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Southwest Airlines and their branded credit cards offer an insane travel opportunity that make them worth their weight in gold.
THE COMPANION PASS
The Companion Pass stipulations per southwest.com
“Companion Pass is the benefit 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. To qualify, simply fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, and you’ll earn Companion Pass for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earned it.”
Earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points in one calendar year and one person of your choice gets to fly with you for just $5.60 each way, any time you fly Southwest together for the rest of the year you earned Companion Pass and the entire following year. And that goes for flights you pay for, or award flights.
Yeah, exactly. It’s amazing. And unless you travel with Southwest for business, you can throw that “simply fly 100 one-way flights” thing out the window. The path of least resistance is to earn 110,000 qualifying points in one year.
What constitutes ‘qualifying points’?
“Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, points earned on Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.”
Partners include Southwest Hotels, Rapid Rewards Dining, and Rapid Rewards Shopping, to name the big ones. You can see a full list of partners on Southwest’s Companion Pass page.
What points don’t qualify?
“Purchased points, transferred points transferred between members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass qualifying points.”
Don’t think you’re going to get there by buying points, or transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards points over. It’s not that easy. Also not that easy- applying for two personal credit cards like in the old days.
“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.”
That means you can’t apply for and receive bonus points if you already have a personal Rapid Rewards credit card, or have received a new cardmember bonus within the last two years. But… you can have a personal credit card and a business credit card.
How we earned 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points
Since I have a tax id and earn money on the blog, it qualifies as a business. I applied, and was approved for, the Chase Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card on November 6, 2018. The sign up offer was 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $3,000 in 90 days. That gave me until February 4, 2019 to meet the minimum spend. This is important, because I didn’t want to earn those qualifying points at the end of 2018, but at the beginning of 2019. Remember, the pass is good through the end of the year you earn it, plus the entire following year.
I didn’t want to have to spend all $3,000 in basically one month in 2019, so we used this card right away and earned 1,287 Rapid Rewards points in 2018. Of course we’ll be able to use those points on award flights, they just won’t count toward Companion Pass status in 2019 because they were earned in 2018.
Qualifying points earned: 60,000 bonus + 2,607 credit card spend after 1/1/2019 = 62,607 points earned
I applied, and was approved for, the Chase Rapid Rewards Plus credit card on December 30, 2018. The sign up offer was 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 in 90 days. That gave me until March 30, 2019 to meet the minimum spend. I chose the Plus over the Premier or Priority cards solely because of the lower annual fee, which is charged almost immediately. $30 saved is $30 I don’t have to earn.
Qualifying points earned: 40,000 bonus + 964 credit card spend after 1/1/2019 = 40,964 points earned
I was racking my brain for ways to earn the other 7,000+ Rapid Rewards points when a gal at work started asking me what I knew about Vegas. How much time you got? I got all fired up thinking about revisiting one of my favorite cities and when I mentioned it to the old man, he was all in (pun) for another trip.
We typically avoid Vegas like the plague on weekends due to price gouging, but we found reasonable rooms all over, and drove on up.
I booked a stay at the Palms Casino Resort through Southwest’s hotel site. A four night stay offered 7,000 Rapid Rewards and cost $610. That’s a lot more than we would typically spend on a four night stay in Vegas, but if we had tried to earn those 7,000 points just in credit card spend, we would’ve had to spend $7,000. So… $152.50/night (including $44/night in resort fees) for four nights in a city we would’ve visited anyway was somewhat of a no-brainer.
Qualifying points earned: 7,000
Total points earned
Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card: 62,607
Rapid Rewards Plus credit card: 40,964
Palms Casino Resort: 7,000
Grand Total: 110,571 (helllllooooo Companion Pass)
Other ways I was planning to earn
Rapid Rewards Dining Earn Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent at qualifying restaurants, plus a promotion to earn 1,000 Rapid Rewards points for visiting three new restaurants, spending $25+, and writing a review for each.
Rapid Rewards Shopping Earn Rapid Rewards points per $ spent on online purchases from sites like walmart.com, target.com, or backcountry.com to name a few.
1800flowers.com 1,000 Rapid Rewards points for each order of $29.99+. They have the cutest little succulents!
Ways to meet minimum spends
I was totally comfortable meeting $4,000 in minimum spends because I knew we had some big expenses coming up: driving the truck from North Dakota to Oklahoma to Arizona, a babymoon in Europe before we started working in Tucson, and a week off in January, February, and March. I highly suggest saving up those big expenses for new credit card spend, and if you need more ideas I’ve got a whole post on Ways To Meet Minimum Spends.
All that said
Even if you fly exclusively with Southwest, and all the time, there are more lucrative cards out there for earning Southwest points. One positive is that all Southwest-branded cards offer annual cardmember bonuses when you pay the annual fee:
Plus = 3,000 points,
Premier = 6,000 points
Priority = 7,500 points
Premier Business = 6,000 points
But… all cards only offer 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, including Rapid Rewards hotels and rental car partners, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. You could do much better elsewhere. For instance…
Other cards I’d recommend for earning Southwest points (but NOT for earning Companion Pass)
Chase Sapphire Preferred Earn 2x points on travel and dining, and 1 pt/$1 on all other purchases. $95 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees. Redeem points for discounted travel, cash, hotel points, or frequent flyer miles. You know, like Southwest Rapid Rewards points. 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points = 50,000 Rapid Rewards points.
Chase Freedom Earns 5x points on select quarterly categories, and 1x points on all other purchases. No annual fee, 3% foreign transaction fees. Points can be redeemed for travel purchases, cash back, or gift cards. To be able to transfer points 1:1 to frequent flyer and hotel programs, you must have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, a Chase Sapphire Reserve, or a Chase Ink Business Preferred in addition to a Freedom card.
Chase Freedom Unlimited Earns 1.5x points on all purchases. No annual fee, 3% foreign transaction fees. Like the original Freedom, points can be redeemed for travel purchases, cash back, or gift cards. Also like the original Freedom, in order to transfer points 1:1 to multiple frequent flyer and hotel programs, you must have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, a Chase Sapphire Reserve, or a Chase Ink Business Preferred in addition to a Freedom Unlimited card.
See our Credit Card Recommendations page for links to all these cards, as well as others we use and love.
Just don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule! Chase will not approve you for most new personal cards if you’ve received over five new credit cards (from any bank) over the past two years. The Points Guy explains this in detail.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best deals in travel, especially now that Southwest is starting to fly to Hawaii (hellllooooo Kauai). Get in on it.
Do you have, or have you ever had Southwest’s Companion Pass? What did you love about it?