I’m not being sponsored by Southwest to share this post; I just genuinely “LUV” them. This post does contain affiliate links.
Andy and I honeymooned in Jamaica this summer and had a wonderful time, but we spent a small fortune on that trip-of-a-lifetime. While we don’t regret it in the slightest, we did realize that we can’t spend that much money on every single vacation. But, seeing the world is still so important to us, even if our budget doesn’t always agree. Enter: travel hacking. I had learned about travel hacking through a few different travel bloggers, so I decided to research the hobby a bit more. Although the name sounds unethical, it is simply opening credit cards to earn the bonus points and miles offered as an incentive for opening the card. You meet the minimum bonus on the card and then move on to your next card. Rinse and repeat.
After a bit of research, I learned that the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass would be a great start for my first time travel hacking. The experts say it’s one of the easier passes to earn, and Southwest happens to be my favorite airline so it was a no-brainer. Plus, they recently started flights to exotic destinations like Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Belize which fits perfectly with our plan to travel the world!
A bit of an aside on why I love Southwest: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve almost always flown Southwest Airlines. Out of the dozens of flights I’ve been on in almost 25 years of life, all of them were Southwest, except for 2 (I didn’t book those flights– I was on a school trip for one, and my travel agent booked us on the other one for our honeymoon.) My family has always had wonderful experiences on Southwest. When we were toddlers, my sister Brandi left her stuffed animal on the airplane and the flight crew got “Unlucky” the stuffed cat back to Brandi that day. (There’s a reason he was called “Unlucky.”) Also, on the first anniversary of my Papaw’s death– which was our 15th birthday, we were flying back from a family vacation to Florida. Mom notified the flight attendants, and they lavished attention on us. We passed out peanuts to the entire airplane, and the flight crew made us goodie bags (made of barf bags, of course) and also made us little crowns with drink straws and bags of peanuts.
Why the Companion Pass?
It’s literally a two-for-one pass for unlimited flights. Your companion flies free! And since I earned over 116,000 points to get my Companion Pass, I can fly free by booking my flights with my points. (You are required to pay any taxes and fees on the pass.)
How can I earn the Companion Pass?
You need 110,000 qualifying points in a single calendar year. The Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the year that you earn it as well as the next calendar year, so I’d recommend earning it as quickly as possible in the year if you can. Unfortunately, I was a bit too late in my pursuit of the pass to take advantage for nearly two years like many travel bloggers do! I earned my Companion Pass in October 2016 and it is valid until December 31, 2017.
How do I earn the points?
Open a Southwest Credit Card by Chase. Make sure they are offering the 50,000 point bonus if you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. If they’re not offering the 50,000 sign-up bonus on their website, you can use my affiliate link to get access to the bonus (note: I do earn 5,000 points if you sign up) or you can sign up for Southwest emails since they usually email when they are offering a nice bonus on the card. You’ll need to open both the Plus and Premier cards no later than August. Supposedly, you can also open the Business version of each card, but I didn’t go that route since I don’t really have a business. I opened my Premier card in early May, and my Plus card in early July, and my credit did take a small hit, but it has since returned to its normal score. There is an annual fee on the card ($99 for Premier, $69 for plus) which made me nervous at first– I’ve never had to pay an annual credit card fee before– but we easily earned that back with our free flights. (My travel hacking friends said the best travel hacking credit cards come with a fee, some of which are very pricey.) Additionally, the Premier card gives you 6,000 bonus points on your card member anniversary, which would cost $165 if you were to buy the points directly from Southwest (the Plus gives you 3,000 points, which would cost $90) so the annual fee is definitely worth it for the card member anniversary points alone– not counting the fact you earn 1 point for every $1 spent on the card.
Charge as many expenses on your credit card.
Once we opened our Southwest cards, we charged every bill on there that we could– gas, groceries, internet, etc. The only things we couldn’t charge were my loan payments– you can’t pay for debt with “debt”– and rent, since that comes out of Andy’s paycheck directly. DO NOT buy things that are not in your budget. That just leads to credit card debt, which would put a damper on your vacation when you get back home and have to pay for it all. The only thing that is more fun than a vacation is paying for it in cash!
Pay it off in full each month AND make another payment no later than early to mid-November so you will earn the pass by the end of the year.
Thanks to our budgeting software, YNAB, we spent exactly only what we had in our bank account. Honestly, it was exactly the same as using a debit card, except we were earning bonuses! Each time a monthly bill was due, I paid the balance in full so we wouldn’t accrue any interest.
It takes about 6-8 weeks to for the rewards cards to show up in your Rapid Rewards account according to the guidelines. In order for it to post to your account by December 31st, make another payment in early to mid-November, even if your bill is not yet due. However, when I made our monthly payment at the end of September, the points and Compassion Pass were credited to my account in early October and the pass appeared in my Rapid Rewards account immediately after that. (Your mileage may vary with that though– no pun intended!) Southwest also emailed me a physical copy of the pass once I designated my companion which they say you should bring with you on your flights, just in case.
Book your flights.
Although Andy and I haven’t traveled using the Companion Pass yet, I did end up calling Southwest Airlines’ customer service and asking the rep about it when I was changing my name and address on my account after I got married. You’d book a flight for you like normal (using points instead of cash, although you still have to pay taxes and fees on the flights), and then book your companion through the Companion Pass booking option online or by calling Customer Service and asking to book a flight using the Companion Pass. Do make note that you and your companion must travel on the same itinerary, and if you were a no-show for the flight, your companion would have to pay for their own flight. The rep also said I can change my companion up to 3 times for as long as my pass is valid, so if Andy were to be deployed but I still wanted to travel while he was away, I could just take along my mom or a sister.
Thanks to the Companion Pass, my husband and I are planning our trips for next year (we had hoped to visit the Northeast this winter but had some unexpected emergencies here at home.) We have a nice idea on where we want to go, but we’re waiting to see what the Army has planned before we make any definite plans. We’ve since moved on to our next credit card “hacking” to earn hotel points for said trips. Hopefully, next year I will have more blog posts about our travel hacking experiences as well as recaps of our travels! 🙂
If travel hacking is a hobby you’re interested in, then I highly recommend Travel Miles 101‘s course and Facebook group. And if you’re interested in reading other blog posts about people who have used their pass, you can read Chris and Jillian’s story, The Financial Hippie’s blog post, or Erica’s blog post. [Some of my blog-less friends in the Travel Miles 101 group have been to places like Puerto Vallarta, Florida (7 times in a year!), San Francisco, Seattle, Charleston (multiple times!), Utah, Nevada, and Arizona! One lady said she and her husband have traveled for free 16 times this year!] And finally, if you have any other questions about the Southwest Airlines’ Companion Pass, you can read more about it on their website or give customer service a call.
Are you a travel hacker?
Which of Southwest’s destinations would you like to visit?