Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to get a Southwest Companion Pass on the Cheap (...or How 2016 will be the Year of Southwest for me)

First off, a warning: This is very much your results may vary. It relies on jumping through some very specific hoops, those hoops still being offered by Southwest/Chase, and being in a position to do so. That said, let me share my story. 

Are you familiar with the Southwest Companion Pass? No? Well, here's the deal: If you fly 100 one way flights or earn 110,000 points in Southwest's Rapid Reward program, a person that you designate gets to fly for free with you for the remainder of the year and all next calendar year. In other words, BOGO for Southwest Flights.

That's a pretty great deal, but who flies 50 round trips a year or wants to spend between $55,000 and $110,000 on their credit card? It's a big prize for big spenders and as much as I love travel, I am not going to qualify with butt-in-seat flight segments. And despite that, I am 99% of the way there and I am about a month off from being 100%.

 How did I do it? I'll tell you and tell you how you can do it too. After the break...

The secret is...

Credit card bonus sign up offers count towards your companion pass qualifying points. There are two cards out there with 50,000 bonus points. So, here's the plan:
  • Chase Southwest Premier Card: 50,000 points
  • Chase Southwest Plus Card: 50,000 points
  • $2,000 required spend on the Premier Card: 2,000 points
  • $2,000 required spend on the Plus Card: 2,000 points
    • Total: 104,000 points earned from card bonuses and required spend
    • Remaining points needed: 6,000 points
Two card sign ups and $4,000 later and you are now 6,000 points from companion pass. THAT is doable.

The benefits work out to about $3,000 worth of benefits (110,000 * 1.4 cents per point / 50% for Companion Pass = Approximately $3,000 in Southwest Airfare).

My costs will be $170, plus perhaps some interest charges. That means about $2,750 in total value as profit. Not bad.

Step 1: Make sure this deal is right for you.

This isn't going to work for everyone. Sorry. This deal is dependent on being able to throw enough money around to trigger what you need to trigger. Here's a short list of what you need:
  • Be based in a city that Southwest serves: No point in earning points that you can't use. If your local airport doesn't have Southwest flights, what's the point of getting Southwest flights half off?
  • Have decent established credit: I've seen people say that a credit score of mid to upper 600s is needed to get the cards you need. My credit is mid-700s. Unfortunately, if you are establishing credit or have bad credit, this isn't likely to work
  • Have money to spend of creative funding solutions: You need to plan on spending $4000 within a period of three months. 
    • Also note that there is $170 in annual fees up front.
    • You don't have to pay it in those three months, but these offers are all traps: They want you to spend money, earn your points, and then pay way more in interest that you would otherwise. These are 16% per year cards. On $1,000 of debt, you'll end up paying more than $1,160 at the end of the year if you do nothing.
    • If your credit is good, but you can't pay off that debt immediately, you might also consider a balance transfer to get the 0% APR (which is really effectively 3% to 5% depending on the offer).
  • Have a bit more money to earn the last 6,000 points: You will have until the end of the year to earn these last points. Doable. Worst case scenario is buying $750 worth of flights on Southwest.
  • Be willing to hustle a little: By doing this, you really aren't the customer that the bank wants or Southwest wants. This is getting a little creative. Not everyone likes creative.
If you can't meet these four requirements, feel free to keep reading, but you probably aren't a good fit.

Everything has to fall in place and if you don't get 110,000 points, then everything was for nothing at all and they win. If you want to win at this mileage game, you have to know when to fold 'em and when it is worthwhile to do something. Don't start this if you can't finish it.

Step 2: Open a Rapid Rewards Account

 It's free. Go here:

Step 3: Sign up for the Chase Southwest Premier Card

Next you'll need to sign up for the first card. This is a "Premier" card, which is meant for the upper market. You may want to apply for this first, since this is more likely to bounce if your credit score is marginal. The bonus should be 50,000 points for $2,000 spent in the first three months. Apply here after checking that the second offer is also available

It might feel weird to have both cards, but they are two different products with two different bonuses attached to them. If you are concerns about your capacity for paying off the cards, you can stagger them by a month or so, but be warned: If Chase pulls the offer, then you are stuck at 50% of a companion pass. That's as good as nothing.

Step 3: Sign up for the Chase Southwest Plus Card

Next you'll need to sign up for the second card. This is a "Plus" card, which is meant for middle market. The bonus should be 50,000 points for $2,000 spent in the first three months. Apply here after checking that the first offer is also available:

Step 5: Spend! 

You will need to spend $2,000 on each card within the first three months to trigger the bonus points. Keep EXCELLENT track of your spending on each card. Use one exclusively until you hit the $2,000 mark, then switch to the other. A couple ways to help with this include:
  • Always look for an opportunity to use your card. Every day, any way you can. If it's $2, put it on the card.
  • Splitting a bill and a friend is paying cash? Take the cash, put it in your pocket and put the whole sum on the card. This is great for groups.
  • Paying bills? Nothing wrong with calling and paying with a credit card. I payed a $350 bill over the phone with the card and no extra fee.
  • Ask your financially stable and very trustworthy friends if they are going to have any large purchases and use your card to make the purchase for them.

Step 5: Finish up the point earn needed to meet the 110,000 limit

Once you have hit the $2,000 spend and earned the bonus points, you still have 6,000 more to go. You can reach this by flying, using RocketMiles to book hotels, or with more spend. It's up to you, but you must earn all the points by 12/31! If you miss that, it resets to zero and all this was for nothing.

For me, it'll be a combination of Southwest flights and everyday spending. If push comes to shove, I may buy some Southwest Gift Cards (only via to reach the finish line.

Step 6: Profit!

Once you hit that 110,000 mark... well, the pass is yours! Enjoy!

 ...Recommended Step 7: Clean up!

After earning your pass, you might want to consider some clean up. After 10 months,  I call and close any cards that aren't serving me well to avoid the annual fee. You should too. Don't cancel too soon! They may deduct the points from your account!

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