As soon as I saw the email notification I jumped out of my seat and started cheering. I had officially earned Southwest Companion Pass status. It’s a good thing I was working from home and not a coffee shop that morning!
Those who know me know that I am an avid and loyal Southwest customer. If I’m flying domestically (or to one of their international destinations), I’m always flying Southwest. It makes sense then that the Southwest Companion Pass was the perfect fit for me, but if you even fly an average amount within the United States it makes a lot of sense for you too. In fact, it is arguably one of the best airline perks that exist today.
What even is the Southwest Companion Pass? What makes it so awesome? And most importantly, how can you get one? I’ll be answering all these questions and more in this article, so put your learning cap on and remember to bookmark this page for future use!
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
If you have no clue what the Southwest Companion Pass is, don’t worry — you’re not alone. As soon as I started telling my friends and family that I had earned the Southwest Companion Pass, the most common response I got was, “That’s awesome! What does that mean?”
In short, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You get to bring the companion of your choice with you for free whenever you fly on a Southwest flight. That means any flight at any time you can bring your designated companion along with you for free — there are no blackout dates, and you can fly as often as you’d like.
It can last for anywhere from 1-2 years, depending on the when you earn Companion Pass status. Ideally, you’ll want to earn the points as early as possible in the calendar year as you will keep that status for the remainder of the current calendar year and the entire year after that.
What’s the Catch?
As with anything that sounds too good to be true, it takes some work to get there and there are some guidelines, but thankfully they aren’t complicated.
Only certain methods of earning points are considered “qualifying” points (more on this later), and the member always has to be on the same flight as the companion in order to use the pass.
While the ticket itself for the companion is free, you will have to pay a whopping $11.20 roundtrip for the companion’s taxes and fees (more if you are flying internationally).
Since Southwest doesn’t charge any fees to change flights, I often book my flights early, watch the prices, and exchange my ticket online if the price drops. When I have my companion on my ticket, I have to call to exchange the ticket instead of doing it online if I don’t want to unlink my companion first.
That is about the full extent of the “catch” with the Southwest Companion Pass — there is virtually no catch at all!
How to Get the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can earn the Southwest Companion Pass in one of two ways:
1. 100 one-way qualifying flights in a calendar year
2. 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year
Flying 100 flights in a single year is a LOT of flying, even for avid travelers, so for the purposes of this article I will be focusing on the second option, earning the Southwest Companion Pass through points.
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass with Points
Now for the good stuff, and why you’re probably reading this article in the first place. There are a few different ways that you can earn qualifying points for the Southwest Companion Pass:
- Southwest credit cards
- Rapid Rewards shopping
- Rapid Rewards dining
- Points from flying Southwest flights
- Points from Southwest partner hotel and rental cars
- Transferred points from hotel rewards programs
Note: Points that you purchase or that are gifted to you do NOT count as qualifying points. Let’s dive into some of these strategies a little deeper.
Southwest Airlines Credit Cards
The best (and easiest) route is to get both Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards. If you’re new to the travel hacking side of credit cards, be sure to do some research first and learn best practices when applying for credit cards. I wouldn’t recommend applying for both of them at the same time as it’s much more likely you won’t get approved for both. I suggest waiting a minimum of a month in between applying for each card.
For both the Southwest premier card and the plus card, you can earn:
- 50,000 bonus points after spending $2000 within the first 3 months
- 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest flights and Rapid Rewards hotels and car rental partner purchases
- 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
The premier card has an annual fee of $99, which is completely worthwhile as you will earn 6,000 bonus anniversary points for each year you have the card, and it doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees.
The plus card has an annual fee of $69, also worthwhile for the 3,000 bonus anniversary points you earn each year.
For both cards, thats 100,000 points plus the 4,000 points you’ll earn total for the minimum spend on each card. That leaves you with only 6,000 points remaining until you reach Companion Pass status! To get the remaining points, use one or a combination of the following methods.
June 2017 Update: Southwest is currently running a special of a 60,000-point sign up bonus on both cards! That means simply meeting the minimum spend requirement to earn the sign up bonus on both cards will instantly earn you the companion pass.
Rapid Rewards Shopping
Southwest has its very own shopping portal where you can earn tons of bonus points from all kinds of online retailers. Firstly, browse through the shops and see if there are any you were already planning on making a purchase from. Of course, this works best if you are only spending on things you were already planning on buying. For example, I looked at stores like Walmart or Target to buy toiletries and household items that I needed to buy anyway. Office supply stores are another good one to use for items you might have already needed.
Secondly, look for stores that have the largest bonus points (under the stores tab there is an option to sort by earn rate). Shopping at stores with more bonus points means you get to spend less!
You also don’t have to shop just to buy things for yourself — I watched for the best points deals and then bought items that I sold on eBay, so I wasn’t wasting money on things I didn’t really need. If you decide to sell on eBay, the key is to make sure the items you buy are small enough for you to ship easily and are items people like to buy on eBay (do a quick search on eBay before you buy the item yourself). Also don’t forget to factor in any additional fees (like shipping costs and both eBay and PayPal fees) when you are pricing your items.
Finally, think about if there are any birthdays, weddings, holidays, graduations, other parties, etc. coming up that you’ll need to buy a gift for. You can also ask your friends or family if they have any big purchases they need to make that you might be able to use the shopping portal for. No matter your method, the goal is always to make sure you’re not spending extra money in your Companion Pass pursuit!
As a Rapid Rewards member, it’s always a good idea to check the shopping portal any time you are making an online purchase to see if the retailer is listed on there, because extra points are always nice!
Rapid Rewards Dining
Did you know you can earn Rapid Rewards points from eating?! If you are a Rapid Rewards member but aren’t enrolled in Rapid Rewards dining, you are missing out on loads of easy points. All you have to do is register your credit/debit cards (you can add up to 5) and they can be any card, not just a Southwest card.
Once you are registered, every time you eat at one of Southwest’s dining partners, you automatically will receive 3 points for every dollar you spend. Just make sure you pay with your card and not cash! There have been times when I’ve eaten places specifically because they are a Southwest dining partner, but most of the time I am just pleasantly surprised when the points show up in my account!
Points From Flying Southwest Flights
This one is probably the most obvious of all ways to earn points. For Wanna Get Away fares (the lowest price option Southwest offers) you earn 6 points for every dollar spent. Keep in mind that you won’t receive these points until after you actually take the flight. Remember to book your flight with your Southwest credit card to earn an additional 2 points per dollar spent!
Points From Southwest Partner Hotels and Rental Cars
Southwest offers tons of bonus points from their travel partners. For a variety of different hotel chains, like Best Western, SPG and Marriott, if you are also a member of that hotel’s membership program you can earn 600 Rapid Rewards points for qualifying stays when you book on their website. Many also offer the option to receive an additional 150 points per stay if you book your hotel on southwest.com.
You can also earn 600 Rapid Rewards points when renting a car from a handful of participating rental car companies, like Budget, Avis, and Hertz.
Transferred Points From Hotel Rewards Programs
As of April 1, 2017, transferred hotel points no longer count toward the Southwest Companion Pass, though they are still valid Southwest points.
If you have points with the below participating hotels, you can transfer them to Rapid Rewards points. How many points you get depends on that hotel’s ratio and the amount of points you are exchanging, but this route typically involves a loss of value and should only be used when absolutely necessary.
- 5,000 Hyatt points = 2,400 Rapid Rewards Points
- 50,000 Hyatt points = 24,000 Rapid Rewards Points PLUS a bonus of 6,000 additional Rapid Rewards Points for a total of 30,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 10,000 Marriott Rewards Points = 2,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 20,000 Marriott Rewards Points = 5,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 30,000 Marriott Rewards Points = 10,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 70,000 Marriott Rewards Points = 25,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 140,000 Marriott Rewards Points = 50,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 5,000 Best Western Rewards points = 1,200 Rapid Rewards Points
- 6,000 Choice Privileges points = 1,800 Rapid Rewards Points
- 2,000 Gold Points = 200 Rapid Rewards Points
- 50,000 Gold Points = 5,000 Rapid Rewards Points
- 100,000 Gold Points = 10,000 Rapid Rewards Points
As you can see, the route that is the best deal is Marriott’s 30K points for 10K Rapid Rewards points. While you’re still losing some value, a 3:1 transfer ratio isn’t all that bad, especially compared to some of these other options.
If you’re thinking you don’t have nearly enough hotel points to use this method, don’t stop reading just yet. There are a few ways you can take advantage of this points option.
- Hotel Credit Cards: Most of these also have their own credit cards with sign up bonuses, so you can rack up points that way and then convert them into Rapid Rewards points.
- Buy Hotel Points: While I don’t normally like to suggest additional spending for points, if you’re really close it may be worth it in this case. The most cost effective route is with Marriott, where you can buy 30,000 points for $375. This will get you 10,000 Rapid Rewards points, which is worth somewhere around $150 in Wanna Get Away fares, so you are basically paying $225 to earn Companion Pass status.
- Convert Chase Ultimate Rewards Points: While you cannot transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly to Southwest to count towards your Companion Pass status, you can convert those chase points into Hyatt points, which can be converted into qualifying Rapid Rewards points. Point transfers are 1:1 from Chase to Hyatt and must be transferred in increments of 1,000.
As of April 1, 2017, transferred hotel points no longer count toward the Southwest Companion Pass, though they are still valid Southwest points.
Final Thoughts and Tips on the Southwest Companion Pass
While that all soaks in, I want to take a moment to put into perspective what kinds of cost savings you’re really looking at when you have the Southwest Companion Pass. For example, Brandon and I fly together at least 5 to 8 times per year (roundtrip). At an average price of about $250 per roundtrip ticket (lower than the average Southwest fare of $313.10 roundtrip), that means we saved $1,250 to $2,000 with the Southwest Companion Pass! Even if you only fly somewhere closer to 3 times per year, that’s still a savings of $750. Again, this is just looking at one year, so if you manage to earn Companion Pass status earlier these savings could potentially be doubled. Plus that doesn’t even include all the savings you earn with those 110,000 points — that’s worth another $1,650 of Southwest flights!
As if this sundae wasn’t already perfect enough, the cherry on top is that you are not exchanging your 110,000 points for a Companion Pass. You get to keep these points and use them however you please! I’ve booked many flights this year for both myself and Brandon and only paid $11.20 roundtrip for each of our tickets, because I paid for mine with points and he flies free as my companion.
Keep in mind that the 50K bonus points will not last forever! Jump on this deal now, or take the risk to be more strategic and wait until the beginning of the year so you can get as much of the two possible years worth of Companion Pass status.
Does this still seem too complicated for you to do by yourself but you still want free flights? Set up a time to talk with me! Fill out this form to get started and I will be in touch soon to help you earn your very own Southwest Companion Pass!
Do you have the Companion Pass? Are your planning your strategy to get one? Let me know in the comments below!
8 Reasons to Love Southwest Airlines - Little Things Travel BlogJanuary 20, 2017 at 6:27 am
[…] of with most other airlines, and over time it has saved us thousands of dollars in flight costs. How to get the Southwest Companion Pass takes some work, but it definitely pays off if you can manage to earn […]
Becky MarkovitzJuly 7, 2016 at 3:50 am
Very helpful and thorough post! I can’t wait until move back to the US so that I can pursue my own pass. Not even kidding – my husband and I have already discussed flying exclusively southwest (upon our return) for that exact reason. Enjoy your free flights!
Marissa SuteraJuly 17, 2016 at 5:17 pm
It’s so worth it! I love flying with them anyway and always use them domestically. Good luck earning your pass!