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If you're new to award travel, you may be asking, “What is the Southwest Companion Pass, why would I want it, and how do I get it?” These are all great questions. Regardless of whether you are new or not, Southwest's Companion Pass can offer travelers incredible value.
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.
To help you plot your strategy, we’ve summarized the ways you can accelerate your progress towards earning the Companion Pass.
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 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.
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 great that you can earn the Companion Pass via flights alone, flying 100 segments in a calendar year isn't practical for most.
Qualify with Points
Update: As part of its Covid-19 response, Southwest is giving all members a boost of 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points for 2021. Members now only need to collect 100,000 qualifying points in the 2021 calendar year to earn the Companion Pass.
The easier path to the Companion Pass is by earning 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. 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. For example, if you earn the Companion Pass early in 2021, you keep it for the remainder of 2021 and all of 2022!
Strategies to Earn 125,000 Points
Earning 125,000 points in a short space of time can feel like a huge goal to hit. Fortunately, Southwest provides a ton of different methods to earn the required 125,000 points.
There are multiple earning methods that count, and you can mix and match the earning strategies that best suit your needs. Here are the most widely used options:
- Credit Card spend
- Hotel Stays
- Car rentals
- Rapid Rewards Shopping®
- Rapid Rewards Dining®
Southwest Co-Brand Credit Cards
All of the ways listed above can help you incrementally earn points toward the Companion Pass, but the easiest way is via 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 cards provides 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.
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.
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 on 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. 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.
Which Points Do Not Count Towards the Companion Pass
The list of points that do not qualify isn't surprising, but is important to know:
- Purchased points
- Points transferred between Members
- Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs (such as a Marriot Hotel + Air redemption)
- Points earned from e-Rewards, Valued Opinions, and Diners Club
- Points earned from Rapid Rewards program enrollment
- Points earned from tier bonus
- Flight bonus points
- Partner bonus points
You should remember what points qualify and then work under the assumption that everything else does not. When in doubt, check Southwest.com or run a small test before you commit to a strategy.
The Southwest Companion Pass is easily one of the most valuable perks available in award travel, and can potentially save you thousands of dollars on flights while you hold it.
Earning the 125,000 points required for the Companion Pass can appear daunting, but Southwest offers a bunch of different ways to accumulate the points you need to secure the pass for 2021 & 2022.
Plan on getting the Companion Pass in 2021? Let us know in the comments.
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