Get 2 for 1 Travel with the Southwest Airline Companion Pass (2021)
For many people, the Southwest Companion Pass is the most valuable extra benefit you can get via a credit card. It lets you and a companion fly for the price of one, whenever you travel together on Southwest Airlines. You can use it an unlimited number of times, on both paid and award travel, for up to two years.
If you are part of a couple or family, do much of your travelling in the North America, and live in a city well served by Southwest Airline, you should try to get the Southwest Companion Pass. The easiest way to get the Pass, plus around $3,500 of free Southwest Airline tickets, is by signing up for two separate Southwest Airline credit cards.
Using the pass is easy. Every time you buy a ticket or book one with points, your companion gets a ticket for only the cost of the fees and taxes (typically $5.60 per segment). With the price of flying cut in half, many couples find themselves jetting around the country much more than they would otherwise.
While most Southwest flights are domestic, Southwest has been expanding internationally, and recently started flying to Hawaii. With the companion pass, two people can fly, for the price of one, to Aruba, Belize, Cabo, Cancun, Cozumel, Liberia and San Jose in Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Nassau, Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Rico, and Turks and Caicos, as well as to locations all over the United States.
Be realistic about how often you'll use it. While the Southwest Companion Pass can be an amazing benefit for many people, it isn't worth the effort to get it, if you mostly fly internationally, only fly a couple of times per year, aren't well served by Southwest Airlines, don't have a frequent travelling companion, don't like Southwest, or otherwise aren't going to have the opportunity to take a few Southwest Airlines flights per year. But if you and a companion are sure you'll have an opportunity to take several Southwest flights per year, getting the pass is one of the most valuable things you can do to get more for your travel dollar.
While you need to earn 125,000 points (in a year) to qualify for the pass, you don't need to actually spend any of your points to get it. As long as you accumulate enough points, the pass itself is free.
That means that you get to spend the points for free airplane tickets instead. 125,000 points is worth around $1,750 of "Wanna Get Away" fares (without the need to worry about award availability). The value per point is basically fixed, but because of the way taxes are handled, you'll get slightly more value from less expensive flights, and slightly less value from more expensive flights.
If you wait to spend your points until you've earned your pass, your companion will get a free ticket for every one that you get with your points. 125,000 points will be worth a total of around $3,500 in free tickets.
For example, a $150 Southwest flight normally requires around 11,000 points. But, with the companion pass, you'll get two tickets for the same cost. With 125,000 points, you could buy around 12 of these tickets for yourself and get 12 more for your companion.
Due to the change in travel opportunities due to the Covid pandemic, Southwest has extended the expiration of their companion pass. 2020 passes have been extended to the end of 2021. Southwest has also lowered the requirements for qualifying for 2021. You'll only need 100,000 points or 75 segments, rather than 125,000 points and 100 segments.
The easiest way to qualify for a pass is by signing up for two Southwest Airlines credit cards
Earning a Companion Pass normally requires flying 100! qualifying one-way segments or purchasing enough Southwest flights to earn 125,000 base points during a single calendar year. Points you earn from spending with a Southwest credit card also count, but it can be exceedingly difficult to fly and spend your way to 125,000 points.
For many people, the only realistic way to qualify for the pass is by collecting the signup bonus for at least one Southwest Airline credit card.
- The easiest way to qualify for the pass is to sign up for two Southwest Airlines credit cards—at least one of which must be a business card. It takes two credit card signup bonuses to earn enough points to get the pass. Since Chase will only allow you to earn a single signup bonus from a Southwest PERSONAL credit card during any 24-month period, at least one of these bonuses needs to come from one of Southwest’s business cards.
- The good news is that even the smallest business entitles you to apply for a business credit card. You don’t need to be incorporated; you don’t even need to have earned any money yet. If you have some sort of side business—consulting, selling stuff through eBay, working on your novel, etc.—you can qualify for a business credit card. If you don't have an EIN, just use your personal social security number on your application and fill in your business revenue (even if it is zero). Unlock Extra Reward Points with Business Credit Cards.
- One of the two cards should probably be the Performance Business card. It is typically worth paying its higher annual fee ($199) for its extra benefits. It usually has a higher signup offer than the other Southwest cards (the regular offer is 70,000 points with $5,000 initial spend), which makes it easier to earn the pass and gives you more value in award tickets. Plus, you get 4 free upgraded boarding passes per year and free onboard Wi-Fi.
- The other card should probably be the Premier Business card or the Priority personal card. The Priority version has nicer benefits. You get 7,500 anniversary points each year, a 20% discount on inflight purchases, and four additional free upgraded boarding passes each year. While it has a $149 annual fee, you'll receive a credit for the first $75 of Southwest purchases each year, which drops the effective annual fee to $74. However, the signup bonus ranges over the course of the year between 40,000 and 60,000 points. The Premier Business card has a more reliable 60,000-point bonus that makes it easier to quickly qualify for the pass, plus (as a business card) it doesn’t take up one of your Chase 5/24 slots.
- If you aren't willing and able to get business cards, it is much harder to qualify for the pass. Earning a signup bonuses from one of the personal cards will only get you about 30-50% towards qualifying for the pass. Offers vary over the course of the year, but typically range between 40,000 and 60,000 points. You'll need to find a way to earn the extra points you need.
If you are not willing and able to get the business card, there are some other ways to earn the extra points you need. These methods reduce the number of additional points you need to earn through flying and credit card spending. Just be aware that any special promotional points you earn, beyond the regular points offered for the activities below, usually doesn't count.
- You can earn extra points for many online purchases, by using the Rewards shopping portal. Visit this site first, click on the store you want to want to shop at, and shop like you normally would. You'll earn extra Southwest points with every purchase, plus whatever you earn from your credit card. Promotional reward rates DO count towards the pass.
- You can earn 10,000 points for each person you can get to sign up for the Southwest card (up to 50,000 points per calendar year). To earn these points, you need to go to Chase's Refer a Friend website, invite your friend, and they have to apply by clicking your "referral link".
- You can earn thousands of points every time you make a hotel reservation. You'll need to book through Rocketmiles.com or SouthwestHotels.com. Rocketmiles tends to have a lot more hotel options, but SouthwestHotels.com sometimes has some higher bonuses. It is worthwhile to check them both for every stay. Prices are competitive with other online booking sites but can be higher than a discounted rate you can get from the hotel or through some other site, so make sure you aren't overpaying for your points.
- You can earn points when you dine at many restaurants through the Rapid Rewards dining program. Just register your card, and whenever you eat at a participating restaurant, you'll earn extra Southwest points.
Unfortunately, points you transfer to Southwest from other programs (such as your Ultimate Rewards account) don't count. Check out this page for more details on what does and doesn't count.
Timing your credit card applications to maximize your Companion Pass
if you want to have nearly continuous access to a Southwest Companion Pass, you'll need to plan carefully.
- If you qualify towards the beginning of the year, your companion pass will be valid for almost two years. When you qualify for the companion pass, it is valid for the rest of the year that you qualify and the entire following year.
- If it is already later in the year, you might want to wait until next year to qualify. Set a calendar appointment to remind yourself when it is time to sign up.
- Because Chase lets you earn signup bonuses every 24 months, you can repeat the process around every two years. OOnce 24 months have passed, you can cancel, wait a month, reapply, and start over. If you start at the beginning of the year, there will only be a short gap between the expiration of your first pass and the qualification for your next one.
- To further reduce the gap, you can alternate getting a pass with your partner. This eliminates the time wasted between cancelling the previous cards and signing up for new ones. But it means both of you will need to stay under 5/24 to qualify.
If you are applying for two business cards, you won't need the points you'll earn from meeting the initial spending requirements to qualify for the pass—the points you earn from the bonuses themselves will be more than you need. You can sign up for the cards in October or November, get most (but not all!) of the initial spending done before the end of the year, and then finish the required spending to earn the bonuses very early in the following year.
If you are applying for a combination of cards with a lower total signup bonus, you can apply in mid-December and wait till January 1st to start your spending, so that the points you earn for spending will help qualify you for the pass.
It is even possible to completely eliminate the gaps, if you and your partner apply more often. Person A signs up for two cards and qualifies at the beginning of Year 1 for a pass for Year 1 and 2. Person B qualifies at the beginning of Year 2, for Year 2 and 3. At the end of Year 2, Person A needs to spend a few months to qualify again for Year 3 and 4, but Person B's pass is still good. Then at the end of Year 3, person B is ready to qualify again, and so on. Even though the qualification date shifts out a few months each cycle, the passes overlap so there is no loss off coverage for many years.
If you've received 5 new personal credit cards in the last 24 months, Chase won't approve you for either a personal or a business version of the Southwest Airline credit card, regardless of your credit rating or income. This is often called the Chase 5/24 rule.
If you want the Companion Pass, and you've already gotten a few other new credit cards in the past two years, you need to prioritize getting the Southwest Airline cards before you hit this limit. You may need to postpone getting the Sapphire Reserve or other cards, until after you've signed up for the Southwest Airlines card.
If you want to re-qualify for the pass via signup bonuses, one person will need to stay under the 5-card limit. In order to be able to get approved for the necessary Chase cards, one person is limited to an average of 5 personal cards and an unlimited number of business cards every two years.
Additional Tips for using the Southwest Companion Pass
- If you fly for work, you can book your ticket through a corporate travel portal, and then add your companion to your reservation afterwards.
- If you often fly as part of a family, two adults can each qualify for a companion pass, allowing 4 people to fly for the price of 2.
- When you get the pass, you must designate a companion. You can then change your companion up to three times each calendar year. If you are taking a trip with someone other than your normal companion, you can adjust your pass to have them fly for free, and then switch back to your normal companion.
- You don’t need to get your companion’s ticket at the same time that you purchased your original ticket—you can call to add them later. So, if you have already booked an upcoming trip with your current companion, you can lock in your price for a new trip with a different companion, and then wait to switch the person on your pass until after the earlier trip is completed.
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