The Holy Grail of Frequent Flyer Rewards

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If you want maximum value out of your domestic airfare dollars, then this is literally your ticket

 
Today’s article is one I have been wanting to write for a very long time.  Why?  Because it means that I got my hands on a very lucrative piece of paper, the Southwest Companion Pass.  Most people have never heard of it.  Today, I am going to tell you why it is so valuable and how to get it.  I will be surprised if you don’t want one as well after you read this.
 
Other credit cards, such as the Delta Platinum Skymiles card from American Express and the British Airways card from Chase, have companion certificates.  These are once per year issued certificates that allow the cardholder to take someone along when they fly those airlines.  Southwest’s offering absolutely blows these out of the water.  Why?  Let’s just count the awesomeness…..

Awesome Fact 1: The Southwest Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the year in which it is earned PLUS the entire following year.  No matter how many times the cardholder flies, he can take a designated companion with him for free.  I earned my pass in July of this year…so I get to take Marci with me on every Southwest flight I take through December of 2015!  18 months of use!

Awesome Fact 2: I don’t have to pay for my own fare with actual money if I have the Southwest points at my disposal to cover my own flight.  So, I use enough Southwest points for my seat, and Marci comes along for free.  This doubles the value of my Southwest points.

Awesome Fact 3: Southwest bases the number of points required for an award on the actual ticket price, so lower cash ticket prices mean fewer Southwest points required.  Example: Marci and I are planning to go nonstop to New Orleans from Atlanta.  If I want to redeem Delta Skymiles to do this, I will almost never find a seat for less than 25,000 miles round trip.  On Southwest, I am paying 18,819 points round trip…but again, Marci’s seat costs nothing.  So, that’s 50,000 Delta Skymiles vs. 18,819 Southwest points.  The screen shot below shows the number of points required for this one way portion of the trip.  You can see them in the Wanna Get Away column.
 
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Awesome Fact 4: Unlike the traditional Big 3 (American, United, Delta), I don’t have to hope that there are “award seats” available when I redeem points on Southwest.  If a seat is available, then I can book it with points.  This is huge as more and more of the Big 3 operated flights are making you take connecting flights or fly only on Tuesdays to find Saver level availability.
 
Awesome Fact 5: Southwest does not charge change fees or bag fees.  We can each check two bags at no cost and we can change or cancel our flight with no fees.  If I cancel the flight and I used points, my points are simply redeposited into my account.  Compare that to Delta’s $150 PER TICKET change fee.

So, summarizing these facts: I get 18 months of free flights for Marci when I fly, I can pay for my own ticket with points if I have them, I will require fewer points (usually) than the Big 3 require, and seat availability is a non-issue (except on the busiest holidays, and that would be true of any carrier). And I can rest assured that I won’t lose a fortune if my plans change.  Incredible.  And yet there is one more thing about this pass that is so fantastic.

Awesome Fact 6: Since Chase issues the Southwest cards, Chase and Southwest are partners.  If you read my introductory series on using credit cards for travel rewards, you will see lots of references to Chase Ultimate Reward points.  I absolutely hoard these points through the use of the Chase Trinity: the Freedom, the Sapphire Preferred, and the all-important Ink.  These cards all earn Ultimate Reward points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to my Southwest account.  The Ink card is the biggie here.  It earns 5 points per dollar on cable/satellite, phone (both landline and mobile), and office supply stores (even the gift cards they sell).  If I spend $1500 on those categories, then that’s 7500 points.  Now look at the screen shot above.  See that last flight from New Orleans back to Atlanta for around 7500 points?  With the companion pass, those 7500 points get me two tickets, not just one.

Okay, if you are not seriously intrigued, then I am a very poor writer.  If you are intrigued, then now comes the part where I tell you how to get it…or at least how I got it.  The trick is in the timing.

First, here are the details from Southwest on earning the pass, but I would not a very good blogger if I made you read through all of that.  In short:

  • You must either fly 100 one way qualifying flights on Southwest or earn 110,000 qualifying points with Southwest.  I have never flown Southwest, so you can guess which of these two feats I accomplished.
  • Qualifying Points are earned from paid flights booked through Southwest Airlines, points issued on Southwest Airlines Credit Cards, and points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners. See the two pieces in bold?  They got me the pass, and I’ll explain below.
  • Points purchased for personal use or as a gift, transferred points, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonuses, flight bonuses, and Rapid Rewards Partner bonuses (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not count toward Companion Pass status.  The most important thing here is that points transferred from Chase Ultimate Reward credit cards (such as the ones I mentioned above) do NOT qualify for the companion pass.  Those Chase points can, however, be transferred to Southwest to pay for flights.
  • Companion Pass qualification will be based on a calendar year.  So, for example, if you earn 80,000 points this year and then earn 30,000 in 2015, then that’s not good enough.  They all must be in the same calendar year.

So, how exactly did I get my 110,000 points?  Well, two credit card signups got me all the way to 100,000 points, but only because I waited for the opportune moment (bonus points if you got the Johnny Depp reference there).

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Chase issues several Southwest credit cards (Personal Plus, Personal Premier, Business Plus, Business Premier), but most of the time time, they each have the same signup bonus: 25,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  Now, if you can successfully apply for four cards from Chase in one year, then that’s 100,000 points.  BUT, don’t hold your breath.  First, Chase doesn’t hand out cards that liberally and second, each card has a non-waived annual fee ($69 apiece for the Plus cards and $99 for each Premier card).  Once or twice a year, however, they double the offer to 50,000 points per card after spending $2,000 in 3 months.  When I saw this offer earlier this year, I pounced on it.  I applied for both the Personal and Business Plus cards.  Was it a picnic getting approved?  No, and I don’t want to tell you that it was.  I had to call Chase on both cards to get them to approve me, not because my credit was low (it’s not or I wouldn’t be able to do any of this this) but because a) they are a bit stingy with giving out lots of personal cards and I already have a lot of theirs and b) my business (a.k.a. this website) is not profitable enough yet.  Through a bit of persistence, however, I got them both.  I completed the combined spend requirement of $4,000 and got my 100,000 bonus points.  So, at this point, I am out $138 in annual fees and I am still 6,000 points short (the $4,000 I had to spend also earned points in case you are wondering where those other 4,000 points came from).

I could have simply put another $6,000 in spend on the cards over the next few months, but that’s just not how I roll, folks.  (That sounded much more cool in my head).  You see, I also knew that Marriott and Southwest are close partners, again because of their mutual relationship with Chase.  Sure enough, I found out that I could transfer Marriott points to my Southwest account, and as we saw above…those points do count toward the Companion Pass since Marriott is a transfer partner of Southwest.  Because of business travel last year, I had some Marriott points sitting around collecting dust.  I transferred 30,000 Marriott points to get 10,000 Southwest points, and, drum roll please, I had the pass.  Still waiting for the drum roll by the way.

So, summing up:

  • I signed up for two Southwest credit cards while they were running their increased bonus of 50,000 points per card.
  • It cost me $138 in annual fees ($69 per card) for the two cards.
  • I plan to get a heck of a lot more than $138 in value from this pass and the points I earned.
  • I earned 100,000 bonus points + 4,000 points from the $4,000 I had to spend to get the bonus.  It should go without saying by now that the $4,000 was on things I already needed!
  • I transferred 30,000 Marriott points to obtain 10,000 more Southwest points.
  • I now have 114,000 points to use toward my flights on Southwest, and Marci flies for 0 points every time she flies with me.
  • I earned something that others fly dozens of times in a year to get…and I have never stepped foot on a Southwest plane.
  • I can’t wait to step foot on a Southwest plane … with my best friend (a.k.a. my wife) beside me.
  • You can groan at that last comment if you’d like.

So, how can you get this piece of aviary nirvana?  Well, here are my tips:

  • Read this awesome article to find other ways to earn points toward the pass.  Pay particular attention to the Chase Ultimate Rewards –> Hyatt points –> Southwest points conversion.
  • Wait until the signup bonus on Southwest cards once again hits 50,000 on more than one of their cards.
  • If the 50,000 point bonus happens at the end of a calendar year, and you can’t piece together the 110,000 points before the end of that year, then wait until the next year.  Chase does NOT allow you to get the signup bonus for the same exact card twice.  Make your applications count.
  • If you own a business, it’s simple.  Apply for a Personal Southwest card and a Business Southwest card on the same day.
  • If you do not own a business, then apply for one Personal card in the early part of the year and then apply for the other when the 50,000 point offer returns in the same year.
  • If you can only get one Southwest card, then try to get a big signup for a Marriott card (also from Chase) and convert the Marriott points to Southwest to get you closer.
  • If you still are not getting there, then actually use your Southwest card even after completing the minimum spend.  Those spent dollars earn points as well.


Getting this pass was a genuine “Holy cow!” moment for me.  I live for this stuff, and occasionally, I’m still blown away by what you can accomplish with a lot of planning, discipline, and tenacity.  This pass is easily worth hundreds, and possibly even thousands of dollars if you use it extensively.

So what do you think?  Is this everything I’ve made it out to be?  Share your comments and questions.

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