Southwest Airlines Overview: Earning, Redeeming & The Companion Pass

southwest airlines overview

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is different from any other airline. It has features I love, and features I hate. Let me start by getting the bad stuff of the way: Southwest has no first class; they don’t allow seat assignments; they have limited international flights (although that has been changing); and they have revenue-based awards. All of this means that if your goal is to travel in luxury, you should generally look elsewhere.  If, on the other hand, your goal is to travel the country at low cost, Southwest may be your best bet.  Let’s take a look at some of Southwest’s best features:

No Fees

Southwest doesn’t charge for checked bags. They don’t charge change fees. You can cancel any flight and receive your money back as credit towards future flights (if you paid for your flight), or full points back if you paid for your flight with points.

Award Travel Always Available

On most airlines, it can be difficult to use your points or miles for the flights you want. However, with Southwest, if you can buy a seat on a flight, you can also use Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book it. Southwest offers three fares for any given flight: Wanna Get Away fares; Anytime fares; and Business Select fares. Wanna Get Away fares are the most highly discounted, but are not always available for the most popular routes and times. Anytime fares cost a bit more. And, Business Select fares cost even more (but include perks such as priority security, priority boarding, and a free premium drink). When using points to book travel, the best value is with Wanna Get Away fares. While points used to be worth 1.4 cents on Wanna Get Away fares, as of April 17, 2015 Rapid Rewards points no longer have a fixed value and the amount of points needed varies based on the route, date and other factors. If you can find Wanna Get Away fares, points are generally a good value.  Remember, if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points and either the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus credit card, you can transfer points to Southwest as needed.

Companion Pass

This is the most amazing feature of the Rapid Rewards program. If you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, you get a companion pass that is valid for the rest of that year and all of the following year. This means that you can book any number of Southwest flights with cash or points and add on a friend for free! Chase offers three different Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards and they frequently have 50,000 point offers (see my Best Credit Card Offers page). As a result, the best way to get a Companion pass is to sign up for two Chase Southwest credit cards in order to get 100,000 points. Points earned from using the credit card count as well, so its possible to get the final required 10K points through spend. Alternatively, you can transfer points from various hotel programs in order to accrue the final 10K points or actually earn them through flying.  Note that points transferred from Ultimate Rewards do not count towards Companion Pass status.

The best credit card sign-up strategy is to sign-up for two Southwest cards close to the end of the calendar year, then wait until January 1st to complete the credit cards’ spend requirements. That way, you will be awarded 100,000 points early in the next year, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying a companion pass for almost two full years!

Go to: Table of Contents - Credit Cards - Flexible Points Programs - Airline Programs - Hotel Programs - Earning & Managing Points - Miscellaneous

About Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor

Shawn Coomer has spent nearly a decade circling the globe for pennies on the dollar. He uses that first-hand knowledge and experience to teach others how to achieve their travel dreams for the least amount of money possible.

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