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This is an important time of the year for many miles and points related happenings as the calendar year steamrolls towards a conclusion. One of the numerous important deadlines that occurs on December 31st is related to the very popular and very valuable Southwest Companion Pass. As you may already know, if you have the Southwest Companion Pass then a designated companion can fly with you for free (other than taxes) on all Southwest flights whether you pay for your ticket with cash or points.
To earn the Southwest Companion Pass you need to rack up 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying Rapid Reward points in a calendar year (or fly 100 one-way revenue Southwest flights). You can earn towards the 110,000 needed points by flying a hefty number of purchased Southwest flights in a calendar year, but you can also do it a few other ways by obtaining and using the co-branded Southwest credit cards, transferring points in from hotel partners, and more. However, not only do the points towards the Southwest Companion Pass need to be earned in a calendar year, but they need to post to your Southwest account during that calendar year…at least in terms of the points you get from the co-branded Chase credit cards.
Timing Your Southwest Companion Pass Very Carefully
In a perfect world, the best time to qualify for a Southwest Companion Pass is at beginning of a calendar year since it is good for the year you earn it and all of the following year. Since many people like to use the sign-up bonus points from the various Southwest co-branded credit cards towards earning the pass, this means that late in a calendar year can be a good time to apply for those credit cards and start spending towards triggering the sign-up bonus points. However, you absolutely do not want to accidentally earn the sign-up bonus too quickly because if they post in 2016, those points will not help you in earning the Companion Pass in 2017. You may be left in a situation where you end up with no pass at all if you earn say 50,000 points towards the pass in December 2016 from a credit card sign-up bonus that posted earlier than you hoped.
You will then either have to seriously scramble to earn the rest of the way towards 110,000 points before January 1st or just write it off as a loss in terms of earning the Companion Pass and start again in 2017. Once the sign-up bonus points post to your Rapid Rewards account there is no real way to backtrack and have their posting date changed or delayed.
Unfortunately I have had a few questions related to this very scenario in recent weeks, and my best advice is to be very careful to avoid landing in this situation by being very diligent about triggering a sign-up bonus posting too soon by accidentally getting too close or going over the spending requirement. However, if you have found yourself with a sign-up bonus that has posted, or will post in 2016, then you have to decide if you want to expedite earning the rest of the way towards the pass before the calendar rolls to 2017 or write it off as a very expensive lesson learned.
Quickly Earn Points Towards the Southwest Companion Pass
If you do need to quickly earn the rest of the way towards the Companion Pass in 2016, some options for earning points include:
- Transfers from hotel programs including some better than average options such as the Marriott Hotel + Air Packages (remember you can also transfer points from SPG – Marriott if that helps) and transfers from Hyatt Gold Passport, Choice Hotels, etc. None of these are perfect options due to the transfer ratios from the programs, but they can work in a pinch, and may be worth it in the long run if you get good use out of the Companion Pass.
- Spending on the co-branded Southwest Credit Cards, but again remember that the points have to post in 2016 to count towards earning the pass this year.
- Actual paid Southwest travel that happens in 2016. As a refresher, Wanna Get Away Fares earn 6x the base fare, Anytime Fares earn at 10x, and Business Select Fares earn at 12x the base fare. This means that a $200 base fare would earn anywhere from 1,200 – 2,400 points towards the Companion Pass depending on which type of fare it was.
- Rapid Rewards Shopping and Dining points, excluding some bonuses. If you spend money at the retailers in the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal those points can count towards the Companion Pass (assuming they post in 2016), but some sitewide bonus points may not count. The same is true for the dining program where the regular points earned should count, but some bonus promotions may not.
- Some miscellaneous Rapid Reward partners. There are a few others ways to earn towards the Companion Pass including points from rental car partners, Rocketmiles, 1-800-Flowers, etc. can also count, but again the bonuses from those partners typically don’t count, just the regular points earned.
Things that sadly do not count towards the Southwest Companion Pass include purchased Rapid Reward points and transfers to Southwest from Chase Ultimate Rewards. That said, you can transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards to a Southwest hotel partner like Hyatt or Marriott and then go from that program to Southwest to earn towards the pass. Again, the transfer ratios from the hotel partners are not ideal, but it works. Similarly, you could also purchase hotel points from a Rapid Rewards transfer partner and then transfer them to Southwest to inch towards the Companion Pass.
Transfer Rates from Hotel Partners to Southwest
Some hotel transfer rates to Southwest that count towards the Southwest Companion Pass include:
- 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport = 2,400 Rapid Rewards Points
- 50,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points = 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
- 200,000 Marriott Reward points = 7 nights in a Category 1-5 hotel + 50,000 Rapid Reward points
- 250,000 Marriott Reward points = 7 nights in a Category 1-5 hotel + 100,000 Rapid Reward points
6,000 Choice points for = Rapid Rewards points
If you want in on one of these transfer options I would move sooner rather than later to ensure a 2016 posting date. The option to transfer 50,000 points from Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio and then from Hyatt to Southwest to get 30,000 Rapid Reward points may be a solid option to explore if you aren’t also in the market for 7 nights in a Marriott hotel.
I hope none of you are in a situation where 50,000 sign-up bonus points from a co-branded Southwest credit card posted in 2016 when you wanted them for 2017, but if they did then you need to really get moving on a strategy to turn lemons into Companion Pass flavored lemonade!