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As a writer living in Los Angeles, Southwest has always been my go-to airline. Jumping on one of their dark blue planes made a trip to Las Vegas easier (and sometimes faster) than a drive up the 15.
While they were once just a regional airline, Southwest has significantly expanded their map, and now it's possible to fly to Hawaii, New York, Atlanta or even Costa Rica from L.A. on one of their planes.
Just the basics
While Southwest doesn’t have a premium cabin, for me, being allowed to have two checked bags plus a carry-on without paying an extra fee feels better than a free cocktail and a warm hand towel in first class.
I love using Southwest’s frequent flyer program because I prefer value over comfort. So, while Southwest doesn’t have luxurious seats, fancy meals or TV screens in their seats, their often-low fares and lack of excessive fees leave plenty of cash in my pocket when I finally arrive at my destination.
Rapid Rewards points and A-List status
Southwest also is one of the most consumer-friendly frequent flyer programs I've ever tried. Rapid Rewards points have no blackout dates, which means I don’t have to schedule my vacations around the time that the airline tells me it's OK to use my rewards points. This has prevented some major scheduling hassles that have disrupted travel for my friends in more traditional programs.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards Program: The complete guide
You can also use your Rapid Rewards points during Southwest’s periodic flash sales, which means that even if your points balance is low, you can still use your points for cheap flights.
Southwest doesn’t offer assigned seating, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on when you get to the board the plane. However, for flyers who have 25 qualifying one-way flights a year or 35,000 points, you can get placed on the A-List.
The Southwest A-List offers some small but useful perks, such as priority boarding, so that you can snag your preferred seat, as well as priority check-in and the use of an expedited security line at airports where that's available.
Another major perk of Southwest’s program is that unlike some other major airlines, they have no cancellation fees if you pay with points. That means that if I cancel a ticket or miss a flight that I bought with points, Southwest will redeposit them back into my account without a charge or a penalty.
» Learn More: Find the best airline credit card for you
Earning and using the Companion Pass
While all of the above perks are definitely a reason to give Rapid Rewards serious consideration, there’s still one more perk that’s so strong it almost feels like a superpower: the Southwest Companion Pass.
The Companion Pass is simple to use. If you buy a Southwest ticket with either cash or points, you can then get another ticket for a designated companion to use on the same flight that’s nearly free. You just have to pay the fees and taxes on the ticket, which is generally only a few dollars.
To qualify for the Companion Pass, you’ll need to take either 100 qualifying one way flights on Southwest or earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in one year. While this may seem like a major challenge, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card does come with a sizeable welcome bonus to get you started: Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first 6 months.
Considering that Southwest now flies to Hawaii, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean, the Companion Pass feels like a golden ticket in my pocket when I want to plan an exotic trip with my wife.
The other important thing to understand about the Companion Pass is that it’s good for the remainder of the year that you earn it, as well as for the entirety of the next year. That means you want to earn it as early in the year as possible, so if you’re strategic with your sign-up bonus, you can get the Companion Pass for almost two full years.
» Learn more: Which Southwest Airlines credit card should I get?
Southwest credit cards
Unlike some cards from other major airlines, Southwest’s cards won’t get you into an airport lounge. The card's annual fee of just $199 is comparable to, or lower than, some other higher-end airline cards with lounge access — such as the United Club℠ Infinite Card with an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $525 or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card with an annual fee of $550. Terms apply.
The information related to United Club℠ Infinite Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies