Hands down, besides Delta Airlines which I have strong family ties to, my favorite airline to fly is Southwest. One of the greatest perks they offer to families, that Delta just can’t match unfortunately, is their incredibly valuable Companion Pass. Below is an outline of how it all works in Q&A format, based on many conversations I have had with family and friends who take advantage of this perk after I counsel them. But if this doesn’t answer your questions, reach out to me and I’m happy to help!
What is the Companion Pass? And why is it So Awesome?
Simply put, the Southwest Companion Pass grants you the privilege of allowing a companion of your choosing to fly free with you on Southwest flights. This perk is amazing on its own, but here are some of the things that make it even better:
You may change your companion three different times in one calendar year, and that’s not counting the person you initially choose as your companion. In other words, you can have four different people fly free with you in any given year, if you take four different flights.
Once you get Companion Pass status, it is valid for the rest of that calendar year, plus the following calendar year! For example, if you get the pass in March of 2018, it is valid until December 31, 2019–nearly two years!
Other Perks of Southwest Airlines
Aside from the Companion Pass, with the purchase of any Southwest ticket (whether you purchased it with points), you have the following benefits (which are huge, in comparison to other domestic airlines that don’t offer these perks):
Two free checked bags per customer (plus one free carry one and personal item). This is a huge benefit since most other airlines charge for checked luggage. Check out this info from their website about other airline baggage fees.
- No fees to change your flight. Another great perk since it varies wildly with other airlines, but it’s never cheap! If you need to change your travel times or dates, there are no fees associated with doing so. And if you book your flight with points and need to cancel, you may do so and have the points deposited back into your account, up to 10 minutes before the flight boards.
- In addition to not charging to change your flight, if a lower priced flight is available, you may rebook it at the lower price (when I refer to “price,” it relates to either dollars or points). Southwest points vary per flight, based on the current price in dollars, so it often pays to look at the price you paid in points (or dollars) before your trip. If they run a sale, which happens often, and the price of your fare decreased, you may rebook it at the decreased price! Seriously, it still blows my mind that they allow customers to do this!
- Southwest offer three different types of fares that you can learn more about here, but in short, we use “Wanna Get Away” fares since they require the least amount of points. Wanna Get Away fares offer the perks I’ve already written about, while the two other levels take it up a notch with perks that don’t hold much value to us as a family.
These perks alone have been absolutely invaluable to my family. If a family member gets sick, your plans change, or you’re just not feeling it with the destination you chose, Southwest makes it incredibly easy to change or cancel your reservation (and if you don’t know much about air travel, these cancel/modify reservation and free checked baggage perks are HUGE!).
How Do I Obtain Companion Pass Status?
To earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you need to accrue 110,000 Rapid Reward points (this is the fancy name for Southwest’s reward points) in a single year. But remember, once you have it, you keep it for the rest of the year in which you earned it plus the following year.
But how the heck do I get 110,000 points?!
The fastest way to earn massive points towards the required 110,000 for a Companion Pass is by getting the bonuses on Southwest branded credit cards.
So one credit card is all I need to get 110K points?
Technically, yes. Eventually you could spend enough money on that card to reach 110K points. But that’s not very efficient (or possible for some folks). What I do to accelerate the process is apply for 2 Southwest credit cards at the same time–one business and one personal account.
Depending on the sign up bonus, that will either automatically get me to 110K points, but more often than not, you’ll end up about 5000 to 10,000 points shy of the required 110K points. That’s where every day spending comes in to fill the gap. How much you spend on a credit card, whether it’s for your business or everyday personal spending, is how quickly you’ll get the pass. But remember, if you time things right, you’ll have the companion pass for nearly 2 calendar years. It’s definitely worth the wait to make the spend and have that amount of time to basically have buy-one-get-one-free airline tickets!
Wait a minute. I work for someone else and don’t have a business to apply for, so that’s a problem, right?
Not necessarily. Have you ever sold a book on Amazon? Or something on Ebay? Think you might do it again? If so, then in the eyes of credit card companies, you qualify as running a business. You may have to explain this to the credit card company after you apply (even with two active and taxed businesses under my own name, I still have to call and talk to them sometimes). Don’t let this deter you though. They’re very friendly and they just need to make sure you are doing something to qualify as a business (and again, it’s pretty darn simple under their parameters to qualify).
What if I’ve never sold anything and don’t qualify in any way for a business card?
I absolutely would not let this deter you from at least applying for just a personal Southwest card. The sign up bonus is always at least 40K points and bumps up to 60K once or twice a year (at least as long as I’ve done all this, which is several years now). And if you have a spouse, you can both apply individually and earn 100K points.
But please note that you cannot combine points to obtain a Companion Pass though. In other words, if you and your spouse both apply for separate personal accounts and it adds up to 100K points, you’ll simply have 110K points to use collectively, but earning 10K more points won’t earn either of you the Companion Pass.
So if I get 50K points from both a business and personal credit card bonus offer, I’m only up to 100K points and I need 110K points, right? How do I fill the gap?
By now, I’m usually applauding my friends for keeping up with the conversation. I get it, it’s a lot to process initially. I promise, it’s not hard once you digest it (which, for me, usually requires rereading through things several times, every couple of years I go through this process).
Yes, you still need to get 10K points. With these card offers, to qualify for the sign up bonus, you must meet a minimum spending requirement (it’s usually $2000 within 3 months). I don’t know about y’all, but that’s pretty easy to do in my household when you put everything you can on a credit card.
So after you meet the minimum spend for each card, you’re up to 104K points (assuming your sign on bonus was 50K for each card and you needed to spend 2K on each one to get the bonus), and you simply need to continue to spend on one of them until you hit the 110K mark (so if you’re not doing the math in your head, you need to spend $6000 more). The extra spending to hit the 110K mark can be on either card.
IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: When I recommend using credit cards for everything you spend, it is with the assumption that you plan to pay that card off in full every month. If you aren’t in the habit of doing that or you have debt to pay down on an existing card, I’m sad to say that I don’t recommend you do any of this. The interest you’re paying on that card far surpasses the travel benefits you’ll obtain from them. Seriously folks, don’t make your life harder.
Wow, this all sounds pretty incredible! Where do I sign up for these credit cards?
Southwest changes their offers on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes they only offer 40K points per sign up bonus, but as of this posting, you can obtain
Southwest Personal Plus Card: 40,000 Rapid Reward Points after spending $1000 on the card within 3 months (annual fee $69)
Southwest Business Premier Card: 60,000 Rapid Reward Points after spending $3000 on the card within 3 months (annual fee $99)
Southwest Personal Premier Card: 40,000 Rapid Reward Points points after spending $3000 within 3 months ($99 annual fee)
Because these offers are so generous, Chase does not waive the annual fee on their Southwest branded cards. So you will pay the annual fee indicated beside the card as soon as you open the account. The value in spending $69 for at least 40,000 airline points, which is enough to usually buy 2 domestic round-trip tickets on Southwest, is amazing.
As your 1-year anniversary of owning any of these cards rolls around, you can certainly cancel them to avoid paying the annual fee again, although they do have a points bonus attached to them when they renew (6000 points for the Premier versions, 3000 for the Plus version). We will often cancel them though, as we have plenty of points left from the sign on bonuses (and the fact that we have the Companion Pass causes them to decrease much more slowly, despite a lot of traveling!). If you do cancel the account, you still get to keep the points, as long as you keep your Rapid Rewards account active (which is easy, just check out this link to see how you do it).
What if I already have a credit card? Do I need to cancel it or do anything before I apply for the Southwest branded cards?
Nope, you don’t need to cancel any existing accounts. But there is a small caveat: If you have applied for more than 5 personal credit cards in the past 24 months, you will likely be denied for these cards. This “rule” doesn’t apply to all credit card companies, and it’s only Chase specific. Also, if you have other Chase cards with high spending limits, you might want to message or call them and ask for the credit limits to be reduced. They can be funny about extending too much credit to one individual, understandably.
And if you’re worried about potential financial transgressions in your past that may have blemished your credit score, which would cause Chase to deny your application, you can go to a great website called Credit Karma and check it (without it registering as an inquiry which can affect your credit score). You can also find out how many credit cards you’ve applied for in the past 24 months, if you’re worried if may be too many.
So that’s it! Easy peasy, right?! Just kidding, I know it’s a lot to process at first. Really and truly, it’s not that hard once you get the ball rolling. And once you plan and take your first vacation with those points, and realize how many points you still have left in your account afterward to use for your next adventure, I can assure you it’s time well spent, in more ways than one.
You can certainly apply for the Southwest Personal Premier card instead of the “Plus” version, but frankly, I don’t see the benefit if you’re comparing the two. The Premier version has a higher annual fee ($99) and if you’re going to cancel the card before your 1-year anniversary rolls around, you’re just paying more initially for the same thing. That being said, if you’re going to keep the card open, and the extra 6000 points entices you, here’s the info to apply for that one.
Reach out to me if you have specific questions (email@example.com). I geek out on helping people with travel stuff, so it’s truly an honor to help you, if I can! If the Southwest Companion Pass just feels like too much work (I promise, it’s really not, but I get it if it’s still too much to process), the Chase Sapphire card is my favorite pick for a general credit card that earns Ultimate Reward points, which can then be transferred to many different airlines and hotel chains. Here’s a post to learn a lot more about it.
**I do receive a small points bonus through Chase’s Refer a Friend Program if you apply for and are approved for either the Southwest Personal Plus or Business Premier cards with my links above. You certainly don’t have to use them, but I sincerely appreciate it if you do. They are the best current offers for either card (and I will update the information to always reflect the best offer, whether I am rewarded some points for referring you or not). 🙂