The Southwest Companion Pass is a much-coveted perk among Southwest loyalists and air travel aficionados.
That's because owning the pass is akin to getting a buy-one-get-one deal on your Southwest flight: Every time you buy a flight or redeem points for a free flight, you can choose a companion to fly with you for free — or at least for only the cost of taxes and fees (more on that later).
Enjoying a Companion Pass is easy, but earning it can be a challenge. Here's everything you need to know, including how to use Southwest's credit cards to help fast-track you to such a pass.
What is a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is a sought-after highlight of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program because it's among the most valuable benefits of its kind. It allows you to pick one person to fly with you without paying any airline charges for your travel companion, aside from mandatory taxes and fees, which start at $5.60 one-way.
To qualify for a traditional Companion Pass, you'll need to do one of the following:
Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year, or;
Earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. Qualifying points include those that you earn through revenue flights booked via Southwest; those that you earn on Southwest credit cards; and base points you earn from Rapid Rewards partners.
If you meet either of those criteria, you'll earn the Companion Pass for the rest of the year in which you qualified and the following calendar year. So if you earn the Companion Pass in, say, July 2020, it will be valid through the end of December 2021. You'll need to re-qualify every year to hold on to your status.
Nerdy tip: If you can time it so you qualify for the pass in January, you'll essentially be getting two-for-one tickets for nearly two years. That could add up to some serious savings.
How to get a Companion Pass faster
Unless you travel every week on a Southwest flight, it's probably more feasible to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points to get you to that coveted pass status.
The quickest way to amass a pile of points has been by earning the sign-up bonus on at least one of the three Southwest consumer credit cards:
Although these three cards' annual fees and perks vary, they all earn the same ongoing rewards and have the same sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year. That can get you started toward the 125,000-point threshold.
There are also two business credit cards:
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card, which has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, which has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Ongoing rewards and sign-up bonuses all count toward a traditional Companion Pass, as do the annual anniversary points you get with each card.
Here are the best strategies for earning Rapid Rewards points:
Get a Southwest Airlines credit card and earn the sign-up bonus: This can get you well on your way to that 125,000-point goal.
Fly Southwest and use your Southwest card to pay for the tickets: The Southwest cards all earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest flights, so a $100 flight will earn you 200 points.
Book a hotel stay or rental car with a Rapid Rewards partner and pay with your card. This includes recognizable names like Hyatt, Marriott, Hertz and Budget.
Shop online through Southwest's bonus mall: Spending money through Rapid Rewards Shopping partners can net you extra points for your regular spending.
Become a Rapid Rewards Dining member: When you dine at participating restaurants and pay with your enrolled card, you can earn more qualifying points.
What not to do
It's understandable to want to earn a Companion Pass as quickly as possible. Just note that these "shortcuts" won't work:
Don't try to buy your way to a Companion Pass: Points that you purchase directly won't count, nor will points transferred between members, or converted from hotel and car loyalty programs.
Don't run afoul of Chase's "One Southwest Card" rule: If you already have a Southwest consumer card, you likely will not be eligible for another. Similarly, if you've already earned a sign-up bonus from a Southwest consumer card within the past 24 months, you likely cannot qualify for a different consumer card.
Don't forget about Chase's 5/24 rule, which has to do with how many sign-up bonuses a cardholder can snag in a two-year period. The "One Southwest Card" rule doesn't apply to Southwest business cards, so you could potentially apply for, say, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card. But depending on your situation, if you’ve recently applied for several other cards in addition to those two, you still may be denied.