Some perks in the frequent flyer universe can be incredibly rewarding, taking on a too-good-to-be-true aura. A fourth night free on paid hotel stays? Travel credits in the amount of $300 that post automatically? Sign me up!
However, there’s one benefit that truly stands above the rest and (incredibly) isn’t too challenging to earn. I’m talking about the Southwest Companion Pass.
Today, I want to provide an overview of how to quickly earn this perk to enjoy over a year’s worth of free companion flights.
Let’s start with a quick overview of this benefit and why it’s so valuable. In essence, the Companion Pass allows you to bring along a designated friend or family member for (almost) free on any Southwest flight you take (you’ll just need to pay the taxes and fees, just like you would on an award ticket).
This is especially valuable because it applies to both paid and award tickets. It allows you to redeem Rapid Rewards points for you and then bring your companion without using any more points.
TPG values Southwest points at 1.5 cents each. But earning the Companion Pass effectively doubles the value of your points (or cash) when flying on Southwest.
This recently got even more valuable with Southwest’s Hawaiian expansion. Since you can bring a companion on all Southwest-operated flights, you can now utilize this perk to fly to (or within) the Aloha State:
You can also change your designated companion up to three times per calendar year. In other words, you can have four different companions the first calendar year, then three in the second year (seven total across the life of your Companion Pass).
It’s worth noting that even if you switch back to a previous companion, it’ll still count as one of your three allotted changes per calendar year.
Remember also that Southwest does allow you to cancel or change tickets without any fees. That means locking in flights while you try to confirm other plans could be a good way to snag some of these seats before they’re gone.
Timing and Qualification
Of course, a benefit like this doesn’t come cheap. Starting January 1, 2020, you’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to earn a Companion Pass. For those still trying to qualify in 2019, you’ll need to earn just 110,000 qualifying points as before.
And the old saying that “timing is everything” definitely applies to the Companion Pass, for one main reason: The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year.
So if you meet the requirements at the beginning of 2020, you’ll get the pass for the rest of 2020 plus all of 2021. However, if you mistime it, you might miss out on the pass entirely.
All that said, it’s important to note that not all Rapid Rewards points count toward the standard qualification requirements. Here’s how Southwest defines points that will count:
“Companion Pass Qualifying Points are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned by making purchases with a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card, and your 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 co-branded credit cards (more on this in a moment). Where things get a bit trickier is the “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, there are many things that do not count toward earning the Companion Pass. The first is any transfer from Ultimate Rewards. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for example, and were hoping to transfer the sign-up bonus for the Companion Pass, you’re out of luck.
Purchased points also don’t count, nor do bonuses earned on flights or with partners. Finally, Southwest did close the loophole in 2017 that allowed points transferred from hotel programs to count toward the Companion Pass.
So, given all of these restrictions, what are the best ways to earn the Companion Pass as quickly as possible to enjoy those privileges through the rest of this year and all of next year? Here’s a rundown of the three ways to do exactly that.
Points earned from Rapid Rewards credit cards do count toward the Companion Pass. 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 that can take care of a large chunk of the 125,000 points you need for the Companion Pass.
The first three are personal Southwest credit cards, each of which are offering 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Then there’s also the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, which is currently offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Finally — and most importantly for earning the Companion Pass — you have the new Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 70,000 points when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Now, before you go on an application spree, keep in mind that Chase announced new restrictions to Southwest personal credit cards in April 2018 specifically related to sign-up bonuses. The following verbiage now 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 Rapids 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 personal version if you already have one. And you can’t you open a personal version if you earned a sign-up bonus on any personal one in the last 24 months.
You’ll also want to make sure 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 business credit cards do not — as of yet — have any of the same verbiage. Not only are they treated separately from the personal cards, but they’re also exclusive from each other. So you could technically hold or open both of them and still be eligible for sign-up bonuses on both.
If you’re able to get approved for a personal card and the new Performance business card and are able to earn the sign-up bonus on each, you’ll earn 110,000 qualifying points from the combined sign-up bonuses plus 6,000 qualifying points from the required spend.
That’s enough to qualify for the Companion Pass in 2019. But you’ll need to earn at least 9,000 more qualifying points if the sign-up bonuses are earned in 2020.
Remember too that all the regular points you earn on these cards will also count toward the Companion Pass. So you could always simply spend your way there — though there are two other options that should make the task easier.
Another simple way to earn the Companion Pass is through actual flying. To earn 125,000 qualifying points, you’d need to spend at least $20,833 on Wanna Get Away fares or $10,417 on Business Select fares. (Note that the total spending is actually higher because you only earn Rapid Rewards points on the base fare).
If your company typically covers a Business Select ticket or you have extensive travel planned during the first couple months of the year, consider booking with Southwest to begin earning points toward the Companion Pass.
Of course, the best option will likely be some combination of these methods. If you open the Southwest Performance Business Card (and earn the full sign-up bonus), and spend $6,000 on Wanna Get Away fares, you’d have the following:
- Sign-up bonus (plus earning from minimum spend): 75,000 points
- Flying: 36,000 points ($6,000 x 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away fares)
- Southwest purchases on the card: 18,000 points ($6,000 x 3 points per dollar)
This activity would earn you 129,000 points and qualify you for the Companion Pass, assuming that all of the points are earned and post to your Rapid Rewards account are in the same calendar year.
Remember that your credit card points won’t appear until a few days after your monthly statement closes. And any points from flying won’t post until a few days after you actually take the trip. Again, timing is crucial to ensure you not only earn the pass but can utilize it for as long as possible.
The Southwest Companion Pass can be an incredibly lucrative benefit, especially if you can earn it early in a calendar year to enjoy almost 2 years’ worth of free companion travel.
The recently launched Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card can be combined with one of the three standard personal Southwest credit cards — the Southwest Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Premier Credit Card, or the Southwest Priority Credit Card — to make quickly scoring the Companion Pass a vastly easier task.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some ideas for how to accomplish this very goal!
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
About the author: Nick Ewen is The Points Guy’s Senior Points & Miles Editor and was one of the site’s first contributors in 2012. He’s visited 41 countries (and counting) and has taken his 4-year-old daughter to 19 of them.