Tis the season … to get credit card points for all those holiday purchases you’re already making! Last year, I became serious about the credit card game, which has led me to book free trips to Hawaii, Thailand and beyond. But as a Tennessee-based traveler, few things have been as valuable as the Southwest Companion Pass that has enabled my husband to fly for free with me everywhere I went domestically this year.
BOGO flights—how can you not love that?
How to get Southwest Companion Pass
First things first: There are two ways to achieve Southwest Companion Pass status. You can fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t come anywhere close to 100 flights a year; however, pursuing the points part is easy—especially as you can simply put the purchases you’re already making (holiday shopping, utility bills, insurance, gas, etc.) on the cards to earn those points real quick.
And the best part? If you clear the threshold in January, you’ll have two full years of free companion flights—not to mention, all the points you accumulated through this process to book your ticket at no cost other than the $5.60 taxes—as Companion Pass is good for the rest of the calendar year in which you earned it in addition to the entire following year. Even after all the travel I did this year, I still have more than 100,000 points left in my Rapid Rewards account from opening the cards last year that not only will my husband fly free, but I will continue to not have to pay for my flights until that bank of points has run dry.
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Apply now before you spend anymore money shopping
Before you go any further, though, you’ll want to go ahead and apply for your first Southwest credit card. In my case, I did the Performance Business. You can go ahead and put the majority of the minimum required for the sign-up bonus on the card now, but make sure you hold off on spending the last couple hundred until the new year. Then you can follow my step-by-step guide to how we earned Companion Pass here.
Note: I’m not affiliated with Southwest in any way; however, if you use my credit card sign-up link, I’ll get referral points (so do me a solid and please click through if you choose to get a credit card!). The credit card points game has been so much fun for us over the past few years as we’ve planned far-flung adventures to places like Qatar and Thailand for next to nothing.
Everywhere we traveled this year on Companion Pass
Now that you’re on your way, it’s time to start planning where all you can go with this buy-one-get-one-free pass to all Southwest flights. We used our Companion Pass to fly SVV with me on places we were already going, but in the future, I’d love to use it to go on some spontaneous weekends to places in the U.S. we’ve never traveled before (or together).
Here’s everywhere we went during year one of being Southwest Companion Pass holders.
I had already booked a trip to Hawaii for my 40th birthday in February, but once my Companion Pass status cleared in January, I canceled SVV’s flight and rebooked as a companion, banking those points back to be used in the future. While there, we used points from our other credit cards, Chase and AmEx, to stay for free and go on excursions like a helicopter flight over Molokai and a whale-watching adventure where we saw humpbacks breaching left and right. (We also have a decade worth of posts spanning three islands to help you plan your Hawaii adventures.)
What the Companion Pass saved me: $337 each way, for a total of $674
New Orleans, Louisiana
One of my favorite things about the Companion Pass is the fact that you can have four companions a year (so effectively, change your companion three times). When I was invited to a friend’s 40th birthday in New Orleans, I knew my husband wouldn’t have nearly the fun that my sister would. I changed my companion from SVV to Kari, added her to my ticket, and off to the Big Easy we went! We stayed in the Bywater, dined our way through the city and had some very fun late-night adventures with the 20+ friends who flew in for the occasion. You can read all about my New Orleans travel tips here.
What the Companion Pass saved me: $133 each way, for a total of $266
San Francisco, California
When our friend Amanda got engaged in the spring and planned her wedding in San Francisco over Fourth of July weekend—notoriously a terrible time to travel for cheap—I wasn’t sure if it was in our budget for the year. Flights at the time were $700 round-trip with four months’ notice, but I did some creative finagling, got it down to about $500 (which I paid for with points) and then got my husband’s flight for free with our Companion Pass. We got to spend four glorious days in San Francisco with our foreign service friends and celebrate SVV’s birthday at a SF Giants game.
What the Companion Pass saved me: $269 each way, for a total of $538
As I write this post, we’re in Oregon for our last big trip of the year. This trip was one that came about fairly last-minute and cheap flights with points and the fact that we could fly BOGO made it a no-brainer when our friend Em invited us to join her in the Pacific Northwest for four nights and we realized we could tack a nonprofit board meeting onto the occasion. Even though SVV was born in Portland, it’s one place we’ve never been together, so I’m excited to explore more this weekend. On the docket: waterfalls, whiskey and, of course, public art.
What the Companion Pass saved me: $454 for one way
My in-laws were supposed to visit last month, but when an emergency prevented them from coming, we were able to change our Portland trip to fly into Sacramento instead, stay two nights, then continue onto Portland. This is another great thing about having the Companion Pass: the ability to travel to see family. And even if my relatively last-minute flight had been pricy (I used points, so it only cost me $5.60 in fees), my companion flew for free so it would have evened out.
What the Companion Pass saved me: $358 for one way
Most of the trips we took this year with the Southwest Companion Pass were already vacations (or occasions) that had been planned in advance of getting the SCP, but in the future I’d love to use this as an excuse for more random domestic getaways to places I’ve never been. You can explore your options for Southwest cards here.
Southwest has such a great network of U.S. destinations—we’ve flown the airline to Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Burbank, New York, Charleston, Jacksonville, D.C. and Orlando, just to name a few—and growing number of Caribbean destinations that seeing new spots is definitely on my radar for our second year of Companion Pass status.
Where would you travel if you had free flights?