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Southwest Companion Pass: How To Earn and Use It

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most sought after frequent flyer benefits. It provides holders with the ability to designate a person who will fly with them for free on all Southwest Airline flights -- including all fare classes. Unfortunately, this benefit comes with a good amount of rules and fine print, which can be frustrating to some. We broke down the terms and conditions to clarify how people can get the Southwest Companion Pass, use it, and use it most efficiently.

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How To Get The Southwest Companion Pass

In order to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass, an individual must earn at least 110,000 Qualifying Rapid Rewards points or fly 100 one-way flights booked through Southwest Airlines. The primary way most people will earn Southwest points is through flying with the airline. You get six points per dollar with Wanna Get Away fares, 10 per dollar with Anytime tickets, and 12 with Business Select.

Not all Rapid Reward points count towards qualifying for a companion pass. Only those earned from flights booked through Southwest Airlines, their partners, and their Chase credit cards are considered "qualified". When it comes to points earned from flights, only the base rate counts. Along the way to earning the Southwest Companion pass, you are sure to pick up elite tier status along the way (it has far lower point requirements). Upon earning the elite status, you’ll earn bonus points each time you book a flight –- these are what’s excluded from counting towards the companion pass.

The above restrictions can make qualifying for the Southwest Companion Pass difficult, unless you fly with the airline very frequently as part of your job. Even if you fly exclusively in business class, we calculate that you would need to spend $9,167 on tickets before earning the pass. Given that Southwest is a predominantly domestic airline, ticket fares tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum. For example, a round-trip Business Select ticket from JFK to LAX would cost $1,370. You would still need to fly six such trips before qualifying. Unless you are an extremely frequent flyer, most individuals may have a hard time hitting this threshold.

Strategies For Earning The Southwest Companion Pass Quickly

It is always in your best interest to earn the Southwest Pass in the beginning of the year. The Southwest Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it, and the entirety of the following year. Therefore, the earlier in the calendar year that you earn the pass, the more time you will have to use it to save money.

In order to maximize the time you have with the Southwest Companion Pass, it’s necessary to use all available methods of getting qualifying points. There are a number of different promotions and partnerships travelers can take advantage of in order to earn those points quickly.

Using The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

The fastest way of earning extra Rapid Rewards points is by using the airline’s affiliated credit card: the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Charging everyday purchases to the card earns points for every dollar you spend. The biggest boost, however, comes from the signup bonus. Right now, new cardholders can get 40,000 bonus points if they manage to spend at least $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of your account opening.

The card itself is one of our favorite travel and airline credit cards. On top of earning the welcome bonus, card holders also receive 6,000 points every account year anniversary. All the points you earn through the Southwest Credit Cards count towards the companion pass benefit.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Annual Fee
$99
Purchase APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent/Good
Details
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more

In 2015, the only times the bonus was NOT at 50,000 points was in the very beginning of the year, as well as much of the third quarter. Keep in mind that this is not guaranteed to be the case in 2017-2018. As a matter of fact, the we've already seen differences between the bonus now and what it was last year. Therefore, trying to wait and predict based on previous trends is most likely a wasted effort.

Important Note: As with most credit card bonuses, you may only qualify for one every two years per account. That means if you get approved for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you will not be able to get a bonus from that card for 24 months. This prevents people from opening and closing accounts constantly, in order to get the welcome bonus multiple times.

Other Southwest Credit Cards

There is one more consumer Southwest credit card: the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. It comes with a lower annual fee of $69, and a lower annual bonus of 3,000 points, which ultimately makes it the worse deal between the two. However, the bonus on the Plus card can also be pooled together with the other credit card to bring you closer to the Southwest Companion Pass. The bonuses on the Plus card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card tend to rise in sync. Additionally, the above mentioned credit cards also have business variants, which come with much of the same benefits and features as their consumer counterparts. If you own a company or small business, you may also take advantage of these products (if you rather have accounts opened in their name).

Using Southwest Partners

The other way to earn extra qualifying miles towards a Companion Pass is by utilizing Southwest's partnerships with other partners. The airline's primary partnerships are with hotel chains. The most prominent among those are Choice, LaQuinta, Best Western, Hyatt, Starwood, and Marriott chains. You can earn up to 750 Southwest Rapid Reward points per stay at these properties, if you make the booking through Southwest's site. While this figure pales in comparison to the credit card bonuses, they can help push users over the hump if they are just short of earning the pass.

In some cases, the reward points can also be earned after your stay -- up to 12 months after. To do this, you will need to contact a specific number, which can be found on Southwest's website. While there have been mixed reports, the Rapid Rewards program Terms & Conditions leave it ambiguous whether it matters when those points post to your account or are earned. Therefore, it's possible for points earned from a hotel stay last year, to help you qualify for a Companion Pass, as long as they have only recently been applied towards your account.

In addition to hotels, Southwest also allows individuals to earn Rapid Rewards points through auto rental services, restaurants, and more (see their site for a full list). Remember that welcome offers for opening an account do not count for the Companion Pass. For example, you can currently earn 1,000 points for signing up for TurboTax -- these points would not be counted towards the 110,000 requirement.

How The Southwest Companion Pass Works

The Southwest Companion Pass allows you to designate one person who can fly with you for free. The only charge you will be required to pay for the additional traveler is a nominal fee of roughly $10, which covers government taxes. According to the airline, the average passenger airfare in 2015 was $154.85. That means, if used, such a pass could save the average flyer $144 per trip.

While earning the pass is complicated, using it is fairly simple. You must first book your flight separately. Once that is done, you can get the companion ticket by using Southwest.com or by calling 1-800-248-4377. The primary passenger and their companion are required to be on the same flight. If the original ticket is cancelled, the companion one will be as well.

Once you designate a travelling companion you may change them up to three times per calendar year.

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