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It’s interesting how the questions I get via email go in cycles, and when I see a topic trending it sometimes reminds me it is probably worth covering here. The trending question of the month is definitely how to finish up getting the Southwest Companion pass this year.
The Southwest Companion Pass allows the pass holder to designate a companion to fly with them on Southwest operated flights basically for free – just pay the taxes. It doesn’t matter if the pass holder is flying in a paid fare with cash or using points, the companion can still fly with them. It’s the best value in family travel if Southwest is a convenient airline for your family.
Now, before I go further answering this question, I want to be clear that this is not the best time of the year to qualify for the Companion Pass for most people because the pass is good the year you earn it and the entire following calendar year. That means earning it at the end of the year results in less valid time for the pass. All things being equal, the better play is to qualify early in a calendar year, thus giving yourself as close to 24 months of validity as possible. However, if you are already getting close to earning the pass in 2014, it can absolutely make sense to finish up that qualification rather than letting the work you have done go to waste.
In other words, if you haven’t already started toward the Southwest Companion Pass in 2014, don’t. Wait until 2015 and get it done as early in the year as possible.
How Companion Pass Points are Counted:
One common point of confusion for people is how the 110,000 points you need for the Companion Pass are counted. That count is not based on how many Southwest points you currently have in your account, it is based on how many points you earned in 2014 that were Companion Pass eligible. As far as the Companion Pass goes, it doesn’t matter if you have used points, hoarded points, or whatever. It just matters how many you earned, and in what year. So, if you earned 105,000 Companion Pass eligible points in 2014 and still have those points available to use in 2015 it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t earn them in 2015 then they will no longer help you earn the pass once the calendar turns years.
Also keep in mind that not all points earned on Southwest count toward the Companion Pass. Check your 2014 progress toward the Companion Pass here.
If you see that you are within striking distance of 110,000 points, and I would personally define that as at least half-way there, then read on to see some ways to make up the remaining points needed. If not, then read this post only as a guide for next year, don’t start now for 2014.
First, here are the terms and conditions on Companion Pass qualifying points:
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.
Here is a breakdown into actionable steps to earn more points:
- Get a co-branded Southwest credit card with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. As View From the Wing shared here, it is currently possible to get some of the Chase Southwest credit cards with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. This bonus goes back and forth between 25,000 and 50,000 points, so I would personally only strike at the 50k level. These points do count toward the Companion Pass, and are the quickest and easiest way to get almost half-way to 110,000 points at once. There are four versions of the card (two business, two personal). If you do this and want the points to count for 2014 then meet the spending requirement to trigger the bonus as fast as possible. It must post in 2014 to count for this year. If it posts in 2015, it counts for 2015.
- Put spending on the Southwest co-branded credit cards that posts in 2014. The spending you put on the Southwest credit cards also counts toward the Companion Pass, so the more you charge on the cards that posts in 2014, the closer you get. It should go without saying, but of course don’t buy extra stuff you don’t need to earn the Companion Pass. Again, if the points don’t post until 2015 (like for some December purchases), they won’t count for 2014 Companion Pass purchases.
- Fly Southwest. The points you earn flying on paid Southwest fares also count, so I would give Southwest flights preference if you are needing to squeeze every point you can to get the pass this year. Business Select Fares earn 12x points per dollar, Anytime Fares earn 10x points per dollar, and Wanna Get Away (cheapest) fares earn 6x per dollar.
- Dining Program. Make sure that you are using the Southwest Dining program to earn points. The occasional bonuses may not count toward the Companion Pass, but the 3-5 points per dollar you earn eating out at participating restaurants do count.
- Hotel point transfers. You can transfer points from hotel programs to Southwest and have those count toward the Companion Pass. A popular option is Hyatt Gold Passport. In fact, I know some people who transfer Ultimate Reward points to Hyatt and then move them from Hyatt to Southwest to top-off to the Companion Pass. You will lost points in the transfer process as it is not a 1:1 ratio from Hyatt to Southwest but rather a 2.5:1 ratio, but it can work in a pinch. Note that you cannot transfer Ultimate Reward points directly to Southwest in order to earn the Companion Pass. Marriott is also a popular choice via their Hotel + Air packages, assuming you have a six figure Marriott points account. Million Mile Secrets has a good breakdown of hotel transfer options and ratios here. You can also credit hotel stays directly to Southwest and earn points that way.
- Use the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal. You can earn points that are Companion Pass eligible by shopping online via the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal. We have seen some increased payouts in the neighborhood of 10x recently, so that can add up quickly if you had some shopping to do. Those who takes things a step or two further than me have even bought merchandise via the portal to resell and racked up points in the process. Proceed with caution on that one.
- And more. If you are really scraping the bottom of the points barrel looking for ideas (and I don’t blame you), there are others options to get toward the Companion Pass like using other Southwest partners such as car rentals, ordering flowers, etc. The Companion Pass is hugely valuable so I don’t blame you for pushing as hard as you can to get the rest of the way there, but just keep your extra spending to get there in check.
If you have been racking up points to earn the Companion Pass, I’d love to hear what methods are working for your family!