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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:
- Hotel Stays
- Car rentals
- Rapid Rewards Shopping®
- Rapid Rewards Dining®
- Credit Card spend
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
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.
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.
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.
If you wanted to buy additional points, there are options for that too.
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.
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.
For a quick 3-day trip to Florida, you could earn 1,700-1,800 additional points.
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:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
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!
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
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.
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.
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