Southwest Airlines is running an unprecedented deal on its Companion Pass - here's how to earn and use it

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One of the genuinely great perks of traveling is scoring a deal on your flight.

Before you stop me, think about it for a moment. If you are traveling from New York City to Rome, and your plane ticket was $400, before you tell friends about the fantastic pasta you ate and ancient sites you toured, the first mention of your trip is going to be about the low fare you got your flight for. And why not? Traveling cheaply is a means to travel more often.

Southwest Airlines is transcending this statement by offering its highly coveted Companion Pass to new Southwest credit card members, along with 30,000 points, for travel valid through 2019. All you have to do is spend $4,000 on purchases on a new, qualifying Southwest credit card within three months of opening an account. Without this offer, you would need to earn 110,000 miles in a calendar year, making this an incredible and rare opportunity.

For more on the Companion Pass from Southwest, read on for all the details.

Why the Companion Pass?

Southwest Airlines is headquartered in Dallas, Texas. It is a major US airline, with flights spanning the country, in addition to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. In total, Southwest flies to around 100 destinations, with a fleet of over 700 aircraft. Its loyalty program, Rapid Rewards, is favored by many because of its simplicity and the valuable Companion Pass. You can take a friend or a loved one along with you for the cost of taxes and fees (which are typically as low as $5.60 each way), and you can redeem for any available seat on a flight with no blackout dates to worry about.

Who can I designate as my Companion?

While the Companion Pass is good for only one companion, you can change who your companion is up to three times per year. One thing to keep in mind is that you can't change your companion every month, so try to think of someone you travel with frequently, such as a spouse, friend, or family member. Additionally, you can't book future flights with one companion, change your companion, and then book more flights with the new companion. Any future flights scheduled with the first companion will have the companion ticket canceled when you change your companion.

Are there any restrictions?

One huge benefit to having the Companion Pass is that you can use it whether you book your flight with points or with cash. For example, even if you book a flight for yourself using points, your Companion Pass still qualifies so you can bring your companion with you for only the cost of taxes ($5.60 each way on domestic US flights). There is also no limit to the number of flights you can use the Companion Pass on.

Steps for using the Companion Pass

Here's how it works. As a pass holder, you can book your flight to your desired destination using cash or points. Once your flight is confirmed, you can add a second passenger (your companion) for the same flight online or by phone.

However, before you start scouring the site for flights, you must first designate who your companion will be. To do so, log onto your Rapid Rewards account at Southwest. On your Snapshot tab, click Choose Your Companion. Then, enter the information about your companion and follow the instructions until the process is complete. If you prefer to speak to a representative, you can call 1-800-435-9792. After you complete the companion-designation process, a Companion Pass member kit and membership card will arrive in 7-10 business days.

Don't worry - you don't need to wait for your Companion Pass member kit to come in the mail before you start booking tickets!

Once booked, visit the My Trips section of your account. Find your flight in the section titled "Upcoming" and click on the "Add Companion" link. Here, click "Continue" to proceed to the next step where you can purchase your companion fare and review the information. Once you hit the "Purchase" button to complete your booking reservation, you are all set.

You can also book through a Customer Representative (1-800-248-4377) and notify them that you will be using a Companion Pass. This is a lesser-known alternative that could be more useful because it can sometimes take up to 24 hours before you can add your companion online (though in my experience it has never taken this long).

How to change your designated Companion

If you are looking to change who your companion is, you can do this up to three times per year. However, you cannot make the switch online yourself, you need to speak with Southwest directly (1-800-435-9792). The process is straightforward. A customer representative will take the information about your new designated companion and make the switch for you.

Note that until your trips with your current companion are complete, you will not be able to book a new flight with your newly designated companion. For example, if you are traveling to New York City with your sister in May, but want to fly to Los Angeles with your husband in June, you will not be able to add your husband as your companion until your trip in May is completed. One workaround to this is that you can still book a flight for yourself, and then add your companion after flying the last leg of your previous trip (in this case the May trip) as long as there is still a seat available on the flight. If you use points and need to cancel for any reason, all of your points will be restored to your account.

Why you should act fast

Usually, you would need to earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest points to obtain a Companion Pass, but through February 11, 2019, you can get one just by signing up for one of the personal Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards from Chase and spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

You also stand to earn 30,000 points so you and a designated companion can fly using points alone for at least one free, points-based flight. There is a $69 annual fee for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, a $99 annual fee for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, or a $149 fee for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, which is a small price to pay for potentially fantastic benefits depending on how much use you get out of the Companion Pass. When deciding between the three cards, take a look at the other benefits offered and see if one suits you better than the other.

If you are a family of three, and your child is eligible for a lap seat, you can potentially fly three for the price of one. No other airlines come close to this type of offer, so take advantage while you can and travel through December 2019.

To requalify for your Companion Pass, you will need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.

Bottom line

From the beach to the mountains, Southwest Airlines offers almost 100 flights to breathtaking locations throughout the country, and beyond. Whether it be Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America, there are endless vacations to dream up and fly to with your favorite person (even if your favorite person changes during the year).

With up to two free checked bags, what are you waiting for? Plan your next escape and sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards card before February 11.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.

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