Southwest Airlines is one of America’s favorite domestic carriers. They are known for their Wanna Get Away Fares and their valuable Companion Pass. Unfortunately, Southwest announced some changes yesterday that makes the Companion Pass Harder to get.

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable deals in airfare. Designated companions fly for no cost when you book a ticket with Southwest. Companions can be anyone within your family or any business associate. How you book your Southwest flight does not matter. You can use Rapid Rewards points or dollars and your companion gets to fly at no cost as long as you have the pass.


What’s Going On?

Southwest has announced that the Companion Pass now requires earning 125,000 Rapid Rewards Points per year starting in 2020. Currently, the pass requires earning 110,000 points or flying 100 segments. The 100 segments requirement is not changing, but the amount of points required is increasing by 15,000.

Those who want the Companion Pass can start out by applying for the Chase Southwest Performance Business Card. This card has a sign-up bonus worth 80,000 Rapid Rewards Points, which is a great start towards earning the pass. Thereafter, cardholders can apply a personal card like the Southwest Priority Card, which has a bonus worth 40,000 points. Earning both bonuses will just about get you the pass if you include rewards earned from spending to get the bonuses.

The Southwest Companion Pass becomes harder to get starting on January 1, 2020.


What Counts Towards Earning the Pass?

All points earned on a Southwest Rapid Rewards Card qualifies towards earning the Companion Pass. This includes sign-up bonuses, bonus category expenses, and non-bonus spend.

Conversely, the following types of activity usually do not count:

  • Flight bonus points
  • Partner bonus points (except for the Rapid Rewards Cards)
  • Partner program transfers
  • Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Points earned from program enrollment
  • Promotion bonus points (except for Rapid Rewards Cards)
  • Purchased points
  • Purchased promotional tier qualifying points
  • Tier bonus points
  • Transferred/gifted points

The easiest way to earn the pass is to sign-up for some Southwest Cards and hit the sign-up bonuses. Thereafter, keeping the pass for another year could be more difficult. But it can be done with enough spend (and loyalty to Southwest).


Changes to Rapid Rewards Points

Southwest has also made a positive change to their Rapid Rewards program. The airline has announced that Rapid Rewards Points no longer expire. Currently, Rapid Rewards have a 24-month lifespan. This means that they expire two years after being earned.

A lack of expiration increases the value of Rapid Rewards Points for some travelers. Plus, this change makes Southwest an even better transfer partner for some Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) cardholders.


Final Draw

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best deals in travel even though the airline has made it more difficult to earn. However, I am impressed that Southwest has stopped Rapid Rewards Points from expiring. This should keep travelers happy as they now have more time to plan vacations and decide how to redeem them.

Southwest could have done a lot worse in terms of points or program changes. They could have severely devalued Rapid Rewards Points by increasing the Companion Pass requirements even more. Or they could have banned sign-up bonuses from counting towards the pass. Therefore, these changes are relatively nice, especially compared to many recent devaluations from other airlines.