New Rules for Earning a Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is the best deal in travel for many. But with the New Year there’s a change in what points count towards earning one.

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.

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.

Your flights and credit card bonuses and spend count. Transfers in directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards and purchased points have not counted, however.

Since points from the Southwest Airlines co-brand credit cards count — including signup bonus — that’s been a major part of the strategy of earning a Companion Pass. But there’s a change in how the Companion Pass is earned, in terms of what points still count.

Effective January 1, 2017 transfers from hotel and rental car programs no longer count per the Southwest Rapid Rewards terms and conditions. (HT: Julian Mark Kheel)

Here’s the key passage:

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

Purchased points, transferred points transferred between members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass Qualifying Points.

While Chase transfers did not count towards companion pass before, other transfers into Rapid Rewards now do not count either.

That means the workaround of transferring from Chase to Hyatt to Southwest is dead. And so are Marriott Travel Package redemptions for earning a Companion Pass.

southwest companion pass

You can still get two Southwest credit card bonuses and earn nearly enough points for a companion pass. You can still spend a lot on Southwest cards and earn a companion pass. And you can credit non-flight activity to your account to earn the points you need, for intance online shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards portal and earn points for the things you were going to buy anyway.

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 Milepoint.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. A shame, but not unexpected. I guess more people utilized transfers such as Marriott packages, to where it crossed a threshold of noticeability.

  2. The end of an era. WN historically has not screwed us the way the legacies do.

    A changed company.

  3. Was just about to do the marriot package deal sometime this year. Oh well now time to find a new use for all those membership rewards points

  4. Everyone needs to stop complaining and calling this a devaluation. We knew it was never sanctioned and at some point, it was going to stop. And it may stop with CC bonuses too. Sure it would really be unfortunate but it’s not a devaluation when it was never part of the program.

  5. On second thought, I might still go for it. I know I won’t get the companion pass but still might be worth it

  6. Anyone have any suggestions on what airline points to get back from this deal now that the compannion pass is no longer in play?

  7. @Raul – I would love to know how it works out. I’ve been sitting on Marriott points waiting for my previous pass to expire. I thought this might happen. Very curious if the IT systems have been updated or this is a change in wording only (I’m sure this type of activity was never *intended* to trigger a companion pass).

  8. @Mark, “transfers from hotel and rental car programs no longer count per the Southwest Rapid Rewards terms and conditions.” Sounds like a devaluation to me. Maybe a lil indirect bit still losing some value with this. Irrelevant whether it was part of program officially. Southwest knows what it’s doing

  9. No surprise here! Just about every travel blogger hammered the Marriott travel package deal over and over and over and beat it to it’s death today. I saw this coming a month ago, no one should be surprised. Blogging OVERLOAD killed this deal! Someday they will learn when enough is enough.

  10. Here’s an example of how “base points earned from partners” works. Avis rentals earn 600 base WN points, with bonuses bringing the total to 1200 or 2400 points for longer rentals. In 2016, I found that only the 600 base points were CP qualifying. This is likely to carry over to 2017 and future years.

    I’m disappointed Southwest implemented this change without notice, but otherwise think it’s reasonable. The program was simply too generous previously.

    Fortunately I have high business credit card spend; it’s still likely I’ll be able to qualify under the new rules. But the “qualify early in the year; get the pass for almost 2 years” strategy is much harder to implement now. (Getting 2 WN credit card 50,000 point bonuses early in the year is still a viable strategy for those not disqualified by Chase’s 5/24 rule. Are there any other viable strategies remaining?)

  11. My wife and I got SPG and Marriott cards this past year and have our points consolidated and ready to make the transaction to buy a Marriott 7 night package and Southwest 120000 rapid rewards .Any chance it might count if I do it today?

  12. @Cleo – I wouldn’t categorize myself as frustrated. I’ve long thought the benefit was too generous and for months thought that after the Starwood merger this was more likely to die than live. I’ve been sitting on points because I had a CP for ’15 & ’16, so I was waiting to redeem this for ’17 & ’18. I originally thought I’d call just after midnight if possible to get this started – but, over the past few months I became more and more concerned that this was going to happen and I shifted to a strategy of planning to wait this out a week to see that people still reported getting a companion pass (I feared an unannounced change – or rather rule enforcement- as “transferred” points were always excluded per the terms if I remember correctly).

    To answer your question: no, I don’t *think* it will work if your do it today. But I’d love to find out the result if someone tried it. Barring that happening, I’m going to be looking at transferring to Alaska since award tix are now upgradeable.

    This is definitely a major disappointment and throws a wrench in our plans (and I’m holding more than a grand in SW GCs), but I’m not surprised and don’t think it’s unreasonable. C’est la vie.

  13. Good bad was going to do the hotel thing this week. I knew waiting for the new year was risky. But when things are promoted strongly they go away. The good news is the Marriott points can go to SPG to some airline.

  14. Ha!

    I waited until TODAY to do a Marriott travel package and actually just tried to do it before reading this and got an error.

    Good thing I got that error, it turns out, because I was only doing it for the companion pass!

    I would have done it yesterday but I was afraid that they’d use the date of transfer and not when the miles posted and I didn’t want to miss out on getting it for 2017 and 2018. Now I guess I won’t get it at all.

    I’m pissed, but the timing is so bad it is actually funny.

  15. I’ve had the CP three times now. Last round expired yesterday. This is hard luck for me as well. Literally lined up my points last week to make a run for this. Cannot blame them! Super stinks for me tho because they Rock it out of BWI and we use them a ton. Not sure my next best play now or if I should be looking elsewhere. There is no equivalent to the CP and how easy it was to obtain it. I’ve appreciated having it. I’ll whine tonight. I’ll book vacation tomorrow. Moving on.

  16. 4 years of my wife both having the CP for our two kids has now ended. We are both well over 5/24 but some of the marriott cards dont count so were meeting some min spend to transfer. Oh Well. Now i am actually looking forward to some good ole fashioned road trips since our kids are of a better age and can keep occupied all day with a iPad or Nintendo… Yes we cant go to Aruba via car, but over the past 4 years we have saved a lot of other programs points to finally spend.

  17. Hubby and I have a CP from 2016, through 2017, and anticipated it would be our last with 5/24 making it more difficult to get two Chase Southwest cards. I didn’t think we would be so lucky for the Marriott package to still work in early 2018, though we have almost enough SPGs and Marriott points banked already in case it did.

    We traveled SW a lot in 2016. This year we are exclusively flying Southwest to get the most out of our CP.

    But that also means I’m not using my other miles. The balances just keep going higher and higher. If another Marriott package makes sense, that’s cool. We’ll see what develops with the merger in 2017. I’m sure we can find a good use for that many SPG points.

  18. Luckily, I earned my wife’s companion pass by converting a marriott travel package in 2016. So she is golden for 2017.
    Oh well, another workaround bites the dust.

  19. As a Companion Pass holder for the past 4 years, who was planning to add another 2 years this week, I’m really sorry to see this great deal go. But will the people who blame the bloggers for this turn of events just cool it and accept the fact that, without bloggers, there are many good deals they never would have known about in the first place?

  20. Lame….just earned the points from SPG to transfer for my first Companion Pass…guess I’ll have to figure out another good way to use these points…Any recommendations of good ways to use these points to the max now? I’m not too familiar with SPG…

  21. Yeah, not unreasonable and in fact I totally expected that it was coming I just didn’t expect it to happen immediately at the start of 2017. I’m bummed I already transferred something like 150k+ Amex pts to SPG then to Marriott so I could redeem a travel package January 1. I tried doing it online at about 1 or 2am CST on Jan 1 but got an error message from Marriott. I then tried calling about 4 different Marriott 800 numbers but 3 couldn’t connect and the one that did said they were closed for the holiday.

    Those 150k Amex points were far more valuable to me as Amex than as Marriott and still more valuable as 150k Amex than 50k SPG. Drats!

    But oh well. Win some and lose some. Maybe their IT isn’t upgraded yet and this is just a verbiage change in anticipation of the improved IT roll out later this year.

  22. Has anyone actually tried to get it through Marriott this year? As we know sometimes they “say” they won’t count but then you actually do get the points. Is there proof that it has stopped? Anyone willing to “take one for the team”?

  23. Yikes, I just purchased my 7-day Marriott package today, just before I heard about this change. I have no problem with them making the change, but I think it’s very un-Southwest like to not announce it in advance.

    I’ve emailed customer service and asked to be grandfathered in, but I doubt that will work. (Customer service for Rapid Rewards is closed today).

    Should I call Marriott back and try to cancel the transaction, so that I can keep my 270k Marriott points? And where would they be most valuable? As 90K SPG points, or some other airline.

    Thanks!

  24. @burton – as an apparently much more experienced attorney I can tell you there is no lawsuit here, but keep chasing those ambulances buddy!

  25. update: I called SW RR customer service today and the rep kept me on hold for a really long time to ask if they could make an exception. They said they couldn’t. He agreed that it was crappy not to announce the change and new as soon as he saw it (employees were emailed about the change) that he’d get a ton of complaint calls. Boo.

    Where should I transfer my Marriott package miles? 120k Alaska miles (since they can be used on AA for 50k business to Europe, and are also a good option for Australia and Thailand)? 132 United miles (I’ve never been much luck finding availability with them)

  26. Traci – United offers extra Economy award inventory to their elites, and those who hold their credit card. I’ve had much better luck finding award space on United than on AA or DL. If you want to investigate further, enable “expert mode” in your UA account, search for revenue (not award) flights, and click “details”. For many flights you’ll see something like “XN9 X0”, which indicates there are 9 Economy award seats for credit card holders and elites; none for general members.

    (If you’re searching for premium cabin award availability, I agree – United and its partners are tough.)

    Another option is to transfer your points to Southwest. They use revenue-based redemption; so award availability is never an issue. And award bookings are fully refundable – when you cancel, the points go back into your account with no fee.

    If neither of those options appeals to you, Alaska may be a good choice.

  27. Thanks, Phil! This is really helpful to know. (Unfortunately, I’m almost always looking for business class seats, and for 3 people at that, so it looks like you’re verifying that United isn’t great for that. I’ve always been able to find 3 business class seats on AA to Europe, no problem. Appreciate you chiming in!

  28. Did anyone answer Kim”s question regarding Rocketmiles counting for CP?
    I’m following & curious about the same thing!

  29. I just received an email stating I earned a companion pass, but I didn’t earn the necessary points. Has anyone else got this email?

  30. @Terry, yes I received the email also. It was an error. I received the pass in 2016 but it expired at the end of 2017. It got me excited for a second. Lol

  31. Does anyone know if Diners Club spend still qualifies for companion pass? Or is Diners club only disqualified if you use the hotel maneuver? Diners is revenue based, and the southwest rules in this regard seem ambiguous.

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