Note: You’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points to earn the Companion Pass starting January 2020.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best and most coveted deals in travel available.
This is partly because Southwest Airlines is such a budget-friendly and well-rated airline, but it’s also because the Southwest Companion Pass allows you to save the most money on airfare within the U.S. and select international destinations.
Even if Southwest isn’t your preferred airline, the Southwest Companion Pass offers enough unique benefits that it’s worth considering adding to your travel hacking to-do list.
Although you can earn the Southwest Companion Pass by flying 100 qualifying one-way flights within a calendar year, the easiest way to earn the Companion Pass is by earning 110,000 qualifying points.
Note: You’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points to earn the Companion Pass starting January 2020.
How do you earn 110,000 qualifying points within a calendar year?
The easiest way to do that is by earning Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses by meeting minimum spending requirements.
While spending the thousands of dollars needed to successfully earn the Southwest Companion Pass may seem daunting, it’s relatively simply with a little planning and good timing.
Read on to learn how to easily earn the Southwest Companion Pass using credit card sign-up bonuses.
But first, what is the Southwest Companion Pass and why should you care?
- Southwest Companion Pass: What It Is and Why You Want It
- Small Travel Hacks That Will Save You Big Money
- There is No Such Thing as a Free Trip (But You Can Get Darn Close)
- Is Westin Vacation Ownership Worth the Cost?
What is the Southwest Companion Pass and Why Should You Care?
The Southwest Companion Pass is a companion fare that can be used for the remainder of the year in which you earn it plus the entirety of the following calendar year. This means you can fly a companion with you for just the cost of fuel surcharges.
Unlike other companion fare offers, the Southwest Companion Pass allows you to use points or cash to book your flight. With your companion flying for only fuel surcharges, it’s possible to book Southwest flights for the cost of points and fuel surcharge costs.
In other words, it’s possible to fly two people for almost free as long as you have enough points to cover your fare.
To our knowledge, there isn’t another airline that will allow you to both book a flight with points AND utilize a companion fare on the same itinerary.
Even if you don’t have enough points to cover your flight, you can still pay out of pocket for your flight and add your companion for just the cost of fuel surcharges.
Either way you look at it, the Southwest Companion Pass allows you to save tons of money on flights for up to two years at a time.
Now that you’re chomping at the bit, let’s get into how you can get your hands on your very own Southwest Companion Pass.
Basics of Southwest Credit Cards
The easiest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is to sign up for two of Southwest’s co-branded credit cards. Meeting the minimum spending requirements will get you the majority of the way to earning your companion pass, but it won’t get you all the way.
There are currently 5 co-branded Southwest cards with Chase, 3 of which are personal cards and 2 are business cards. Each card offers a sign-up bonus between 40,000 and 60,000 points for meeting minimum spending within the first 3 months of opening the account (the new Performance Business card is offering an increased introductory bonus for a minimum spend of $5,000).
Important: If you do not think you’ll be able to pay off your credit cards every month DO NOT attempt to use credit card sign-up bonuses as a way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. The interest you’ll pay will offset any benefits you might earn.
There are times when both personal and business cards will be offering 60,000 sign-up bonuses, but that typically isn’t the case. More often, you’ll see the personal cards offering 40,000 bonuses after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and the Premier business card offering a 60,000 bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (the personal cards also regularly offer tiered bonuses where you can earn an additional 20,000 points by spending $12,000 within the first year).
Now, before we go any further there are a few things to know about Southwest card rules. First, you can’t receive a sign-up bonus for a card you already have. You also can’t earn a sign-up bonus on a new personal card if you earned one on any personal card in the past 24 months.
Finally, Chase, which co-brands with Southwest to offer the cards, will not approve you for a new card if you’ve opened more than 5 cards with any provider over the last 2 years. Known as the 5/24 rule, you’ll need to make sure you haven’t opened more than 3 cards in the last 2 years to implement this strategy for earning the Southwest Companion Pass.
These rules mean you’ll need to wait until you haven’t earned a sign-up bonus on a Southwest personal card for at least two years, and you’ll need to open a Southwest business card to make this strategy work for earning the Companion Pass. The rules for what counts as a business are very flexible, but you will need some sort of side hustle work to meet the requirements. Learn more about what qualifies for a business here.
Aside from all the card rules, even if you were to earn the sign-up bonuses for both a personal and a business card that will still leave you needing to spend an additional $6,000 in order to earn the Companion Pass (100,000 in sign-up bonuses plus 4,000 points from $4,000 spent to meet minimum spending puts you at only 104,000 points).
Note: Starting January 2020 you’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points, which means you’ll need to earn an additional 21,000 points after earning the sign-up bonuses and completing minimum spending requirements.
While an additional $6,000 could probably be done throughout the course of the year, you’ll want to earn the Companion Pass as soon as possible within the calendar year so you can take advantage of it for as long as possible.
All of the convoluted rules and scenarios described above means you’ll need a solid plan if you want to embark on earning the Companion Pass and maximizing the time you have.
Make a Plan
The key to earning the Southwest Companion Pass quickly and efficiently is having a plan.
Unless you typically spend a lot of money every month, you will likely find that you can meet the minimum spending requirements within the first 3 months but will need much more time to spend the roughly $6,000 more needed to get to 110,000 points.
Luckily, the beginning of the year affords many people the ability to stack some major expenses. Furthermore, there are a plethora of hacks that can be used to manufacture spending and maximize the points you can earn for the spending you do. Last but not least, the timing of your card applications and spending is very important and can allow you to spread your spending out.
The following tips and tricks will detail how you can time your card applications as well as ways to hack your spending so you can earn the Southwest Companion Pass as quickly as possible.
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass
Apply for Your First Card in December
You must earn 110,000 qualifying points within a calendar year to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait for the start of the year to begin doing it.
Note: You’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points to earn the Companion Pass starting January 2020.
In fact, you can begin making purchases in December that can count toward your Companion Pass. This is because it doesn’t matter when you make the purchase, what matters is when your points reach your account.
As a result, you can begin making purchases in December that will count toward your Companion Pass as long as you ensure that your statement closing date will mean the points post in January.
For example, let’s say you apply for a card mid-December. You’ll receive the card in about a week, and your statement closing date is scheduled to be the 15th of the month (the closing date will depend on when you are approved). This means you can spend on the card for the later part of December and those points won’t post until after the statement closing on January 15th.
This means you can begin earning the Southwest Companion Pass in December, spreading your spending and earning out over a longer period of time.
Plus, applying for your first card in mid-December will give you a month to put all your expenses on that one card being as you can only apply for a Chase card once every 30 days.
So, the first step in earning the Southwest Companion Pass using credit cards is timing. Apply for your first card in early or mid-December, begin spending on that card, then apply for your second one after a month has passed.
Next, we’ll offer some tips and tricks for not only meeting the minimum spending requirements on your Southwest cards ($4,000 worth), but also ways to spend the roughly $6,000 more needed to reach 110,000 qualifying points as quickly as possible.
Time Your Large Bills
Many people have large annual or non-monthly expenses that can be used to make a big dent in meeting minimum spending requirements or help you get the rest of the way to your Companion Pass.
The key is to plan any large expenses you do have so that they coincide with the beginning of the year (January – March).
For example, most auto insurances allow you to make an annual or semi-annual payment in lump sums (you’ll also typically be given a discount for doing so). If you are able to make a years’ worth of payments at once, try to move your payment to the first 3 months of the year. Depending on the number of vehicles you have and type of insurance, this one payment alone will likely get you more than halfway to earning the minimum spending requirements on your cards.
Other examples of potential large non-monthly payments include home or renter’s insurance, memberships, subscriptions, HOA dues, licensing and tag fees, etc.
Plan Around Large Expenses
Another way to ensure you’re able to spend enough to earn the Companion Pass as soon as possible is to plan any large upcoming expenses for the beginning of the year.
In this case, large upcoming expenses refers to any expense (not bills) that you have planned and budgeted for. These include home repairs/remodeling, travel purchases, auto or other maintenance, etc.
In essence, if you’re planning a large purchase and also wanting to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you can wait to make that purchase until the beginning of the year as part of your earning strategy.
You can pay the majority of your bills using a credit card, but did you know that you can also pay your taxes?
In fact, taxes are one potential annual expense that we haven’t yet discussed that can also help you make a large dent in your journey to earning the Southwest Companion Pass.
While the goal for most is to get a tax refund, those of you who owe taxes can use it as an opportunity to make another large dent on your way to earning the Companion Pass.
Hack Your Loans
The last large purchase strategy you can use to help you earn the Southwest Companion Pass as soon as possible is to hack any loans you may have.
As you’re likely well aware, you typically can’t make loan payments with credit cards. This rule is for a good reason. Lenders don’t want you to be relying on credit cards to make your payments.
However, you may be able to bend that rule for a one-time deal.
For instance, I (Tawnya) was able to use one of my Southwest cards to pay off the remaining balance on my auto loan last year. To do it, I simply called my credit union (the lender) and explained to them what I hoped to do and why I wanted to do it. It turns out that loan payments with a credit card were possible, it just required me to complete the payment with someone higher up than my local branch.
Long story short, I was able to pay off my auto loan using my Southwest card, all because I asked and explained my plan. They were more than willing to help me out for this one-time situation, and I was able to make a huge dent in the necessary spending.
Another bill that typically can’t be paid with a credit card is a mortgage or rent. However, there’s a way around that too.
Payment services, such as Plastiq, will allow you to make a mortgage or rent payment with a credit card for a fee. Plastiq bills your credit card then makes the payment to your mortgage lender or rental agency.
However, for the purposes of earning the Companion Pass it’s important to know that Plastiq has restrictions of the types of payments that can be made with a visa card (due to restrictions from visa). Southwest cards are visa cards, so you won’t be able to make mortgage payments. You will, however, be able to make rent and other payments.
Note: Plastiq should only be used to meet minimum spending requirements or to spend the necessary amount to meet the requirements for the Companion Pass, not for monthly spending. The fees associated with using Plastiq will offset the rewards you earn if you use it on a monthly basis.
You can check out Plastiq for more information.
Long story short, if you’re looking to earn the Southwest Companion Pass and you have loans, you should talk to your lender to see if you can make a one-time payment with your Southwest credit card. If you pay rent, check out Plastiq to see if making a few rent payments through their service is worth the fee.
Earn More Points for Everyday Spending
Aside from planning your large purchases around the first of the year, you can also find ways to earn more points for your everyday spending.
All Southwest cards offer increased points earning on certain travel purchases (check it out here), 2 points for every dollar spent for personal cards and 3 points for every dollar spent for business cards. Thus, purchasing a Southwest flight for $500 will earn you 1,000 points on a personal card and 1,500 points on a business card.
In addition to earning more points per purchase on travel, you can really stack up the points by making purchases through the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal.
You can shop at all your favorite stores through the Rapid Rewards Portal, except by using this portal you’ll be able to earn multiple points per dollar spent, which will allow you to earn points toward the Southwest Companion Pass more quickly.
Points earned will depend on the store, but a quick glance at the portal currently shows you can earn anywhere from 0.5 to 12 points per dollar spent.
Obviously, you shouldn’t buy things just to earn points, but if you’re already looking to make purchases it’s worth looking at making those purchases through the Rapid Rewards Portal in order to earn as many points as possible for your dollar.
After all, the more points you earn per dollar the less you’ll have to spend to reach 110,000 qualifying points.
Manufacture Spending With Gift Cards
Another way to quickly earn rapid rewards points is to earn points now for future expenses. In other words, you’re spending money without actually spending or spending now for things that will be purchased in the future.
Called manufactured spending, this strategy involves purchasing gift cards in order to spend the necessary amount now without having to purchase items now.
For instance, you could purchase grocery store gift cards and use the gift cards when you’re grocery shopping over the next several months until they are used up. That way, you could spend several hundred or more dollars that would count toward your point total immediately but wait to use the cards as needed over the next several months.
You could also use manufactured spending with gift cards to purchase gifts that can then be given months in the future.
This strategy is very useful for earning sign-up bonuses and can also be used to get you the rest of the way to your Southwest Companion Pass in a shorter amount of time. Just make sure you’re purchasing gift cards you’ll actually be able to use/give, and as always, make sure you can pay your credit card balance every month to avoid interest charges.
Use Friends and Family to Manufacture Spending
The last strategy for meeting the spending requirements to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is one that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, but one I’ve used to great success since I’ve been credit card hacking.
Using family and friends to manufacture spending.
Whereas using manufactured spending through purchasing gift cards allows you to pay now for future expenses, this manufactured spending strategy allows you to spend money without actually spending money.
The trick is to find someone willing to help you out.
Cue grandma, my credit card hacking accomplice.
My grandparents have been gracious enough over the years to allow me to make purchases for them on my credit cards, which they then pay back to me via check.
The typical purchase is groceries. Every couple of weeks I’ll meet my grandparents at the store, help them shop, and then purchase their several hundred dollars’ worth of groceries with my card. My grandma will then write me a check for the amount. I’m able to earn points without actually spending my own money.
I’ve also done something similar when sharing expenses with friends, such as eating out or travel. I’ll put the full amount of the purchase on my credit card and my friend will pay their share to me with cash or some other means.
Your success with this strategy will depend on the willingness of your friends and family to help you out, but if you’re able to recruit a few people those purchases will go a long way toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass without you needing to actually spend your money.
Moral of the Story
At first glance, earning the Southwest Companion Pass may seem like a daunting task. However, with a little forethought and planning the task becomes much more attainable.
Once you’re familiar with Chase’s card rules and assured you will qualify, it’s all a matter of timing your card applications and planning your spending so that you can reach your minimum spending requirements within the first 3 months of the year. Once you’ve earned the bonuses, you must plan to spend as much as is needed to reach 110,000 points as quickly as possible so that you can optimize your time with the Companion Pass.
Plan to apply for your first Southwest card early to mid-December so that you can begin making purchases before the first of the year. Just make sure your statement closing date is in January so the points post within the new calendar year. Make sure you wait a month to apply for your second card.
As for meeting spending requirements and reaching 110,000 points, make sure you time your large annual or non-monthly bills and other large purchases for the beginning of the year. You can also pay any taxes you owe with your cards.
Next, you can look to hack your loans by contacting your lender about making one-time loan payments with your credit cards or use a service like Plastiq to pay rent. You can earn even more points by spending in card bonus categories or shop using the Rapid Rewards Portal. Finally, you can manufacture spending by buying gift cards to be used later or making purchases for family and friends and getting reimbursed.
As always, do not plan to use credit card hacking as a strategy unless you’re committed and able to pay off your cards every month. The tips we’ve outlined will mean you’ll need to be able to pay off balances of several thousand on your cards, which is not possible for everyone.
Remember, the goal with credit card hacking is to leverage the spending you’re already doing to earn points and benefits for reduced-cost travel, not to buy things you don’t need or can’t afford or to pay unnecessary interest.
If you feel confident in your ability to pay off your cards and that you’ll have enough expenses to meet the minimum spending requirements and beyond, you can easily earn the Southwest Companion Pass using credit card sign-up bonuses with the tips and tricks we’ve outlined above.
Play your cards rights and the next thing you’ll be planning is how you’re going to use all those points and who you’re going to take with you.
Talk about Money Saved.
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