Is This The Best Travel Rewards Program Out There?

Photo: Courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
We are always looking for ways to get a better deal on flights. While that can be accomplished by keeping a gimlet's eye on flash sales and sneaky discount packages, the most lucrative way to score a bargain is still via old-school airline loyalty programs.
There's one rewards program out there that truly takes things to another level. The Southwest Companion Pass will let you bring one companion aboard for free — an amazing feature that stays valid for up to two calendar years. The airline completed a merger with AirTran in recent years, meaning that a whole new roster of international flights — including those to Mexico and the Caribbean — are now up for grabs.
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"This is one of the most amazing airline deals out there, because you don't need to spend points in order to exercise this perk — once you have enough qualifying points in your account, you're set," says Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy. He suggests getting in on the action early in the year, so you'll you'll have the maximum amount of time to get the most out of these freebies — excluding nominal taxes. Throw in Southwest's generous policy of free flight changes and two checked bags, and you're walking away with benefits in a league of their own.
To be eligible for this status, you'll need to accrue 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points — or 100 qualifying one-way flights — within one calendar year. Unless you're a globetrotting influencer or high-flying business executive, racking up that mileage is quite an unattainable feat. Fortunately, there are tricks to work your way around this.
Photo: Courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
One of the buzziest loopholes has sadly been closed by the airline company: Up until March 31, you could earn enough qualifying points by booking 7-day packages under Marriott hotels. The carrier has since shut that down due to the amount of attention it received.
However, all hope is not lost. You can still nab yourself a pass by earning credit card or other qualifying points. Kelly has worked out the math for us: You can sign up for a Southwest Credit Card — which is co-branded with Chase — and make use of the signing bonuses, which will gift you anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 points, depending on your card type and spending volume in the first three months. Kelly even suggests stacking up applications for the Business card with the Premier or Plus cards to earn the maximum bonus. Just beware of the bank's limit on opening more than five accounts within 24 months.
Another brilliant way to cheat the system is to book the Business Select class on the airline, a tip that's particularly helpful for those traveling frequently for work. Kelly estimates a spending of $9,166.67 in this fare category to reach the minimum points needed — less if you do this in conjunction with your credit card application.
This may sound like a lot of effort to spend on one pass, but Kelly believes the savings you'll be able to rack up will justify the means. "In two weeks, the pass has saved one of our readers more than $1,200," says Kelly. "They've gotten thousands and thousands of dollars of value just on this pass." So, if you're looking to save big, be ready to hunker down and spend the big bucks.
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