Would you take more trips if airfare was free??
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Southwest Companion Pass dramatically changed our lives. We first accidentally stumbled upon it, but it has since become the primary method we have been able to afford taking about 5 trips per year for the last three years.
This trick has single-handedly changed our mindset about travel. I used to view travel as coming with an extremely steep price tag. And, I know this perception is common among those who I talk about travel with.
When we found the Companion Pass trick, I realized that travel can be made so cheap with a little bit of research. Do you want to know the best part of those trips the past three years? Almost every flight during the last three years was nearly free! The “nearly” means that we still had to pay government taxes and fees, which is about $12 for a domestic flight and roughly $70 for an international trip.
Benefits of the Southwest Companion Pass
The way the Companion Pass works is pretty straightforward – your companion flies free. Upon accumulating the 125,000 Rapid Rewards points required in one calendar year, you will have the opportunity to name your companion that will be associated with your Rapid Rewards account. You can then book any Southwest flight using points or cash.
After purchasing the flight, you can then add your companion with a few button clicks in the Southwest app. At that point, you will pay the government mandated taxes and fees and your companion will now have their very own, nearly free plane ticket.
You can take as many flights with a free companion as you’d like during the time that the pass is active. It is valid for the remainder of the calendar that you acquired it PLUS all of the following year. The only constraint is that you can only change your companion 3 times per year.
Our Companion Pass Journey
We stumbled upon this when we hit the necessary spending limit in the same year that we applied for a Southwest credit card (the threshold was 110,000 points prior to Oct ’19). We had an unusually high spending year due to remodeling our house.
The personal credit card came with a 50,000 point signup bonus after spending $3k in 3 months. We just happened to sign up for the card early in the year allowing us to accrue Rapid Reward points the remainder of the calendar year until we spent nearly $60k (to reach 110,000 points total). There’s no way we would have hit the limit unless we were remodeling our house!
On New Year’s Eve, we received a plain-looking letter from Southwest in the mail. Little did we know that it was a belated Christmas gift full of joy! Upon opening the letter and seeing our card, we learned all about the Companion Pass and the doors it had opened.
All of a sudden we could plan travel and budget nearly NOTHING for airfare.
The companion pass was in Jess’ name and I was her companion. Bash was still 1 year old, so we didn’t have to pay for his ticket anyway.
After a year, our Companion Pass was reaching its expiration date, so we had to figure out how to get it again! We needed it again. We had to have it!
Even more importantly, as Ellie (our youngest), was nearing two years old, we had to come up with a way to keep our travel costs down. Our solution was to acquire two Companion Passes so that we just needed to buy two tickets for the four of us to travel! And, keep in mind that between the two of us, we had acquired over 240,000 Rapid Reward points, which funded our flight purchases for the next nearly two years.
If you are curious about traveling with young kids, check out my recent post about how to travel with kids and car seats.
How to Get the Southwest Companion Pass These Days
To get the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to acquire 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in one calendar year. You could also take 100 qualifying one-way flights, but that is the much harder option.
The easiest way to reach this threshold is by applying for two Southwest credit cards – one personal and one business card.
Wait, do I need to have a business to apply for a business card? Not exactly. You need to be able to honestly say you are trying to make money at something or need to have a credit card in order to keep transactions separate. Typically, this is a side hustle or hobby.
My first “business” was for the blog that I was less than serious about, but keeping expenses separate would eventually become important. Another “business” has been for rehabbing our house – I wanted to have all purchases that we made together in one place for easy reference. Jess has had a “business” for paying our nanny.
The signup bonuses change over time, but right now the personal cards come with a 40k point signup bonus and the business cards (there are two to choose from) come with either a 60k or 70k signup bonus depending on how much of an annual fee you are ok with. I would choose the 70k card ($199 annual fee) vs the 60k card ($99 annual fee) because of how incredibly valuable the Companion Pass is.
Say you choose the “Plus” personal credit card ($69 annual fee and 40k signup bonus when you spend $1k in the first 3 months) and the “Performance” business card ($199 annual fee and 70k signup bonus when you spend $5k in the first 3 months). After hitting the minimum spending thresholds, you will have 116,000 points. You just need to spend an additional $9k in order to reach Companion Pass!
If you are new to the credit card game, plan on paying for anything you can on credit card. Just make sure to pay it ALL off every month, otherwise it’s not worth it.
After you reach the spending limits, you can choose to close the cards or not. It’s up to you.
At the end of the day, you will have spent $268 on annual fees, but you can easily save way more than that much on your first companion pass use not to mention the 116,000 points you received in the process. Rapid Rewards points are worth about 1.5 cents each. If you have the Companion Pass, that value is roughly doubled because of the buy one-get one status.
At 3 cents each, the signup bonuses and minimum spending is worth $2,320! Not bad for a $268 investment!
Won’t Applying for Credit Cards Hurt My Credit Score?
The short answer is: it can have a slightly negative impact on your credit score. But, it depends. It could also go up.
When I applied for two Southwest credit cards at the same time (one personal, one business) my credit score dropped two points; it stayed in the low 800’s.
As you can see from the infographic below, opening new credit cards will have a negative affect on your Length of Credit History and New Credit categories of your credit score. As long as you don’t go put big ticket purchases on your new account, the new credit cards actually help with the Debt category (because the amount of your total debt becomes smaller compared to your total available credit).
To put it simply, as long as you are not churning through the credit cards you will not see a big impact on your credit score.
In conclusion, the Southwest Companion Pass is the best travel reward program out there. Additionally, the amount of spending required in order to acquire it is fairly low compared to other high tier travel perks. Do I even need to mention how awesome it is that it lasts the remainder of the calendar year PLUS the entirety of the next year?
Southwest increased the number of points required to acquire the status in Oct ’19, but even if they increase it again our family will be working hard to reach it.
If you have a Companion Pass or are seeking it, let us know over on Instagram in a DM or a comment. Honestly, I don’t run into many people who know about this perk, so I would love to compare notes!