Save $3000+ On Domestic Travel

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Every so often Chase offers a sign-up bonus where you can earn 50,000 point sign-up bonus after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months your account is open on their co-branded Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, provided you haven’t received a sign-up bonus on this card in the past 24 months. The same offer is also available for the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card. Each card has a $99 annual fee, which isn’t waived the first year.

The real potential for value here, however, comes from the potential for earning the Southwest Companion Pass, which can save you thousands of dollars.

What is the Southwest Companion Pass?

Basically, if you rack up 110,000 points in a year you’ll earn Companion Pass with Southwest, which allows someone else to travel with you for the entire year.

You still have to pay the taxes on their ticket, but the companion pass is valid on both award and revenue tickets.

That means if you’ve accumulated 110,000 Rapid Rewards points, you have over $1,650 worth of “Wanna Get Away” fares at your disposal. Factoring in the Companion Pass, you’re looking at over $3,300 worth of airfare.

You can change your designated companion three times in a year, so this is a no-brainer for travel within North America, in my opinion.

110,000 points is a lot!

Yes, it is. But there are a few ways to go about this.

Both the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card are offering 50,000 points after spending $2,000 within three months. If you apply and are approved for both cards, that’s at least 104,000 points right there.

To get the final 6,000 points, you have a few options. From the program terms:

Companion Pass Qualifying Points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, points issued on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners. 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.

So points that you earn from credit card spend, or from partner activity count towards the Companion Pass. This means you can earn points a few different ways:

You can also earn points by staying with a Rapid Rewards hotel partner. If you want to earn Southwest points instead of hotel points, you’d earn 600 points per stay at the following chains:

  • Best Western
  • Club Carlson
  • Choice Hotels
  • Hyatt
  • La Quinta
  • Marriott
  • Mlife
  • Starwood
  • Wyndham
  • RocketMiles

In general, I wouldn’t recommend earning Southwest points rather than hotel points. The exception would be if you’re already going to book a non-chain hotel through RocketMiles, as you can earn up to 5,000 points per night that way. In fact, it may even be worth booking a local hotel if the rate is decent and the points will push you over the threshold for the Companion Pass.

You can also earn those final few points by flying Southwest. You earn 6 points per $1 on “Wanna Get Away” fares, 10 points per $1 on “Anytime” fares, and $12 points per $1 on “Business Select” fares.

Earn-Southwest-Points

Transferring points

Points transferred directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards DO NOT count towards the Companion Pass.

However, points transferred in from hotel partners historically have. This isn’t a great value proposition, so wouldn’t be my first (or second, or possibly even third) choice. The transfer ratios for most programs are terrible. For example:

  • Club Carlson points convert at a 10:1 ratio, so 2,000 Gold Points would equal 200 Rapid Rewards points
  • 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points convert to 2,400 Rapid Rewards Points

There are many better uses of both Club Carlson and Hyatt Gold Passport points, so I wouldn’t recommend transferring points to Southwest from either of those programs.

That being said, if you have “orphaned” hotel points, or points in less valuable programs, transferring them to Southwest in order to earn the Companion Pass could make sense. The ratios are still horrible though:

  • 5,000 Best Western Rewards convert to 1,200 Rapid Rewards points
  • 6,000 La Quinta Returns convert to 1,200 Rapid Rewards points
  • 6,000 Choice Privileges convert to 1,800 Rapid Rewards points
  • 10,000 Marriott Rewards convert to 2,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • 6,000 Wyndham Rewards convert to 1,200 Rapid Rewards points

Again, this isn’t typically a good use of points, so I would only do this to top off an account for the Companion Pass. And I wouldn’t move ANY points until 2015.

Why the timing matters

The Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn 110,000 points, and the following year. 

So the strategy here would be to apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card, but don’t complete the minimum spends until 2015.

You also want to wait until 2015 for any partner activity — regardless of which option you choose to earn the final few thousand points. Only points earned in a given calendar year count towards the Companion Pass, so unless you’re nearly there now, points earned in 2014 won’t help you.

Couples and families

Generally I advocate that both people take advantage of lucrative signup bonuses. It’s harder for one person to be earning all the miles, and I’m told that traveling together is good for relationships, so it helps when both have the same resources.

In this case however, only one partner should strive for the Companion Pass. You can only earn one pass at a time, and it’s effectively good for two years if you time it right. It makes much more sense to alternate, so one person could earn the pass in 2015, the other in 2017, etc., provided the program lasts that long.

The exception to this is for families with older children. If both parents have the Companion Pass, you could each take a child with you for no additional cost other than the taxes, which would be a tremendous bargain.

Where can I go?

Anywhere that Southwest flies! Southwest has an expansive route network within the United States, and has recently added routes to Mexico and the Caribbean. They’ll also be flying to Costa Rica beginning in March.

Southwest-route-map

For domestic travel this can be an incredible value! Over $3,300 worth of airfare should take care of domestic travel for most of us, not to mention the Companion Pass effectively doubles the value of any existing Rapid Rewards points you may have.

A word of caution

Southwest has been offering the Companion Pass for several years now, with essentially the same terms. It is theoretically possible that Southwest wouldn’t continue the program into 2015.

It’s also worth noting that while the sign up bonuses and hotel transfers have counted towards the Companion Pass in the past, there’s no guarantee they’ll continue to do so. It’s not something I’m personally worried about, but just so you’re aware.

Bottom line

This is really one of the most compelling values in the airline industry, and frankly I’m amazed that they still offer it given just how generous it is.

My mother is semi-retiring this year, and despite living in the US for over 30 years hasn’t seen much of the country outside of New York and Florida. She has an expansive list of cities she wants to visit, and given that I’d need to purchase many 500-miles upgrade stickers if we were to fly American, this is an option I’m strongly considering.

Does anyone have the Companion Pass, and if so, what has been your experience?

Link: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card


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Comments

  1. Ben, I’ve had a Companion Pass through 2 qualification periods now (current period ends 12/31/15) and have used the Chase cards to “jump-start” both qualifications so that I have completed them no later than March each cycle – giving me maximum “status time”. Having the pass has probably saved me about $2000 – $3000 in travel annually for my wife when we have done multiple getaways to Puerto Rico, Aruba, San Diego, etc. I’ve never had any problems using the pass – but you do have to wait for the pass holder’s ticket to issue first before you can add the companion ticket. The companion ticket will issue under a separate record # but will be linked to the pass holder’s record # – which means that you won’t be able to alter a pass holder’s ticket online. Instead you will need to call SW and use an agent to alter both records because the companion ticket must always parallel the pass holder ticket. Calling is no big deal. Service is usually swift (no real hold time) and there is no fee (other than paying a fare differential if any).

    Strangely, because of the pass coverage period (year in which your earn and the entire year thereafter) the optimal “renewal” strategy for the pass is to actually let it lapse, and then push your re-qualification through in the first quarter of the next year. Thus, I will be letting my pass lapse on 12/31/15, because I know I will have enough earning power (using a Chase card as a jump start) to re-qualify for the pass no later than March 2016 – meaning I will have the pass through all of 2016 and 2017. If I re-qualified during 2015, I would only get new coverage through 2016. Any reward travel that I want to do in the first quarter of 2016 I’ll use RR points for (I currently have over 600K of those).

  2. I followed this strategy last year and got the CP in January. My wife and I have flown all over the country together, and so far it’s been great. 110,000 points allows you to make LOTS of speculative bookings, and then change / cancel as needed. It’s very easy to get spoiled this way, and tough to make non-refundable plans with other airlines.

    Since non-award travel is refunded in the form of a travel voucher, we decided to stretch out our points a bit by using cash on some trips that we know we’re going to take. The points are much more valuable when you can book far out at a cheap rate, and then cancel if you change your plans up to the time of departure. Also, for last minute trips it’s often worth it to pay cash, especially if they have no more WGA fares available or offer a 3x multiplier on points earned like they currently have.

  3. Lucky,

    My wife has never had a chase card. Her credit score is 740 and good income. Do you recommend she sign up for both cards on the same day? If so, which card would you recommend she do first, the business or personal?
    Thanks.

  4. Lucky, in general I agree that transferring hotel points to Rapid Rewards points is a bad value. The exception is hotel points obtained through Daily Getaways. For example, this year I bought a boatload of Choice Privileges points for less than 0.4 cents each, good through the end of 2016. If I don’t use them for aspirational 🙁 Choice Hotels stays, and if the rules don’t change, I can transfer them to Southwest at an effective rate of about 1.3 cents/RR point in 2016, and they will count toward CP.

  5. @ steve — I think she has a good shot. I would probably do the personal and then the business, though don’t think order should matter that much. Good luck!

  6. The Companion Pass is an amazing deal. My main thought is that you’ll have to fly coach when using it, which strikes my funny bone. Welcome back to the unwashed masses.

  7. @ Lucky: I applied for SW Plus and Premier (both personal) this year and got approved. I was approved for the Premier personal first, then I applied for Premier business version at that time but got denied, surprisingly when I tried to apply for Plus personal I got accepted….so I have both the personal version of each card now and got the CP status with that.
    Now my dilemma is how do I renew my CP status when it expire the end of 2015? Since I already have both the personal version of each card, I cannot apply for those again and have to apply for business version, but applying for two business cards sounds impossible…..please help.

  8. Jana – not true. A Southwest FA told me that everyone flies first class on Southwest!! 🙂

    And you can get the “Southwest Upgrade” whenever you want. For a mere $12.50 (yes, inflation has struck – used to be $10) you can purchase “early bird check in” which gives you an earlier boarding position. One of my anal retentive hobbies is to carefully monitor the load on longer Southwest flights, then decide 2-3 days before the flight whether I need to spring for the upgrade.

  9. Hi- I’ve already applied and been approved for the two personal cards- has anyone ever applied for a 3rd card (one of the business cards) so they end up with 150k points? Wondering if this is a possibility so I don’t have to worry about spending an extra $6k to get to the 110k mark. Thanks in adance for any advice on this:-)

  10. I got the CP in February this year. I got the card last December but waited until January to start spending. Had to buy some Choice hotel points to transfer to Southwest to complete the requirements. Since then my wife and I have used it a lot. Went to Jamaica for our 3 year anniversary a few weeks ago and it only cost her $100 RT to go. We’ve been trying to go somewhere once a month because we have it. We love that we can book a ticket and cancel or change anytime w/o fees. So far all flights have gone smooth. Look forward to using it till the end of 2015!

  11. I know you answered part of Steve’s question, but I’m still not clear on this part: If I plan to apply for both personal and biz, do it same time, 24 hrs. apart, a week apart . . . .? Best plan? Thanks! Awesome post.

  12. @ mbh — I’ve applied for personal and business cards on the same day in the past and not had an issue, but if you’ve had lots of recent applications you probably want to space them out 30-60 days.

  13. Dick – I use two methods: (1) Enter “8 seniors”, then look to see what flights are still available. If Southwest still offers Wanna Get Away and Senior fares, I figure they still have at least 12-16 seats for sale on the flight (8 WGA/Senior, plus some Anytime). (2) Use ExpertFlyer’s “flight availability” feature for the flight. If every booking category shows 8 seats available (R8 S8 W8 Y8 L8 B8 Q8 H8 M8 T8 N8 K8 O8), that tells me the load is not too high. If several categories are unavailable (for example RL SL W8 Y8 L8 B8 Q8 H8 ML TL NL K8 OL), that tells me the flight is closer to full. (Neither of these is an exact science; in the future I may just buy Early Bird if my first flight segment is 2-3 hours or more and I’m traveling with my companion.)

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