I’m not a travel hacker.
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.
Earlier this year, I did jump through a couple hoops to earn the Southwest Companion Pass without spending $110,000. It wasn’t hard, there were no “tricks” or “hacks” involved. Just a smarter way to do it.
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 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. It’s an amazing perk and we’ve saved thousands each year because of it.
To earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you need to accrue 110,000 Rapid Reward points in a single year. When you do, you get the Companion Pass for the rest of the year in which you earned it plus the following year.
If you get it January 1st 2017, you’ll have it until December 31st, 2018. If you get it December 31st, 2016 then you’ll only have it until December 31st, 2017. 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.
When You Should Do It
Companion pass lasts up to two years and the best time to apply for the cards is near the end of the calendar year. If you apply 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.
How I Got My Companion Pass
It’s very simple — credit cards. And wait for the 50,000 mile promotions.
The regular promotion is 25,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Bah, that’s terrible, don’t get that.
You want the 50,000 points version. Anyone with an existing Southwest card can refer you with this offer, plus they get 5,000 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 business card too, it runs the same promotions, 50,000 points for $2,000 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.
- 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.
- If you get the Premier and Business cards, spend the minimum, and now you have 104,000 points. You just need to find $6,000 of spend, which is a much lower bar than $110,000!
- If you get the Premier and Plus cards, spend the minimum, and now you have 104,000 points too.
- Once you hit 110,000 points, you’ll get Companion Pass for the current year AND the next year!
Do the bonuses from the Personal Premier card and Personal Plus cards count? Yes! According to Southwest:
@WalletHacks If you're approved for both & meet the criteria to earn the Bonus Points, they would be eligible towards Companion Pass. ^CT
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) December 6, 2016
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:
- Get Southwest Premier card, spend $2000 in 3 months
- Get Southwest Premier Business card, spend $2000 in 3 months
- OR, Get Southwest Plus card, spend $2000 in 3 months
- Spend an extra $17,000 or $6,000 to get Companion Pass
In total, this will cost you $198 in annual fees ($99 x 2), which don’t count towards the $2,000 spending on either card.
Other Things to Remember
Before we go into the business card section, some last few thoughts:
- You only need to spend $2,000 in the first three months to get the 50,000 point promotions on each card. That’s the only time limit. The remaining $6,000 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 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. 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 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 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 cards are also Visa Signature cards so you get all the promotions and protections associated with Visa Signature.
Big Change to Companion Pass qualification RR Points
There was a big change on January 1st, 2017 — hat tip to The Points Guy — but the only way to earn 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 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.
Applying for the Business 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, you’re 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.
If you have questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.
WARNING: Do not post your Southwest credit card referral link or offer your referral to anyone in the comments below. Those comments will be deleted immediately. Thank you!