Free Flights for 2 Years – How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Adam Personal Finance, Travel 21 Comments

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As you all know I’m a big fan of travel hacking, credit card churning and playing the points game. Just this year we went round trip to Brazil on a single sign-up. I just leveled up and earned the holy grail of US travel perks – the Southwest Airlines companion pass.

What makes the Companion Pass Awesome?

It’s Simple

There aren’t a bunch of confusing rules, blackout dates, likelihood of getting bumped, or anything else in the fine print. There’s an option to book with one online and you just mention it over the phone.

It’s a Literal Free Pass

Unlike many points programs, there are no hidden fees. For example, a British Airways flight from the US to Europe may seem free, but wait until the tack $500 per ticket worth of fuel charges on your flight. Not such a good deal now. With the Companion Pass, you pay nothing but a $10 government mandated fee. No fuel surcharges or hidden ways SW tries to get it’s money back. Even bags are free.

You will save so much as heavy traveler.

Companion Options

Unfortunately you are forced to pick 1 person as your companion. It can’t be a rotating cast of friends and family. However, you can switch your companion up to 3 times before expiration, so that’s a max of 4 potential companions. If you have a significant other, that seems like a pretty reasonable number.

Length of Use

The pass is good for the year in which you earn it plus the entire following year!. So I will have it all of 2015 plus 2016. If you time it right and begin earning miles in January, you can get almost an entire 2 years of free flights.

No limits

There are no limits on number of uses. I could fly my significant other for every week through 2016 if I wanted.

Earning the Pass

So now I’ve got your attention. I’m sure you are over there asking yourself, how do I earn this mythical unicorn of the travel world? Must I sacrifice my first born? Do I need to perform the 7 labors of Hercules?

No friends it’s not that complicated. Yet again travel hacking proves to be a literal free lunch. You have 2 options:

100 1-way Flights

Ok, so… probably not. Unless you are a consultant or some other type of work travel warrior, highly unlikely you can manage this in a year. If you can, damn… that’s a hell of a points balance you are wracking up. You might as well be George Clooney in Up in the Air.

110,000 Points Earned

Now, this may sound worse than the flight option, but hear me out. Southwest, unlike any other program I’m aware of, counts points earned in credit card bonus sign-ups. Southwest also happens to have to quality cards, the Southwest Premier and Southwest Plus. There are also business versions as well.

Typically they only offer 25,000 point sign-ups, but if you pay attention, a few times a year they will bump this up to 50,000 each. Before I started playing this game, I would not have imagined the same card company would give you 2 cards at the exact same time for double the points, but apparently it’s not an issue. Fair warning you will have to pay the paltry $99 and $59 annual fees when you open the cards.

The next time you see these sign-ups, apply for both cards. You will be required to spend $2,000 per card in the first 90 days, so $4k in 3 months. That is well within my natural spending level, so no skin off my back, but it is something to consider if your not hitting these levels, though there are ways to accelerate spending that you can get back in the future, though that’s outside the scope of this post.

Once you’ve hit your minimum you will have 104,000 points. At this point you can just spend naturally until you hit the next 6,000 or you can try some more advanced strategies. I didn’t do anything fancy, I just let my spending get there over a couple of months.

Points Value

Let’s not forget that you also now have 110,000 points, worth at least 4 free SW flights (8 with your companion). The 4 flights alone are worth well in excess of $1,500 (or $3,000 with your companion.

What Counts?

One thing to note, not all points will go toward your pass

These Count:

  • Points earned from flights
  • Your sign-up bonuses
  • All card spending
  • Certain point transfers – Marriott, Hyatt, Club Carlson, Choice
    • Choice may be the cheapest way to buy and transfer if you need to top up.
  • The Southwest shopping portal
  • Certain other partners (google it before assuming they count)

These Don’t

  • Points earned in the prior year (even if you haven’t spent them)
  • Somebody else’s points transferred to you
  • Chase Rewards Points
  • Again google it. There are probably options I don’t know about that work or don’t work.

Conclusion

If you have the time and inclination, there’s no better credit card offer for the domestic US traveler to focus on than the Companion Pass. I hope I gave you a solid outline on how to accomplish it. I’m no expert, so if I missed anything, please let me know in the comments.


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Comments 21

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      The sign-ups are up and running right now. You wouldn’t get a full 2 years, but could have it for the holidays and all of 2016.

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      The pass itself is independent of the credit cards. It’s purely earned by getting 110,000 points (or all the flights). You can use any sign-up bonuses from Chase SW cards to reach that number. So you could apply for both the personal Premier and Plus cards or the business Premier and Plus cards if they have the 50,000 bonus points going. As I mention in the article, I earned mine with the 50k sign-up bonuses from the personal Premier and Plus.

  1. Noor

    i just checked the rules and regulations on Southwest, and they state the following:

    “. Points purchased for personal use or as a gift, transferred points, POINTS EARNED FROM PROGRAM ENROLLMENT, tier bonuses, flight bonuses, and Rapid Rewards Partner bonuses (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not count toward Companion Pass status.”

    That seems to tell me that the 50,000 points don’t apply; can you clarify this?

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      If you see the the end, it specifically excludes the Rapid Rewards Cards, “with the exception of Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase” from the restriction. I can also tell you that I have the Companion Pass using the strategy above and if you google around it’s been used successfully by many frugal travelers.

  2. Mike

    I just got off the phone with customer service at Chase and southwest (5/18/15). The offer of 50,000 points applies to NEW customers. Once you’ve applied to one of the two cards, you’re no longer a “new” customer. So only 50,000 points total.

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      Michael, I’m not sure who you talked to but they gave you bad advice. I literally received the Companion Pass last month from signing up for the Premier and Plus personal cards. If you google Southwest Companion Pass you will see many travel writers use this exact method.

  3. Brandy

    I was hoping you could clarify something for me: the companion pass activates after getting the 110,000 points, so could I sign up now, get the 104,000 points, and just hold on to the card till the beginning of next year and get the other 6,000 points, and then have all of 2016 and 2017? Or is there a specific amount of months that’s the points need to be collected in?

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      I’m afraid not, all the points must be earned in the same calendar year.

      These signups come and go so there’s no guaranttee when they’ll be active again, but for example, if you signed up in November and then spent the needed money in Dec/Jan, and received the bonuses in January, your strategy would work. But signing up now wouldn’t work because you would receive the bonus this calendar year.

      However, something to keep in mind is that if you have a significant other, you can simply rotate every 2 years. You sign up now, you can use the Companion Pass through 2016 and she signs up in 2016 and you can use the Pass through 2018. Many couples keep the passes almost indefinitely this way.

  4. Matt

    I just spent a bunch of time on the phone with Chase. I got different stories from the sign up department and the customer service lines. The last person I spoke with said that a business premier card would get the bonus miles with the premier or plus card but not a premier and plus card together.

    I don’t actually think that he knew any better than the other three people I spoke with so I’m hesitent to sign up for any of it.

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      Matt,

      I’m sorry you seem to be having such trouble with the customer service lines, but keep in mind this isn’t really their area. It’s probably not a question they ever get. I’m really not sure what to tell you. I can only say so many times that I personally have the Companion Pass using this strategy (only 3 months ago), I have friends who have it using this technique, and if you google it, you’ll see that hundreds of other travelers have used this technique over the years.

      Good luck.

    1. Post
      Author
  5. Matt

    Just wanted to get back to you to say thanks and that the second 50,000 miles were posted to my account today! I still have a couple thousand to go before I earn the companion pass but that won’t take too long.

    1. Post
      Author
  6. Pingback: The Southwest Companion Pass – The Gift that Keeps on Giving | Adam Chudy.com

  7. Bowser

    Here’s a complicated question:

    I churned enough to get the companion pass. I registered my wife as my “companion”. We have two kids – one is 18months and the other is 3 months. We just flew to chicago and back (all four of us) for the price of one ticket because both children are lap seats

    Here’s my dilemma: My wife wants to go see her family in Colorado. I can’t go because of work. Can I still buy a ticket for myself, add my wife as a companion and just have my wife board with her and my ticket and have the 18month old baby sit in my seat? This way the three of them can still travel for the price of ONE ticket.

    Otherwise we would have to buy two tickets (one for my wife and one for the 18month old and the 3month old would sit on my wives lap)

    Any experience on this scenario would be greatly appreciated!!!

    Thanks

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      I believe the rules are online if you look. I don’t have time to check, but I’m pretty confident you are not allowed to book a Companion Pass trip if you are not going. In addition I have no idea what the airline rules would be for taking 2 kids without tickets. I’m still childless, so that’s out of my depth, but I believe you’d be taking a pretty big bet on them not making it on that plane. Sorry if that wasn’t as helpful as you hoped.

  8. Jose Perez

    I just earn a companion pass this month and was looking for a blog of people who have used their pass, and can offer any tips on best use of point and the pass; haven’t found that blog yet. It appears that using points toward “on sale” wanna-get-away destinations would be the most prudent use of points. My wife and I would like to go to some of the Mexican-Caribbean destinations that Southwest now flys to. Have you gone to any of those destinations? Any favorites? Any tips you can offer? Or any blogs that you know of that offer this type of info?

    1. Post
      Author
      Adam

      If you check out my travel posts there is another one about all the places we went this year with the pass. We’ve been to several places around the US. Houston is also a tear international hub. We went to Belize, I’m typing this in Cancun, and we will be headed to Costa Rica in January.

      No real trick to it. We just book far out and during sales. Pretty much never spend more than 20k in points round trip

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