UPDATE: This post was accurate at the time it was published, and may not represent current offers.
As we get within sight of the New Year, I thought I’d prepare you for what could potentially be a great opportunity on the horizon. It’s the chance to earn possibly the best award in domestic travel for nearly 2 full years. I got my Southwest Airlines Companion Pass back in January, and I was just about to post the info so more people could take advantage when the deals that made it possible disappeared. But now that they are back, it’s time for you to start planning on how you can get this amazing benefit for yourself starting early next year so that you can save a ton of money on flights.
The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass allows you to choose a travel buddy to fly free with you wherever you go. Normally, to get this award through flying alone, you’d need to fly one roundtrip just about every single week of the year. Southwest makes it a bit easier if you use their partners to rack up extra points through activities like renting a car or booking a hotel through their site.
But if you have a small business and want to earn this award quickly and maximize your benefit, you can sign up for 3 credit cards to get the 110,000 points you need in one calendar year.
- Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Personal Premier (50K points, spend $2K in 3 mos) Apply here
- Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Plus (same as personal) Apply here
- Chase Marriott Rewards Premier (50K Marriott pts after 1st purchase) Apply here
Now the first thing you’ll probably notice is that all 3 cards are from Chase, which has a policy of only allowing one personal application per month. Assuming you haven’t signed up for a bunch of credit cards recently, you can sign up for the business card and a personal card on the same day, then wait a month to sign up for the third card. If you get declined for one, they have a reconsideration line where they make every effort to get you approved after asking you a few questions. You can be truthful and tell them the reason you are signing up for these cards is to diversify your credit card portfolio which helps you maximize the awards you want to get.
Making this work requires a bit of careful planning. You have 3 months to complete your $2,000 worth of spending, but if you want the points to post for 2013, you need to plan your spending so that you reach the $1,000 thresholds during the statement period that will close in January. You don’t want to complete the spend thresholds any earlier, or the points will post in 2012. If that happens, you won’t get the benefit for the full 2 years, and you risk having some points post in December and some in January, and in that case you wouldn’t get the Companion Pass at all because the points must be earned in the same calendar year.
That might sound a little complicated, but it boils down to 3 simple steps:
- In early October, sign up for a personal card (either Southwest or Marriott) and the Southwest Business card on the same day. Why October? It’s early enough that the current deals are still likely to exist, and late enough so that your 3 month window to complete the $1,000 spend threshold goes until January.
- In November, sign up for the personal card you didn’t get in October.
- Complete your two $1,000 spending requirements on the Southwest cards for the January statement, and make at least one purchase with your Marriott card.
Easy, right? Each Southwest card gives you 50,000 Southwest Points, and the Marriott card gives you 50,000 Marriott Rewards points (and a free night at a category 1-4 hotel) which transfer to Southwest at a 3:1 ratio. So 30,000 Marriott points gives you the final 10,000 you need to earn your Companion Pass. In other words, you’ve earned their top award without even getting on a plane. And of course, you will still have 110,000 Southwest points to use, worth about $1700. Perhaps best of all, your companion can fly with you when you book with points, and that doubles the value of your points! All you pay for this is $198 in total credit card fees. So $3400 or more in free flights, for about $200. It really is an amazing deal!
One other tip I learned from personal experience is that you can book a flight for yourself before you officially earn the pass and then you can add your companion onto the reservation afterwards. So if you find that great fare to your dream destination, you can buy it now and then pay only the TSA tax for your travel partner later. In fact, you can add your partner up to 1 hour before the flight with no extra fees.
With Southwest’s recent acquisition of AirTran, there are a number of possibilities that could make the Companion Pass even better. For one, AirTran flies to some great international destinations like Bermuda, Mexico, and Aruba. Nothing official has been announced, but from what I hear, and this comes directly from a Southwest representative, the most likely plan is to simply have Southwest take over more and more of Airtran’s routes, until eventually, Airtran fades away. So it seems plausible that the Companion Pass will be valid for current AirTran routes at some point over the next two years. Half price to the Caribbean? Yes, please!
Of course, even if the AirTran dream doesn’t come true, the Companion Pass allows for many great possibilities within the US. Cassie and I plan on taking about 1 weekend trip per month to various destinations like Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Austin, San Antonio, Orlando… you get the idea.
A special thanks to the travel finance blog, Million Mile Secrets, who turned me on to this idea in the first place. The links to credit card signup offers go through his’ affiliate deals. I was not compensated for this post, and I have no relationship with him other than I read his blog.