I’ve held the Southwest Companion Pass since 2008! That is 10 years where I’ve been able to have a friend or family member fly with me for almost FREE an UNLIMITED number of times on Southwest! I have truly saved thousands of dollars with this pass, which is amazing! It is by far my favorite benefit in the travel world, especially because I love flying Southwest due to their flexibility with changing and canceling flights. You can learn more about the Companion Pass here.
I write about the Companion Pass often and readers are constantly asking me how I have earned this pass year after year. While the easiest way to earn the pass is by applying for two Southwest credit cards (I’ve included the current sign up offers at the bottom of this post), that is by no means the only way to earn the pass. Since it is hard to constantly churn Southwest credit cards (especially now with the 5/24 rule), I have earned the pass through many methods. Unfortunately, many of these methods are no longer available, but I have documented them anyways. Here is how I have earned the pass every single year:
This was my first year earning the pass! Starting in 2005 I took a job in management consulting which put me on the road 52 weeks a year. I flew out every Monday morning and home Thursday evenings. I lived the “Up in the Air” lifestyle staying in hotels during the week and eating on a nice expense account.
In 2008 I started flying Southwest on occasion and staying at Hilton hotels due to the project I was on. At this point you earned credits and not points when flying with Southwest – it was 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. They also ran some great promotions where you’d earn double or triple credits. In late 2008 I earned my Southwest Companion Pass. At that time the pass was valid for 12 months from when it was earned.
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. I was instead 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 and instead checked out and into a new hotel every single night. I remember earning 1.5 Southwest credits per stay at Hilton hotels – I vaguely remember there being a 3x point promotion at one point! 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, so was without the pass for a few months. At that points 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.
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, 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. NOTE: You can no longer transfer Membership Reward points to Southwest (they are not partners) and points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest DO NOT count towards the Companion Pass.
I assumed this was going to be the last year of earning the companion pass easily. I got married that summer and got a new job which allowed me to stay home a little more! I stayed at the same company, but moved to an internal role. 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 if the pass was worth it.
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 points system – calling it Rapid Rewards 2.0. 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 night 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. And 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!
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 (with the help of my Dad) 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 sign up bonus, 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. NOTE: This is the most popular method to receive the pass. Apply for two of their credit cards and have the bonus points hit your account as early as possible in the calendar year.
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. So even though I earned it in February 2012, my pass did not expire until December 31, 2013!
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 so it was worth it. I think I paid $650 for about 250,000 Wyndham points
In 2012, Wyndham also offered a promotion where you’d earn 16,000 points after one stay at a participating hotel. You were allowed to earn up to 48,000 bonus points. Wyndham offered this promotion twice during the year. I took advantage of this promotion 5 times and earned about 93,000 points (bonus points + regular points), and an additional 5,400 Southwest points for crediting some stays to miles and not points. I paid around $300 for my 5 “mattress run” stays.
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 (although the value has since changed), plus was that much closer to earning the Companion Pass once again – I only needed another 9,200 qualifying points. I then purchased $10,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads at CVS with my Southwest credit card to earn the remaining 10,000 points needed. Fortunately I made the transfer when I did, because shortly thereafter the transfer ratio doubled! NOTE: Transfers made from partner hotel programs no longer count towards the companion pass, so this is no longer an option from any hotel.
Since I earned the Companion Pass in 2014, it did not expire until December 31, 2015. So I did not have to think about it for all of 2015!
I was due with baby #2 in June 2016 and the thought of traveling while pregnant and “terrible 2s” daughter was not very appealing to me. 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 all of 2016!
I earned the pass through many methods this year, including:
- Shopping Airlines shopping portal. I made sure to use the portal for every single online purchase I made. Southwest also had some high payouts in 2016 at some popular merchants, such as Sears and Nordstrom. NOTE: This is still a great way to earn points towards the Companion Pass!
- Credit card referrals. I had the Southwest Plus credit card and gave my referral link to many friends and family members as well as many blog readers (thank you for those that 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. Since I wasn’t staying at hotels often enough to earn status, I did not really care about earning the points/stays towards status for these particular reservations. I made sure to credit all my points earned to Southwest. NOTE: This is still a great way to earn points towards the Companion Pass!
- Transferring points from Marriott. I transferred the remaining number of 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 have a TON of Marriott points. NOTE: Unfortunately transferring points from a partner hotel to Southwest no longer count towards the Companion Pass
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 so I then had it right away in 2018 without a gap. 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 giving me 60,000 points. Since it had been more then 2 years since I applied for the card and 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 and were added to the 55,000 qualifying points I already had. I ultimately earned the pass again in November which meant I currently have the pass through December 31, 2018.
Since I find the Southwest Companion Pass extremely valuable my goal is to continue earning the pass! Ideally I’d love to wait until January or February of 2019 to earn the pass and then not have to worry about it for 2 years. I actually might forgo the pass myself and have my husband earn it by applying for two Southwest credit cards at the end of this year and waiting to hit the minimum spend until January 2019. Surprisingly, he is actually under Chase’s “5/24” rule so IS eligible to apply for two more Chase cards right now. But there are a few issues with this plan:
- If some awesome credit card offers appear this year, I will want him to apply which might put him over 5/24 and not allow him to get one or two more Chase cards.
- There is always the chance that Southwest changes what qualifies for the Companion Pass. While sign up bonuses count today, it does not mean it will be that way forever.
I’ll probably hold out until mid-year to see how things play out. If it doesn’t make sense for him to apply for another credit card (or two!), then I’ll work on earning it again for this year. Most likely I’ll do some heavy manufactured spend using both the Southwest Shopping Portal and my Southwest credit card. I am typically not very into manufactured spend, but could be persuaded if it means getting the Companion Pass! We will have to first see how things shake out the first half of the year. Fingers crossed for some awesome way to earn the pass this year!
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!