Southwest Companion Pass 2014 Strategy

Getting the Southwest companion pass just got a little harder for most of us. Chase is really scrutinizing applications for business credit cards and denying a lot more now. I applied for both the personal and business versions of the Chase Southwest Plus credit card. I got the personal one just fine but after a lengthy phone call I was denied the business version. It was a sad moment!

SW Comp Pass

I was determined to get the Southwest Companion Pass if at all possible so I started to research what types of activity would count towards companion pass. Ideally you want to earn it in January as it will be good for all of the current year and all of following year too! After a lot of number crunching and reading some pretty boring terms and conditions, some blog posts, and Flyertalk forums I now have a strategy that I can live with.

First, Here are the earning activities that count towards the Southwest Companion Pass:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card Spending (including the 50,000 sign up bonus!)
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal (online shopping)
  • Booking Hotels and Rental cars at southwest.com (2x Rapid Rewards points per $1 spent)
  • Flying All Southwest Cash Airfares
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining (at participating restaurants)
  • Hotel points transfers into Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Hotel stays (600 Rapid Rewards points per stay)
  • Car Rentals (600 Rapid Rewards points per rental when you credit directly to southwest)

In order to get the Southwest Companion Pass you have to earn at least 110,000 Rapid Rewards points from the above activities. Once you have the Companion Pass a companion on the exact same flights can fly with you for just a few dollars in taxes. This is extremely valuable as this applies to both points and cash bookings! Suddenly 110,000 points can get you 220,000 points worth of travel. If you were to redeem the points for the cheapest “Wanna Get Away” fares that means the 110,000 points have a value of $3,146.00 USD in airfare when you include the “free” fare for the companion. When you redeem for “Wanna Get Away” fares Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.43 cents each towards the airfare cost. The deal is not as good for the more expensive “Anytime” and “Business Select” Fares. See sample points and cash fares for the exact same flights below (Example used: One Way ATL-MSY on May 14, 2014) and you will see that the flights require significantly more points.

SW Cash Fares

SW Points Fares

My planned uses for the Southwest Companion Pass:

  • All our usual personal domestic travel
  • Domestic flights to connect to other award tickets overseas
  • Weekend Getaways
  • Emergencies as needed

You can maximize the value of your Companion Pass by watching airfares. Southwest allows you to make free changes to all cash and points bookings. This means if the price drops on a flight you already booked you can “change” it for free to the exact same flights and get a refund of the difference! If you originally booked with points they give you the difference in points back. If you paid cash then you get a cash credit with Southwest for future use. This is a huge benefit even without the companion pass but you can stretch it further if you watch the fares. I normally reprice all of my currently booked flights anytime Southwest sends out an email announcing a sale. You can do the rebooking process entirely online in a couple minutes and the refunds/credits are instant! This applies to all Southwest and Airtran flights booked at southwest.com.

Seeing this huge value proposition I came up with a strategy to earn the Companion Pass. The key factors were saving cash, utilizing points I had already, and earning the pass as fast as possible.

Editors Note: The strategy below is what worked best for this particular case. The goal was to preserve cash as much as possible and utilize points/resources on hand to reach the target. This is meant to be a guide. Do what works best for your situation if you decide to earn the Companion Pass for yourself.

The strategy I am using involves:

  • Getting 1 Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa card with a 50,000 point bonus
  • Spending money on the card (a lot!)
  • Utilizing Rapid Rewards Dining program when possible
  • Transferring hotel points to Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Flying Southwest cash fares if cost/schedule allows it
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping portal for all online purchases possible

Here are the activities that will earn me the Companion Pass in 2014:

  • 50,000 Rapid Rewards points Credit Card Bonus
  • 30,000 Rapid Rewards points from Hyatt -> Southwest Transfer
  • 20,000 Rapid Rewards points from Credit Card Spending
  • 7,200 Rapid Rewards points from Choice Hotels -> Southwest Transfer
  • 3,000 Rapid Rewards points from Dining ($1,000 in dining)

The above activities put me just over the 110,000 mark and based on research will all count toward the Companion Pass. This also assumes that I don’t fly any Southwest cash fares, credit any rental cars or hotel stays, and do no online shopping. Any of those activities will lower my need to do credit card spending and I will do those activities when it makes sense.

The cash costs are:

  • $220.00 USD cash to buy 22,000 Choice Hotel points
  • $158.00 USD to buy 40 vanilla reload cards ($3.95 USD each)
  • Total: $378 out of pocket

The above cash numbers assume that I will purely buy vanilla reload cards to reach the spending target. This can decrease with other daily spending done on the card. The figure represents the most it would cost me. I will likely do other spending on the card as well. The Choice Hotel points are already purchased to take advantage of a 10% bonus offer they had. I only counted costs that I would not have otherwise incurred anyway.

Points used to convert to Southwest Rapid Rewards points:

  • 24,000 Choice Hotel points become 7,200 Rapid Rewards points
  • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points become 50,000 Hyatt Points
  • 50,000 Hyatt Points become 30,000 Rapid Rewards points

Note: Transferring directly from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards does NOT count towards the Companion Pass!

In this strategy I am sacrificing the flexibility of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. In return those points eventually become 30,000 Rapid Rewards points (Chase -> Hyatt -> Southwest) and will actually be “worth” 60,000 Rapid Rewards points once the Companion Pass is earned. This helps compensate for the loss during the conversion from Hyatt to Southwest. Acceptable to me as Ultimate Rewards are relatively easy to earn and I rarely redeem for high end hotels for my personal travels.

On Jan 1, 2014 I will begin all these activities. I will complete all of the hotel transfers and the minimum credit card spending to earn the 50,000 point bonus. This should earn at least 88,000 Rapid Rewards points by the end of the month. The final 22,000 will take longer to earn from more credit card spending, dining, and any other activities that I can do to get to 110,000 faster. My goal is to have the Companion Pass no later than March 31, 2014 if possible. I travel for business and will fly Southwest/Airtran to speed up the process until I get to 110,000 qualifying points.

I hope this post helps you in getting the Companion Pass for yourself! It is possible to do without flying any Southwest cash fares if you have enough other points on hand. Thinking outside the box and doing a little research in my case will yield me a net gain of $2,768 in Southwest airfares using the Companion Pass thru Dec 31, 2015. You should do your own math and decide if it works out to your advantage based on your own travel and points and miles redemption patterns. As always do what works for you!

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