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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:
- Rental car partners Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National, Payless, and Thrifty typically offer 600 points per rental
- Rapid Rewards Dining gives you 3 points per $1 at their participating restaurants
- Rapid Rewards Shopping allows you to earn miles for your online purchases, and works the same way as other shopping portals
- Rapid Rewards members can also earn 150 points each way (300 points round-trip) for SuperShuttle’s shared-ride airport shuttle and ExecuCar’s private sedan service
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
- La Quinta
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.
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.
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.
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?
Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business credit card has been collected independently by One Mile At A Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.