How I Saved $3,200 With My Southwest Companion Pass ✈️
Plenty of "big shot" travel bloggers continue to wow us with their reward points and pictures of themselves flying around the world in first-class (guilty!), but what about shorter domestic trips?
Things like, traveling to a friend's wedding in San Diego or escaping the winter blues with a trip to Florida.
Sure, you could blow all your points and miles just to fly around the country in first class, but you'll only get to utilize and enjoy it for a few hours.
Wouldn't it be nicer to apply those points towards longer flights with seats that magically transform into cushy beds? Yes. Yes, it would.
That's why I'm a huge fan of the Companion Pass from Southwest Airlines. They have a killer app that I use to regularly schedule free travel on domestic flights for me and my family.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
A Companion Pass may not sound that unique - especially with other two-for-one type discounts offered by credit card companies - but I assure you, this truly is a special pass. Once you earn one, you'll qualify for unlimited free tickets for a companion for up to two years.
So, how do you get one? There are two ways:
1. Take 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year, or
2. Earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in one calendar year
Unless you're already a frequent traveler, I'll assume your way to earning a Companion Pass is by earning points. Earning that many points in a single calendar year may seem impossible or improbable, but it's actually not that hard to do. Also, keep in mind that the Pass is valid until the end of the year after you earn it.
Something worth noting is that you don't have to have all 110,000 points in your account to qualify for the companion pass. You can use your points freely as you continue to accumulate more points. For example, if you have 50,000 points in your account and redeem 30,000 points for a free trip, you've still earned 50,000 points towards your Companion Pass.
Once you've reached the "magic" 110,000 point threshold, you'll be asked to designate a companion to travel with you for free anytime, only paying a few bucks in mandatory government taxes for the additional person on your reservation.
How I Maximized the Crap Out of This
Since it remains valid until the end of the year after you earn it, my first goal in 2015 was to get my Companion Pass as soon as possible, so I could use it until the end of 2016. That's nearly two years of two-for-one travel!
Now, I'm sure Southwest's intent was to grant Companion Passes to those who purchased thousands of dollars worth of airline tickets, but as a total freeloader, I honestly didn't have much interest in actually spending that amount of money.
Instead, I signed up for both the personal and small business versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier cards, and earned 50,000 bonus points from each card after spending $2,000 on each card within three months of opening the accounts.
Earning those two bonuses left me with a total of 104,000 points a few weeks into January 2015. I prioritized using both of the cards to earn the remaining points ($6,000 = 6,000 points) and received my Companion Pass just a few weeks later - valid until the end of 2016!
But wait, there's more.
My wife got her Companion Pass the same exact way in early 2014 and it was valid until the end of 2015. So essentially, we had two Companion Passes to use. We have two kids, so we designated them as our companions, and always booked four tickets for the price of two.
It may seem too good to be true, but I promise you it isn't. In fact, we've been playing this little "game" of earning Companion Passes for a few years now to ensure our family of four always travels for half-price and it's been wonderful, to say the least.
Going to Town With Free Travel
Remember, earning 110,000 points is not the same as spending 110,000 points.
My 110,000 points earned me a Companion Pass (which was the main goal), but I was still able to spend all of those points on whatever travel arrangements I wanted.
The points themselves are worth about $1,600 towards airfare in Southwest's Wanna Get Away fare class. And, best of all, you can use your Companion Pass with any ticket, even when you book using points!
So when you add a free companion, those points are worth about $3,200 in free travel - which is how my family and I have enjoyed about $3,200 in free travel each year for several years now.
Just last year, we used a combination of our Companion Passes and points to book trips from Denver (our home) to Atlanta, Charleston, and Florida (twice!). We were also able to travel to a friends wedding in San Diego without the kids by temporarily changing the designated companion on one of our passes (which Southwest allows you to do).
Sure, we blew through all 110,000 points last year, but not to worry, we're already building them back up again, and my wife just earned her new Companion Pass for 2016-2017.
Future free vacations, here we come!