Southwest airplane ready for takeoff
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It sounds almost too good to be true: a free buddy pass to fly on an airline, as much as you want, for an entire year.

Yet there is such a pass. Southwest Airlines offers one. And while it is intended for the airline’s most frequent flyers as a reward for their loyalty and money, it is also available to more occasional travelers by signing up for the right two credit cards.

It is called the Southwest Companion Pass. Here are the details:

Southwest Companion Pass

How to qualify: Earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year

What it gets: The right to have a companion fly with you on any Southwest flight, for the cost of only taxes and fees

Notably, the 110,000 Southwest frequent flyer points needed to qualify for the companion pass can be earned through flying, but also through sign-up bonuses on Southwest-affiliated credit cards offered by Chase. The other key point is that Chase offers multiple Southwest credit cards and that the sign-up bonuses for two of them will leave you with more than 110,000 frequent flyer points.

Chase offers the following Southwest Airlines credit cards:

NameSouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus 
Annual fee: $69
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months
Points earned: 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 1 point on all else, 3,000 points on each anniversary

NameSouthwest Rapid Rewards Premier
Annual fee: $99
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months
Points earned: 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 1 point on all else, 6,000 points on each anniversary

Name: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business
Annual fee: $99
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months
Points earned: 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 1 point on all else, 6,000 points on each anniversary

You can see that if you were to sign up for any two cards and be able to meet the spending requirements, that would be 120,000 points in sign-up bonuses, plus at least 4,000 points on the spending to meet the requirements. That would give you more than enough to meet the 110,000 points required for the companion pass.

Of course, this won’t make sense for all of us. Signing up for two cards at once, or in short order, won’t appeal to everybody. In addition, if you have few or no Southwest flights from a nearby airport, or you don’t plan on traveling much in the next year, then earning a companion pass probably would hold little appeal.

But if you foresee a lot of travel on Southwest in the next year, and you have somebody willing and able to travel with you, then working toward the companion pass might make sense.

Note that the companion pass can be used on Southwest tickets that you buy with cash or points. That means that once you achieve those 110,000 points in a calendar year, you can start using those points and your companion can fly with you for only the cost of airport fees and taxes. Southwest typically ranks at the top of surveys assessing which airline makes the most seats available to frequent flyers.

You should also be aware that because these are Chase cards, you will want to have opened only three or fewer credit cards in the past two years to have better odds of being approved.

Chase has been known to deny credit cards to people who have signed up for more than five cards (from any issuer) in a 24-month period — a phenomenon known as the “5/24 rule.” It is really more like a guideline, but your odds of being approved for a Chase card rise if you have not applied for as many cards.

You’ll also want to consider the timing. The rules state that once you earn 110,000 Southwest points in a calendar year, the companion pass is good for that year and the following calendar year. That means that it makes the most sense to apply for the cards early in the year so that you have more time to use the pass. If you time it right, you would have almost two years of nearly free companion travel.

It’s not going to appeal to everybody, but it can be a great perk for people in the right circumstances.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: Reaping Your Rewards: Scoring a great rewards card through your existing bankAre airline cards worth the annual fee? Companion tickets: the reward perk that’s not always so rewarding

Editor’s note: This story, “The direct route to a Southwest companion pass” originally was posted on CreditCards.com.

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