Are You Ready for the Changes Coming to the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the sweetest deals in the travel world, but changes are coming January 1. Here’s everything you need to know to ensure that your companion flies for free:

The Basics

The Companion Pass allows unlimited travel for your designated companion. You have to pay taxes and fees, as you would with an award ticket, but the free travel applies to both paid and award tickets; you can save Rapid Rewards points by booking one award flight and getting the second one for a pittance. The current requirements for the pass are either 110,000 qualifying points or 100 segments (one-way revenue flights) annually. Beginning January 1, 2020, earning the pass will require 125,000 qualifying points or 100 segments in a calendar year.

The good news is that your pass is good for the year you qualify as well as the following year; if you earn it for 2020, it will be in effect until December 31, 2021, so it makes sense to qualify as early in the year as possible. You can change your designated friend or family member up to three times per calendar year. The rules for earning qualifying points are slightly complicated, so let’s break those down.

Points From Credit Card Signup Bonuses

These do count, fortunately, and can give you a significant head start toward qualifying. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus ($69 annual fee), Premier ($99) and Priority ($149) cards all come with a 40,000-point bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases over the first three months. They also reward cardholders with bonus points on their anniversaries (3,000, 6,000 and 7,500 points respectively).

The two business cards are even more rewarding. The Premier Business card gives 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and the Performance card comes with a 70,000-point bonus with a spend of $5,000 in 90 days. All the cards have other benefits, of course, but we’re only looking at the bonuses for the purpose of qualifying for the Companion Pass.

Here are some important things to remember about the cards:

  • Bonuses fluctuate, so check frequently for offers.
  • You can’t get the bonus again if you’ve had the card within the past 24 months.
  • All the cards are issued by Chase and are subject to the 5/24 rule: if you’ve opened five or more bank cards within 24 months (all cards, not just Chase), you won’t be approved.
  • To get a business card, you don’t have to be Bill Gates—you just need a legitimate, for-profit business. If you run a babysitting service, detail automobiles or sell real estate, you may well qualify. Remember, too, that business cards don’t count toward your 5/24 totals.

Flying: Southwest has a revenue-based system, so flyers earn points according to the value of their fare. The Wanna Get Away fares, which are the cheapest, earn six points per dollar; Anytime fares give 10 points per dollar, and Business Select earns 12 points per dollar. The points are calculated according to the base fare, exclusive of any bonuses.

Partners: You also earn base points when buying services from partners:

  • Travel: You get 600 points for every stay booked directly through Hyatt; for other chains such as Marriott, Best Western, Radisson and Choice, the hotel points can be converted to Rapid Rewards points.
  • Transportation: You earn 600 points per car rental with Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National, Payless and Thrifty. Request your points at the rental counter.
  • Shop and Dine: You earn points with Harry & David, Laithwaites and 1-800-flowers, as well as through the Rapid Rewards Dining program. In addition, the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal allow you to purchase items from over 800 stores and earn qualifying points.
  • Home & Lifestyle: In selected states, you can earn points through the NRG or Reliant power companies, or nationally when you purchase gas at Marathon stations.
  • Surveys: Earn points by taking surveys with Rewards for Opinions or e-Rewards.

What Doesn’t Count: In general, transferred points are out of bounds, so signing up for a card that gives Ultimate Rewards points and transfering those to Southwest won’t bring you any closer to the Companion Pass. Purchased points also don’t count, and points transferred from hotel programs have been excluded since 2017.

Doing the Math

How much spending does it take to earn the valuable Southwest Companion Pass? A great deal depends on your travel patterns, and it helps to live near a Southwest hub. Here are some scenarios:

If you wanted to qualify solely by flying, you’d need $10,416 in Business Select fares, $12,500 in Anytime and $20,433 in Wanna Get Away. While these may seem like hefty sums—and they are—they can unlock many thousands of dollars in savings.

Most people will qualify through a combination of credit card bonuses and flying. If you get the 40,000-point bonus on the Plus, Premier or Priority cards, the required spending on flying drops considerably: $7,083, $8,500 and $14,166 for the three fare tiers. If you have a business (even a small one) and get the Performance card, things look much better; under that scenario, your flight spending becomes either $4,583, $5,500 or $9,166.

You can reduce those numbers further if you travel frequently and take advantage of the partner redemptions, or if you make large purchases through the shopping portal. How does the required spending compare to achieving elite status on the legacy airlines? American and Delta require $3,000/$6,000/$9,000/$15,000 for their four elite tiers, and United just increased their thresholds to $4,000/$8,000/$12,000/$18,000 as of January 1.

Remember, too, that Southwest does not charge baggage fees or change fees, and Rapid Rewards points now don’t expire.

Bottom Line

The Southwest Companion pass can generate huge savings, depending on your travel patterns and whether you live close to a hub city. The pass can be earned through a combination of flying, credit card bonuses and travel/shopping bonuses; do the math to see if your situation makes it worthwhile to qualify.

Source: frugal travel guy

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