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Maximizing The Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is [arguably] the best value two credit cards can get you. I mean, anytime you fly, one person gets to fly with you for free! Doesn’t matter if you paid in points or cash, the second person’s flight is free.

This Companion Pass lasts the entire rest of the calendar year, and all of the next calendar year. Potentially two years of free flights for one companion. Plus, you have 110,00 Southwest points which qualify for the free flight.

Personally, we had this thing most of 2011 and all of 2012 and by the time it expired we still had more than 30,000 Southwest points left. Took ~13 flights and still lasted the entire time for us, and then some.

Here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • Getting the companion pass
  • Timing your companion pass
  • How to Make Your Companion Pass Last Longer
  • Finding Southwest Deals
  • Caribbean Destinations (and all points hotels)

Getting the Companion Pass

I’ll briefly mention how to get the companion pass. Basically, it’s a Southwest benefit, kind of like a “top tier status”, but instead of lounge access, you get a companion pass. To get it, you need to earn 110,000 Southwest Points within one calendar year. To make things better, points earned through the Southwest credit cards count towards the companion pass.

To makes things sweeter and more convenient, the Southwest credit cards often run 50,000 point bonuses. So if you got both personal and business versions, that’s 100,000 bonus points right there. But after meeting the $6,000 spend requirement (for both cards), you’re really only left with 4,000 needed points to earn the companion pass, which could be done by spending another $4,000 within that year.

Timing is everything.

Getting the 110,000 points knocked out in the beginning of the year will give you a full two years. Got it? Because, again, you get it for the rest of the current calendar year, and all through the entire next year. Getting it early in the year, is best.

Technically, you don’t have to apply for the cards at the beginning of the year, either. After all, it takes time to get approved, get the cards, and get the spend done. But here’s a little trick: Assuming the 50,000 point credit card offer is around, apply for the cards in December of the year before you want the Companion Pass. But instead of spending the full $3,000 to earn your spend requirement, wait to set off the bonus until January. Let all your points post in January.

The important thing is to try to get your points to post in your Southwest card as early as possible within the same calendar year, to enjoy the Companion Pass for up to two years.

Okay, now we have the Companion Pass, then what?

Now you need to understand how long your 110,000 miles will last you. Because, the two of us, we want 20 flights out of our miles, not the advertised “2 roundtrips” for the 50,000 points. How long can we make the free last?

Basically, you have to watch for sales, just like revenue tickets. Because Southwest doesn’t do award availability or pricing like any other airline. To get the “points price” of a flight take the regular paid ticket price and multiply it by 60.

A $100 flight, will be ~6,000 points (60 x 100 = 6,000).

Another way of thinking about it is that with 110,000 Southwest pints, you’ve got $1,833 worth of flights with Southwest (and the second person is free).

The real question is, what would you do with $1,833 worth of flights. Forget that you actually pay with points. Again, the points are worth just 60 times the regular flight price. And therefore, you need to look for sales.

Finding Cheap Southwest Flights

The best way to find cheap Southwest flights on points, is to find cheap Southwest points on cash. The best way to do that is flash sales, Ding, and timing.

Analyzing flight times

Southwest has a function that shows you the lowest price on their low fare calendar, be it points or cash.

This can help you find when prices start going up, typically speaking.

I’m writing and researching this on Aug, 15. When I do a search for flights from today onward with the calendar, you can clearly see prices rise as the date of travel gets closer. The week of, at 27,000+ points, then the next week drops off to 8,000 points. The next week drops again to 6,900 points. But by the 4th week prices had dropped to a low average of 5,470 points.

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 6.38.05 PM

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 6.38.37 PM

I also looked at LA to Columbus, Oh. The week of things seem to be 17,000 points, but one day (on the weekend) is 49,000 points. Week 2 a fews dates show 10,000 points, and then finally by week 3 it seems to level off with that as a constant price.

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 6.40.34 PM

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 6.41.35 PM

You can do this for all kinds of routes. You may learn a few things, like Southwest prices go up within the month of travel, by a lot at times. Another thing I can’t help but notice on many routes is that weekend prices are higher. Southwest, unlike Delta and United has most of their customer base as leisure travelers (instead of business travel).

Southwest Sales

Click N Save

Sign up for this email.

https://www.southwest.com/html/email/click_n_save_signup.html

Ding

But the bread and butter of sales is Ding. Choose what airports you’d like to get alerts for (up to 10) and when you see them, click.

https://www.southwest.com/html/ding/what-is-ding.html

Plus, you can find sales periodically on the home page, but these will probably get emailed to you anyways if you signup for the first.

Throw away trick

Chances are if you’re flying to one of these cities, you’ll have plenty of options for flights. But what’s interesting is that some of these sales are for specific city pairs regardless of routing. Like for example, I saw a flight one time that was Little Rock to Dallas on sale, and a flight to Dallas was cheaper than a flight to Houston… even though you could route through Houston. For whatever reason, flying to Dallas via Houston was cheaper than flying to Houston. One could get off the plan and “throw away” the ticket to Dallas (just not fly it). But know the rest of your ticket will be cancelled if you skip a flight (which doesn’t matter if it’s the last segment of a booking).

Here are some hubs (focus cities) you might be able to route through to strategize your throw-away ticket.

  • (BWI) Baltimore–Washington International Airport
  • (MDW) Chicago Midway International Airport
  • (DAL) Dallas Love Field
  • (DEN) Denver International Airport
  • (ATL) Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • (STL) Lambert–St. Louis International Airport
  • (LAX) Los Angeles International Airport
  • (LAX) McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas)
  • (BNA) Nashville International Airport
  • (OAK) Oakland International Airport
  • (MCO) Orlando International Airport
  • (PHX) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • (SAN) San Diego International Airport
  • (HOU) William P. Hobby Airport (Houston)

 

Go, Cancel, or Match a Lower Price

There’s no reason to wait on booking a ticket you think you’ll take. Southwest, (sit down for this), is fee free. Southwest has no fees for cancelations or changes. Book, and if you can’t go, cancel.

And they’ll match a better price. Which means you can book a ticket, and if you see a lower price you can rebook it and it will refund you the difference. I’ve done this online a few times and it’s easier than… pretty much every other airline.

We got lucky and hit a string of sales, and before the slight deval, giving us a number of tickets for 3,000 – 4,000 points. They were short flights like CMH – LIT, LIT – HOU, and CLE – LGA, but 3,000 points for two is unbeatable. Especially when you have 110,000 points.

Best Southwest Destinations

Southwest is primarily a domestic airline, and has great coverage of the US, but has a few flights to the Caribbean as well.

  • (SJU) San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • (AUA) Aruba
  • (MBJ) Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • (CUN) Cancun, Mexico
  • (SJD) Los Cabos, Mexico
  • (NAS) Nassau, Bahamas

Coming soon, on November 2, 2014 is:

  • (MEX) Mexico City, Mexico
  • (PUJ) Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Direct flights can be super cheap. Pick a city and a Caribbean destination and see where it routes through. I noticed flights to Jamaica sometimes route through Orlando. I looked up Orlando flights, and they are 3,290 points! And for two people, that’s the cheapest flight deal I think I’ve seen. That’s basically 1,645 points per person, per direction… To Jamaica!

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 7.47.34 PM

The thing you may notice is that even on Southwest flights, you have airport taxes. In the US, that’s typically $5. Your companion still has to pay these taxes. Not a big deal.

But with international flights, they can be as high as $65 (leaving Jamaica). This is because there are at times international taxes, and most countries have higher airport taxes.

Doing what I always do, I made a spreadsheet based on taxes to/from, for direct flights. Destinations are in order of cheapest to most expensive departing taxes and fees.

Airport Going to Departing from
SJU $5.60 $5.60
AUA $15.60 $55.00
CUN $29.19 $53.92
MBJ $49.60 $60.90
SJD $29.19 $60.84
MEX $29.19 $61.81
NAS $5.60 $93.50
PUJ $36.90 $93.66

This is an unfortunate reality of the Caribbean. Taxes and high fees are unavoidable. The best you can do is use your World Arrival+ to get reimbursed for those fees. But compared to a $10 roundtrip ticket to another coast, you’re looking at $100+ per person with some of these routes.

Then again, SJU is basically a domestic ticket. So there’s one normal option.

As a little bonus, I decided to make a chart of the points hotels at each of the Southwest Caribbean locations:

Hilton IHG Club Carlson Marriott SPG Hyatt
San Juan 40,000 – 50,000 15,000 – 50,000 38,000 25,000 – 40,000 7,000 – 30,000 8,000 – 25,000
Aruba 25,000 50,000 35,000 – 60,000 25,000
Cancun 15,000 – 35,000 35,000 – 50,000 3,000 – 10,000 25,000
Montego Bay fluctates 35,000 ?
Los Cabos fluctates 20,000 – 35,000 7,500 10,000 20,000
Mexico City 10,000 – 50,000 10,00 – 30,000 15,000 – 28,000 7,500 – 30,000 3,000 – 16,000 15,000
Nassau 40,000
Punta Cana 15,00 – 25,000 2,000 – 12,000

Maybe someone else was curious as well…

 

Domestic

Besides, the Caribbean, Southwest covers the US very well, including most every major city.

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 8.51.30 PM

I mean, I can’t begin to name all the awesome destinations domestically. Nor could I name all the hotels…

But you should follow the maps I’ve been making, click to show lower categories and get an idea of lower level redemptions for the chains you have points in.

Click Here to see the Complete Maps for each hotel chain (at least the ones done so far).

Either way, most all these programs have a ton of hotels in the US.

Conclusion

This is our second time with the Companion Pass (first time it was in my name, this time in Carrie’s name), and I hope to make the most of it. I really hope to run my account dry of Southwest points and make the most of this 2014/2015 Companion Pass. We’ll get back from Central America mid/late September and then have a month or two to start our burning.

In the end, the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most generous benefits of any of the credit card perks. If 110,000 points is worth, $1,833, then the points plus the added second person would be a value of $3,666… from two credit cards.

Now you just have to wait for another 50,000 point bonus for both cards. Or… you can wait until next year.

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38 Comments

  1. Great job on this post, especially adding the point requirements of the hotels. Thanks for your hard work.

    Reply
    • Thanks Mike!

      Reply
  2. Nice post! I think you have a typo in the chart for Aruba. I don’t remember that the departure tax was higher than normal, so you may need to delete the extra “1”. The check in procedure was more involved for Aruba because we all needed to get some sort of stamp on our boarding pass and had to stand in line again at the gate. Not sure if that is specific to Aruba or something they hadn’t sorted out yet because it was a new route.

    Reply
    • No type. Just checked again and that’s the price Southwest gives for MCO to AUA.
      Hmm… no idea, don’t remember doing that, but I forget a lot of details. :-p

      Reply
  3. after all the blog posts that have been written about the companion pass, you still found a way to add valuable content to the topic. That is a feat!

    Specifically, the caribbean hotel points chart and airport fees will be very helpful for me as I’m planning a SA trip on UA starting in the caribbean/CA.

    And throwaway ticket ideas are always nice too…

    Reply
    • Thanks. 😀 Good idea. I’ll be posting about my Caribbean Hopper trip in the next weeks or so.

      Reply
  4. Great post, thank you for this information! It is certainly a great value. It should be noted, being that Chase cards can be churned every two years, you can always switch off between you and your significant other and have a Companion Pass every two year for each person.

    Finally, let’s say you have a Companion Pass, but you ran out of miles. Someone else (your companion?) can use their miles to book your ticket and your companion still flies for free! Something to keep in mind.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

    Reply
    • Crap forget to mention that. Yea, you can use anyones miles as it turns out.

      And onetime I forgot to call and add carrie as the companion (back when I had it) and we showed up for our flight with 1 ticket. I did that twice on accident cuz when i booked from my account I was used to it being automatic.
      Anyways this one time the agent freaked out, and another FA had to relieve her and told us she was a little stressed. But each time it was super easy.

      Reply
  5. Other important factors to keep in mind if you cancel any flight you have 1 year to use up those funds. Also when wanting to use funds you can only use up to 3 codes for any one flight.

    Reply
    • Didn’t know about the 3 code limit. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  6. I thought you multiply the ticket cost by 70 (instead of 60)

    Reply
    • Well, I took a number of examples and divided to see the actual number and it’s a little inconsistent but always about 60…

      Reply
  7. Because of lack of fees, I’d say it’s best to book flights as soon as the schedule opens up. I’ve found a good deal of these to be the cheapest the route is ever priced at. In a rare situation I also saw a flight to SJU around New Years decrease dramatically as departure got nearer…I even re-booked a lower price 2 days before departure.

    Also a few possible errors…1) I thought the devaluation dropped the pts to 70pts per $1? Still >3k in value with 2 cards + CP. 2) In CUN there is/was another Hyatt that goes for 8k/night.

    Reply
    • Interesting.

      I thought so too, but I kept dividing examples and kept getting 60.

      However, I’m not seeing any other Hyatt in Cancun.

      Reply
    • Isn’t the 60/70 discrepancy because you don’t pay most of the taxes/fees when it’s an award flight? So, even though the base fare is a 70, you don’t actually add anything but the sept 11 fee to it. So, in reality it ends up being better when you compare to what an actual flight would cost.
      In your $100 example the base fare may actually be around $85, so that multiplied by 70 gives you the 6000 pts.

      Reply
    • What Jamie said.

      Apparently sometime over the past 3-6 months the Hyatt Regency Cancun was taken over by another company (now it’s the Krystal Grand Punta Cancun). This sucks because it was only 8k/nt as a Hyatt property and right in the middle of the hotel zone!

      Reply
  8. Great resource here. I’ve been thinking for a while about going for the pass the beginning of next year.

    Reply
    • Get it while it lasts! :-p

      Reply
  9. My companion pass began in March 2014. I used miles for three tickets to Sarasota and booked two tickets to Aruba over Thanksgiving. I accumulated 20K miles buying tires and some other items that cost $1K from Sears @ 20 miles per $ a couples months ago. I keep an eye out for Sears 10 miles per $ because you can buy egift cards and turn around and buy items you need w/ the gift cards and get 10 miles per $ again. I also signed up for electric and gas utility through a Southwest partner. Scored 16K miles and you can cancel after two months. Still have 100K miles in my account. If I keep this up, maybe when my companion pass expires, I’ll have more miles then I started (110K)?

    Reply
  10. Drew,
    Your posts are very informative.
    Will points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards count towards the points required for companion pass ? I don’t have a business to apply the business card.

    Reply
    • No they don’t, unfortunately.

      Reply
    • True, yet a nice feature I’m using this time around is transferring CUR points to SWA to extend the benefits of the companion pass. (have just about burned through the first 110K :-) )

      Reply
  11. I have a family of 4, 2 adults and 2 kids so technically can’t do the spouse switch where one CP is for me for two years and another CP is for my wife for the next two years. We both got the CPs for our family by applying for the Southwest Personal Plus and Southwest Business Plus and have enjoyed the CP for 2013-2014. Are we able to do this again for 2015-2016 with the a Southwest Premier and Southwest Business Premier cards? Or are we tapped out? Has anyone done something like this before? Thanks.

    Reply
    • There is another way to earn them. The Rapid Rewards shopping portal points count. You have to find a good bonus, say 6 or more points per $ and an item you can resell near cost. Say you find you can buy x for $500 and sell it with costs/fees you make back $490. You have a 6 point portal bonus and a good resell item, but it is very possible.

      Reply
    • I am in the same boat… CP expires 12/31/14 and I am hoping to qualify again for 2015/2016.

      How are SW cards churned?

      Reply
  12. @ Drew – what about business class? Can points/companion pass be used for business class redemptions?

    Reply
  13. Drew, little fyi for times you’re starting from Virginia: RIC (Richmond) has cheap and convenient flights now to MCO (Orlando — as well as to ATL). Beginning middle of December, you can also ticket flights from RIC to international destinations. This matters because presently, you have to take a domestic flight from RIC to say MCO or ATL, then re-check in at those places for international departure. (a real hassle — and if you miss a connection because of a delayed first flight, you risk losing the second, as it won’t be considered a unified booking) We’re wrestling right now with a RIC to Aruba flights…. times look great, but for the risk just mentioned.

    Reply
  14. Just re-read your post, then checked into world arrival card, and wow, I am impressed at yet another big help — the potential reimbursement of all those taxes/fees to Caribbean destinations…. Problem solved.

    Best of all, I see that you have the Barclay’s World Arrival Card in your CK folder — another wee thank you coming. (thinking to include this one time around instead of the Club Carlson Card — in part as it’s not in your tank, yet 😉 )

    Reply
    • Where did you find this information? I scoured the usual sites for info and I couldn’t find info on where these taxes are explicitly covered and the process to get reimbursed.

      Reply
  15. I have the SW Companion Pass and it really is great. I am a single father of a 9 year old boy and we have already taken 5 trips using it. Cancun, San Juan, NYC, Phoenix and Detroit. It’s so easy to use. The fees to Cancun were a little high – but hey.

    I used miles on all of my tickets and the CC on his. I also got the CC in May 2014 and it is good until Dec 31, 2015.

    Great blog!!

    Reply
  16. By any chance do you know of any flights that use OKC as a hub? The prices in and out of OKC can be insane!

    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
  17. Hi Drew, My husband and I have been approved for the Ritz cc. total points are 280,000 points/$790.00 fee. What is the best way to use these points? I like Southwest and I don’t travel outside of USA. Enjoy your post. What is your educational and employment background?

    Reply
  18. Finally got around to reading this post – excellent as always. I loved the throwaway ticket ideas and the travel inspiration. It really helps since we have the SW Companion Pass and often feel like we are sitting with a dart – where should we go next? Love the different trip ideas you listed here. One I considered was to go to Montego Bay. We could get the IHG CC which would be enough points for an all inclusive for a family of 4 for 2 nights. Add on a free SW flight for a free trip INCLUDING food. Better than a Club Lounge :)

    Reply
  19. How did i manage to miss this hidden gem this long?

    Reply
  20. Your hotel chart for Nassau is missing Hyatt option. Hyatt Bahia Mar opens May. I will be there on Memorial Day weekend. May end up being nicest hotel in Nassau…watch out Atlantis

    Reply
  21. For anyone that needs the Southwest Personal Plus card with the 50K sign up bonus to get your Companion pass or just wants the Plus card. I have some 50K referrals that expire 9/30/2015 if interested.

    It is a $69 annual fee
    Spend $2000 in 3 months
    3000 anniversary bonus

    Please email if you want the offer
    dbandersen2@yahoo.com

    Thanks and have a great day

    Reply
  22. Hi,

    I am posting a small success story. Recently I applied for two Southwest personal credit cards (Premier and Plus) at the same time in order to get the 50K signup bonus towards the companion pass and received the pass recently. I got pending on both of them and called up the Chase recon desk after reading here. The first card was approved easily after giving some income details and such. The second card was not approved however, I called up recon and the rep was very unhelpful. After speaking for a few mins, I asked to transfer to a supervisor and she was very tough as well. She said she cannot approve this since there are too many new applications (got the Sapphire Preferred earlier in March). I suggested to move credit and she wouldn’t approve even after a lot of talking. I did a HUCA afternoon and got another agent. This rep was very fair and understanding, asked for income details and asked me to hold the line. He came back and said that he would have to move credit from an older Freedom card and approved it finally.

    Let that be an advice for people who are getting denials, HUCA a few times. Its worth the effort.

    This place has been a lot help with regards to the useful info without which this would not have been possible. Thank you all for that !

    In anyone is interested, I met the min spends using Simon mall vgc -> Redbird.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  23. I have referrals for both the Southwest Plus and the Southwest Premier card. Both of these come with a 50,000 point sign up bonus after hitting the $2000 minimum spend. This is an easy way to get the Southwest companion pass and after hitting the minimum spend on both cards you will have 104,000 of the 110,000 points needed. The current offer at Southwest is 40,000 points per card. Without the referral you would be missing out on an additional 20,000 points which will make it that much harder to get the companion pass.

    Here is the link for the Southwest Plus:

    https://applynow.chase.com/FlexAppWeb/renderApp.do?SPID=FHTS&CELL=63HB&MSC=1526257827

    And this is the link for the Southwest Premier:

    https://applynow.chase.com/FlexAppWeb/renderApp.do?SPID=FHV5&CELL=63HB&MSC=1526260153

    Yes I will get a referral bonus if you use my link. If you time it out right and have the points post to your account in January, you can have the companion pass for nearly 2 years. If you like to travel on the cheap, there is no better way to do it.

    Thanks

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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