Six ways to secure a Southwest Companion Pass without flying

Companion Pass from Home 2If you want to be free to fly around the country (and slightly beyond), with a friend, the best deal around is the Southwest Companion Pass.  The deal is simple: earn 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year and you’ll get a Companion Pass valid for the rest of that year and all of the next year.  While the Companion Pass is valid, it can be used an unlimited number of times.  Simply book a flight for yourself, with cash or points, and then at any time before the flight you can add your companion for free (unfortunately, TSA fees apply so your companion is really only almost free).

You can earn points, of course, by flying Southwest on paid tickets.  Southwest’s low price fares, called “Wanna Get Away” fares, earn 6 points per dollar.  So, anyone can earn a Companion Pass “simply” by flying a bit over $18,000 worth of Wanna Get Away flights.  Or, you can spend half that much on expensive Business Select fares.  Either way, it’s a lot of money and a lot of flying.

Luckily, there are cheaper and easier ways to earn the pass…

Credit card bonuses

Chase frequently offers 50,000 bonus points for signing up for their Southwest cards.  There are three versions of the card: Premier, Premier Business, and Plus.  The Plus card costs $69 per year.  The Premier cards cost $99.  The 50,000 point bonuses (found here, when available) currently require $2K spend in three months.  An easy way to get 110,000 points in a hurry is to sign up for two of these cards and spend a combined $10,000 across the two cards.  Ideally, you would time the sign-ups and spend so that the points would be earned as early in a calendar year as possible.  That way, you’ll have the Companion Pass for nearly two years.

Credit card bonus total cost: ~$368

Assuming you sign up for one Premier card and one Plus card, you’ll pay a total of $168 in first year annual fees.  Next, let’s look at how much you would have earned had you put the $10K spend on a 2% cash back card: $200.  We’ll call that the opportunity cost of putting spend on the Southwest cards rather than the 2% cash back card.  Therefore, the total cost (annual fees plus opportunity cost) comes to $368.  That’s an incredible bargain for 110,000 points plus a Companion Pass!

Credit card spend

If you’re a big spender, then another way to get the Companion Pass is to simply charge $110,000 worth of expenses on a Southwest credit card.  Done.

Credit card spend total cost: ~$2,200

If you were to put $110,000 in spend on a 2% cash back card, you would earn $2,200 cash back.  So, the opportunity cost of this approach is $2,200.

Marriott Travel Package

UPDATE: This option will no longer work after March 31st 2017. Please see: Southwest kills best option for earning Companion Pass and Hotel Transfers Will Count Towards the Southwest Companion Pass through March 31!

Technically, any transfer of hotel points to Southwest points will work towards the Companion Pass, but in many cases the transfer ratios of hotel points to Southwest points isn’t very good.  One exception is with Marriott Travel Packages.  Those with a big stash of Marriott points can redeem them for 5 or 7 night travel packages which offer the combination of a hotel stay plus miles in whichever airline loyalty program you choose.  5 night packages aren’t advertised and are not always easy to get, but they represent the best value when your main goal is to get Southwest points.

In exchange for 235,000 Marriott points, its possible to get a travel package consisting of 5 nights at a category 1-5 property plus 120,000 Southwest points.  That’s more than enough for the Companion Pass!  You can read about 5 Night Travel packages here:

To get the required 235,000 Marriott points you can sign up for three credit cards (the following offers are available at the time of this writing, but may not be available long term):

  • Marriott Rewards Premier: 87,500 points after adding an authorized user and spending $3,000 in 3 months.  $85 annual fee.
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Business: 70,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months.  $99 annual fee is waived the first year.
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Business: Same offer as above. A spouse or significant other may apply for this one and you can use both sets of points at the time of redeeming for a travel package. Or, you may be able to get this card a second time if you have a second business (with a different tax ID).

After meeting the combined $9,000 in spend on the three cards listed above, you will have a total of over 236,000 Marriott points.

Marriott Travel Package total cost: $265

Only the personal Rewards Premier card has a first year annual fee: $85.  The opportunity cost of $9,000 in spend on these cards vs. a 2% cash back card comes to $180.

Choice Hotel points

UPDATE: This option will no longer work after March 31st 2017. Please see: Southwest kills best option for earning Companion Pass and Hotel Transfers Will Count Towards the Southwest Companion Pass through March 31!

Choice Privileges points can be redeemed for Southwest points.  Specifically, 6,000 Choice points can be converted to 1,800 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.  If you convert 366,000 Choice points, you’ll end up with 109,800 Southwest Rapid Rewards points – just 200 points shy of a Companion Pass.

Loyalty Traveler taught us that its possible to buy Choice points for .75 cents each (3/4 of a penny each).  The trick is to book and then cancel Points Plus Cash stays.  You do need at least 8,000 Choice points to begin with, but you could always start by buying those points for 1.1 cents each and then going from there.

Choice Hotel points total cost: $2,773

If you start from scratch buying all of the needed points, your total cost would be:

  • 8000 points at 1.1 cents each = $88
  • 358,000 points at .75 cents each = $2,685
  • Total cost: $2773

Ouch.  That’s a lot of money and a lot of work.  There’s another advanced approach that involves starting with Amtrak cards and then transferring points to Choice, but that’s outside of the scope of this post.  You can figure out the details yourself by starting here: Manufacturing Choice. Is it worth it?  Hint: it’s probably not worth it.

A cheaper option is to buy points once a year through the Daily Getaways offers that come once a year (see my 2015 analysis here).  In 2015, Choice points were available for as little as .4 cents each.  Unfortunately, these packages tend to sell out within seconds so it is not a good idea to rely on being able to buy these.

1-800-Flowers

1-800-Flowers lets you earn 1,000 Companion Pass qualifying Southwest points per order with promo code RR22.  To qualify, orders must be $29.99 or more and only one promo code can be used per order.  The trick, then, is to place 110 separate $30 orders to get 110,000 points and the Companion Pass.  First, though, you’ll need to sign up for the Celebration Passport program (for $29.99) in order to get free shipping and handling on all of these orders.

1-800-Flowers total cost: $1665 to $3,300+

At worst, you would pay $30 x 110 = $3,300 plus ~$30 for Celebration Passport = $3,330.  If your deliveries include sales tax (not all states collect sales tax for flower deliveries) your total will be even more.  Often, though, it’s possible to cut your costs in half or better.  For full (and complex) details, please see: 1800Flowers Extreme Stacking promo codes, portals, gift cards, and more.

Online Shopping

If you do a lot of online shopping, you can earn points that qualify for the Companion Pass by shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal.  The portal offers different point bonuses for different stores.  It’s often possible to earn 5 or more points per dollar for shopping at popular merchants.

Online shopping total cost: $1,100?

It’s hard to estimate the cost of this approach.  Using a shopping portal is free, however there is an opportunity cost of using the Southwest portal instead of, say, a cash back portal.  Portal rebate rates vary tremendously though, so it’s impossible to say exactly what that opportunity cost is.  If we assume, on average, that you earn 5 points per dollar through the Southwest portal, but could have earned 5% cash back, then we can calculate the opportunity cost as $22,000 in spend at 5% cash back = $1,100.

Mix and match

You do not have to earn all of the 110,000 points with a single method.  You could earn some points with a single credit card bonus, other points with credit card spend, more points via online shopping, etc.

Stuff that doesn’t count

Southwest states that:

Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.

And:

Points purchased for personal use or as a gift, transferred points, points earned from program enrollment, Tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and Partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass Qualifying Points.

In practice, we have found that the following things do count:

  • Paid flight activity
  • Points earned from credit card spend and the signup bonus
  • Points transferred from other loyalty programs
  • Points earned from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping portal (however, seasonal bonuses from the portal do not count)
  • Most (but not all) points earned from partners

The following do not count:

  • Points purchased or gifted
  • Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Some partner bonuses.  For example, when 1800Flowers occasionally offers a promo code for 1750 points per order, those points do not qualify.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

    • There have been lots of posts like this over the last six years, and the deal has not been killed. Southwest still makes money off of people who get the Companion Pass, as Chase pays them well for the miles and many with the Companion Pass book more flights.

    • Most of this is a lot of effort except for getting two credit cards, which has been well known for quite some time. The number of people doing any of the other methods has to be extremely small in the scope of their program.

  1. Great post as I am trying to see how I can requalify next year as our current companion passes expire the end of this year. My wife and I both went the credit card route to get the passes for our kids. We have gotten great value so far. SFO to LAS, MDW twice, MCO, LGA, CUN and coming this year AUA, LGA aigain, MCO, SJD and SNA.

  2. Depending on how one personally values Choice & Marriott points, the conversion to RapidRewards may be a net loss (or gain, possibly, if you factor having the companion pass into how you value the miles). That’s an opportunity cost, too. It’s admittedly a hard one to quantify specifically for all readers, but it should be quantifiable by your own valuations.

    Also, it’s important to account for the fact that the conversion from Marriott leaves you with not only the resulting RR miles, but 5 free night certificates. That’s essentially an opportunity *gain*. The net value of the Marriott option, even with a most ungenerous valuation of the free nights, makes the actual cost of the Companion Pass somewhere between $0 and “Yay, free money!”. And leaves the Choice conversion option looking like a sick joke.

    • Category 5 Marriott hotels are 25k points/night, with 5th night free. So the value of a 5 night certificate is 25k x 4=100k. If you get 5 nights + 120k Southwest points, it’s 235k Marriott points, so you’re essentially paying 235k-100k = 125k Marriott points for 120k Southwest points. Granted, SW points are worth a lot more than Marriott points, but I wouldn’t say that it’s $0.

      • Except, as I noted above, the redemption value of the SW miles is essentially doubled by the Companion Pass, since it can be used on award flights. So in effect it’s like paying 125k Marriott points for 240k SW miles…which are indeed worth a lot more.

        To my mind, that’s “Yay, free money!” territory. As long as I have a travel partner to share the flights with me, I’m getting 240k SW miles worth of travel out of my 235k Marriott points, *and* 5 Category 1-5 Marriott nights as a bonus.

        • Ah, I see what you mean. My SO and I are planning a 5 night trip to Hawaii and we were going to get 2 Marriott credit cards already, but we’ll also try for a third to see if we can get the Companion Pass as a nice bonus. Assuming that they will approve us 3 cards before the dreaded 5/24 hits co branded cards, of course.

    • True, but I chose to focus on the cost of acquiring the Marriott and Choice points rather than the opportunity cost of giving them up (the two metrics are not additive)

      With Marriott, I did indeed leave out the value of the 5 night certificates. I find that tricky to quantify because many people are interested in doing this even if they won’t necessarily use the certificate at all.

  3. Aren’t you overestimating the true cost of obtaining a companion pass with pure spend on a Southwest card? You are calculating it based on the fact that a 2% cash back card would net you $2,200, but you are forgetting the fact that the 110,000 Southwest points you accrued had a value of $1,650 if you value Southwest points at $0.015 per point. So the actual opportunity cost is only about $550. Same analysis works with many of the other approaches too and brings the true cost of obtaining the pass down significantly.

    • Another way to look at it is most all these cards offer 1% rewards on spend valued at at least $.01 each, which cuts all the “opportunity” costs in half if not more. Of course ms’ing this may have costs of it’s own, often around 1%+, though one would have those same costs if you ms on a 2% card.

      I appreciate the blog post though, thanks. Marriott deal and this SW deal sound interesting.

  4. I’ll just put out a confirming data point on here, I just got my SWA Companion Pass through 2 CC sign-ups since Dec 2015 and a Choice Hotel point transfer, then a 1800Flowers Valentines Day gift to put me over the 110K RR point target, all in less than 2 months. So, it can indeed work to get the CP without any BIS miles! I did! Now, I just have to get a whole bunch of PTO,(Paid Time Off), for my wife and myself!….LOL

  5. I hope you do not mind if I post this ( if not please delete) I just received family and friend referral for the SW Premier/Plus for 50,000 points if anyone is interested (it is currently 25,000 for sign up right now). Please send your name and e-mail address to Paradisehopper @ sbcglobal.net. Once I enter your name and e-mail address, you will receive an e-mail from Chase with a link. Thank you and have a great day!

  6. Is it possible to sign up for the 2 personal cards and then have your spouse sign up for the business card or a personal card and link it to your southwest miles account so you could get 150,000 miles, but not get denied on the third card (since I’ve heard it is almost impossible for one person to get approved for all 3 cards)?

    • That trick does work with some cards, but I have no idea if it works with Southwest. I think you’re better off applying for 2 cards and finding other ways (like those shown above) to earn the extra $6K required after meeting minimum spend on the 2 cards.

  7. Thank you so much for this information! I now have qualified for a Companion Pass, and never would have figured out this possibility by only viewing the Marriott and Southwest websites.

  8. I got the premier card back in October, ( 2015) nd the premier business card in May (2016) I recently read that though I’ve achieved 100k points between both cards, those points will not be counted towards the companion pass because they weren’t received in the same year. I just received the chase sapphire card, but also found out that those points won’t count either. Now, I have to figure out how to get another 50 k points by the end of this year. With excellent credit, I’m hoping that I can be approved of the plus card. Has anyone received all three SW cards? Or does anyone know what other card I can apply for that has bonus points that I can transfer to receive points towards the SW companion pass?

    • It should be possible for you to get the Plus card. Another option is to get both the personal and business Marriott cards and then book a Marriott Travel Package that awards 50K airline miles. Or simply convert 140K Marriott points to 50K miles without getting a travel package.

      • Thank you for the reply. I have just been reading about the 5/24 rule. I have 6/24 in which sapphire is my most recent, approved one month ago. Might I be one of the lucky people who didn’t get hit by this rule? Is the Marriott card a chase product? If so, would I be better off applying for the Marriott personal and business or just the plus card? I am trying to do all of my research, but the data is overwhelming.

        • I don’t know if you got around the rule or not. Yes, Marriott cards are from Chase. The business version is not impacted by the 5/24 rule, so you would have a good chance of getting that one even if you aren’t successful with the personal card. That won’t get you enough points on its own though

  9. Ok, I may try that. Also, Does the SW plus have a business version? I have learned a lot on this website, thank you so much!

  10. Just a few more questions..
    First, should I apply for the plus card this October so I can get another 50k this year?
    Also, I need to clarify. In order to maximize getting Companion pass, do I need to spend the 2k in by the end of 2016? (Which would be within the 3 months if I get it in Oct) Or do the points have to be in my Acct by by the end of 2016 or Jan 2017 to have the companion pass for almost 2 years? Or what date do I need to make the minimum spend by? Or would I be better off just applying now, and just get the rest of this year and next? Hope this makes sense!

    • The companion pass qualification is based on points earned within a single calendar year. So, you have two choices: finish earning 110K points this year, or start over and try to get 110K points as early in 2017 as possible.

      If you finish this year:
      You must signup for the card, complete the minimum spend, and have your statement post (after meeting minimum spend) before the end of the year.
      You will then have a companion pass for slightly over a year. (the rest of 2016 and all of 2017).

      If you wait:
      You’ll have to earn new 110,000 points in 2017. The advantage is that if you can earn those points quickly, then you’ll keep the companion pass for almost 2 years (rest of 2017 and all of 2018)

  11. Do points earned through Rapid Rewards Dining program count toward the Companion Pass? Also, do bonus points earned through Chase refer-a-friend links count toward the Companion Pass?

    Thanks in advance.

  12. I called Southwest to confirm the Rapid Reward points earned with purchase of Marriot Travel Package will qualify towards Companion Pass. Southwest rep said ‘no, won’t count towards companion pass.’ help?

    • Most likely the rep was wrong. I’ve heard plenty of data points from readers who immediately qualified for the companion pass after redeeming for a travel package. That said, there is a small chance that they’ve changed the rules. There is always some risk with things like this

  13. So right now would be a bad time to apply, right? I would like to get the bonus points around January to make the most of the 2 calendar years, so should I wait until October/November to apply so I don’t get 100,000 points in December?

    Watch them reduce the bonus promo October 1st. Ha!

    • Yes, wait. I prefer the idea of signing up in early December so that the first statement close will be in January. That way, even the points earned for spend in December will count towards your 2017 totals. Yes, there’s always a chance that the deal will go away, so you might want to jump on it in November or even late October if you get antsy 🙂

  14. Quick question, I just signed up for the Business card and the plus card. Chase is currently running a promo for 60k point on the Business card after spending 3k in 3 months and the normal 50k on the plus with 2k spent in 3 months. So i’ll have enough for my companion pass soon.

    Does the items purchased to reach the 3k and 2k on each card also turn into reward points for flights or does it just roll to the 110k companion pass?

    • Yes, all points earned with the credit card will be available for flights. When you earn 110,000 points to get the Companion Pass, you don’t lose those 110,000 points. You’ll still have them and can use them to book flights.

  15. I’m considering booking a hotel through the Southwest website (by way of booking.com) and some hotels show a significantly higher # of points by being a “Rapid Rewards points plus property”. Do these “points plus” points qualify towards the required 110,000 for a Companion Pass?

    • I believe those points will count, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyone else know for sure? As long as the points are not considered bonus points, it should count as per the terms:

      *Companion Pass qualifying points are earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest®, points issued on Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Cards, and base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners in a calendar year. Purchased points, points transferred between Members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions, and Diners Club, points earned from Rapid Rewards program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and Partner bonus points (excluding bonus points earned on the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass qualifying points.

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