A few months ago I wrote this article for my sister’s blog, hapatime.com, so I thought I would share it here as well 🙂
Travel is one of the biggest expenses for our business, but it’s also one of our biggest investments. Like many of you, traveling inspires us: we get outside our comfort zone, it gets our creative juices flowing and we capture some of our favorite shots. While some travel is paid for by a brand in exchange for work, most of it is an out-of-pocket business expense (aka Jessica pays for it–thanks boss!). I spend countless hours researching locations, flights, hotels, etc. to plan and budget trips out accordingly, and this travel tip has easily saved us thousands of $$ already. It’s called the Southwest Companion Pass and we were able to earn the pass in just 1 month and in three easy steps (all listed below).
What is a Southwest Companion Pass?
The companion pass allows a designated person to fly free with you on any Southwest flight you take. The pass works anywhere Southwest flies to–even their international locations! Southwest flies to Mexico, Aruba, Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba & more! And they just announced last year that they will be starting routes to Hawaii in the near future! (We are super excited about that!!) You will just need to pay the taxes and fees (typically ~$5 each way on a domestic flight). You can change your companion up to 3 times per year you have the pass.
How long is a companion pass good for?
A companion pass is valid for the year that you earn it AND the following year. For example, if you earned the pass tomorrow, it would be good for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. Therefore, the best time to earn the pass is as early in the year as possible so you can get the most use out of it. You will need to rack up quite a few points to earn the pass though, so it will take some planning and scheduling on your end.
How do I earn a companion pass?
You need to earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest points or 100 qualifying Southwest flights in a calendar year to earn a companion pass. (You can read more about qualifying points on Southwest’s website here). Unless you consistently travel for work and fly somewhere once a week, it will be pretty difficult to meet the 100 flights in a calendar year requirement. In my opinion, earning the 110,000 points is the best way to go. These are the three steps I took to quickly earn a pass (and no, you do not have to spend $110k to earn the 110k points!).
1. Open a Southwest Credit Card:
There are three credit cards offered that have Rapid Reward sign-up bonus points that count towards the companion pass. The easiest way to earn a pass is to open up the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card (50,000 bonus points) and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card (60,000 bonus points) for a total of 110,000 points. Bam. Easy peasy. This does however, require you to open two credit cards at once and spend a total of $5,000 in the first 3 months (assuming you opened the cards at the same time). This is not always an option for everyone depending on your personal credit score situation, the number of credit cards you have opened (Chase has a 5/24 rule–in other words if you opened any 5 credit cards in the past 24 months your application will most likely be denied), your budget, etc. We only opened 1 credit card and earned the remaining points with step #2.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee.
2. Book a hotel through Southwest.com
I did a ton of research about the companion pass previous to earning it, and I’m really surprised this option was barely discussed as a great way to earn tons of points (up to 10,000 points per night!!). Forget ever booking a hotel through Expedia again because you can snag some really great bonus point deals booking through Southwest.com (which also means free flights)!
If you have upcoming trips you are planning, this is a great way to get a head start on earning your pass (you don’t need a Southwest credit card to earn points–you just need to have a Rapid Rewards account which you can sign up for free). Depending on how many trips you are planning, you could even earn all 110,000 points through hotel bonus points! On Southwest.com just click on the Hotel tab –> Book a Hotel.
Let’s say for example you are planning a trip to Miami in May. You could book the Loews Miami Beach hotel for $1,996 and earn 3,992 points OR you could book the W South Beach Hotel for just a little more and earn 40,000 points for your stay!
When selecting your room, sometimes there are even special offers where you can pay a little premium to earn even more points. In this case you can earn 48,000 points for your stay. And it’s awesome because the points are deposited into your account within a few days after you check out. This is something to keep in mind because it matters when the points are deposited into your account. If you have 100,000 points on Dec.31st and 10,000 points are deposited into your account on Jan.3rd, you will not have earned the pass because a new calendar year started and your progress towards earning the pass would have been reset to 0. (Note: you will still have the 100,000 points you earned but your progress will be reset). This can all be tracked under My Account on Southwest.com.
For the hotel bonus points, you will want to keep on eye out for the deals because the bonus points do change constantly. You will find that most of the bonus points are for the pricier hotels, but something to consider is the value you are getting by both earning those bonus points and (especially) having it help you earn the companion pass. Maybe a less expensive hotel would come out to $1,000, but if spending the extra $1,000 earns you 48,000 points (which roughly equates to $700 in Southwest flights) AND earns you enough points to get the companion pass, then spending that extra $1,000 will most likely save you a lot more than $1,000 in the long run.
OK–let’s see how we are doing up to this point. Say you got the Southwest Plus credit card and earned 50,000 points. Then you booked the W hotel for your Miami trip and earned 48,000 points for your stay. You would be at a total of 98,000 points plus you would have earned 2,000 points from spending the required $2,000 after opening the credit card and 4,558 points by earning 2 points per $1 spent by booking the W hotel with your Southwest credit card putting you at a grand total of 104,558 points! That’s only 5,442 points to go!
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: 50,000 points
Points from spending $2,000 after opening credit card: 2,000
W South Beach Hotel: 48,000
Points earned by paying for hotel with Southwest credit card (2 points/$1spent on Southwest Rapid Reward hotel & car purchases: 4,558
Grand total: 104,558 points
3. Flying with Southwest
You can earn your remaining points needed by simply using your Southwest credit card, or by booking some flights for your travels. For a flight from SFO to FLL for your Miami trip, you would easily earn the rest of the points needed to reach 110k.
If you were solely trying to earn all 110,00 qualifying points by flying, you would need to spend $18,333.33 on Wanna Get Away fares or $9,166.67 on Business Select fares according to The Points Guy. So not the best way to go about earning all your points if you don’t typically fly $18k worth in a year.
Let’s not forget that in addition to earning a companion pass, you will have also racked up 110,000 Southwest points!! You can use these points to book reward travel AND use your companion pass. So far with the 110,000 points we earned, I was able to book the following trips: San Jose to Denver (for our Aspen trip), San Jose to New England (for fall), San Jose to Portland, San Jose to Palm Beach, Palm Beach to Cancun, and San Jose to Washington D.C. And we still have enough points for one more trip. The only cost for all those flights were the taxes and fees (~$100!).
If you are planning any trips for the remainder of the year, now is the time to start working towards earning your companion pass or keep this benefit in mind to start earning early next year! Hope you guys enjoyed this post and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!