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Southwest announced some major changes to its Rapid Rewards loyalty program, most notably making it more difficult to earn a Southwest Companion Pass.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, you’ll need to earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year in order to get your hands on a Companion Pass. Previously, you would've needed 125,000 points to qualify.
The Southwest Companion Pass is a much-coveted perk among travel aficionados, as it’s basically a buy-one-get-one deal on your Southwest flight. When you buy a flight (or redeem points for a free flight), you can designate a companion to fly with you for only the cost of taxes and fees, which start at $5.60 one-way.
How to earn 135,000 points for the Southwest Companion Pass
Earn points by flying
Southwest’s lowest fare class, Wanna Get Away, gives you 6 Rapid Rewards points for every $1 spent in base airfare, meaning you’d need to spend $22,500 annually to earn the Companion Pass if acquired solely through flying via the cheap fares. If you fly Business Select, which earns 12 points per dollar spent, you’d need to spend $11,250 annually.
Earn points by spending on a Southwest credit card
Paying for Southwest flights isn’t the only way to earn Southwest points. Points can also be earned by spending on Southwest credit cards.
Applying for a new Southwest credit card can also give you a huge swath of points in one go, which can also count toward the requirement to earn a Companion Pass. Here are some of the current Southwest credit card sign-up bonus offers for consumers:
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card (Annual fee: $69): Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card (Annual fee: $99): Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (Annual fee: $149): Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
And while this news means it’s tougher to get a Companion Pass, there is some silver lining for people who hold a Southwest credit card. The company today also announced a new benefit: Rapid Rewards credit card members will receive a boost of 10,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points every year, which will get deposited into your account on the first business day of each calendar year or within 30 days of opening the card.
The points from the Companion Pass boost can't be redeemed for flights, but will give you a 10,000 point head start towards earning the perk.
And holding multiple credit cards won’t give you a bigger head start. Only one boost of 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points can be earned each calendar year by each Rapid Rewards account, no matter how many Rapid Rewards credit cards are tied to that Rapid Rewards account.
» Learn more: Can you have two Southwest credit cards?
Other changes coming to the Rapid Rewards loyalty program
Along with the increased Companion Pass requirements, Southwest announced a few other changes.
In most cases, Companion Pass holders will now be able to board together with their Companions. There are a few exceptions, such as when the Companion Pass holder purchased a Business Select fare, purchased Upgraded Boarding or added the Companion after they had been assigned a boarding position. But this news makes it more likely that you and your buddy will be able to sit together, despite Southwest’s unconventional boarding system.
Southwest also implemented a new no-show policy for Rapid Rewards bookings. If you’ve booked a Wanna Get Away or Wanna Get Away Plus fare with Rapid Rewards points, you must cancel the reservation at least 10 minutes before the flight’s original scheduled departure time if your plans change and you want your points back — otherwise you’ll forfeit them. That policy kicks in next summer.
Southwest is next in line for airline trend
The news of Southwest making it harder to earn a Companion Pass follows a trend of other travel loyalty programs increasing requirements for special benefits. Earlier this month, Delta upped how much spending you need to do to qualify for Medallion elite status — the first increase the company had made since 2015.
And while this might not exactly help you feel any better, you might not actually fly any more than usual just to hit the new points requirement given the rising cost of flights. The average U.S. airfares in September 2022 were 43% higher than they were in September 2021.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card