Update: Southwest is currently offering the 50,000 Rapid’s Rewards bonus on all four of their credit cards for an undetermined amount of time! The offer goes back and forth between 25,000 and 50,000 per card, so now is a good time to sign up. Signing for the two cards today will allow you to take advantage of the Companion Pass for 2014 and 2015. See my new comment in Red.
Today I’m going to tell you about my favorite current airline rewards program, Southwest Rapid Rewards! I should qualify this by stating that this applies for US domestic flights only, since Southwest does not currently fly to any international destinations (they are in the process of merging with AirTran, which does fly to some destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean). Amazingly, up until September 2012 I had never even flown on Southwest due to the fact that they didn’t fly to any airports in Iowa (They finally started flying out of Des Moines, but so far only to Chicago Midway, although at the end of Sept 2013 they start going to Las Vegas!). Once I did, I saw why so many other people like them so much compared to all the legacy airlines.
Since there is quite a bit of information you give you, I’ve decided to break this into multiple posts.
How to get the Southwest Companion Pass
How to benefit from the pass
The top seven reasons why I love the Southwest Rapid Rewards program
- You can redeem your Rapid Rewards on any flight, there are NO blackout dates!
- Southwest gives you TWO free checked bags on every flight.
- The program is revenue based, so if the price of the flight is low, the number of points to redeem an award ticket will also be low (I recently did a round trip to Alabama for under 10,000 points; it would have been at least 20,000 on any other airline, with connecting flights!).
- With the Southwest Companion Pass, you can bring a companion along for free (there is a small fee of up to $10/roundtrip for taxes) on any paid or reward redemption flight. If you have a significant other that you travel with, this pass is amazing! I will tell you how you can get it in this post.
- Southwest has many direct flights between cities which are not served directly by most of the other major airlines. For example, I flew St. Louis direct to Birmingham, AL. No other airline does that flight direct.
- Southwest doesn’t assign any seats to their customers, rather, they assign you a slot to enter the plane at boarding time. You get to choose the seat you want to sit in, depending on the available seats.
- They still serve their customers delicious honey roasted peanuts, rather than the junkie pretzels which all the other airlines have now (ok, the peanuts aren’t healthy either, but at least they taste amazing).
Southwest Rapid Rewards program basics
Unlike most programs which credit you based on the amount of miles flown, the rapids rewards program is a revenue based program. This means that the program is based on how much money you spend on a particular Southwest flight, rather than the distance of the flight. Depending on your fare class, Southwest will give you 6, 10 or 12 points per dollar spent on their fares. You then redeem the points based on the price of the actual ticket for your redemption, which means that you can get some very cheap redemptions. On my trip to Birmingham, AL from St. Louis, a one-way flight on Southwest only cost me 3690 points. Compare this to at least 10,000 points one way on United, Delta’s or American Airlines. The reason is that the Southwest price was only $69 if purchased with their Wanna-get-Away fare.
Southwest Companion Pass Basics
So what are the requirements in order for you to receive the Southwest companion pass? You need to earn 110,000 rapid rewards points, or fly 100 segments, all in a single calendar year. Once you reach that mark, Southwest will give you a companion pass for the rest of the calendar year and the next calendar year. Thus , if you reach the threshold in July 2013, you’ll receive a companion pass good all the way through December 2014. If you reach in Jan 2014, then the pass is good through 2015!
Normally, building up 110,000 points or flying 100 segments would take quite a long time. However, Southwest also allows you to get points through credit card spending, transfers from certain partners, and credit card bonus points. Thus, it’s currently possible to sign up for two different Southwest cards; a personal card and a business card, which combined will get you 100,000 points, or over 90% of the way there. I personally was able to sign up for both of them in late December 2012, and was able to make the required $2,000 spend on each card by the end of January (It’s amazing how fast you can spend money when you are fixing up a house). I then transferred some of my Hyatt hotel points over to Southwest for the final 5000 points that I needed to reach 110,000. A couple weeks later my Southwest companion card showed up in the mail. I now have 110,000 points (worth about $1666), and a companion pass which I can use to take my wife along with me for free. Combined with the companion pass, these two cards are worth over $3300 in free flights on Southwest!
If you were to sign up for the cards today and were able to make the minimum spend requirement in a month, then it’s possible that by the middle of April you could get your own Companion Pass, good for the rest of 2013 and all of 2014! Now that I’ve laid out some of the basics for you, here are the steps you need to take to get a Companion Pass of your own. However, a couple notes to consider before you apply:
1. I highly recommend this initial strategy if you have a significant other and you two would like to travel around the U.S. in 2013 and 2014.
2. If you are single, or would prefer to focus on traveling internationally, you may not want to start with these cards, especially since they are both issued by Chase and they issue a lot of other great cards that I will write about in future posts.
3. Pro Tip: If you happen to be married with kids (two works best) and can afford to make the spend, I recommend that both you and your significant other get a Companion Pass each so that you can bring the whole family traveling for free!
4. Finally, only apply for credit cards with bonuses you can earn through spending that you can afford to pay back completely and right away! If you want to join this amazing miles game, you should never pay a cent in interest on your credit cards, you should always pay the balance off in full each month, otherwise it’s not worth it. Heck, that’s a good rule even if you don’t want to start signing up for any more credit cards.
Steps to take to earn your very own Southwest Companion Pass:
A. Sign up for the Southwest Rapids Program. This links to a 750 point bonus for signing up! Make sure you select the options to get weekly emails so you get all 750 points. They also allow you to see the weekly deals and know when SW tickets go on sale.
B. Read MillionMileSecrets excellent and detailed post on getting the Companion Pass
I’m linking to his blog instead of explaining it myself because I learned this trick through this post. It is extremely detailed and clear and as such it doesn’t make any sense to me to recreate it in my own words. He goes through all the details and has an excellent Q&A. One of my goals with this blog is to be your resource for discovering knowledge filled posts such as this one. His blog is excellent to read if you want to start becoming obsessed with this, but since it also caters to people like me you will likely find it overwhelming at first.
C. Apply for two Southwest credit cards in order to get the 50k bonus for each one. I highly recommend applying for one personal and one business card, since Chase will be much more likely to approve the applications at the same time then if you did two personal cards.
You can choose to apply through the link on MillionMileSecrets, or to see all four options at once, click on this link.
D. Spend the required $2,000 on each card to get your bonus points, then find a way to get the remaining 6k points or so to get to 110k. MillionMileSecrets explains many ways to do this in section D of the post linked above. As noted earlier in this post, I transferred over some Hyatt hotel points I had earned because getting the companion pass was worth more then using them on a hotel night.
E. Learn to spend your points efficiently! I’ll be writing a future post or two on this topic.
If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. I would like to help you get this deal and I know that starting out can be scary and that its very easy to come up with many reasons not to act on this! Some are valid, but many times the reason is simply that inertia or uncertainty is keeping you from acting. For many months inertia was the only reason I hadn’t started this blog! While I can’t help you there, I want to remove any uncertainty you may have to give you one less reason not to start traveling more for less then ever before!