CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.
The coveted Southwest Companion Pass is an elite travel benefit that’s almost too good to be true. This pass allows another passenger to fly with you for free (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year.
So if you earn the pass in the near future, you’ll have it until December 31, 2022, meaning someone can fly with you for almost free for about 18 months. And thanks to some pretty incredible Southwest credit card offers, there’s actually an easy way to earn this pass right now without even stepping on a Southwest plane.
How does this work? And is it something you should do in the aftermath of the pandemic? Let’s dig into the details and find out if getting a Southwest Companion Pass makes sense for you.
The Southwest Companion Pass is truly a no-strings-attached perk, as it comes with very few restrictions. The pass allows you to bring a companion with you on any Southwest flight for free, plus the cost of any taxes and fees, which are generally as low as $5.60 one way for a domestic flight.
The one main rule of the Companion Pass is there must be at least one seat available for sale in any fare class on a flight for which you’ve purchased your own ticket, either with cash or Southwest points.
You’re allowed to change your companion up to three times per year (not including the initial companion), meaning in theory you could have as many as seven people as your companion over two calendar years.
Traditionally, to earn the pass, you must earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying flights with Southwest in a calendar year. These points can be earned in three ways: paid flights booked through Southwest, base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners and points earned on Southwest credit cards.
That last method is the most important one, because bonus points earned from Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses qualify for the Companion Pass as well. This makes earning the pass that much easier due to the increased offers we’re seeing right now on Southwest credit cards.
Even better, earlier this year Southwest boosted many Southwest frequent flyer accounts with 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points, meaning you only need to earn 100,000 qualifying points in 2021 to earn the pass.
You’ll automatically get 25,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points in 2021 if you had a Southwest frequent flyer account at the end of 2020.
There’s one caveat to this bonus: Only Southwest frequent flyer accounts (meaning your Rapid Rewards account with Southwest, not one of its credit cards) that were opened on or before December 31, 2020, earn the extra qualifying points. So if you’ve never had a Southwest frequent flyer account and you open one now, you’ll still need to earn the full 125,000 points for the Companion Pass.
There are currently a total of five Southwest credit cards — both personal and business — that have sign-up offers for new card holders that can help you earn the Companion Pass. Here’s an overview of each of them:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn 65,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 65,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn 65,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months after opening the account.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.
The first three cards on the list are the personal Southwest credit cards — the Southwest Plus card, the Southwest Premier card and the Southwest Priority card. All three of these cards currently have increased sign-up offers, which means you can earn 65,000 bonus points on any of them.
Now, getting one of these personal cards won’t earn you the pass all on its own, but you’ll potentially get two-thirds of the way there. After earning the 65,000-point bonus, plus the 2,000 points you’ll get from completing the $2,000 minimum spending requirement, you’ll be at 67,000 qualifying points — 33,000 points shy of earning the pass if you got the extra 25,000-point boost earlier this year.
Then, after earning the credit card bonus, you could earn those remaining Companion Pass points by using your newly acquired Southwest credit card on everyday purchases, combined with flying Southwest and partner activity. Partner activities include shopping online through the Southwest shopping portal, purchasing flowers and car rentals.
With many people shopping online these days, you can actually rack up a decent amount of bonus points from the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal. Going through the shopping site first just takes an extra minute, and ultimately takes you to the same merchant website you’d go to directly, but you’re earning extra points along the way.
Also, to add to the ease of earning the pass, Southwest recently released a promotion that allows some Southwest frequent flyer members to earn an additional 10,000 qualifying points just by taking one flight between now and July 31, 2021. To see if you’re targeted for this promotion, sign into your Southwest frequent flyer account and go to the “Promotions” section within “My Account.”
But there is in fact another card on the list that allows you to come even closer to earning the pass — if you have a small business that qualifies for a business credit card. New card holders can earn 80,000 bonus points with the Southwest Performance Business card after spending $5,000 in the first three months after opening the account, which will put you at 85,000 total Companion Pass qualifying points — 80,000 bonus points, plus 5,000 points for spending $5,000 on the card.
That leaves you just 15,000 points shy of earning the pass, and if you’re able to earn the 10,000-point bonus from the targeted promotion by taking one flight between now and July 31, you’ll only need to earn an incredibly easy 5,000 additional points.
Finally, there’s also the Southwest Premier Business credit card, but the offer on this card is somewhat inferior to the others, as you’ll only earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the account.
Use one — or even two — Southwest credit cards to help you earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.
Now, if you want another way to earn the remaining Companion Pass qualifying points after getting the sign-up bonus from one of these cards, here’s another option — you can actually get two Southwest credit cards and combine the bonus points from both.
The important caveat here is that you can’t apply for two personal cards — the second card must be a business credit card. That’s because Chase — the bank that issues Southwest credit cards — limits customers to having just one personal Southwest credit card open at a time. But Chase does allow you to apply for both a personal card and a business card.
Just keep in mind that the credit cards must be for the same applicant — you can’t combine points amongst members. Also, Chase has become somewhat more restrictive about issuing business credit cards during the pandemic, though you may have more luck now than some businesses did earlier in the year.
Let’s put it all together in an example. Imagine you apply for both the Southwest Plus card and the Southwest Performance Business card. With $7,000 in combined purchases between the two cards, you can earn the pass right away without any flying, extra spending or partner activity. That’s because you’ll earn 65,000 bonus points from the Southwest Plus card after spending $2,000 on it, and 80,000 bonus points from the Southwest Performance Business after spending $5,000 on that card.
That’s a total of 152,000 qualifying points — 145,000 points from the sign-up bonuses and 7,000 points from the purchases you’ll make in meeting the spending requirements. That’s enough to earn the Companion Pass with or without the extra 25,000-point boost from Southwest.
This same math works by combing one of the personal card offers with the less expensive Southwest Premier Business card. Spend $3,000 on the Southwest Premier Business in the first three months after opening the account and you’ll earn 60,000 points. Add that to the 65,000 points you’ll earn when you spend $2,000 on one of the personal cards and you’ll have a total of 130,000 points — 125,000 from the sign-up bonuses, plus another 5,000 points from spending $5,000 between the two cards.
Just remember that since these are all Chase credit cards, all applicants are subject to Chase’s “5/24” rule. Under this rule, if you’ve been approved for five or more credit cards across all banks in the past 24 months, Chase will automatically deny your application.
Southwest has three personal cards and two business cards, all of which have sign-up bonus offers.
With three different personal Southwest credit cards, you might be wondering which card is best for you. All three Southwest credit cards earn the same number of points on your everyday purchases. You’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on Southwest as well as on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
Compared to other credit cards that earn rewards, that’s not the most lucrative earning rate. For instance, CNN Underscored’s benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off.
But even though the earning rates on the cards aren’t market leading, there are significant differences among them that make it worth considering your options. These include the annual fee, the anniversary bonus points, travel credits earned and the option to buy up to a better boarding position.
You’ll find the benefits of the Southwest Plus, the Southwest Premier and the Southwest Premier Business to be similar. The Plus costs $69 on an annual basis, while the Premier (both personal and business versions) costs $99 annually. The difference between them is the bonus points you receive every year after you pay the annual fee.
The Southwest Plus card comes with 3,000 bonus points (worth $42 at 1.4 cents per point, which is generally the value you get when redeeming for Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” fares) on every card anniversary, meaning every 365 days from when you were first approved for the card. The Southwest Premier and the Southwest Premier Business come with 6,000 bonus points at each card anniversary, which are worth $84 at 1.4 cents per point.
Although the Southwest Plus card is the least expensive option for the first year, if this is a card you believe you’ll be keeping for years to come, you’ll find the Southwest Premier to be the better long-term value, thanks to the bonus points.
With the Southwest Priority, the annual fee is significantly higher at $149 per year, but the benefits are enormously better. Not only do you earn 7,500 bonus points (worth $105) at each card anniversary, you’ll also receive a $75 Southwest travel credit every year and four upgraded boarding certificates annually. The $75 travel credit can be used toward any Southwest flight purchase — just pay for your flight or taxes on your Southwest card and you’ll receive a statement credit up to $75.
The Southwest Performance Business has the highest annual fee at $199 per year, but with this card, you’ll earn 9,000 bonus points (worth $126) at each card anniversary year, four upgraded boarding certificates annually, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and in-flight Wi-Fi credits.
You’ll notice that the two most expensive cards both come with upgraded boarding certificates, which are unique to Southwest since the airline boards its airplanes very differently than most other airlines. There’s no assigned seating — instead, you receive a boarding position based on your flight check-in time. Passengers are assigned into groups A, B and C, and can be anywhere between 1 and 60 within each group.
Upgraded boarding certificates normally allow you to purchase an A1 through A15 position at the gate (if available), giving you the option to be one of the first passengers to board and choose almost any seat you’d like, ensuring you’re not stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat. Upgraded boardings typically cost $30 to $50 each, so if this is something you’d purchase anyway, you can put a $120 to $200 value on this benefit. You can even use these certificates for other passengers flying with you.
Taking into consideration all of the benefits, you’ll notice the value of the Southwest Priority and Southwest Performance Business cards far surpasses the value of the other three cards, both within the first year and every year thereafter.
The Southwest Companion Pass can be a great way to save thousands of dollars on family travel.
I’ve personally been a Southwest Companion Pass holder for almost 13 years now, and it’s saved my family tens of thousands of dollars on travel. The pass allows my husband, my children, my parents and even friends to fly with me on every Southwest flight I take just for the cost of taxes. (Domestic taxes are $5.60 each way, while international taxes vary depending on the destination.)
The best part about the Companion Pass is that you can use all the Southwest points you earned from the sign-up bonus offers to book flights — you don’t lose them by getting the Companion Pass — and then still add your companion onto your ticket using the pass. This means both passengers are essentially flying for free except for taxes and fees, essentially doubling the value of the sign-up offers.
Best of all, the timing on these credit card bonus offers is perfect. Earning the Companion Pass as early in the year as possible means you’ll have it longer. And earning the pass in June — which is feasible if you apply for the cards now — means you’ll have the pass for almost 18 months.
With travel starting to make a comeback, now’s the time to grab one or even two of these Southwest credit cards and get them working for you.
Southwest business credit cards:
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Premier Business card.
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Performance Business card.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2021.