Many consider Southwest Airlines’ Companion Pass the ultimate elite flyer benefit. When used to its limit, the benefit can be worth many thousands of dollars over the course of a year.
The Companion Pass enables frequent flyers to add another traveler to any and all Southwest itineraries for just fees and taxes. Like other frequent flyer benefits, the pass takes effect through the end of the year after it’s earned, meaning those who manage to earn companion pass status early in the year can use it for nearly two years.
The additional fees for Southwest’s international flights typically are under $100 each way. Domestic companions cost no more than $5.60 each way.
Beyond those basic taxes and fees, the Companion Pass is basically a free-for-all. Holders can add travelers to itineraries for airfare originally booked with either cash or Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
For Southwest flyers hoping to qualify for a Companion Pass, there are, however, key factors to be aware of when designing a plan of action. There are also some shortcuts!
How To Qualify
There are two ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights within a calendar year; or
- Earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year.
Flying 100 Southwest segments, though straightforward, is a much more challenging target for most of us.
For points qualification, however, there’s more than meets the eye. There are many ways to earn points that qualify for a Companion Pass, and not all points are treated equally.
Which Points Count
Points earned through the following methods count toward the 110,000 point threshold:
- Southwest credit card introductory bonuses
- Purchases made on Southwest credit cards
- Southwest credit card anniversary bonuses
- Southwest flights – earning is dependent upon both the fare type and base fare price (e.g. “Wanna Get Away?” fares earn six points per dollar of the base fare price)
- Base points earned from Southwest Rapid Rewards partners, including:
- Southwest Airlines Shopping Portal
- Rapid Rewards Dining
- NRG Energy
- Reliant Energy
- Everything Energy
- Supershuttle Execucar
Points earned from the following methods DO NOT count toward the 110,000 points threshold:
- Purchased points
- Points transferred between members
- Points converted from hotel loyalty programs (e.g. Marriott Travel Packages)
- Points converted from rental car loyalty programs
- Points transferred from proprietary bank currencies (e.g. Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
- Points from surveys (i.e. e-Rewards and Valued Opinions)
- Points converted from Diner’s Club
- Bonus points from flying Southwest with elite status
Points converted from rental car loyalty programs and hotel loyalty programs were once a popular method to help reach the 110,000 point threshold, but Southwest closed that loophole in 2017.
Southwest’s FAQ page lists qualification terms in detail to avoid traveler confusion regarding points earning eligibility.
As referenced above, once a Southwest flier earns a Companion Pass, the traveler holds on to it for the remainder of that calendar year as well as the entire next calendar year.
Thus, to maximize Companion Pass value, Rapids Rewards members are best off earning 110,000 Companion Pass eligible points (or flying 100 segments!) early in the year so that travelers have satisfied the requirements in January, February or March, offering them almost two full years of Companion Pass status.
For folks aiming to qualify for a Companion Pass, that means eligible transactions with partners, flights on Southwest and – most importantly – opening Chase Southwest credit cards should be strategically timed such that points earning is frontloaded toward the beginning of the year rather than earned in the months leading up to the new year.
Using Credit Cards
Southwest now offers three credit cards with bonuses for new cardholders. The base level Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card ($69 annual fee) currently offers a 40,000 point sign-up bonus and the mid-level Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card ($99) also currently offers a 40,000 point sign-up bonus.
For business owners, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card ($99) is currently offering an elevated 60,000 point sign-up bonus.
The newest member of the Chase Southwest credit card portfolio, the Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card ($149 annual fee), reviewed here, is in a tier of its own and boasts an opening sign-up bonus offer of 65,000 points to fast-track cardholders toward Companion Pass qualification.
The Southwest Companion pass is one of the most valuable travel hacks out there for flyers (and their companions) equipped to benefit from Southwest’s expansive continental route network.
Both understanding the distinction between which points do and do not count toward Companion Pass qualification, and also timing qualification for the beginning of the calendar year are the two key factors at play to keep in mind for earning and maximizing the Southwest Companion Pass.