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The coveted Southwest Companion Pass® is an elite travel benefit that’s almost too good to be true. This pass allows another passenger to fly with you for free (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year. That means if you earn the pass now, you’ll have it until Dec. 31, 2022.

But, you want it longer, right? With the newly launched Southwest credit card offers, there’s actually an easy way to have the pass all the way through the end of 2023. Yes, you read that correctly — someone can fly with you for almost free for two years.

Normally, earning the pass requires a massive amount of flying on Southwest — which you may or may not be doing right now. But thanks to the way the airline counts credit card bonus points, a single Southwest credit card — or combining two credit card offers together — can help you earn the pass almost immediately without even stepping foot on a Southwest plane.

How does this work? And is it something you should do? Let’s dig into the details and find out if getting a Southwest Companion Pass makes sense for you.

What’s the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass is truly a no-strings-attached perk, as it comes with very few restrictions. The pass allows you to bring a companion with you on any Southwest flight for free, plus the cost of any taxes and fees, which are generally as low as $5.60 one way for a domestic flight.

The one main rule of the Companion Pass is there must be at least one seat available for sale in any fare class on a flight for which you’ve purchased your own ticket, either with cash or Southwest points.

You’re allowed to change your companion up to three times per year (not including the initial companion), meaning in theory you could have as many as seven people as your companion over two calendar years.

Traditionally, to earn the pass, you must earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying flights with Southwest in a calendar year. These points can be earned in three ways: paid flights booked through Southwest, base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners and points earned on Southwest credit cards.

That last method is the most important one, because bonus points earned from Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses qualify for the Companion Pass as well. This makes earning the pass that much easier, thanks to the increased bonus offers we’re seeing right now on Southwest credit cards.

Also, earlier this year, Southwest boosted many Southwest accounts with 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points. But only Southwest frequent flyer accounts — meaning your Rapid Rewards account with Southwest, not one of its credit cards — that were opened on or before Dec. 31, 2020, earn the extra qualifying points.

If that’s you, you only need to earn 100,000 qualifying points in 2021 to earn a Companion Pass, which is great for people looking to earn the pass right away. But it won’t be useful if you want to earn the pass and keep it all the way until 2023. More on that in a moment.

Earning Companion Pass points with Southwest credit cards

There are currently a total of five Southwest credit cards — both personal and business — that have sign-up offers for new card holders that can help you earn the Companion Pass. Here’s an overview of each of them:

The first three cards on the list are the personal Southwest credit cards — the Southwest Plus card, the Southwest Premier card and the Southwest Priority card. All three of these cards currently have the highest offers we’ve ever seen. And the fact that all three are offering the same 100,000-point bonus is pretty amazing, since it allows you to pick the card that works best for you.

Related: Earn bonus points with these Southwest credit card offers.

If you received the 25,000-point Companion Pass boost earlier this year, then earning the sign-up bonus on any one of the three personal Southwest credit cards before the end of 2021 will earn you the pass right away. Typically, points earned from Southwest sign-up offers post three to five days after your credit card monthly statement closes, so if you’re going this route, just make sure that you meet the minimum spending requirements for the entire 100,000-point bonus before your December statement closes.

Once you earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you can keep it and use it an infinite number of times for the rest of the year you earned it, plus the entire following calendar year. So if your points post by Dec. 31, 2021, you’ll earn the pass in 2021 and have it through the end of 2022. That’s roughly 14 months if you get the card now and get the spending done quickly.

But if you’d rather have the pass for almost two full years, then your best bet is to get one of these three personal credit cards now, but don’t complete the spending requirements until after Jan. 1. That way your points will post in 2022, and you’ll get the pass early in 2022 and have it through the end of 2023!

The one important caveat is that if you wait until January to earn the bonus points, they won’t earn you the pass all on its own because the 25,000-point boost only lasts until Dec. 31. So after earning 100,000 bonus points, plus another 12,000 points for completing the $12,000 spending requirements, you’ll have a total of 112,000 points, and you’ll still need 13,000 more qualifying points to earn the pass.

You could get those remaining Companion Pass points by using your newly acquired Southwest credit card on everyday purchases, combined with flying Southwest and partner activity. Partner activities include shopping online through the Southwest shopping portal, purchasing flowers and car rentals.

With many people shopping online these days, you can actually rack up a decent amount of bonus points from the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal. Going through the shopping site first just takes an extra minute, and ultimately takes you to the same merchant website you’d go to directly, but you’re earning extra points along the way.

Southwest personal plus business credit cards

Use one — or even two — Southwest credit cards to help you earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.
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Use one — or even two — Southwest credit cards to help you earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.

But there’s another way to earn the remaining points, and that’s by opening two Southwest credit cards and combining the bonus points from both.

The important caveat here is that you can’t apply for two personal cards — the second card must be a business credit card. That’s because Chase — the bank that issues Southwest credit cards — limits customers to having just one personal Southwest credit card open at a time.

But Chase does allow you to apply for both a personal card and a business card. Just keep in mind that the credit cards must be for the same applicant — you can’t combine points amongst members.

Let’s put it all together in an example. Imagine you apply for both the Southwest Plus card and the Southwest Performance Business card. After spending $2,000 on the Southwest Plus card and meeting the first tier bonus offer, you’ll earn 50,000 points. You’ll then earn another 80,000 points on the Southwest Performance Business card after spending $5,000 on the card.

Those two bonuses added together come to a total of 130,000 points with just $7,000 in required spending. This means you’d earn the Companion Pass before you even meet the rest of the spending requirement to earn the remaining 50,000 points on the Southwest Plus. It also doesn’t require any extra flying, spending or partner activity.

Now, if you’d prefer to combine one of the Southwest personal cards with the less expensive Southwest Premier Business card, that can be done too, but you’ll have to put in slightly more effort to secure the pass.

Spend $3,000 on the Southwest Premier Business in the first three months after opening the account and you’ll earn 60,000 points. Add that to the 50,000 points you’ll earn when you spend $2,000 on one of the personal cards and you’ll have a total of 115,000 points — 110,000 from the sign-up bonuses, plus another 5,000 points from spending $5,000 on the two cards. You’ll then have to earn another 10,000 points to get the pass, or meet the remaining spending requirement on the personal card.

Just remember that since these are all Chase credit cards, all applicants are subject to Chase’s “5/24” rule. Under this rule, if you’ve been approved for five or more credit cards across all banks in the past 24 months, Chase will automatically deny your application.

Which Southwest credit card should you get?

Southwest has three personal cards and two business cards, all of which have sign-up bonus offers.
Southwest has three personal cards and two business cards, all of which have sign-up bonus offers.

With three different personal Southwest credit cards, you might be wondering which card is best for you. With the Southwest Plus, Southwest Premier and Southwest Priority cards, you’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on local transit, commuting (including ride-shares), internet, cable, phone services and select streaming purchases.

Then, with the Southwest Premier Business card, you’ll earn 4 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, while the Southwest Premier and Southwest Priority cards earn 3 points per dollar and the Southwest Plus card only earns 2 points per dollar spent at Southwest. All three cards then earn the same 1 point per dollar on the rest of your purchases.

Compared to other credit cards that earn rewards, those aren’t the most lucrative earning rates. For instance, CNN Underscored’s benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off.

Related: Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Citi Double Cash Card.

But even though the earning rates on the Southwest credit cards aren’t market leading, there are significant differences among them that make it worth considering your options. These include anniversary bonus points, travel credits and the option to buy up to a better boarding position.

You’ll find the benefits of the Southwest Plus, the Southwest Premier and the Southwest Premier Business are similar. The Plus costs $69 on an annual basis, while the personal and business versions of the Premier cost $99 annually. All three cards now come with 25% back on in-flight purchases, as well as two EarlyBird Check-In credits per year, which can save you between $30 and $50 annually.

But aside from the number of points you can earn with each card, you’ll also find a difference in the number of bonus points you receive every year after you pay the annual fee.

The Southwest Plus card comes with 3,000 bonus points (worth $42 at 1.4 cents per point, which is generally the value you get when redeeming for Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” fares) on every card anniversary, meaning every 365 days from when you were first approved for the card. The Southwest Premier and the Southwest Premier Business come with 6,000 bonus points at each card anniversary, which are worth $84 at 1.4 cents per point.

Although the Southwest Plus card is the least expensive option for the first year, if this is a card you believe you’ll be keeping for years to come, you’ll find the Southwest Premier to be the better long-term value, thanks to the bonus points.

But the Southwest Priority personal card and the Southwest Performance Business card are where the big differences lie.

With the Southwest Priority, the annual fee is significantly higher at $149 per year, but the benefits are enormously better. Not only do you earn 7,500 bonus points (worth $105) at each card anniversary, you’ll also receive a $75 Southwest travel credit every year and four upgraded boarding certificates annually. The $75 travel credit can be used toward any Southwest flight purchase — just pay for your flight or taxes on your Southwest card and you’ll receive a statement credit up to $75.

The Southwest Performance Business has the highest annual fee at $199 per year, but with this card, you’ll earn 9,000 bonus points (worth $126) at each card anniversary year, four upgraded boarding certificates annually, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and in-flight Wi-Fi credits.

You’ll notice that the two most expensive cards both come with upgraded boarding certificates, which are unique to Southwest since the airline boards its airplanes very differently than most other airlines. There’s no assigned seating — instead, you receive a boarding position based on your flight check-in time. Passengers are assigned into groups A, B and C, and can be anywhere between 1 and 60 within each group.

Upgraded boarding certificates normally allow you to purchase an A1 through A15 position at the gate (if available), giving you the option to be one of the first passengers to board and choose almost any seat you’d like, ensuring you’re not stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat. Upgraded boardings typically cost $30 to $50 each, so if this is something you’d purchase anyway, you can put a $120 to $200 value on this benefit. You can even use these certificates for other passengers flying with you.

Taking into consideration all of the benefits, you’ll notice the value of the Southwest Priority and Southwest Performance Business cards far surpasses the value of the other three cards, both within the first year and every year thereafter.

Is a Southwest credit card right for you?

The Southwest Companion Pass can be a great way to save thousands of dollars on family travel.
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The Southwest Companion Pass can be a great way to save thousands of dollars on family travel.

I’ve personally been a Southwest Companion Pass holder for 13 years now, and it’s saved my family tens of thousands of dollars on travel. The pass allows my husband, my children, my parents and even friends to fly with me on every Southwest flight I take just for the cost of taxes. (Domestic taxes are $5.60 each way, while international taxes vary depending on the destination.)

The best part about the Companion Pass is that you can use all the Southwest points you earn from the sign-up bonus offers to book flights — you don’t lose them by getting the Companion Pass — and then still add your companion onto your ticket using the pass. This means both passengers are essentially flying for free except for taxes and fees, essentially doubling the value of the sign-up offers.

However, since the Companion Pass is valid for the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year, the best time to earn the pass is as early in the calendar year as possible. This means you can apply for the card — or cards — now and wait until January 2022 to meet the minimum spend.

Or, if you need more time to meet the minimum spend requirements, apply for the personal card now to lock in the 100,000-point offer, then wait a few months to apply for the business card so you can spread out your purchases over a longer time. Southwest doesn’t base Companion Pass points on the year you applied for the card, but instead when the points are earned in your account.

Earning the pass in 2022 will allow you to have the pass through Dec. 31, 2023. Time it right, and you can fly two-for-one for almost two years.

Southwest personal credit cards:
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Plus card.
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Premier card.
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Priority card.

Southwest business credit cards:
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Premier Business card.
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Performance Business card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2021.

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