For the last three years, since 2014, I've had Southwest's Companion Pass.
And I know I'll have it until the end of next year, 2019, because we re-qualified this year.
I'm not a “travel hacker” or some guru. I'm a regular person like you.
I have little interest in getting a dozen credit cards, joining half a dozen rewards and loyalty programs, and figure out the most efficient way to convert hotel points into airline points into whatever. I don't want to do a spreadsheet to track it all. I don't want to download any calculators.
To the folks who love that stuff, I salute you. I'm a huge nerd myself and love a good spreadsheet, everyone knows that, but travel hacking isn't one of those things.
That said, I see why it's appealing. Going on nearly free trips, staying at swanky hotels for nearly nothing, and getting the most out of a credit card is fantastic.
Here's step by step how I did it.
Before I got the Southwest Companion Pass, I was looking into the whole travel hacking phenomenon. I learned it wasn't for me, except with one exception — Southwest Companion Pass. We live near BWI airport (Baltimore/Washington International, Thurgood Marshall Airport), which is a big Southwest hub, so this was a perfect fit. From BWI, we could fly to many destinations including international airports like Aruba.
It looked like Southwest Companion Pass was the way to go.
What Is Southwest Companion Pass?
Companion Pass lets you name one person who can fly with you for free (you still pay the September 11th fee) anywhere you fly on Southwest. No blackout dates. You fly, they fly free (you still pay fees like the September 11th security fee)
It's an amazing perk and we've saved thousands each year because of it. It's probably one of the best frequent flyer perks out there, and you don't even need to be a frequent flyer. 🙂
To earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you need to earn 110,000 Rapid Reward points in a single year. When you do, you get the Southwest Companion Pass for the rest of the year in which you earned it plus the following year.
If you get it January 1st 2018, you'll have it until December 31st, 2019.
If you get it December 31st, 2018 then you'll only have it until December 31st, 2019!
There's a huge difference. When earning your miles, you want to get it as early in the year as possible to maximize your free flights.
The fastest way to earn miles is by getting the bonuses on their credit card. They often run promotions where you can get 50,000 miles for spending $2,000 in the first three months. More on that shortly.
Best Time to Earn Southwest Companion Pass
You want to get your SW Companion Pass as early in the year as possible since you'll get it for the remainder of the year… plus the next year.
The best time to apply for the cards is near the end of the calendar year. That way you get the cards at the start of the year, hit your spending goals, and earn Companion Pass. If you apply roughly in mid-November, get the cards shortly thereafter, you have three months (December to February) to spend the $2,000 on each card to get the bonus 100,000 miles.
You know your spending habits. Adjust your application date to when you will spend $2,000 each and then another $6,000 to reach 110,000 total points.
Personally, I applied in December, got the cards in January, and reached the spending limits sometime in February. My Companion Pass congratulations email arrived on March 6th, once all the points posted.
Can I Spend My Points Before I Get Companion Pass?
Yes. You don't need 110,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points in your account, you only need to earn 110,000 Rapid Reward points in a calendar year.
So if you earned 5,000 points in January, that's 5,000 towards that year's Companion Pass eligibility. You can spend those points on flights, your meter will still have the 5,000 points that you earned. If you log into your account and at the top, it'll tell you your progress towards A-List and Companion Pass:
I've already earned it for 2017 and 2018, so mine is completely blue. As you accumulate points, it'll fill up to the 110,000 points you need. (A-List is always a tease though!)
Can an Authorized User Get the Bonus Later?
When we got our first Southwest credit card, I was worried about putting my wife on as an authorized user because I wanted her to be able to apply for the card and get the bonus in the future. It turns out my concerns were not warranted!
I asked Southwest and Chase on Twitter and they told me that…
Good morning! That is a great question. As long as that individual has not received the new account bonus on their own within the last two years, they can apply and get it. ^SC
— Chase Support (@ChaseSupport) June 22, 2018
If the authorized user hasn't gotten bonus points then they are eligible to get it as the primary cardholder!
How I Got My Southwest Companion Pass
It's very simple — the credit cards. And wait for the 50,000 mile promotions.
The base promotion is 25,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Bah, that's terrible, don't get that.
Sometimes they offer 60,000 points but that's rare. You can wait for it but I'd rather get the points sooner and fly more. That's a personal choice.
You want the 50,000 points version. Anyone with an existing Southwest credit card can refer you to this offer, plus they get 10,000 points too (and those points count towards Companion Pass too!).
How to get the Companion Pass for Southwest Airlines:
- Get the personal consumer credit card, which has a $99 annual fee immediately, and you spend the $2,000 — that's 52,000 points.
- Stack on a Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card too, it runs smilar promotions, which can be as high as 60,000 points for $3,000 of spend in the first 3 months. That also has a $99 annual fee. Don't have a business, read our applying for a Business Card section below because you can have a business. (compare this card with other similar business cards)
OR Stack on the Chase Southwest Personal Plus Card to get 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.(why not?)
- If you get the Premier and Business cards, spend the minimum, and now you have 115,000 points. Ding ding – Companion Pass.
If you get the Premier and Plus cards, spend the minimum, and now you have 104,000 points. You're just $6,000 in spend away from Companion Pass.(why not?)
- Once you hit 110,000 points, you'll get SW Companion Pass for rest of the current year AND the next year!
Why can't I get both the Plus and Premier cards? On April 5th, 2018, Chase added new language to the terms of the landing page of the promotions:
This product is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months. To qualify for your bonus points, you must make Purchases totaling $1,000 or more during the first 3 months from account opening. Please allow up to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your Rapid Rewards® account. (“Purchases” do not include balance transfers, cash advances, travelers checks, foreign currency, money orders, wire transfers or similar cash-like transactions, lottery tickets, casino gaming chips, race track wagers or similar betting transactions, any checks that access your account, interest, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, and fees of any kind, including an annual fee, if applicable.) To be eligible for this bonus offer, account must be open and not in default at the time of fulfillment.
Do the bonuses from the Personal Premier card and Personal Plus cards count? Not anymore, this changed on April 5th, 2018 when they updated the promotional terms to exclude this. Stinks but I suspect people were canceling the cards and they realized this was why.
Remember the Chase 5/24 rule! Chase has a rule that if you've been approved for 5 cards in the last 24 months, you will be declined for new cards. You probably can remember when you applied for a card but if you've forgotten, the best way to check is to check your credit reports.
So to quickly recap how I earned Southwest Companion Pass:
- Get Southwest Premier Credit card, spend $2000 in 3 months
- Get Southwest Premier Business credit card, spend $3000 in 3 months
OR, Get Southwest Plus card, spend $2000 in 3 months(why not?)
- If you got the business card, enjoy your CP! If you got the Plus, spend $6,000 to get SW Companion Pass
In total, this will cost you $198 in annual fees ($99 x 2), which don't count towards the $2,000/$3,000 spending on either card.
The New Southwest RR Priority Credit Card
Southwest and Chase announced a new credit card – the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
The basic gist is that you can now get 65,000 Rapid Rewards points in a two tier bonus promotion.
The first tier is 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. That's the current standard offer of the Premier and Plus cards. Then you get an additional 25,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $15,000 in that first year. So the total is 65,000 – their biggest offer yet. After the points from the spending itself and the bonus, you're at a total of 81,000 points – that's only 29,000 points away from Companion Pass.
The annual fee is $149 but you get $75 in Southwest travel credit, so it is effectively $74 – cheaper than the Premier card. Plus you get a lot of other perks, I did a
detailed review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card to help you decide.
Other Things to Remember
Before we go into the business card section, some last few thoughts:
- You only need to spend purchase requirements in the first three months to get the bonus point promotions on each card. That's the only time limit. The remaining amount you can spread out over the rest of the year, but it's better to spend it earlier so you'll have Companion Pass for longer.
- The goal is to earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points in a year, so all the other ways of earning them (like flying, renting cars, hotels, etc.) are all in play. We focused on the credit cards and putting the points in terms of spending because it was easiest to explain. You don't have to spend $6,000 to get the other 6,000 points, you can earn them in more traditional ways.
- You can change your flight Companion up to three times in the validity period.
If you are a Hyatt Gold Passport member, you can convert 5,000 points to 2,400 Rapid Rewards points (if you transfer 50,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points, you get a 6,000 bonus). So check your other programs to see what converts over and can count towards the 110,000 points. Chase Ultimate Rewards conversions do not count towards Companion Pass qualifying though. Some folks will take Ultimate Rewards, transfer to Hyatt, and then transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards.(This was removed from the program effective January 1st, 2017 — more below)
- Check out these other Southwest Airline hacks to earn miles easily, like Rapid Rewards Dining and joining Rocketmiles if you stay in a lot of hotels.
- The best part is the Southwest credit cards are also Visa Signature cards so you get all the promotions and protections associated with Visa Signature.
Big Change to Southwest Companion Pass qualification RR Points
There was a big change on January 1st, 2017 – the only way to earn Southwest Companion Pass eligible Rapid Reward points:
- paid revenue flights on Southwest Airlines,
- points earned through spending on a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit card (including the bonuses),
- points earned through transaction with Southwest Rapid Rewards partners.
That means e-Rewards, e-Miles, converted points from hotel and car loyalty partners, Valued Opinions and Diners Club will no longer count towards qualification for Companion Pass. You still get the points, they just don't count towards the 110k you need each year.
Years ago, a popular strategy was to convert Chase Ultimate Rewards points and this change closed that method.
Applying for the Business Credit Card
If you have a business, awesome! (if you don't, your best option is the Personal Plus card)
Use all the information you have from that.
What if you don't have a business? You're in luck, you might have a business and not even know it. In the United States, if you earn income outside of a job reporting your income on a W-2, then you are operating a sole proprietorship. You don't need to be incorporated, you don't need to have any employees, and you don't even need to make that much money.
In fact, if you've made a profit three out of the last five years, the IRS considers that a business and not a hobby.
Getting an EIN won't guarantee you'll be approved but it's a step up from using your Social Security Number on the application.
If you want to really improve things, get yourself a website.
Otherwise, fill in the application truthfully.
Here are some more tips on getting a business credit card.
Once you apply, your application will be approved or “pending review.” Pending review is not always bad but it means they couldn't verify your business or need more information.
Wait a day or two, then call the reconsideration line and ask them that you'd like to check on the status of your application. Be prepared to answer these types of questions about your business:
- What is your business and what do you do?
- How long have you been in business and what were your annual revenues and profits?
- How much do you expect to make this year, revenue and profit?
Whether they approve you will be up to the representative but here are a few tips for a reconsideration call.
When I got the card, I had to call the reconsideration line even though I've had a revenue-generating business for years. They can't verify anything on the application through a third party so the approval process is effectively the same as for the personal card. And remember, when I applied, I told them I was a blogger.
How much have we used it?
ALL THE TIME.
I can't even remember the last time we flew an airline other than Southwest. We've since gotten a few flights to New York to visit my parents, Boston to visit my sister and her family, plus vacations to San Juan, PR and soon a flight to Aruba.
The most expensive flight we've gotten for “free” (you pay taxes and fees) will be the one to Aruba. That baby cost me $727.50 and will cost my lovely wife just $70.60. That comes out to be just under $400 per person.
$400 for a direct flight to Aruba? I'll take it.
The 110,000 points we get via promotions are valuable too. They're worth about 1.77 cents on the best Wanna Get Away fares ($108 o/w from BWI to ISP), so that's worth about $1900+ in and of itself.
All in all, this experience has been a very positive one.