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All three Southwest credit cards are back with a 50k offer. This is perfect timing to get the Companion Pass for almost all of 2015 and 2016.

Southwest is currently offering 50k bonus point sign ups on its personal and business credit cards after spending $2,000 in three months. You can leverage the offers for $3,142 in free flights.

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You can get both a personal and business card at once, and after meeting their minimum spending requirements, you will have 104,000 Rapid Rewards post to your account.

Southwest has a fixed-value program in which you can get any Wanna Get Away? fare for 70 points for every dollar of the base fare. That means 104,000 points are worth $1,485 in free flights.

Earn another 6,000 Rapid Rewards with the cards or a few other ways–getting to 110k points total–and you will earn the best deal in all of travel hacking: a Southwest Companion Pass.

If you have the Southwest Companion pass, you can designate a companion who flies for $5.60 per direction on every Southwest flight you fly. That’s every Southwest flight–including paid tickets and awards–for almost all of 2015 and 2016 if you play this correctly.

The free travel from the 110k Rapid Rewards and Companion Pass are worth at least $3,142 even after Southwest’s recent devaluation.

  • What is a Southwest Companion Pass?
  • How can you get one from two credit cards?
  • How can you time this to make your companion pass last 22 months?

There are two ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass: fly 100 paid segments or open two credit cards and use one of several methods to get the last 6,000 points.

This post will be about the easier and cheaper way: getting the credit cards.

The Cards

The easiest way to earn a Southwest Companion Pass is to earn 110,000 qualifying points in one calendar year. At the moment, qualifying points can be earned from credit card sign up bonuses, credit card spending, Rapid Rewards shopping portal points, or hotel points transfers among other ways.* Qualifying points CAN NOT be earned by transferring points directly from Ultimate Rewards.

Right now all three of the Southwest credit cards are offering a 50k Rapid Rewards sign up bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

Each card requires $2,000 spending in 3 months to unlock the bonus miles. The $99-annual-fee Premier cards come with 6,000 anniversary Rapid Rewards. The $69-annual-fee Plus cards come with 3,000 anniversary Rapid Rewards. The annual fee is never waived on either card type.

Can You Get Two Southwest Cards at Once?

You can and should get two Southwest cards the same day if you want to get the Southwest Companion Pass. I’ve seen tons of reports of people getting one personal and one business Southwest card on the same day. I have also seen people report getting both the Plus and Premier personal cards on the same day.

The Strategy to Get 104k Southwest Rapid Rewards

Sign up for both a personal and business 50k card offer.

The earlier you meet the $2,000 minimum spending requirement on each card, the sooner your points will post. Points usually post at the same time as your credit card statement closes. Theoretically you could meet the spending requirements by February 2015.

When that happens, you’ll have about 104,000 qualifying points toward the 110,000 you need for your Companion Pass.

Here’s where the fun begins. There are two great ways to get those 6,000 points and your free companion pass good through December 2016.

1. Spend $6,000 more on either card. The 6,000 Rapid Rewards points earned will put your total at 110,000.

2. This one is multistep, but should only take a few minutes.

  • Transfer 13,000 Ultimate Rewards points to 13,000 Hyatt points. Inside your Chase account, go to the Ultimate Rewards section, Transfer Points, and select Hyatt. The 1:1 transfer should be instantaneous.
  • Transfer 12,500 Hyatt points to 6,000 Rapid Rewards here. The 25:12 transfer may not go through immediately, but when it does, you will be over 110,000 points, and you’ll have a companion pass.

Why can’t I just transfer 6,000 Ultimate Rewards to 6,000 Rapid Rewards? They are transfer partners.

Ultimate Rewards transferred directly to Rapid Rewards do not count toward the 110,000 qualifying points threshold. But hotel points transferred in do count, and this two-step process gets the 6,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards at the cost of the fewest Ultimate Rewards.

3. through 10.

There are more than just these two options to get the 6,000 points that we need after meeting the credit card spending requirements. Here is Million Mile Secrets with ten ways.

Maximizing the Value of the Pass

An easy was to maximize the value of a Southwest Companion Pass is to use all four of your companions.

From southwest.com’s FAQ on the Companion Pass:

The Companion Pass is not transferrable. However, the Member may change his/her designated Companion and request issuance of a new Companion Pass up to three (3) times within the validity period of the Pass. Requests must be made in writing and accompanied by the current Companion Pass card, which will be cancelled, to: Southwest Airlines, Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36657, Dallas, TX 75235. In addition, please include the new Companion’s name, address, phone number, social security number, and date of birth. Allow 21 business days for processing.

You can switch back and forth between companions, designating a new companion four total times–the original companion and three changes. You can only have one companion at a time, but there is still some value in efficiently using your changes.

Recap

With a few easy steps, you can get $3,142 worth of travel on Southwest:

  1. Open two of the Southwest 50k cards on the same day.
  2. Meet the minimum spending requirement on each as soon as possible.
  3. Then get the last 6,000 points needed to get to 110,000 qualifying points and a free Companion Pass on Southwest through the end of 2016 for $6,000 in spending or 13,000 Ultimate Rewards.
  4. Designate a companion to fly for $5.60 per direction on Southwest every time you fly on Southwest, whether you’re flying a paid ticket or an award.

Bonus

Why not have both parents get the Companion Pass and each name a child as a companion? That would be a 4-for-2 travel deal for up to two years.

Getting the Cards

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Longtime reader Cave Man is offering one lucky reader a $49 Southwest gift card.

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Southwest gift cards are fully transferable and don’t expire. There are two ways to enter, and you can enter both ways. I’ll choose one winner from among the two types of entries next Friday and notify the winner via email.

  1. Comment on this post.
  2. Retweet this tweet.

On Monday night, I’ll pick a winner and let them know.

Thanks again, Cave Man.

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Using miles to book trips instead of using cash has tons of advantages:

  • Easier access to First Class and flat beds: An international First Class ticket can cost $10k or the amount of miles you can get from opening a pair of credit cards.
  • Better open jaw and stopover rules: Few revenue tickets allow you to stopover without increasing in price. Many mileage awards allow free stopovers and open jaws for no extra miles.
  • Some mileage awards can be cancelled for free or close to it.

This last advantage–free or very cheap cancellations–is an oft-overlooked benefit of certain mileage programs.

I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
  • Which program allows completely free cancellations?
  • Which programs allow cheap cancellations, as cheap as $2.50?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Awards

As commenter UAPhil has pointed out numerous times on this blog, Southwest Rapid Rewards are the gold-standard when it comes to cancellations. Here’s his take:

Rapid Rewards points bookings are fully refundable, with no cancellation fees or penalties, and no availability hassles. (Southwest revenue bookings have no change fees, but they are non-refundable with some fairly strict rules on when they must be re-used, so points are actually a more valuable currency than dollars for making Southwest bookings.)

It’s true that if you book a Southwest award for 10k points + $5.60, and you later cancel it, you will get your 10k points back and the $5.60 will even be returned to you as a credit toward a future booking. (I think I’ve even succeeded in having Southwest refund the $5.60 to my credit card, but I can’t find a record of it.)

Since Southwest awards are fully refundable, you can speculatively book with impunity.

British Airways Avios Awards

Last year I booked two friends tickets to visit me in Hawaii from Los Angeles. For each friend, I booked two awards:

  • Los Angeles to Oahu for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person. (Domestic airfare taxes have since increased to $5.60 one way.)
  • Maui to Los Angeles for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person.

One friend had to cancel.

I called British Airways to cancel his awards. I got back my 12,500 Avios on each award and lost my $2.50 on each award. That’s an effective cancellation fee of $2.50 on each award!

The fee is “supposed to be” $40.

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If your taxes and fees are greater than $40 and you cancel, British Airways will refund your Avios and taxes and fees less the $40 fee. But if your taxes and fees are less than $40, you just forfeit whatever your taxes and fees were and get your Avios back.

Since I pretty much exclusively use Avios for direct domestic flights with $5.60 in tax per segment, my Avios cancellation fee is routinely $5.60.

Lufthansa Miles & More Awards

Miles & More awards have a $60 cancellation fee. That’s $140 cheaper than the cancellation fee on a United award with the same flights.

And it’s certainly much better than trying to cancel a non-refundable cash ticket.

Singapore KrisFlyer Awards

Singapore Airlines awards have a $20 change or cancellation fee. My friend booked one of those super cheap awards between South America and the United States with Singapore miles, and when he decided to change the dates of his stopover in Cancun, he paid just $20 to do so.

Try doing that with a cash ticket!

Recap

The main reason I use miles is to enter into otherwise inaccessible First Class cabins and stretch my travel further. I also love the lax routing rules on many awards that have let me see seven cities on one trip (although that loophole has now been closed.)

Beyond those big things, though, don’t forget to take advantage of the free or cheap cancellations that some types of miles offer. Speculative bookings have a lot of value when your plans aren’t fixed and great award space (or a cheap fare in the case of Southwest awards) is available.

As cash tickets have ever worse change and cancellation rules, award tickets hold extra value for their lax rules on the matter.

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In October, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Chicago Seminars. My original slot was to speak about Trick Awards, but a last minute cancellation by another speaker had me also speak about the Southwest Companion Pass.

Here are my slides from the presentation, which are another way to consume the information in this post: Southwest 50k Offers Are Back, Leverage Them for $3,142 in Free Flights.

The presentation also contains some of my best tips about Southwest like how to snag the best seats, when Southwest’s ticket prices go up (this is pretty regular in my experience, and much more.

Also see Free Giveaway: $51 Southwest Gift Card.

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Longtime reader Cave Man is offering one lucky reader a $51 Southwest gift card.

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Southwest gift cards are fully transferable and don’t expire. There are two ways to enter, and you can enter both ways. I’ll choose one winner from among the two types of entries next Friday and notify the winner via email.

  1. Comment on this post.
  2. Retweet this tweet.

Thanks again, Cave Man.

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Chris won the drink passes. Stay tuned for more giveaways.

Generous reader Virginia wants to give away her two Southwest drink passes that expire December 31, 2014.

If you can use them between December 16 and 31 of this year, leave a comment. In about 24 hours (11 AM ET Wednesday), I will pick a winner and get your address to Virginia, so you can get those drinks passes in time.

Do you have any lounge or drink passes expiring soon? Let me know, and I’ll help you get them to someone who can use them.

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Deal originally posted April 22, 2012. Deal ends November 1, 2014. Post updated 10/13/14:

Southwest Airlines and Airtran Airways’ three-year merger is almost complete. For over two years, transfers have been allowed between Southwest’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program and Airtran’s A+ loyalty program.

These transfers present an arbitrage opportunity that caps roundtrip award flights at 19,200 Southwest points (the normal cost of a $274 award.)

This is a cool trick that can save you major Rapid Rewards. You can use this trick in conjunction with your Southwest Companion Pass (the best deal in travel).

  • How does this 19,200-cap trick work for the next few weeks?
  • How far in advance can you book Southwest flights?

This is the nineteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Virgin America Elevate programs. I’m taking all three together because they are similar programs.

Why Collect Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America Points?

All three types of airline points can save you big on your next domestic trip or near international trip.

All three types of points can access every flight on their respective airlines with no blackouts.

  • What airlines can you fly with Rapid Rewards, TrueBlue points, and Elevate points?
  • What are the special features of each program?
  • How can you book Rapid Rewards, TrueBlue, and Elevate awards?

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Commenters are not having success with calling in. Writing a Secure Message is still untested. If you want a 50k offer, just wait a few months. They pop up every few months.

I got an email from Southwest over the weekend with the subject “Get 2 Roundtrip Flights along with a $50 statement credit for EarlyBird Check-In” that advertised the best Southwest credit card offer I’ve ever seen.

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The offer is for 50,000 Rapid Rewards (worth over $700 in free Southwest flights) after spending $2,000 in the first three months after opening the account. In addition, the card comes with $50 in statement credits to offset EarlyBird Check-In on four Southwest flights.

  • Is this a good deal?
  • Is this a public offer?
  • What is EarlyBird Check-In?

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Three weeks ago I got an email from AirTran A+ Rewards with the subject “Get 750 Rapid Rewards Bonus Points.”

The email explains that Rapid Rewards and A+ Rewards, Southwest’s and AirTran’s loyalty programs will merge on November 2, 2014. (Southwest acquired AirTran in May 2011.)

If you verify your A+ and Rapid Rewards accounts to make that combination easier on the airline, you can get a quick 750 Rapid Rewards, worth about $11 in free flights. This took me about 20 seconds, so I thought it was a good return on investment.

  • How can you get the 750 points?
  • What amazing arbitrage opportunity will end November 2, 2014?

According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines are opening up more award space this year compared to last year because of pressure from banks, accounting rules, and consultant studies.

In the short term, that’s good for us. More award space: woohoo!

But in the long run, these pressures could cause more airlines to move to revenue-based frequent flyer programs. Revenue-based redemptions: boohoo!

Every year IdeaWorks comes out with one of the worst-conceived studies imaginable in an attempt to quantify which frequent flyer programs make redemptions the easiest. Every year, Gary Leff makes correct points about why the study is so dumb.

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The yearly IdeaWorks study makes no sense because it compares all frequent flyer programs without differentiating which offer revenue-based redemptions, distance-based redemptions, and chart-based redemptions.

It ignores prices on the award chart, international flights by United States carriers, partner award availability, and the imposition of fuel surcharges.

Even with all those flaws, the study gets picked up in the Wall Street Journal and parroted as gospel about which programs are better for consumers.

That’s why it’s dangerous for us.

  • Why is the IdeaWorks study producing positive changes in the short run?
  • Why might the IdeaWorks study produce negative changes in the long run?
  • What pressures are on airlines to increase award availability and how can we increase those pressures?

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Southwest and Chase market their Southwest card in a misleading way. The big bold letters say:

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The 50,000 points the card offers in no way correlate with two roundtrips. All Southwest Wanna Get Away fares are available for 70 points per dollar, so 50,000 points are worth about $714 in Southwest flights, however many one ways or roundtrips that is.

What I find really strange about the marketing, though, is that it still says “2 Roundtrips.”

That’s the same thing it said when Wanna Get Away fares were available for 60 points per dollar up until last month.

Now the points are worth 17% less.

Shouldn’t the bold letters now say “1 and 5/7 Roundtrips“?

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Southwest Rapid Rewards points are currently worth 1.69 cents each. Starting Monday, March 31, 2014, they will be worth about 1.44 cents each.

What is the exact devaluation?

Among the Six Types of Frequent Flyer Miles, Southwest has a fixed-value program. For every dollar of the “Wanna Get Away?” base fare, you have to spend 60 Rapid Rewards for an award ticket.

So a $220 Southwest ticket with a $200 base fare would be 12,000 Rapid Rewards + $5 in taxes as an award. Here’s How to Book a Southwest Award.

For bookings made on or after March 31, 2014, the redemption rate will be 70 Rapid Rewards per dollar of base fare. That $200 base fare goes from being a 12,000 point award to 14,000 points.

Interestingly, Southwest is not just devaluing its existing points, which most of us get from credit cards. It is also devaluing flying Southwest.

You currently earn 6 points per dollar spent on Southwest “Wanna Get Away?” fares and then need 60 points per dollar to redeem those points. That works out to earning a 10% rebate on your Southwest flights through the Rapid Rewards loyalty program.

After March 31, 2014, you will still earn 6 points per dollar but need 70 points per dollar to redeem. That cuts the rebate from flying to 8.6%. I can understand a devaluation of credit card points even if I don’t like it, but I can’t see why Southwest would want to cut the rebate percentage for its flyers. I’m surprised the earning rate is not being bumped to 7 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent on Southwest base fares to keep the rebate percentage of flying constant at 10%.

This is bad news for those of us holding Rapid Rewards and Ultimate Rewards, since they transfer 1:1 to Southwest. But the bad news illustrates why holding transferable points is better than holding points from a single airline. While Rapid Rewards used past March 31, 2014 were cut in value by 17%, Ultimate Rewards used after that date have most of their uses (like transfers to United, Hyatt, or British Airways) unaffected.

This illustrates one of the main points I made in Which Miles Should You Stockpile?

Your Move

What trick can you take advantage of to beat the devaluation?

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