I sort of don’t want to write this post. For a few reasons. First, I’ve been thinking that maybe I focus too much on money issues. Not that money isn’t important, and sometimes even interesting. But maybe I should talk more about my feelings and deep thoughts and stuff like that. Or maybe not. That was quick; Objection #1 has been disposed of. The second concern is that the money-saving scheme I’m about to describe is so easy, so obvious, and so valuable – I’m actually a little afraid that this article could become popular. And as my very few readers may have realized by now – this blog has very few of you. I like it that way. For the brief moment that I had readers in the double digits, I found it terrifying. And lastly, if too many people were to do what I advocate here, Southwest would probably kill the golden goose.
But, all that said, I wouldn’t feel good about keeping this a secret from my actual friends. And since all four of my readers are real-life friends – I’m going to tell you guys about this. But for the good of all of us, maybe don’t choose this exact moment to turn into uber-viral social media stars? Just keep it in your pants, as the phrase goes.
So here you are: The most ridiculously easy way to fly free is to earn a Southwest Companion Pass.
1 – why do you want a Southwest Companion Pass? Well, if you like to travel with other people to destinations in the US/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean, then the Companion Pass is super valuable. Here’s what it does for you: Anytime and everytime you fly on SWA, you can add your “companion” onto your ticket for free. FOR FREE. This is not a joke. You like to travel with your wife – well then, buy a ticket for yourself (using money or points) and add her on for free. This is UNLIMITED. If you fly, your companion gets to fly. No blackout dates, no seat restrictions. You could fly every day of the year and take your companion with you.
2 – how does one get a Companion Pass? Okay – generally speaking it is hard to do. The baseline rule is that you need to earn either 110,000 Rapid Rewards points or fly 100 one-way flights. IN ONE CALENDAR YEAR. Yeah, I don’t care how ingenious of a travel hacker you are – that is a mighty big hurdle. But there is ONE WAY to get a Companion Pass that is so unbelievably easy that even the laziest, most money unconscious person could do it.
3 – what is the EASY WAY? Okay, listen carefully. You go to the Southwest website, sign up for a Chase Southwest credit card, spend $2,000 in the first three months, get 50,000 bonus points. Then, voila! you do it again. Sign up for a second Chase Southwest credit card, spend another $2,000, get another 50,000 bonus points. WHAAAAT you say? How do I get two of the same credit card? Easy. Chase is currently offering three SWA credit cards with 50,000 mileage bonuses. The Plus, the Premier, the Business. The Plus and the Premier are for individuals, the Business is, um, not. The Plus is the “old” SWA card, while the Premier is the “new” SWA card – higher annual fee, no foreign transaction fees.
So you pick which two of the three you want to get. This is the key — you don’t have to pick between them. You can get all of them. So even though the Plus and the Premier are essentially just different tiers of the same card, you can get BOTH of them (which is what I did). Or, if you have a business, you could get a Business card. The point is, if you get TWO Southwest credit cards and spend $2,000 in the first 3 months on EACH of them, then you’ve already earned 104,000 points (50,000 x 2, plus 4,000 points for the spending). So then all you need is an additional 6,000 points, which is easy. Just put $6,000 of your regular spending on either of the credit cards (we put all of our insurance premiums for the year on the card. BOOM, spending done, Companion Pass awarded, my wife flies with me for free until December 31, 2017).
That’s it. That’s all you do.
The Fine Print
There’s always fine print. In this case, it’s not a total gutting of the value proposition, but it is important. So consider the following details:
A. The Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the calendar year it is earned, plus the entirety of the following calendar year. So, if you were to earn it in February of 2017, then your companion could fly free for February through December 2017, plus all of 2018 (that is nearly TWO years).
BUT you have to earn all of the 110,000 points in ONE calendar year. The scheme doesn’t work if you earn 50,000 from the first credit card in December 2016 and 50,000 from the second credit card in January 2017. You gotta time it so all of the points flow to your Rapid Rewards account in the SAME calendar year and preferably at the BEGINNING of that year.
Also, all of the points have to be earned by ONE PERSON. So the credit cards have to be under the same person’s name.
You designate your “companion” at the time you qualify for the pass. But you can change that designation up to three times. So you’re not stuck with the same person (unless you want to be!)
B. SWA doesn’t run the 50,000 bonus point offer all the time, so make sure it is available before you sign up. Also, my completely unsubstantiated belief is that Southwest will phase out the Plus card at some point (it is already sort of hidden on their website), and if that were to happen your only options would be the Premier and the Business card (which, if you don’t have a business, would make this scheme more difficult).
C. I have no idea whether applying for two cards at the exact same time would work. I applied for the Plus and Premier cards about 4 months apart, and was approved for both. Another blogger advises waiting at least 90 days between applications. Maybe that’s a good idea?
D. You can only qualify for the 50,000 bonus point offer for any particular Southwest credit card once every 24 months. In other words, if you already have a Plus and/or Premier card, you can cancel, re-apply, and get the sign-on bonus again, as long as it has been 24 months since you last got a sign-on bonus for that particular card.
E. After you’ve earned the 110,000 points, you’ll get a Companion Pass. You’ll also have 110,000 points. SWA flights generally range between 10,000 points – 25,000 points per roundtrip. So with 110,000 points and a Companion Pass, you could take between 4 and 11 round trip flights FOR FREE and BRING YOUR COMPANION WITH YOU FOR FREE TOO. And, even after you’ve used up all of your rewards points and have to use nasty old cash to buy your own tickets, you can still bring your companion along for all of your flights, for FREE. In other words, this is not the coffee shop loyalty card – buy nine, get the 10th free, you’ll probably never use the prize and who knows where that ratty old punchcard is anyway. The Companion Pass is EFFING VALUABLE.
*Of course, there is a cost. There’s always a cost. You have to pay the annual fees for the credit cards ($69 for the Plus, $99 for the Premier, $99 for the Business). And clearly you have to be a responsible credit card user, or else Chase will get your $$$ through late fees and interest charges. Also, SWA charges a “security fee” in cash for every flight leg (currently $5.60 for domestic flights, may be more for international). So a roundtrip domestic flight for 2 people booked with points and a Companion Pass will cost $22.40 in security fees.
** Let’s say that a family of 4 (2 parents, 2 kids) is planning to take 3 domestic trips in 2017. They could buy 12 tickets to those locales (assuming $140/tix, the total cost would be $1680). Or, each parent could earn a Companion Pass and name a kid as his or her companion. Then, for each trip the parents would buy two tickets using their buckets of points, and take the kids along using their two Companion Passes. Cost for all four people, for all three trips, would be around $500 (security fees plus annual fees for 4 Southwest credit cards).
*** I’ve got no hidden incentive here. Neither SWA nor anyone else is paying me a cent for all this breathless excitement.