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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?
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.
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.
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.
- Chase Southwest Premier Card Sign-Up (I get 5,000 points from a sign-up from this link, no monetary value)
- Chase Southwest Plus Card Sign-Up (non-affiliate link)
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.
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.
One thing to note, not all points will go toward your pass
- 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)
- 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.
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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