Southwest Airlines has long had one of the sweetest deals in the free travel world. I mentioned this in a previous article, “How to Earn Free Vacations With Travel Rewards Credit Cards.”

Last week, they introduced a new rule that will make the fast track to the Companion Pass harder to achieve.

What Is the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass offers two-for-one unlimited travel when the person holding the pass books a Southwest flight with cash or miles. If you have the pass, you designate a “companion,” which you can change up to three times per calendar year. You use it by booking any Southwest flight with cash or miles. On your reservation, you simply click the “Add Companion” button. Your companion is added to your reservation for FREE. (You still have to pay a small amount of taxes.)

This is not a one-time thing. You can use this pass an unlimited number of times for as long as you hold the pass. 

Companion Pass Pro Tips

The Companion Pass is good for the year you earn it AND the following year. This is why savvy travelers aim for the Companion Pass in January. When you earn it early in the year, it can translate to almost two years of two-for-one travel on Southwest.

To sweeten the deal even more, there is an easy trick to get on the fast track to earning a Companion Pass: Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses. Instead of taking dozens of flights or putting large amounts of spending on a Southwest credit card, you can earn chunks of Southwest Rapid Rewards Miles (varying from 30,000 to 80,000 miles based on card offers) by signing up for a new card and reaping the benefits of a sign-up bonus.

Related: What’s the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card?

But… (Yes, There’s a ‘But’) Southwest Has Made Changes to the Companion Pass

Here’s the bad news: Southwest recently released a big announcement regarding the Companion Pass. Previously (and still good for 2019) to qualify for a Companion Pass, you were required to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards Miles in a calendar year. Beginning in 2020, you must earn 125,000 miles in a calendar year. Earning “in a calendar year” means that the miles counted toward the pass will reset on January 1 each year. 

As I outlined inHow to Earn Free Vacations With Travel Rewards Credit Cards,” sign-up bonuses are some of the best deals in the world of credit card rewards. When it comes to earning the Southwest Companion Pass, it becomes exponentially better. 

My wife and I (and the little guy) used our Companion Pass in March to fly to Punta de Mita.

With the previous mark of 110,000 miles, it was routine to be able to hit the threshold by getting a Southwest personal card, as well as a Southwest business card. (Note: Current application rules will not allow you to get approved for more than one Southwest personal credit card. Also, if you have ever had a Southwest personal or business card, you need to research when you would become eligible for a new sign-up bonus again. There are certain restrictions if you are a current or former cardholder.)

The new requirement of 125,000 is a 14 percent increase. The reason it is big news to the fast trackers is that the bonuses alone used to add up to 110,000-plus miles, i.e. instant Companion Pass. Now, these sign-up bonuses will fall short of the 125,000-mile minimum. Therefore, earning a pass will most likely require additional flying on Southwest or additional spending on the Southwest card to reach the new mileage threshold.

It is still an amazing deal, though! 

Related: BiggerPockets Money Podcast 57: Financial Freedom, House Sitting, & Travel Hacking With GoWithLess

I encourage any Southwest fan with good credit to try this. Odds are you already have a Companion Pass if you are a superfan, but this news is important for the next time you are looking to earn it. And if you have never heard of the Companion Pass, it is time to quit paying for a companion and save lots of cash!

What I love about the Companion Pass is that you can splurge on a better route that is normally priced at a higher cost (or requires more miles). Now, because it’s two-for-one, you don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to get the cheap nonstop flight. In case you are unaware, Southwest also allows you to change and cancel reward tickets for free, which is very rare compared to other airlines.

Disclaimer: I’m not a CPA or lawyer, so make sure to do your own research or follow up with those professionals if you have questions about your situation. In addition, I would definitely avoid opening credit cards when you are in the middle of securing another type of loan.

Do you have questions for me about the Companion Pass? Do you have any insider Companion Pass knowledge I haven’t shared above? 

Let’s talk in the comment section below. 

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