The Secret to Earning a Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is considered to be the best travel perk in the industry. And this is the time of the year to make the right moves to qualify.

The Companion Pass entitles you to bring along another person with you for free, whenever and wherever you fly, whether you pay for your ticket or use mileage. You can use it anytime, even on holidays; there are no blackout dates. It's much better than most other airline awards that have limited availability and severe restrictions.

You earn the pass by either flying 100 flight segments or accumulating 110,000 Rapid Reward points in a calendar year. If you qualify before the end of a year, the pass is good for the following year as well.

If you fly Southwest often, it can be worth as much as three or four thousand dollars. You're required to designate the name of your companion and can change it three times during the calendar year.

I’ve earned a companion pass in each of the past half dozen years, and my wife has flown free dozens of times each year. But the Companion Pass has become more difficult to earn over the past few years.

You used to be able to use a combination of both flight segments and points, but no more. And it’s become more difficult to earn points for your flights, since Southwest now awards them based on what you spend for the flight, not the distance you travel.  That means you can earn as little as 200 points on a discounted fare, compared to about 2000 points before.

But there are some other ways to accumulate points and to qualify. The best way is to take out a Southwest Credit Card issued by Chase, especially when they offer a sign-up point bonus. Currently you can get 40,000 Rapid Reward points for signing up for their personal card, once you spend $1000 within the first 3 months. You can also take out a second business card, and get 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases. Each card also provides one point for every dollar you spend and two points for Southwest and travel partner purchases.  The points can be combined as long as the holder’s name and Rapid Reward accounts are the same. So if you take out both cards you’ll quickly have more than 90,000 points. The bonus points only apply to new cardholders, and you need to wait 2 years to qualify after closing the account.

When I recently checked my progress for the year, I had only earned 60,000 points and 35 flight segments, nowhere close to qualifying by the end of the year. While Southwest sells points, they don’t count towards a Companion Pass. And Southwest offers no way to let you transfer points from other airlines. I already had two Southwest credit cards I took out in each of the past two years to qualify, so that was not an option.

But Southwest will let you convert points from several hotel chains to your Rapid Rewards account. Hotels include Hyatt, Marriott, Carlson, Best Western, and Choice, at conversion rates varying from 3 Marriott points for 1 Southwest Rapid Rewards point to 10 Carlson Points for 1 Rapid Rewards point.