Six ways to secure a Southwest Companion Pass without flying

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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.
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