11 Years with the Southwest Companion Pass… Thousands of Dollars of Free Travel!

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I write about the Southwest Companion Pass quite often since it is by far my favorite perk in the entire travel world. It has saved my family tens of thousands of dollars over the years since I first earned the pass back in 2008! That means I’ve officially had the pass for 11 years. First off, you are probably asking yourself “What is the Southwest Companion Pass?” Here is a quick synopsis: The pass allows you to have a friend or family member fly with you for almost FREE an UNLIMITED number of times! I have lost count on exactly how many times I’ve used the pass and exactly how much I have saved, but I can promise you it has been a lot!

Every year, readers and friends are asking me how I have been able to earn the pass all of these years. Of course the easiest way to earn the pass is by applying for the Southwest credit cards. Although that is by no means the only way to earn the pass. Unfortunately earning the pass isn’t as easy as it used to be since many methods are no longer available. Although there are still many other ways to earn the pass.

My daughter flying for free thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass

Earning the Pass Every Single Year

2008

2008 was the very first time I earned the pass. I had known about the pass prior, but I was traveling for work every single week and never had a need to actually pay for airfare. If I wanted to fly somewhere else aside from my home city, I could just fly elsewhere on the companies dime. Towards the middle of 2008 I was still traveling 52 weeks a year for work, Monday through Thursday, but I wasn’t always flying to my client site. Some weeks I was driving and others I found myself flying Southwest. So earning the pass started to be more worthwhile.

At this point you earned credits and not points when flying with Southwest. That is when Southwest had their Rapid Rewards 1.0 program. You needed to earn 100 credits in a rolling 12-month period to earn the pass. During this time I earned credits by flying Southwest, crediting my Hilton “double dipping” to Southwest, and crediting my car rentals to Southwest credits. In late 2008 I earned my first Southwest Companion Pass. At that time the pass was valid for 12 months from when it was earned.

What still works towards earning the passSouthwest flights and car rentals

What no longer works towards earning the passCrediting Hilton stays to Southwest

2009

I had the Companion Pass that was earned in 2008 until the Fall of 2009. I continued to credit my Hilton “double dip” points to Southwest to earn the credits but stopped flying Southwest as much. At this point, I was driving to my project site two hours away, but continued to stay at hotels during the week. I actually went 2 full years without staying at the same hotel two nights in a row. I checked out and into a new hotel every single night! At one point I was earning 1.5 Southwest credits per stay at Hilton hotels — I vaguely remember there being a 3x point promotion which was huge! So hotel hoping was imperative to earning my Companion pass and maximizing my hotel free nights.

When my Companion Pass expired in the Fall of 2009 I had not earned enough credits to renew it. This led me to be without the pass for a few months. At that point credits expired 12 months after they were earned and not at the end of the calendar year like they do today. So even though I didn’t renew my pass, I still had the credits in my account accruing to earn the pass.

What no longer works towards earning the passCrediting Hilton stays to Southwest

2010

By Spring of 2010 I had only earned about half the number of credits needed for the Companion Pass. And since credits expired 12 months after they were earned, it was imperative to earn the remaining credits quick. At that time, American Express was still a Southwest partner. I transferred enough American Express Membership Reward points over to Southwest to earn 50 credits. This was the exact amount I needed to earn the pass. This was a long time ago so I cannot 100% remember exactly how many Membership Reward points were transferred! Those remaining credits then got me the Companion Pass for another 12 months, which meant my pass was set to expire again in Spring 2011.

I assumed this was going to be the last year of earning the companion pass easily. That summer I got married and had a new job which allowed me to stay home a little more! This meant that earning credits towards the pass was not going to be nearly as easy. Although, I knew I’d always be able to transfer American Express Membership Reward points over again if the pass was worth it.

What no longer works towards earning the passAmerican Express and Southwest are no longer partners so you cannot transfer your Membership Reward points to Southwest.

2011

On January 6, 2011, Southwest announced a MAJOR change to their program. They were going to move away from a credits system and to a new points system. The new Southwest Rapid Rewards 2.0 program was being rolled out. Previously they had a fixed earning and redemption system which was not tied to the price of the ticket. They then moved to a revenue based system. While earning points and redeeming points for a free flight changed drastically, this also meant an entire change to earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

The system moved to the Rapid Rewards program that we know today on March 1, 2011. Anyone who had an active Companion Pass on this date had their pass extended until the end of the calendar year! Since my Companion Pass didn’t expire until April, my pass was extended another 8 months and wasn’t set to expire until December 31, 2011. I felt like I won the lottery as this probably got me another $1,000 in free flying!

2012

In November of 2011 I applied for two Southwest credit cards. At the time, the offer was 50,000 points after meeting the minimum spend requirement. I waited until January 2012 to meet the minimum spend which meant the sign up bonus points did not post until 2012. I quickly spent $10,000 on the card which earned me another 10,000 points towards the pass. This meant I received 50,000 bonus points from the Southwest Plus card, 50,000 bonus points from the Southwest Premier card, and 10,000 points from regular credit card spend.

This gave me a total of 110,000 qualifying points which is the exact amount required for the Companion Pass. I received the Companion Pass in February 2012. Since my pass expired December 31st of the prior year, I just had one month without having the pass.

What still works towards earning the passBonus points earned from the Southwest sign up offers and regular credit card spend on any of the Southwest credit cards.

2013

Since I earned the Companion Pass in 2012, it was smooth sailing in 2013! The Companion Pass does not expire until the year AFTER the pass is received. Even though I earned it in February 2012, my pass did not expire until December 31, 2013!

2014

I had accumulated a ton of Wyndham Reward points for cheap in 2011 and 2012. I purchased them during the Daily Getaways promotions with the goal in mind to eventually transfer them to Southwest. The cost to purchase these points was ridiculously inexpensive and absolutely worth it. I paid $650 for 250,000 Wyndham points.

In 2012, Wyndham also offered a promotion where you’d earn 16,000 points after a single stay. Wyndham offered this promotion twice during the year where you could earn up to 48,000 points each time. I took advantage of this promotion 5 times and earned about 93,000 points. During those stays I also earned an additional 5,400 Southwest points for crediting some stays to miles and not points. I paid around $300 for my 5 “mattress runs.” At that point, Wyndham also counted no show stays towards points and bonus promotions. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

On January 1, 2014, I transferred 336,000 Wyndham Reward points to Southwest which earned me 100,800 Southwest points. All points counted towards the Companion Pass. While I spent about $1,000 to earn those points, I ended up with about $1,600 in value from Southwest. That also led me to be much closer to earning the Companion Pass once again. Also in the month of January, I purchased $10,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads at CVS with my Southwest credit card to earn the remaining 10,000 points needed. Again, I was without the pass in January, but earned it pretty quickly in February.

What still works towards earning the passPurchases made on your Southwest credit card (although CVS no longer sells Vanilla Reloads!)

What no longer works towards earning the passTransfers from partner hotels no longer count as qualifying points.

2015

Since I earned the Companion Pass in 2014, it did not expire until December 31, 2015. I did not have to think about it for all of 2015! I love when I earn the pass at the beginning of the year and it allows me almost two full years of having the pass!

2016

Baby #2 in was due in June and the thought of traveling while pregnant and my 2-year old daughter was not very appealing. Because of this, I was in no rush to earn the Companion Pass and went without it for a few months. Ultimately though, I earned it in the Fall, but actually did not fly Southwest once in all of 2016! Don’t get me wrong though, I did take a few flights that year including my babies first mileage run at 3 months old!

I earned the pass through many methods, including:

  • Shopping Airlines shopping portal. I used the portal for 100% of my online purchases.
  • Credit card referrals. I handed out my credit card refer-a-friend link to everyone I know. Thanks to those readers who used it! Southwest caps the number of points you can earn from referrals, so you’ll never be able to earn the Companion Pass solely on getting friends to sign up, but it can definitely help!
  • Rocketmiles hotel. I booked a few hotel stays through the hotel booking site Rocketmiles and credited my stays to Southwest.
  • Transferring points from Marriott. I transferred the remaining points needed from my Marriott account to my Southwest account. I used to stay at Marriott hotels exclusively when I traveled for work every single week back in 2005 and 2006 so I have a TON of Marriott points.

What still works towards earning the passSouthwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal, credit card referrals, and Rocketmiles hotels.

What no longer works towards earning the passTransfers from partner hotels no longer count as qualifying points.

2017

Since I earned the Companion Pass in the Fall of 2016, I had the pass for all of 2017! However, I wanted to make sure to earn the pass in 2017. I wanted the pass right away in 2018 without a gap as a I had a trip in January 2019. Fortunately, I was able to spend most of the year earning the points. I was able to earn about 55,000 points on my own by using the Southwest shopping portal, credit card referrals, paying bills via Plastiq and using my Southwest credit card exclusively on every non-category bonus purchase.

Then in October I applied for another Southwest credit card. This offer gave me 60,000 points plus 5,000 points from credit card spend. Since it had been more then 2 years since I applied for the card and I was no longer a card holder, I had no problem being approved and earning the points again. I made sure to hit the minimum spend right away so the points would hit in 2017. This ensured the points were added to the 55,000 qualifying points I already earned. I ultimately earned the pass again in November which meant I had the pass through December 31, 2018.

What still works towards earning the pass: Southwest Credit Card bonus offer, Southwest credit card spend, Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal, paying bills through Plastiq

What no longer works towards earning the passPaying your mortgage through Plastiq

2018

Even though I had the pass throughout 2018, I wanted to make sure I earned it again for 2019. Many years later it is still my favorite way to save money on travel! Earning the pass is still a huge priority for my family. Unfortunately, many methods that I used in the pass were no longer available, so I had to get creative.

Fortunately, I was able to earn 50,000 points by referring friends and family members to the Southwest Companion Pass. There was a point in early 2018 where the referral link was actually significantly better than the best available offer, so that helped. I then earned the remaining 60,000 points through credit card spend, paying my mortgage through Plastiq (but that only lasted a few months Chase no longer allowed it), the Rapid Rewards shopping portal, purchasing some Visa gift cards, and one paid Southwest flight. Volunteering to purchase a few expensive group gifts for friends and then collected cash from them also helped! They thought I was being nice by doing the leg work, but really it allowed me to put a few large purchases on my credit card!

What still works towards earning the passFlying on paid tickets with Southwest, Southwest credit card spend, Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal, credit card referrals, paying bills through Plastiq.

What no longer works towards earning the passPaying your mortgage through Plastiq

2019

So here we are in 2019. I still have the pass through the end of the year since I earned it in 2018. I already have a few flights booked using the pass so it is still providing great value to my family. Although we are flying JetBlue a little more due to the non-stop opportunities to the Caribbean, Southwest is still much less expensive and I do not mind a quick layover. And having a family member fly free makes a huge difference in the overall cost for a family trip of four.

The main problem I am facing right now is that we have made the decision to go for Hyatt Globalist and I will be putting a lot of our credit card spend on my husbands newly approved World of Hyatt Credit Card. That means I will not be earning too many qualifying points through credit card spend with Southwest. I might just see how the next few months go and possibly go the Southwest credit card routes again this Fall. That would then earn me the pass for 2020 and 2021 which means I wouldn’t have to think about earning the pass again for quite some time, which I love!

Overall…

Earning the Southwest Companion Pass has definitely changed over the years, but there are still many ways to earn the pass. Every year I figure out my overall strategy ahead of time and it usually evolves throughout the year. I am extremely glad that I’ve been a companion pass holder for this long. It has saved my family a ton of money and has been well worth it!

How have you earned the pass in the past? Will you be earning it this year, and if so, what is your game plan? Comment below!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. If you presently have 2 RR Chase credit cards with zero balances, can you apply for additional ones with this offer? Also, it looks like it will be easy to earn the 40,000 miles with spending $1000.00 in first 3 months, however, spending the additional $20,000, within the first year ay be problematic and with 2 cards, very difficult as I don’t have that much debt. Thanks.

  2. I ping-pong with my spouse every 2 years. I’m on my 2nd year, so spouse will be getting 2 SWA cards in Oct and we’ll strategically charge in order to get SWA CP by end of 1st week ’20. We use the benefit like crazy!!!

    • This is our plan as well, especially since we prefer to put spend on our Chase cards for flexible transfers. Thanks to high spends in Jan on my wife’s SW personal and biz cards we earned the Companion Pass in late Feb. Late next year it’ll be my turn to pick up 2 cards and for her to cancel hers, that way we’ll earn Companion Pass in early 2020 and she’ll be primed for the 2 year limit on cards.

  3. Does anyone know if I were to have the SW 2019 personal card companion pass and then earn the SW 2019/2020 business card companion pass – what does that do for me in 2019 when the two passes overlap?

    • @LK from Boston – Unfortunately it doesn’t really do anything. If you have it in 2019 and earn it in 2019, that just means it is essentially extended until 2020.

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