southwest will count toward earning the Companion Pass, as will points earned on Southwest’s cobranded credit cards (more on this in a moment). Where things get a bit trickier is the “base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners” verbiage. Do all partners count?
The Companion Pass page on Southwest’s website provides some examples of partner activity that will count toward qualification, including:
- Rapid Rewards credit cards, including sign-up bonuses.
- Shopping and dining partners, including Rapid Rewards dining.
- Home and lifestyle partners.
However, many things do not count toward earning the Companion Pass. The first is any transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards. So if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, and were hoping to transfer your points to earn the Companion Pass, you’re out of luck. Purchased points also don’t count, nor do flight bonus points and points transferred from hotel and car loyalty programs.
In a nutshell, here’s the best strategy to earn a traditional Companion Pass:
- Open a new Southwest credit card (or two) sometime in November
- Do not reach any minimum spending requirements until after your December statement closes.
- As soon as your December statement closes, begin spending to reach those thresholds.
Doing this will ensure that any bonuses you earn will post to your Rapid Rewards account early in the following year — and thus count toward next year’s qualification. However, you could miss earning the pass entirely if you mistime it. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of three strategies.
Related: How to use the Southwest Companion Pass
Southwest credit cards
Again, points earned from Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards count toward the Southwest Companion Pass. And at the time of writing, this includes any sign-up bonuses you receive from the cards. There are now five different Southwest cards out there with varying sign-up bonuses. So, new applicants can leverage these bonuses to accrue a large chunk of the 135,000 points required to earn the Companion Pass.
In addition, Southwest cardholders will enjoy an annual boost of 10,000 points toward Companion Pass qualification every year. This will post within 30 days of opening your account and then again at the beginning of every calendar year. This effectively reduces the number of points you must earn to 125,000.
New offers just launched on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. Each of these cards comes with the same bonus of 30,000 bonus points plus a Companion Pass valid through Feb. 28, 2024, after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (offer expires March 13).
That’s a great limited-time offer, but right now, we’re focused on a strategy to earn a traditional Companion Pass. These cards normally come with sign-up bonuses of between 40,000 and 60,000 points after meeting minimum spending requirements — which goes a long way toward meeting the 135,000-point threshold. This is especially true when you consider each card gives 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points every year.
As noted above, you’ll maximize the validity of your Companion Pass by earning it as early in the year as possible. A good strategy is to open a Southwest credit card in November or December and begin spending on the card— but wait to complete your minimum spending requirement until you’ve entered the new year.
You might even want to wait until your December statement closes to begin spending on your new card. After all, this will ensure all the points you earn on your new card will count toward earning a Companion Pass, valid for up to two years. Here’s an example of how this might work:
|Nov. 2023||Apply and get approved for a Southwest credit card.|
|The first statement closes with a balance of the annual fee (you haven’t spent anything yet). Now, start spending.|
|Dec. 9 or 10||0 Rapid Rewards points are credited to your account.|
|Jan. 8, 2024||The second statement closes with a new balance of $3,000 or more.|
|Jan. 9 or 10||The sign-up bonus and points earned from minimum spending are credited to your account — all of which count toward the Companion Pass.|
If you include the new 10,000-point boost for cardholders, you’ve now earned at least 88,000 qualifying points toward the Companion Pass. And since all of them hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2024, you’re now almost two-thirds of the way to earning the pass for the rest of 2024 and all of 2025.
There’s also a way to speed up your qualification even more, since Southwest also offers a pair of cards geared toward small businesses. If you combine one of these with a personal card (and again time your spending carefully), you could qualify for a Companion Pass without any additional activity.
Now may even be one of the absolute best times to try and achieve a traditional Southwest Companion Pass by opening two Southwest cards. By earning the bonus on a Southwest personal card, you’ll immediately achieve a promotional Companion Pass and be 40,000 points closer to the 135,000-point requirement (30,000 bonus points + 10,000-point annual boost). You can then enjoy the Companion Pass while earning the remaining points at your leisure throughout 2023.
Later in the year, you could earn the Southwest Performance Business sign-up bonus to quickly catapult yourself to 125,000 points. You’d need to earn just 10,000 more points in 2023 to unlock an additional eight months of Companion Pass.
Related: Choosing the best Southwest credit card
Chase application restrictions
Before going on an application spree, remember that Chase has restrictions on Southwest credit cards related to sign-up bonuses. The following verbiage appears on the application pages for the Priority, Premier and Plus cards:
“The product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of any Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months. This does not apply to Cardmembers of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Card and Employee Credit Card products.”
As a result, you can’t open a new Southwest personal card if you already have one or earned a sign-up bonus on one within the last 24 months. You’ll also want to ensure you’re familiar with Chase’s general application restrictions, including the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule and the general rule of thumb that you can open one personal card and one business card every 90 days.
However, the Southwest small-business credit cards do not — as of now — have the same verbiage. Instead, the business cards note:
“This new Cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this business credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this business credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this business credit card within the last 24 months.”
Of course, all the points you earn from spending on Southwest cards also count toward earning the Companion Pass. So, you could spend on your card to earn a Companion Pass. But, two other options I’ll discuss below should make the task easier.
Related: The best credit card pairings to earn the Southwest Companion Pass
Flying with Southwest
Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. If you don’t have a credit card and plan to earn the Companion Pass through flying in 2023, you’ll need to earn the full 135,000 points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights. This translates to the following spending on base fares:
- $22,500 on Wanna Get Away.
- $16,875 on Wanna Get Away Plus.
- $13,500 on Anytime.
- $11,250 on Business Select.
If you have travel planned early next year, consider booking with Southwest to earn points toward the Companion Pass. But, as you can see, you’d need to fly on a lot of paid Southwest fares to earn enough Companion Pass qualifying points.
Related: Cool places you didn’t know you could fly on Southwest
Combination of credit cards and flying
Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of flying and credit card bonuses.
Let’s say you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card at the end of this year and earn the full sign-up bonus in early 2024. In addition, let’s assume you spend a total of $10,000 on the card, and part of that spending is $2,000 on Wanna Get Away base fares, all of which are on flights flown in January or February 2024. You would earn:
- Sign-up bonus (for reaching $5,000): 80,000 points.
- Flying: 12,000 points ($2,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away base fares).
- Southwest airfare purchases on the card: 8,000 points ($2,000 x 4 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases).
- Other purchases on the card: 8,000 points ($8,000 x 1 point per dollar spent).
This activity would earn you 108,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points, and when you include the 10,000-point boost as a Southwest cardholder, you’re now just 17,000 points away. If you can leverage other earning opportunities — like Rapid Rewards Shopping or a car rental through Southwest — you could easily make up that difference.
And since these points will all hit your Rapid Rewards account in 2024, your Companion Pass will be valid through Dec. 31, 2025. That’s a lot of (nearly) free flying.
Remember that your credit card points won’t appear in your account until a few days after your monthly statement closes, while any points from flying won’t post until a few days after you take the trip. Again, timing is crucial to ensure you earn the Companion Pass and utilize it for as long as possible.
Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes
The Southwest Companion Pass can be an incredibly lucrative benefit, especially if you can earn it relatively early in a calendar year to enjoy almost two years’ worth of free companion travel.
For those eligible, getting a nice bonus from a Southwest credit card or two makes quickly scoring the Companion Pass a vastly more manageable task than flying alone.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull and Sarah Hostetler.
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