Is the Southwest cards' Companion Pass sign-up offer worth it?

The current promotion offers a fast track to the coveted perk, but its value is limited – should you apply?

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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Is the current Southwest Rapid Rewards cards' Companion Pass sign-up offer worth it?

A limited-time promotion on three different Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards now includes the Companion Pass as part of its sign-up bonus.

While the value of the pass is more limited than what you'd earn through more traditional means – it's only valid for one calendar year – this promotion might make it easier for some cardholders to earn the popular perk.

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Dear Cashing In,

I saw that Southwest has a promotion for the next few weeks that includes what it says is a companion pass when you get one of their credit cards.

But I don’t know about applying for another credit card, especially one with an annual fee.

Should I get it? – Rick 

Dear Rick,

Southwest Airlines likes to do things differently than other major U.S. airlines: It doesn’t assign seats or charge for checked bags, for instance. 

And when it comes to frequent flyer programs and credit cards, Southwest has a big difference, too.

It offers customers one of the most valuable perks in the air: A Companion Pass, which allows a friend or relative to accompany you for free on any Southwest flight you take. All you have to pay is the fees.

See related: Southwest A-List status: Benefits and tips for earning it faster

Ways to earn a Southwest Companion Pass

Now, acquiring that coveted free-travel pass is getting easier and cheaper, thanks to a promotion that Southwest is running that is set to expire in February, 2019.

The pass is alluring and potentially valuable, but it is not for everybody. Consider carefully whether you would benefit from it.

For the last several years, the ticket to a Southwest Companion Pass has been amassing a lot of frequent flyer miles.

You need 110,000 Southwest Rapid Reward miles in a calendar year, and you receive the pass, which is good for that calendar year and the following one.

That sounds like a lot of flying, particularly on Southwest, which has, on average, shorter flights than its competitors.

The workaround, however, has been to use the sign-up bonuses from applying for two of Chase’s Southwest credit cards, a personal version and a business version.

Those bonuses change but are usually between 40,000 miles and 60,000 miles per card. Sign up for two cards at once, and you can come close or exceed the 110,000 miles needed for the companion pass after just a few thousand dollars in spending.

You used to be able to apply for two personal cards and meet the threshold, but Chase closed off that option last year.

Southwest Companion Pass: current sign-up bonus offer

Until Feb. 11, 2019, however, Chase and Southwest are including the companion pass in the sign-up bonus for the cards, plus 30,000 frequent flyer miles.

  • If you apply for one of the three personal cards and spend $4,000 in the first three months, you will receive a Companion Pass valid until Dec. 31, 2019.
  • That means the Companion Pass is much easier to earn, though it lasts less time than if you earn the pass the traditional way.
  • The offer is open only to people who do not have a Chase Southwest personal credit card.

Companion Pass sign-up offer: Is it worth it?

Since this is a potentially valuable perk, does that mean everybody should rush to sign up for a Chase Southwest card before Feb. 11, 2019? Not necessarily.

First, you have to consider how much you might actually benefit from a Companion Pass.

If you’re planning to travel a lot in 2019, to cities served by Southwest, and you live close to an airport served by Southwest, and you have somebody to travel with you, then earning the Companion Pass might be a good idea.

If you’re a retired couple, young couple, or a single person with friends who like to travel a lot, this could make some sense. Families could also use it to cut down the cost of airfare.

Remember, however, that you don’t earn the pass until you spend the $4,000 and the miles post to your account, which could take up to eight weeks.

It could, therefore, take a few months until you have the actual pass.

What Southwest card should you apply for?

If you choose to go that route, the smartest card to apply for is probably the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, because its $69 annual fee is the lowest of the three Southwest cards – the other two are the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

That’s a pretty compelling deal: $69 for a Southwest Companion Pass good for probably the final three-quarters of the year. That pass could be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Keep in mind that Southwest flies not just domestically but also to Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s apparently close to announcing flights this year to Hawaii as well.

If you’re like me that will get your mind churning with possibilities. 

Best ways to use Southwest’s Companion Pass

For example, if you had the companion pass now, two people could book flights on Southwest roundtrip from Chicago to Turks and Caicos in mid-April using just the miles earned from the card plus the Companion Pass that comes with it – and the only charge would be $98 per person in airport fees.

If you paid for those Southwest flights, they would cost $576 apiece – slightly less for the same routing on other airlines.

Of course, you can’t actually book the flights until you have the Companion Pass in hand, but you can see the possibilities here.

Tip

Tip: Southwest's Companion Pass is one of the most popular in the market, but not the only one. Other airlines that also offer companion passes include American Airlines, Hawaiian Air and Lufthansa. Read "A complete guide to airline companion passes" to learn more.

Is the Companion Pass offer as good as it sounds?

Some hardcore points enthusiasts have noted that, as good a deal as this can be, it is inferior to the usual Companion Pass deal, since the pass lasts only until Dec. 31, 2019.

If you go the usual route – applying for two cards in pursuit of 110,000 miles in a year – the pass lasts an additional year, which gives you more chances to wring even more value from it.

That’s a valid critique, but a lot of people probably get nervous at the thought of applying for two cards at once and meeting the spending requirements.

In any event, the current promotions for the cards do not include the large sign-up bonuses needed to reach the 110,000 miles.

That means the only option at the moment is to take the deal on the shorter-duration Companion Pass, which also gets you 30,000 miles. It is unclear what the bonus will be after Feb. 11, 2019.

In addition to the personal card, you could also sign up for the business version of the card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, at some point this year – the current sign-up bonus is 60,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months– in a quest toward hitting 110,000 miles for 2019.

You would reach that number and qualify for the pass for an additional year if you could spend nearly $20,000 this year on the cards. 

The new offer won’t appeal to everyone. But the Southwest Companion Pass is now within reach for a lot of people. It is a worthy and potentially valuable perk for those in a position to use it. 


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Updated: 02-21-2019