How To Save Thousands On Southwest Airlines

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Chase frequently offers hefty bonuses on their co-branded Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card, provided you haven’t received a sign-up bonus on these cards in the past 24 months.  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.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is offering 40,000 points, and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card is offering 60,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. If you apply and are approved for both cards, that’s at least 104,000 points right there.

To get the final 6,000(ish) 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.

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’s 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.

Who has the Companion Pass? How much are you saving?

Link: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Link: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card


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Comments

  1. Ben, can I get these cards again and receive the bonuses if I had them in the past (a year ago)? Thanks.

  2. My wife and I had the companion pass for the past 2 years with our kids. It has been the best part of any points thing we have done. By using primarily SWA points and traveling all over domestically and even Aruba and Jamaica, we have been able to hoard away 2mil other miles for a huge trip sometime soon.

    Our CP just expired in December and our new one (from the bonus that was being offered a month or so ago) should be active soon, after our Jan statements close. We just booked two RT tickets from OKC to DEN for a ski weekend in February. As long as our CP kicks in by then, it will mean 4 people flying RT for under 12k miles total!

  3. I also took advantage of the SW card balance transfer bonus in the fine print, a way to “buy” 15,000 SW miles at 3% on the card, which means they should count toward CP. (Buying miles on SW site will not help toward CP.) I also recently splurged and signed up for the Ritz-Carlton card ($450) for 140,000 points (same as Marriott) and reimbursable $300 airline extras spend (and some lounge access). BTW, many hotel transfers have specific bonus levels for transfers, and the Best Western card (Barclay?) is a no fee card that comes with 16,000 points after minimal spend, free miles! We’re family of four working on two CP’s by June.

  4. @ David — The terms state:
    “This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.”

  5. @ Jose — You do need a business of some sort, though it doesn’t have to be a corporation. It can be a sole proprietorship, etc.

  6. and it’s effectively good for two years if you time it right. ……..can you explain this how do you time it right to get 2 yrs. Also is it calendar year or how does it work. So if we earned it in October by getting 110,000 miles does the year start in Oct? thanks

  7. Karen, to answer your question, if you quality in October, it’s good for the rest of that calendar year and the entire following calendar year. For ‘2 years’, it would be qualifying early in the year.
    My family of 4 has 2 companion passes and have used the incredible benefit for a lot of family trips domestically that we otherwise couldn’t have gone on. It’s a great benefit.

  8. Thanks Nik……so is then better then to qualify earlier in the year or later…..where is the cut off? So if you qualify in Jan ….it would just be Jan to Jan? But if not until Oct you get a year and 2 months? Yes it sounds great and my husband’s company has now taken him off united flights and onto S West he was not too happy about it…..but seeing the new beer selections and having this it might cheer him up….he is getting about 10,000 miles every other month …so thinking 50,000-60,000 a year and then open a card…..we should be there with earning points on the card too.

  9. I started my quest in December for the companion pass. I applied for both personal cards at the same time and the first application was approved instantly but the second was up for review. I did not hear anything for a few weeks so I applied for a business card and was approved. Well guess what 2 weeks later I find out my second personal card was approved! So now I have 2 personal cards and 1 business card. Will they honor the bonus on all 3 cards and net me 150k points?

  10. It’s best to qualify early in the year. If you were to qualify in February of 2015, the companion pass would be good til December 2016. If you qualify November 2015, it’s still only good til December 2016. It’s by calendar year only, no anniversary years involved.
    My 2 accounts run til the end of this year, so I will try to load up on points at beginning of 2016, even though I may sacrifice January or February in the process.

  11. ah thanks I get it….thanks Nik. Love this site been a great tool. So yes the earlier the better.

    My 2 accounts run til the end of this year, so I will try to load up on points at beginning of 2016, even though I may sacrifice January or February in the process….. How you you finding it best to load up on points?

    Rich- thats cool so your done.

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