7 Ways to Earn Free Companion Airline Travel for a Year

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The Southwest Companion Pass is the best deal in travel for many, and there are several ways that you can earn it quickly — and strategies to keep earning it year after year.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: signup bonus of 50,000 points after $2000 in spending on purchases within 3 months of account opening.

This is a much better offer than the standard 25,000 points after $1000 in spend. 50,000 points are worth $500 in gift cards, or can be worth over $700 in Southwest travel. The card also comes with 6000 points after each cardmember anniversary and has no foreign transaction fees. It has a $99 annual fee.

southwest companion pass

With the major airlines devaluing their programs, I’m finding Southwest more attractive. And of course checked bags are free.

southwest companion pass

I’m a fan of two key elements of the Southwest program:

  1. no change or redeposit fees on awards
  2. a Southwest companion pass after earning 110,000 points in a year

How Does the Southwest Companion Pass Work?

A Southwest Companion Pass lets a companion fly with you free when you travel on Southwest — even when you are flying on a Rapid Rewards award ticket.

You choose the person you want as your companion. When you book your tickets, you have the option to also use the Southwest companion pass for your designated person. (You can also book companion pass travel by phone.) You pay for your ticket, the companion flies for just the cost of security taxes. That’s it.

You can use the Southwest companion pass as many times as you’d like, and you can change your designated companion three times during its validity.

The most intriguing aspect of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is the companion pass and this card’s signup bonus gets you a good chunk of the way there.

You can earn this by taking 100 flights on Southwest, but who wants to do that? You also receive a Southwest companion pass when you earn 110,000 points in a year.

Nearly all points count towards the 110,000 threshold. Your flights, credit card bonuses and spend, and transfers in from hotel progams count. The key things that do not count are transfers in directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards and purchased points.

Here are 7 ways to earn the points for a Southwest Companion Pass:

Two Southwest credit card signup bonuses

When you sign up for the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and meet the required minimum spending for the signup bonus you’ll have at least 52,000 points.

Clicking on ‘Are you a business owner?’ on the application link shows that the business card also features the Southwest 50000 bonus point offer.

Meet minimum spend on both and you’re going to have 104,000 points — within easy striking distance of the 110,000 required for the year. And you can earn the last 6000 points in many ways, including those I mention below.

Had the Southwest card before? If you are interested in coming back, especially if you haven’t had 5 new cards in the past 24 months, consider applying for it again as you’re eligible for a signup bonus if you aren’t a current cardholder and haven’t received a bonus for the card in the last 24 months.

Marriott Travel Packages

Marriott Rewards offers hotel and miles package redemptions that are probably the highest value use of their points.

They advertise 7 night hotel packages that can also get you the annual points you need for a companion pass.

    southwest companion pass

But they also have 5 night travel packages which were originally introduced for timeshare owners, aren’t publicized on the Marriott Rewards website, can but can booked by phone (HT: Richard Kerr). That lets you get the Southwest points you need at a lower cost — 235,000 Marriott Rewards points for 5 nights at a category 1-5 hotel and 120,000 Southwest points (which is enough for a companion pass).

Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt or Marriott to Southwest

If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card you can transfer points directly from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account to Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards. However those points don’t count towards companion pass.

The workaround is that hotel points transfers to Southwest do count. That means you can transfer your points over to Marriott Rewards so you have enough points for a travel package. (You don’t want to just transfer Marriott Rewards straight to Southwest, it’s not the best ratio.)

If you aren’t going the travel package route, you can also transfer Chase points to Hyatt and from Hyatt to Southwest.

5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points transfers to 2,400 Southwest Airlines points. Convert 50,000 Hyatt points to 24,000 Southwest points and you get a 6000 point bonus (making the ratio 5:3). Transfer 200,000 Hyatt points, then, into Southwest and you receive 120,000 Southwest points. Or convert 192,500 Hyatt points for just over the 110,000 you need:

The great thing here is that Chase points can be earned so quickly.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® but of course we’re going to use the points for transfers to airline points.

You can earn another 5,000 bonus points when you add your first authorized user to the account and make a purchase in the same 3 months from account opening.

The card earns 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. It has an introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95.

Spend a lot on your Southwest cards

Spending on your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card counts toward the 110,000 points needed in a calendar year for the Companion Pass. Note that the year in which your statement closes and thus points post is the year in which spending counts. So be careful with the timing of your December spend if you’re counting on it.

Make Southwest your primary program

Since nearly every other than points transfers directly from Chase, buying or transfering points, and certain bonuses count towards the Southwest Companion Pass you can make Southwest Rapid Rewards your primary program. If you’re going to travel enough on this 2-for-1 deal throughout the year it can be worthwhile.

Simply credit the miles you’d earn for non-flight activity to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account instead of other airline programs. Book hotels through Rocketmiles. And you might even choose to fly Southwest more as well.

Buying Choice Hotels points

You can convert 6,000 Choice points to 1800 Southwest points. You can use a trick to buy Choice points for as little as 3/4ths of a cent apiece. (HT: Frequent Miler) They’ve also been on sale regularly each year through Daily Getaways.

You’re unlikely to do this from scratch (buying 372,000 Choice points) — since you can earn points each year from a variety of different sources, this is a reasonable method of topping off an account, unless you’re going to use that companion pass more than once a month it’s probably not worth doing this from scratch.

Online shopping (and then re-selling what you buy).

Do your online shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards portal and earn points for the things you were going to buy anyway.

While that alone can add up, there’s leverage in buying things with high resale value, recouping a portion of your cost and earning Southwest points towards the Southwest companion pass in the process.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary, I was surprised to learn that Starwood points are not currently transferable to Southwest. At times in the past, they have been transfer partners. Any idea whether they’re likely to pair up again moving forward? (25,000 Rapid Rewards points for 20,000 Starpoints would be a much more favorable “exchange rate” than Hyatt, Marriott, or even Choice.)

  2. When I called SWA, the only bonus points offered on a credit card that count towards Companion status are the point from Premium Chase Card. The Plus and the Business do not, they stated.

  3. @Molly Abeloe – that’s not correct. All points from Southwest co-brand credit cards count. From the terms and conditions:

    “Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.

    …Points earned during a billing cycle on a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card from Chase are not available for redemption or qualification for Companion Pass status until they are posted on your billing statement and posted to your Rapid Rewards Account.

  4. When is the best time to get the 110 k points? Do you get the companion pass for 12 months immediately, for the following canal ear year, or can it extend for more than a year?

  5. Can you please explain the bonus mentioned below:

    “Convert 50,000 Hyatt points to 24,000 Southwest points and you get a 6000 point bonus”

  6. So it seems that @molly abeloe broke the “don’t ever call the airlines” on travel hack rule. And got a bad answer as well. Just saying 🙂

  7. Southwest Airlines provides more than 50K points from plus card.Both of the cards have benefit with a little diferences. Premium Chase Card,companion status that is count from the bonus points offered on a credit card.Love Southwest airlines.

  8. Great post, Gary. A bit misleading to say “for a year,” though. It’s good until midnight on December 31 of the year AFTER you get it. So if you got it now, it would be good until December 31, 2017 – nearly 18 months. Now is a good time to plan a strategy for getting it at the beginning of 2017, in which case it will be good until December 31, 2018. In addition to the options you give, consider the Choice Privileges credit card, which comes with 32,000 Choice points after minimum spending, earns to Choice points per $1 in spending any category, and 8,000 bonus points every year that you spend $10,000. The nice thing about Choice points is you can accrue them now and cash them in for Southwest points when the year turns over. I got the Southwest companion pass earlier this year, so it’s good until December 31, 2017, after having gotten it in early 2014 expiring December 31, 2015. I’m collecting Choice points now with plans to cash them in on January 1, 2018 for another two years of companion.

    One other superlative is you can change companions three times per calendar year, which means six changes over the life of the companion pass, plus your initial designee means you could theoretically bring 7 different people with you on trips. Unlike other companion passes where it has to be on a paid ticket, you can take a companion on Southwest on paid flights or when booking with points.

  9. This is “as if it’s an ongoing stream into FantasyLand” some of the worst “financial” advice of the new millennium.

    Ok first off. If you have that much, why bargain your way back into having to buy thousands of more dollars in airfares from any airline?

    Just take your earned rewards and cash them out like you would the winnings at a Casino and pray that the guy who has experience running such an operation gets rid of all the ass hats.

    You don’t value our business. Then enjoy the next year without the revenue.

    Yes you’ll survive. So shall we.

  10. I read somewhere and I cant find it anymore. Have you heard of people using companion pass on companion pass? For example, a family of 3 can travel for the price of 1? Thanks.

  11. Can you earn Chase points now and then transfer them to Southwest via Hyatt in January 2017, thus getting a head start on earning in 2017 using 2016-earned points? Seems to me at this point that’s a better way to go than try to redeem them in the 2nd half of this year.

  12. I have two SW cards issued 9/22/2017. I would like to use them to earn miles for a SW companion pass. I need to spend $3,000 on each card by the end of my 3 month billing cycle 12/6/2017 to earn 60,000 miles on each card. I have read that since miles were earned in 2017 my companion pass will only be good for the remainder of 2017 and the full calendar year of 2018. Is there any way I can delay so I can use the companion pass for 2018 and 2019?

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