Southwest Moves Goalpost for Companion Pass

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Southwest has announced that the coveted Companion Pass will require 125,000 points, starting with the 2020 qualification year. Many are justifiably frustrated that the policy change was published immediately after the lineup of co-brand credit cards wrapped up a limited-time offer that put the previous target of 110,000 easily within reach. To help you plot your strategy, we’ve summarized the ways you can accelerate your progress towards earning the Companion Pass.

The Best Perk in the Industry

If you're new to award travel, you may be asking, “What is the Southwest Companion Pass, how do I get it, and why might I want to have it?” These are all great questions. Regardless of whether you are new or not, Southwest's Companion Pass can offer travelers incredible value. In fact, you may want to check out our handy Guide to the Southwest Companion Pass.

Stated simply, the Companion Pass allows you to fly with one other person for free (plus taxes and fees). Many travel experts consider the Companion Pass to be among the best travel perks in the industry because this isn't a one-time pass. You can use it as much as you fly, so long as at least one seat is available. It doesn't even matter whether you use points or cash.

How Do I Get It?

You can earn the Companion Pass by reaching either the required number of flight segments or qualifying points in a single calendar year.

Qualify with Flights

For those that fly a lot, it's still possible to earn the Companion Pass by taking 100 one-way flights on Southwest. This qualification method is completely separate from earning the required number of points—if you earn the pass through flight segments, it doesn't matter how many points you earn.

Southwest IS NOT changing the 100 one-way annual flight segment requirement.

According to Southwest:

A one-way qualifying flight is defined as a one-way revenue trip on Southwest Airlines from an origin city to a destination city, including any intermediate stops and/or connections on Southwest Airlines.

While it's good news this benchmark won't be changing, reaching 100 segments isn't practical for most.

Qualify with Points

For most, the easier path to the Companion Pass is by earning enough qualifying points in a calendar year. If you plan on completing your earnings this year, there's no change to the status quo—you'll only need to reach 110,000 points. However, starting January 1, 2020, the pass will require 125,000 points (a 13.5% increase). This is highly significant because the Companion Pass lasts for the remainder of the year in which it is earned plus the following calendar year. Reaching 110,000 points in 2019 would only provide you with the benefit through 12/31/2020.

However, if you wait until after January 1, 2020, to start earning the points to qualify, you'll add an additional year to your benefit. This means you can fly a companion for free through 12/31/2021.

Strategies to Earn 125,000 Points

With the recent announcement, many are scrambling to figure out how to earn 15,000 additional points that qualify for the Companion Pass. Fortunately, welcome bonuses and spending on the Southwest co-brand credit cards aren't the only way to reach 125,000 points.

There are multiple earning methods that count towards reaching the point requirement, and you can mix and match the earning strategies that best suit your needs. Here are the most widely used options:

  1. Flying
  2. Hotel Stays
  3. Car rentals
  4. Rapid Rewards Shopping®
  5. Rapid Rewards Dining®
  6. Credit Card spend

Flying

Even if you won't reach 100 flight segments, flying with Southwest can help you qualify with points. Southwest awards points for flying based on the type of fare and the amount you spend:

  • Wanna Get Away Fares – 6 points per dollar
  • Anytime Fares – 10 points per dollar
  • Business Select Fares – 12 points per dollar
One way to earn miles
These two segments earn miles too

Given that Southwest pays 6X per dollar on base fare (excluding taxes), you would earn ($283.13 X 6) 1,699 redeemable miles for booking the above flight.

Earn When You Fly
Earn 6, 10, or 12 points per dollar depending on the fare type you choose

While these points can add up quickly, it's important to remember that each traveler earns points from flying in their own Rapid Rewards account. That means you won't get any closer to your goal with flights booked for family members. Fortunately, the other strategies listed below will work regardless of who is traveling, as long as you attach your Rapid Rewards number to the reservation or purchase.

Hotel Stays

I had a trip in Chicago scheduled this past weekend, so I decided to check out if there were any opportunities. Searching Southwest Hotels through Booking.com, we find our first possibility.

Extra points
Extra points

If you wanted to buy additional points, there are options for that too.

What's it really going to cost?

Unfortunately, the price you see on the page where you select the hotel and room type doesn't include the taxes. When I clicked through to the page to complete the reservation, the cost jumped from $814 to $942.

You'll want to compare the Southwest Hotels price with other options. The same room shown above could also be booked directly with Marriott for $866, which would save you $76. However, don't forget to factor in the value of the Rapid Rewards points and progress toward the Companion Pass. Rapid Reward points are generally worth 1.4-1.6 cents each. 15,000 extra Rapid Rewards would have a minimum value of $210, and the Companion Pass itself could be invaluable.

Keep in mind that most of the major hotel loyalty programs don't award points or recognize elite status when you book through a third-party site like Southwest Hotels.

Car Rentals

While I personally have found that Autoslash works best for rentals, you might want to search the Southwest Book a Car service. With some agencies offering 4X and others offering 2X plus upfront bonuses, every point helps toward the Companion Pass.

Before you start your search have a look at the Special Offers page to see what deals will work with your trip.

Earn 2X plus 1,200 bonus points
Earn 2X plus 1,200 bonus points

For a quick 3-day trip to Florida, you could earn 1,700-1,800 additional points.

Points earned count toward the Companion Pass
Points earned count toward the Companion Pass

Rapid Rewards Shopping

Being a Southwest Loyalist, you won't want to miss out on these opportunities either. Many of the places you shop online could help pad your balances when clicking through Rapid Rewards® Shopping. You can find many of your favorite retailers with 850+ shopping partners listed. Popular stores include Home Depot, Macy's, Nike, and so many more. To earn credit for your purchase, just visit the shopping portal page before clicking to the merchant's website. The shopping portal will track the value of your purchase and award points based on the multiplier shown for the merchant. Here's a helpful video explaining the shopping portal.

Rapid Rewards Dining

If you eat out frequently, you may want to investigate the Rapid Rewards Dining® program too. Unlike shopping programs that require clicking through a specific link before your purchase, the dining program is automatic; you'll get credit just by using the credit card you have registered with the dining program to pay your check. This means you'll earn points at restaurants without even thinking about it.

Registering for a dining program has absolutely no impact on the points you normally earn through credit card spend. For example, you can add the American Express® Gold Card which earns 4x Membership Rewards at restaurants worldwide (Terms Apply). If you pay with this card, you'll earn Amex points like normal, but the dining program will recognize a purchase on the card you registered and award extra Rapid Rewards. Since the Southwest credit cards only earn one point per dollar on dining, it's a good idea to register one of the top cards for restaurant purchases.

The dining program also frequently offers signup bonuses for registering for the program and completing at least one dine-in at a participating restaurant.

Important Note: The company that runs Rapid Rewards Dining® (Rewards Network) also manages dining programs for many of the other hotel and airline loyalty programs. You can only register a credit card with one dining program at a time. For example, if you previously registered the Citi Prestige® Card card with Alaska Mileage Plan Dining, registering the same card with Rapid Rewards Dining will remove you from the Alaska program. Here's our post on the other dining program options.

Rapid Rewards Credit Cards

All of the ways listed above can help you incrementally earn points toward the Companion Pass, but the easiest way may be through the co-branded Chase cards. There are three personal and two business Rapid Rewards cards. You can no longer sign up for multiple personal cards, so as much as I enjoy stacking, you can't sign up for more than one of the following to earn the Companion Pass:

Each of these will provide an array of benefits tailored to your budget and needs. We think the Southwest Priority Card is the clear winner of the group for providing long-term value. Check out our full review of the Southwest Priority Card for more details.

While it's not possible to sign up for multiple personal cards, it is possible to have a personal and a business card, and you can also have both business cards!

If you decide to make one or more of the co-brand cards part of your Companion Pass strategy, make sure that any bonus points post in the calendar year you intend to qualify. Welcome bonuses are triggered as a bulk deposit of points shortly after you reach the spending requirement. For example, if you sign up for an offer of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months, you want to make sure you don't cross the $1,000 spending threshold until you are ready for the full bonus to post to your account.

Final Thoughts

On the one hand, it probably shouldn't be surprising to see another loyalty company move the goalpost for achieving status or benefits. Earlier this year Marriott changed award pricing twice, and Hyatt & Wyndham upped the redemption rate on many of their best properties. Many airlines have also followed this trend, choosing to “enhance” their programs by increasing the number of points needed for an award ticket.

But Southwest is often cited as an airline that forges its own path and rarely follows the competition. So this stings a bit more coming from Rapid Rewards. It's especially frustrating that the change was announced the day after the limited-time offers on the Chase co-brand credit cards came to an end. With such a clear correlation between the Chase offers and a run at the Companion Pass, it's hard not to feel like the victim of a bait and switch. That said, a 15,000 point increase likely won't put this deal out of reach for anyone with a bit of determination.

In spite of the higher qualification requirement, the Companion Pass remains one of the most valuable perks in domestic travel. Hopefully, you can pick up the additional points without too much effort using one of the strategies outlined in this post.

Does this change impact your 2020 travel plans? Let us know in the comments.

Southwest Moves Goalpost for Companion Pass
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Comments

  • This is certainly an excellent deal for those who like to travel coach and have a consistent travel companion. For those of us who travel with various people and aspire to premium cabins, the companion pass not a particularly useful benefit.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    What makes this most attractive to me is how another big name keeps moving the goal post. I keep trying to book a flight and they keep upping the points required. Maybe Southwest is more honourable.

  • Southwest squeezing the bottom line…

  • The companion pass works very well for the person that has a dedicated companion to fly with on Southwest Airlines destinations, but maybe not so valuable for a single person without a dedicated travel partner.

    • More honorable? I don’t know about that… SWA devalues their points the same as others. The only difference is, perhaps, that SWA usually gives notice of changes.

  • Unfortunately, this is the name of the game in the loyalty industry at the moment. You can’t rely on anything so best to earn and burn IMO.

  • I hear you. Southwest seems to be liked by lots of people. I know it’s shocking but I haven’t flown them yet. They have been constantly higher with price where I have wanted to go. I know sometime I would like to fly them. I won’t be trying for their pass until I see if I like them.
    I can see why people would like their pass since you can use it more than once. I was surprised to see the increase and I am not even trying for the pass.

    • Ive never been particularly impressed with Southwest. I am based in BOS and generally prefer Delta & Jetblue over SW. I have the CP until end of 2020 so need to use it as I still haven’t had a chance to yet.

  • Yes, I actually noticed Wyndham award rate hike!

  • Sad to see them raising the requirements, I guess they had too many and this was the easy way to reduce the number of people with companion passes.

    • Hard to know the reason. No doubt the programs are always watching each other, since it’s most certainly a competition for customers. And, if everyone else is reducing benefits, there’s no need for you to maintain higher benefits.

  • The companion pass is awesome. This our second round of having it. What I am trying to figure out is the best way to stack booking flights. Is there any better option than going through the Chase portal to Southwest then using the CSP for 2x on travel charges?

    • Booking a paid Southwest ticket through the Chase travel portal (and redeeming points instead of cash to pay) is usually only a good deal if you have the CSR card to get 1.5 cents per point. If you have the CSP, you’ll get more value transferring Ultimate Rewards to Southwest and booking an award ticket. The advantage here is also that you can cancel for free up to the day of departure. That said, if you also might use your Chase points for a longhaul flight in the future, it might be best to just buy the Southwest ticket (by paying money) and save the Ultimate Rewards for a ticket that would be more expensive to buy.

  • Wow, Great summary! This really helps!!

  • I think it was only a matter of time before they raised the points required.

  • Another devaluation in the miles/points game. It does not surprise me anymore!

  • I didn’t have much interest in the companion pass until now, but after reading this post I feel stupid for missing out on it for such a long time…
    I guess they timed it perfectly, as I just may not be able to get it with the new requirements.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    So, if you work up points quickly enough, you can reach the needed 110,000 points. After that, or down the road, you need 125,000 points. This is the type of “moving the goalpost” that is so frustrating.

  • Jacked moved by Southwest! boo!!!!!

    • Perhaps, but if we’re being honest, the CP at 110k was pretty low-hanging fruit… and even now, with the SWA cards regularly offering LTOs for 60k sign-up bonuses (or now even 70k for biz card), the 125k hurdle is still well within reach.

  • Even Southwest isn’t immune to market pressures. Or greed. Take your pick. 😀

  • I don’t know… I never really got into the Companion Pass rat race. There are so many solid deals popping up with traditional miles and points (look at the AA 5-6K miles to New Zealand yesterday, Delta 22K to Zurich, etc.). Southwest has its place, but it isn’t what it once was in my opinion.

  • It’s quite reasonable increase instead of it being gutted.

  • Wow!! That was a nail bitter! We applied for the 80,000 RR new SW Biz Card – finally got an approval phone call 16 days later!!
    Yay – now we have a shot at SWP for 2020/2021 —HAPPY!!

  • Not surprising as simple as it was to get prior with CC signups. Airlines are never going to make it easier to qualify for status – the bar only ever moves in one direction.

  • julio cesar pardo says:

    It is very interesting and at some point it would be good to write down since the food is very expensive if you pay it every time you fly

  • Great summary! This really helps!!

  • Thanks for the tips, I will try them out. But it’s frustrating how the airlines keep making harder and harder to get the benefits

  • Thanks, great review, will forward to a friend who is starting with miles. My first companion pass was used for traveling on long weekend style trips to see relatives with one of my kids. You can change the named companion up to – I think – 3 times each calendar year. So I was able to alternate kids and plan for great one on one time with each.

    The second cp we got was used by my spouse to travel with my daughter to tournaments with her travel softball team for two seasons before she was recruited with a college scholarship to play softball.

    The Southwest companion pass is really great for family travel.

  • Companion pass going up is another example of the inevitable reward points inflation. Still a great deal I think.

  • It is the first time I read about the compagnion pass. I find it fascinating. Does it exist in other companies?

  • Harder and harder to get rewards these days…

  • adrian mendez says:

    muy buen resumen, gracias por la ayuda

  • Excellent deal for some travellers profiles, not for an always single person, but it’s attractive as loyalty program in this market.

  • Still worth it for Hawaii, though the AS CP is “easier” to get

  • The companion pass is still a great deal if you can use it, even at 125,000 points in a year. I have used it in the past and definitely nice to fly your kid for free!

  • This news makes we reconsider if I should go for the companion pass next year. If credit card sign up offers are attractive, I may consider doing so. I’m glad southwest points no longer expire.

  • Theresa Walter says:

    This is really great information on companion passes

  • Travelfreek says:

    I’m SO Happy that I got the 80k offer. My daughter missed it by a couple of hours. My son is still waiting to hear if he got it (80k) (his was not an instant approval like mine). Now I can finish the CP requirements soon (by early January) by getting the personal card and finishing spend by Jan 1st.

  • Great summary. It’s getting harder and harder to earn rewards these days, but thanks for the tips!

  • This change seems caused by their Boeing 737 Max news 🙁

  • We have to work, to travel, its an excellent way to work and have quality of life, remarkable!!!

  • Travelfreek says:

    so my daughter got the card in the mail without any explanation for the 70k points after missing out on the 80k by just hours. She was given the message that it’s going to think about it when she applied. My son has not heard yet (he applied when it was 80k) and I’ve been urging him to call the recon line but he has not done that yet.

  • I hope the companion pass program sticks around forever. I don’t travel much now, but will in the distant future.

  • גיא צור says:

    wish southwest will expand to europe and israel

  • I’m really hoping they come out with another credit card promotion that involves receiving the companion pass. My girlfriend and I were able to have the companion pass the last two years via this method and got about $3500 in value out of it. Earning the points required even with sign up bonuses will be hard for us.

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