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When you travel, flights can be one of the most expensive parts of your trip. Many people turn to travel credit cards and frequent flyer programs to help them save money on flights, letting them spend more on other aspects of their trip.
Southwest Airlines offers a great deal for frequent flyers called the Companion Pass. To qualify, you usually have to meet requirements that call for some intense travel.
However, there’s a trick small-business owners can use to qualify for the Companion Pass much more easily, and it can save you huge amounts on flights.
What Is the Southwest Companion Pass?
Southwest offers a few different status tiers for loyal customers. Customers can qualify for A-List and A-List Preferred status by taking enough flights in a year or earning sufficient qualifying miles in a calendar year.
Perks of these statuses include earning bonus miles, priority boarding, and same-day standby.
The Companion Pass exists independently of the A-List and A-List Preferred statuses, but you earn the status similarly. Earn enough miles or take enough flights, and the status is yours.
Buy One, Get One Free Tickets
Unlike A-List status, the Companion Pass doesn’t net you perks like priority boarding when you fly with Southwest. Instead, it offers a much more lucrative benefit.
When you earn the Companion Pass, you can name one companion to receive the pass. For the remainder of the calendar year, plus the entire next calendar year, your named companion flies for free whenever you buy a ticket.
There are no restrictions on free companion flights beyond the need for an open seat on the plane. If you’re flying across your state and a ticket costs $60, your companion gets to fly for free. If you’re flying across the country for $500 per ticket, you still get a free companion ticket.
If you’re traveling as a pair, this immediately cuts the cost of flights in half. You can even get a free companion ticket whether you book your flight with cash or with Southwest miles, making the system incredibly flexible.
Change Your Companion
When you qualify for the Companion Pass, you’ll need to choose the person who gets to fly for free whenever you fly. That’s easy if you have a partner or spouse you plan to fly with, but what happens if you travel for business or want to go on a trip with friends or another family member?
Southwest lets you change your companion up to three times per calendar year by calling their customer service. That means you can bring three different people on a trip each year without having to pay for their tickets, making the pass far more flexible than it seems at first glance.
How to Qualify
Southwest doesn’t give the Companion Pass out easily. To qualify, you need to be a very frequent flyer.
You can earn the Companion Pass by either:
- Taking 100 one-way flights in a single calendar year
- Earning 125,000 miles in a single calendar year
The second scenario is much easier to accomplish. Unlike A-List status, which cares about miles earned from flights, you can earn the Companion Pass using miles earned through any method, including using Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards (more on these below).
How Small-Business Owners Can Qualify More Easily
Rewards credit cards offer a way for business owners to qualify for a Companion Pass relatively easily, as long as you do some planning and have solid credit.
Southwest partners with Chase to offer multiple branded credit cards, and Chase typically offers sign-up bonuses for these cards.
For example, Chase regularly offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles when you get one of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® credit cards and spend $1,000 in your first three months with the card. This earns you a minimum of 41,000 points if you meet the bonus requirement, which is almost one-third of the way to the Companion Pass.
Southwest’s personal credit cards include:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card
Where business owners have the advantage over retail consumers is that Chase also offers business credit cards that reward Southwest miles for spending and as sign-up bonuses. These cards regularly offer bonuses of 60,000 miles, 70,000 miles, or more.
Southwest’s business credit cards include:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Business Plus
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Business Premier
If you sign up for both a personal and a business card, you can get between 100,000 and 110,000 miles from the sign-up bonuses alone. That puts you close to the 125,000-mile requirement.
You can put additional spending on your new Southwest cards or take some Southwest flights to earn the additional miles to reach the threshold.
Best of all, once you earn the Companion Pass, you’ll have a stockpile of miles you can use to pay for flights.
What Counts as a Small Business
This strategy to earn the Companion Pass involves signing up for a small-business credit card. Many people think these cards are out of reach, but many people run their own businesses without even knowing it.
Small businesses aren’t just restaurants, local stores, or sole proprietorships. If you have a side hustle of some kind, you probably qualify as a small business.
Even if you’re doing something for fun and happen to earn a profit from it, you can structure your activities like a business, giving you the chance to apply for a business credit card.
Drawbacks of Using This Method to Get the Companion Pass
It’s worth discussing the risks and drawbacks of applying for credit cards solely to earn rewards. Signing up for new credit cards can be a fun way to earn some extra money or travel for free, but it does have an effect on your credit.
Every time you apply for a credit card, your credit score drops by a few points. This is because hard inquiries show up on your credit report for two years after the lender requests a copy of your report.
Opening a new account also reduces the average age of your credit accounts, which can drop your score.
There’s also the risk of falling into credit card debt. It’s tempting to buy things you don’t need, justifying purchases with the rewards that you’ll earn. You need to be disciplined about your spending to make sure you don’t wind up with expensive credit card debt.
Finally, there’s the risk that you won’t qualify for one or both of the credit cards mentioned above. If you qualify for just one card, you won’t be able to easily earn enough points to qualify for the Companion Pass. You’ll still have the points, but you won’t get the full benefit.
How to Get the Most Out of the Companion Pass
The Companion Pass gives you a free ticket for your named companion every time you fly. That makes simply taking more trips one of the best ways to get the most out of your Companion Pass.
If you know you’re going to have a busy year of travel, aim to get the Companion Pass for that year. If you don’t, you might want to hold off on getting the pass.
Also keep in mind that the Companion Pass lasts for the entire calendar year for which you earn it, plus the following year. That means if you earn the pass in January, you get to benefit from it for almost two full years.
If you can manage it, try to time it so that you earn your miles as early in the year as possible to maximize the amount of time you can enjoy the valuable Companion Pass benefit.
Remember that you can change your companion up to three times per year. If you want to travel with different people, you can switch your companion as needed to get free flights.
What if You Don’t Use All the Miles You Earn?
Especially if you’re getting a second ticket for free every time you travel, 125,000 miles is a lot of miles to use.
Although you can keep using your miles after the Companion Pass expires, Southwest does offer some other options for people who want to redeem their miles without flying.
With More Rewards, Southwest offers redemption options that let you turn miles into gift cards, magazines, and merchandise. You can often redeem 1 mile for the equivalent of $0.01 in merchandise and gift cards, giving you solid value for the points you’ve earned.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best airline loyalty programs out there, but most airlines have frequent flyer programs and rewards credit card partners.
If you’re not a fan of Southwest, see what your favorite airline offers. You might be able to get a credit card that helps you earn miles toward your next trip.
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.