I mentioned the Southwest Companion Pass on the recommended credit cards page. However, some readers wanted more detail on the subject, so I thought I’d write a follow-up with more information.
Obtaining the companion pass allows you to designate a companion who can fly FREE on Southwest airlines for 2 entire calendar years. It doesn’t matter whether you book your ticket with cash or Southwest miles, the other person flies free (except government mandated airport taxes).
How to get the Southwest Companion Pass
You must earn 110,000 Southwest miles in a calendar year to qualify for the Companion Pass. Again, that’s calendar year. 55,000 in 2014 and 55,000 in 2015 will not work.
To get the 110,000 miles, you have options:
- Signup for 2 Chase Southwest credit cards when the signup bonus is 50,000 miles. Several times each year, Chase offers 4 different Southwest credit cards that have a 50,000 mile bonus after meeting the $2k minimum spend requirements. You can get any combination of two cards at the same time (100,000 bonus miles). After spending $2,000 on each card (4,000 miles) for the minimum spend, you’ll need to spend $6,000 more (6,000 miles) to qualify for the companion pass.
- Transfer points from Marriott. By transferring 270,000 Marriott points to Southwest, you can get 120,000 SW miles and 7 nights at a Marriott hotel. This transfer qualifies for the companion pass, making it a sweet deal if you’re sitting on a big stack of Marriott points, or can pool them together between family members.
- Use the Southwest portal. Southwest has a shopping portal where purchases at online retailers earn SW miles. Sometimes the portal pays 10-15x on big stores like Sears, making this a lucrative option if you want to buy stuff and resell it.
When to get the Southwest Companion Pass
As I mentioned above, the Companion Pass is good for 2 full calendar years. Therefore, you want to obtain the pass in early January if possible.
If you are transferring points from Marriott or buying things through the Southwest portal, you must wait until January to do so.
If you are applying for 2 Chase credit cards, you can actually get ahead of the game. Go ahead and apply for the cards in November or December, but don’t put any spend on them until after you December statement closes. All of your points will post on the January statement, and you’ll receive the Companion Pass with 2 full years of free travel.
- For example, apply for both cards in November, get approved.
- Assume both cards magically have the same statement closing date (you can call Chase and request to change a statement date) of December 10th.
- Wait to spend any money until after the statement cuts on December 10th.
- Spend $5,000 per credit card before the January statement closes.
- Receive 110,000 Southwest miles and the Companion Pass on January 10th.
How to Choose Flights with the Companion Pass
Don’t forget, along with the Companion Pass, you’ll also have a minimum of 110,000 Southwest miles to burn on flights.
Southwest has wonderful availability for award flights, and the number of award miles required depends on the cash ticket price. In other words, if you want to maximize the miles, book tickets that are the lowest cash price, and therefore the lowest award price.
Furthermore, you have to book tickets in advance. Like all airlines, Southwest jacks up the miles required for flights nearing departure. If you search award availability on their site, you’ll see something like this:
Consider a flight from Dallas to Vegas as of 9/9/14:
When you hit search, you can click the full calendar and see the following with the required miles listed. You’ll notice that the prices continue dropping until three weeks out. It is very common to see rates continue dropping 3-4 weeks out from the current date, so you should try to book flights a minimum of a month in advance to ensure a reasonable rate with Southwest:
Where to Vacation?
Southwest has flights into almost every major city in the U.S. and several Caribbean destinations as shown here:
Notable foreign hubs include:
- (AUA) Aruba
- (CUN) Cancun, Mexico
- (MBJ) Montego Bay, Jamaica
- (NAS) Nassau, Bahamas
- (SJD) Los Cabos, Mexico
- (SJU) San Juan, Puerto Rico
- (MEX) Mexico City, Mexico
- (PUJ) Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
These tropical destinations are treated the same as domestic flights, and are very affordable when booking with miles. The only difference is that you’ll pay higher airport taxes in almost all of these locations (except SJU), with the majority being close to $50 per person.
Book Now, Research Later
Southwest is more than generous with their cancellation policy. If you cancel for any reason, you receive a full refund in miles or cash (whichever you booked with). The only caveat is that booking “Wanna-Get-Away” fares with cash will result in receiving Southwest credit in the event of cancellation. They don’t refund cash for that type of ticket.
Also, if you book and then find a better rate later, they will match the price. Outstanding customer service.
The moral of the story is this: if you might need a flight, book a feasible option today with miles and figure out the details later.
After earning the Companion Pass, Southwest might be the best value for all domestic/Caribbean travel. The 110,000 miles are worth a few grand in flights, and a second person flies entirely free for 2 full calendar years.
You can find the Chase 50,000 miles Southwest credit card offers using the comparison option on this page. Take advantage this offer now while it’s available!