Learn how to take advantage of all the bonus points opportunities with Southwest to easily score its legendary Companion Pass, even on a modest budget.
If you’re itching to voyage around the country and to bring a partner along on your adventures, the Southwest Companion Pass is an incredible deal. Believe it or not, with the Companion Pass, you can bring a friend or family member with you for free on every Southwest flight for up to two years.
On Jan. 1, 2020, Southwest officially boosted the points requirement for the Companion Pass to 125,000 points. This bump made the Companion Pass harder to earn for many less frequent flyers, though not impossible.
With travel interruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, earning the Companion Pass in 2021 might have seemed out of reach. Luckily, Southwest extended statuses for Southwest Companion Pass members twice, lasting all the way to Dec. 31, 2021.
Now, with travel on an uptick, Southwest has returned to business as usual. Though its requirements may seem out of reach, combining generous sign-up bonuses from Southwest credit cards and alternative ways to earn Companion Pass-qualifying points makes the benefit still achievable.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Southwest Companion Pass is a special benefit for elite members of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. Once you earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points or fly 100 qualifying flights in a year, you can designate a companion to bring with you for free (except for taxes and fees) on any Southwest flight that you purchase – with either cash or points. The earlier in the year that you earn the Companion Pass, the better, because it’s good through the remainder of the year and the year after that.
The threshold for earning the Companion Pass is steep – amounting to thousands of dollars per month in airfare or multiple flights per week. However, you don’t need to be a rabid Southwest flyer to earn the pass. In the following guide, we’ll delve into the details of the Southwest Companion Pass and shortcuts to earning it.
The best card for Southwest flyers
Why should you get it?
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card is by far the best value for a frequent Southwest flyer, thanks to its $75 travel credit and 7,500-point annual bonus.
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Southwest Companion Pass rules
- You must earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights each year to qualify.
- Qualifying points include: revenue flights on Southwest, credit card points and base points earned through Southwest partners.
- Qualifying points don’t include purchased points, points transferred from other members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, e-rewards, e-miles, Valued Opinions, Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points and partner bonus points.
- You should designate a companion at least 21 days in advance to receive a Companion Pass card before your flight. You’ll need the card to board your flight, and it’s nontransferable.
- You may change your designated companion up to three times each calendar year.
- Once you qualify, you can begin booking flights with your Companion Pass immediately, and it is good through the remainder of the year and the next calendar year (up to two years, depending on when you qualify).
- You must pay for your flight with cash or points before you book your companion’s pass.
- Your companion can’t fly without you – they must be booked on the same flight and dates. If you cancel your ticket, their ticket will also be canceled. Also, he or she will be charged for the fare if you don’t make the flight.
- You have to pay for your ticket to bring a companion (i.e., you can’t use a Companion Pass to fly with a partner also using a Companion Pass).
How to get the Southwest Companion Pass
You may be surprised to learn that Southwest flights aren’t the only way to earn points. In fact, there are faster ways to rack up the points that you need for the pass. Here are some of your best options:
Credit card bonuses
The best way to earn a lot of Rapid Rewards points all at once is to sign up for a Rapid Rewards credit card and earn the card’s sign-up bonus.
However, you should be aware of Chase’s rules on applying for Southwest credit cards before you hit submit. Due to Chase’s 5/24 rule, your application will likely be denied if you’ve opened more than five credit cards (with any issuer) in the past 24 months. You can’t earn the bonus on a particular Southwest card if you’ve earned a bonus with that card in the past two years.
Also, you’re prohibited from owning two consumer cards at once – which means you can’t sign up for, say, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card to earn two bonuses in a single year.
Fortunately, you can own a consumer card and a business card at the same time. If you can qualify for a business credit card (which is not as difficult as you may think – any sort of side income may qualify you), signing up for a business card along with another Rapid Rewards card may give you the points you need to earn the Companion Pass.
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months|
|Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card*||60,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months|
|Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card*||80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months|
Note that Southwest changes the sign-up bonuses on its cards frequently throughout the year. Before you sign up for a particular card, you should check the history of the bonus on that card to make sure it is at its peak.
Referral bonuses are another great way to rapidly accumulate points toward the Companion Pass. Chase offers 10,000 points per each friend who is approved for a Southwest card, up to 50,000 points per year.
Even better, Chase recently updated its refer-a-friend offer for Southwest so that you earn a bonus on any card that your friend chooses to apply for, including the business cards, even if you don’t own that particular card. You can log in to the Chase site to grab your Refer-a-Friend link to share with friends, family and, of course, social media.
Besides credit card bonuses and referral bonuses, flying frequently on Southwest Airlines is your next best bet for stacking up Rapid Rewards points. Depending on the fare, you can earn between 6 and 12 points per each dollar that you spend on Southwest airfare. You would need to spend between $9,167 and $18,333 on airfare to earn enough points for the pass.
|Fares||Rapid Rewards points earned|
|Wanna Get Away fares||6 points per dollar|
|Anytime fares||10 points per dollar|
|Business Select fares||12 points per dollar|
Rapid Rewards partners
Southwest has several travel and shopping partners through which you can earn Rapid Rewards points. For instance, many of Southwest’s car rental partners offer 600 Rapid Rewards points per rental. Also, the Southwest hotels portal is a great way to earn up to 10,000 Southwest points per night – all of which qualify for the Companion Pass.
Credit card spend
Your spend with the Southwest credit cards also earns points that count toward the Companion Pass. Most of the Southwest cards offer similar earning rates: 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases (on top of your base point earnings), 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel purchases and car rental partner purchases, 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting purchases, as well as on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming purchases. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.
Unfortunately, the overall earning rate with most Southwest cards is very low – estimated around 1.16% per dollar for the average cardholder. Still, using your Southwest credit card is a good way to add incrementally to your earnings, especially for purchases that earn double points.
Additionally, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card* has a slightly higher earning rate than the rest of the airlines co-branded offerings.
The Performance card earns 4 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 3 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car partners, 2 points per dollar on rideshare, social media, search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. That means small business owners who spend a significant amount in these areas can get a bit more value.
Rapid Rewards shopping portal
You can earn Rapid Rewards points that stack on top of your credit card points (as well as other deals and discounts) by clicking on a retailer’s link through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal. The Rapid Rewards site includes many major retailers, such as Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond.
The number of points that you earn varies quite a bit by retailer, but tends to range between 1 to 4 points per dollar. For instance, Bass Prop Shops is currently offering 4 Rapid Rewards points per dollar on online purchases. At that rate, you’d have to spend around $31,250 to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points.
Earning the Companion Pass on a moderate budget
While 125,000 points seems like a daunting number, when you add all these earning opportunities together, it’s actually quite feasible to earn the Companion Pass with a moderate amount of spend. The sign-up bonus from any Southwest card gives you a nice head start.
Then, you can maximize your Southwest points by using your card on planned, recurring payments like select gas purchases or certain utility bills. Plus, take advantage of shopping portal bonuses on the spending you’d do anyway.
How to use the Southwest Companion Pass
Register your companion
As soon as you qualify, go to the Southwest website and designate a companion for your next flight. Make sure you register your companion well in advance of your flight – your companion needs the pass to board the plane, and it takes up to 21 days to mail. You aren’t stuck with one flying companion – you can change your designated companion up to three times per year. (You can do this online or instantly over the phone.)
Book a flight
To book a free flight for your companion, first, go to the Southwest Airlines website and book your own airfare with cash or points. Once your ticket is booked, you can add your companion to your reservation by clicking on the “Add Companion” option on Southwest.com. (Or you can call Southwest’s reservations line to book your flight and have a companion added over the phone.)
Check-in at the airport
You must bring your Companion Pass to the airport to check-in. You’ll be asked to present a photo ID of yourself and your companion. Be sure not to stand your partner up at the last minute – if you don’t show up at the airport, your companion will be charged the full price of the fare.
Tips for earning the Southwest Companion Pass faster
- Sign up for credit bonuses when they hit a peak – Wait until the bonus on a particular card hits a peak, then apply for it.
- Sign up for two Southwest credit cards – Consider signing up for both a Southwest business and consumer card within the same year to earn all the points you need from sign-up bonuses.
- Look for special deals – If you keep an eagle eye on the Rapid Rewards program, you can find some incredible deals that can allow you to get a large influx of points or even earn the pass with a much lower threshold. For example, Southwest sometimes offers additional points on airfare purchases. The credit cards have also occasionally offered the pass itself as part of the introductory bonus, though these offers tend to be fleeting.
- Take advantage of all your point-earning opportunities – Stick to flying Southwest Airlines (even for business trips) and make every car rental, credit card expense, online shopping experience and hotel stay count toward earning the pass.
That Southwest Companion Pass is in closer reach than you think. The sign-up bonus on the Rapid Rewards consumer cards, plus earning options like the online shopping portal, make the perk attainable for Southwest flyers.
By keeping a keen eye on credit card sign-up bonuses and taking advantage of all the earning opportunities, many Southwest enthusiasts successfully earn the pass each year.
*All information about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.