Does Southwest Airlines Have the Best Benefit In Travel?

Southwest Airlines’ Companion Pass may be the best benefit in travel.  Other airlines have companion passes that allow someone with a paid fare to add a companion to that flight for free.  Southwest’s Companion Pass is even better because it allows the holder to add a companion to an unlimited number of flights for free (except for taxes, typically $5.60 per segment), and the benefit can last for nearly two years.

Here’s how to earn the Southwest Companion Pass:

  • Fly 100 qualifying flights within one calendar year OR
  • Earn 135,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points within one calendar year

Once you earn the Companion Pass, you get unlimited use for the remainder of the year in which you earn it plus the following year.  And if you don’t want to be bored with the same companion for every trip, you can switch the companion up to three times each year.

Assuming, like me, you don’t fly Southwest (or any other airline) enough to get those 100 qualifying flights (that’s a lot of flights!), the 135,000 Rapid Rewards points seems much more achievable.  There are several ways to earn qualifying Rapid Rewards points.  One of the simplest is to book flights on Southwest.  For each paid flight, you earn Rapid Rewards points.  The more you spend on airfare, the more points you earn.  If you’re willing to pay for upgraded fare types, they also increase the rate at which you earn.

  • Wanna Get Away – 6 RR points per dollar spent
  • Wanna Get Away+ – 8 RR points per dollar spent
  • Anytime – 10 RR points per dollar spent
  • Business Select – 12 RR points per dollar spent

Still, that’s quite a bit of money spent on flights before accumulating the required 135,000 points.  If you’re flying exclusively on the less expensive Wanna Get Away fare, you’d have to spend $22,500 in one calendar year to reach the 135,000 points.  At the faster accumulating but more expensive Business Select fare, you’d still have to spend $11,250 to reach the 135,000 goal, which to me is still a lot to spend on airfare in a single year.

Luckily, purchasing airfare is not the only way to accumulate RR points.  You can also earn Rapid Rewards points when booking hotels or rental cars with Southwest partners or by registering and then using your credit card(s) with their Rapid Rewards Shopping or Rapid Rewards Dining program.  But neither of those programs are the most efficient way to earn Rapid Rewards points.

The most efficient way to accumulate Rapid Rewards points is by getting and using the Southwest Rapid Rewards cards issued by Chase.

A big caveat to any credit card reward strategy is that you need to pay off the card in full every month and avoid any interest charges.  If you are carrying a balance on your card(s), you are losing all the “free” benefits of the reward program by the interest that you pay on the card.  Don’t carry a balance on your credit card!

Southwest offers both personal and business cards, but they typically won’t issue more than one of each type to any one person.  Here is a quick overview of each available Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card with the benefits offered as of the time of this post:

If you apply for and get one of the Southwest cards listed above, you will accumulate at least one Rapid Rewards point for every dollar you spend on the card.  For spending with Southwest, you earn between two times and four times the dollars spent.  For example, spending $500 with Southwest on the Performance Business card will get you 2,000 Rapid Rewards points ($500 x 4 points per dollar spent on Southwest).  Also, you are awarded points on each anniversary of you holding the card, ranging from 3,000 points up to 9,000 points.

But the biggest contributor to a Companion Pass strategy is the up-front bonus points – currently between 50,000 and 80,000 per card.  These bonus points are earned by spending at least a certain amount within the first three months of the card being issued.  For example, the Rapid Rewards Plus card requires that you spend $1,000 within the first three months and you are then rewarded with 50,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points.  The required spend on the Performance Business card is heftier – $5,000 in the first three months – but also comes with the increased reward of 80,000 bonus points.

If you were to employ this strategy, you would apply for and get both of those cards – Performance Business and the personal Plus card – and meet the spend requirements within the first three months, totaling $6,000 on things you would have been buying anyway.  That would get you a total of 136,000 Rapid Rewards points (80,000 bonus + 50,000 bonus + $5,000 spend + $1,000 spend) and would qualify you for the Companion Pass without having to spend anything that you wouldn’t have been spending anyway.

This strategy obviously includes applying for a business credit card.  If you don’t have a business, you likely would not qualify for the card.  However, you may already have a business without really realizing it.  Having a business entity like a corporation or a limited liability company is not required.  If you have any activity outside of your employment that pays you, you may have a business, even if it’s just driving for Uber or delivering meals for Door Dash.

If you just don’t have a business, you can still get the 50,000 bonus points from one of the personal cards and then use a combination of spending on the card, Southwest airfare, Rapid Rewards partner spending, and referral bonuses to reach the required 135,000 Rapid Rewards points.

One of the best aspects of the program is that once you earn the 135,000 RR points and are awarded the Companion Pass, you still have the 135,000 points to use on reward travel.  So you can book a flight for yourself using Rapid Rewards points and then add your companion to the flight for free.  In addition to flying to most major airports in the contiguous US, Southwest also flies to Hawaii, several countries in Central America, and to the Caribbean, so you can really vacation with this benefit.

Now, like most of the best travel benefit credit cards, these cards aren’t free.  The Performance Business card has the heftiest annual fee at $199 while the Plus card carries the lightest load at $69 per year.  That said, a combined annual fee of $268 is pretty small compared to the potential benefit of having a companion join you for unlimited flights.  And if you earn the 135,000 points early in the calendar year, you’ll get nearly two years of the unlimited companion flight benefit.

Think the Southwest Companion Pass program might be good for you?  You can click on this link to apply for one (or more) of the Southwest Rapid Rewards cards.  And if you use the link, it will add a bit to my Rapid Rewards point balance, too.

And, don’t forget – don’t carry a balance on your credit cards!

If you want to learn the basics of travel credit card benefits, click here.

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