The pass allows a companion (spouse, mother, friend, favorite blogger) to fly free with you when you fly on Southwest.
And unlike many other airlines, Southwest does not make the rules super confusing. In fact, the process is fairly straightforward:
Once a person earns the Companion Pass (how to earn it is discussed below) they will designate the individual they want as their companion.
The Companion Pass arrives in the mail.
When the person is booking their tickets online, there is an option to choose to use the Companion Pass. When the person is booking over the phone, they simply have to tell the representative they want to use the Companion Pass.
The companion flies for free.
About as easy as it gets, right?
Here’s a closer look at how you can earn the Companion Pass:
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass in 2020
Technically, there are two different ways to earn the Companion Pass:
By flying 100 qualifying one-way flights with Southwest in a calendar year.
Earn 110,00 Southwest points in one calendar year.
Since 99% of people won’t fly enough on Southwest to earn it the first way, we will focus on how to earn 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year.
At first glance, this may seem difficult, but in fact, it’s not hard AT ALL – below are all the options for earning 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year.
Option 1: Open Two Southwest Credit Cards
Getting the Companion Pass is so easy because Chase is currently offering three different Southwest credit cards that EACH earn you Southwest points that count toward the Companion Pass.
The amount of points each credit card earns changes throughout the year, but you can generally get these cards with bonuses between 25-60k.
All you have to do is open up two of these credit cards and you’ll be at 110k Southwest points (and the Southwest Companion Pass) before you know it!
Plus vs. Premier Southwest Credit Cards
The first thing to be aware of is that there are two types of Southwest cards, the Plus and the Premier. These cards differ slightly:
The Plus has an annual fee of $69 and offers 3,000 Southwest points as an anniversary bonus each year you keep it open. Also, it charges a foreign transaction fee of 3%.
The Premier has an annual fee of $99 and offers 6,000 Southwest points as an anniversary bonus each year you keep it open. It has no foreign transaction fee, so you pay nothing extra when you use it abroad.
The second thing to understand is that Chase offers both a personal and a business version of the Southwest Premier card.
That means there is a Plus personal card, a Premier personal card, and a Premier business card — three opportunities to make the Southwest Companion Pass yours!
To ensure that you get the sign-up bonus for both cards (more than enough points to qualify for the Companion Pass), we recommend opening both a business and a personal card.
Since one is a personal card and one is a business card, you can apply for them at the same time without issues getting approved.
It is possible to reach the necessary number of points by opening two personal Southwest credit cards, but we don’t recommend it, as Chase is unlikely to approve an application for two personal credit cards so close together.
If you only get approved for one Southwest credit card, or just want to apply for one of the cards, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to rack up points towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Just a quick (but very important) heads-up: Not all the ways that you can get Southwest Rapid Rewards points to count towards the Companion Pass, so be careful.
For example, buying 6,000 Southwest points WILL NOT count towards the Southwest Companion Pass, nor will transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly to Southwest. Transferring points from hotel loyalty programs was also cut out of the equation early in 2017.
Option 2: Spend with the Southwest Credit Card
For each dollar you spend, you’ll earn one Southwest point, so if you spend $6,000, you’ll earn 6k points!
Plus, any Southwest flights you purchase on the card earn you an additional point, making it that much easier to rack up those Rapid Rewards points! For instance, if you use your Southwest credit card to buy a $300 ticket, you’ll earn 600 points instead of just the regular 300.
I’d recommend this for anyone who has a big purchase planned or plenty of monthly expenses that you can pay with a credit card.
Your regular monthly spending could earn you your Southwest Companion Pass in no time!
Option 3: Book Hotels Through Southwest Hotels
If you are planning any travel in the near future, consider booking your hotel through Southwest Hotels.
The base rates for points will count towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Generally, you’ll earn one point per dollar spent on hotels. This isn’t bad, but we can do better — some hotels give you up to 10k points!
For instance, a quick search for a one night stay in Las Vegas shows many hotels with 1-2k Rapid Rewards points per night. A $254 night at The Palazzo will earn you 7,000 Rapid Rewards points when you book it with your Southwest credit card.
And when you pay for the hotel with your Southwest credit card, and you’ll earn an additional two points per dollar. Meaning that, in the above example, your total earnings would be ($254 x 2) + 7,000 = 7,508 points.
Option 4: Shop Through the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal
Everyone shops online – so why not earn something for it?
There are lots of stores on the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal that you probably already shop at, so make sure you visit those shops through the portal and earn points towards your Southwest Companion Pass for buying what you were already going to buy!
Earn Rapid Rewards points at websites like Restaurant.com, Home Chef, Shutterstock, Bass Pro Shops, Lord & Taylor, Tumi, Apple, and Nike.
Buying a new iPad Pro? That’s 650 points towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Buying $100 worth of clothes for the kids at JCPenny? That’s three points per dollar equalling 300 points!
The best part is that you can double dip when you pay with your Southwest credit card. This means iPad Pro purchase has turned into 1300 Rapid Rewards points and the clothing from JCPenney has become 400 points.
All of these points count towards your Southwest Companion Pass!
There are hundreds of websites listed, so make sure you check the Rapid Rewards portal before you click “buy” and you’ll be well on your way to the Southwest Companion Pass!
Option 5: Go out to Eat with Rapid Rewards Dining
If you go out to eat a lot, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to earn points towards the Southwest Companion Pass.
Signing up for Rapid Rewards Dining Program will earn you up to three points per dollar towards your Southwest Companion Pass at participating restaurants.
That means a $20 dinner would net you 60 Rapid Rewards points!
If you use your Southwest credit card, you can double dip and earn even more!
Your $20 dinner just turned into 80 Rapid Rewards points just by using the right credit card. Who thinks double dipping is bad now?
Option 6: Fly Southwest Airlines
This might seem like a no brainer, but it really does make sense. You’ll earn miles for your fare, plus an additional two points per dollar when you book with your Southwest credit card.
You’ll earn Rapid Rewards points based on the fare you buy:
6 points for Wanna Get Away
10 points for Anytime
12 points for Business Select
If you book a $200 Wanna Get Away fare, you’ll earn 1,200 Rapid Rewards points.
If you book that same fare with your Southwest Credit card, you’ll earn an additional 400 points for a total of 1600 Rapid Rewards points!
A $300 Anytime fare will earn you 3000 Rapid Rewards points (300×10=3000!)
If you’re a little short on Companion Pass qualifying points, spending a little extra on your next Southwest flight could bump you up to two for one travel for the next year!
5 Awesome Southwest Companion Pass Benefits
Still not convinced of the value of the Southwest Companion Pass? There are five things that make the Companion Pass especially awesome. Let’s take a look at them:
1. You Can Use the Pass Unlimited Times
This is not a one-time pass, but instead allows a companion to fly free with you EVERY TIME you fly Southwest.
Yes, you are hearing me correctly: EVERY SINGLE TIME you fly Southwest.
Theoretically, I could fly Southwest every day and my companion would fly free with me each and every time.
2. The Companion Pass Can Remain Valid for Up to 2 Years
You may think you are mishearing misreading me, but you aren’t. The Companion Pass is good for the year you earn it and the next calendar year as well.
Example: Let’s say you get your Companion Pass on October 1st. Your Companion Pass will then be good for October, November, and December of 2020 and then all of 2021, for a total of 15 months.
Of course, the way to squeeze maximum value out of it is to get it as early in the year as possible (like January) and then you’d have it for a full two years.
3. Your Companion Flies Completely Free
With most things in life, free doesn’t mean free, and a lot of times there is enough red tape and rules to make the “free” item not even worth it.
This is NOT the case with the Southwest Companion Pass.
In this case, free really does mean free.
The only thing that the companion will be required to pay is a government-mandated September 11th security fee and taxes which is about $5.60 one way.
Other than that, there are no costs for the companion whatsoever.
And in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two years, you should be aware that bags fly free on Southwest (awesome commercial evidence here, here, and here), so the companion won’t even have to worry about that cost!
4. You Can Use the Companion Pass on Both Paid and Award Flights
Whether you pay out of pocket for your flight or use some of the Southwest miles you’ve accumulated to get an award ticket, your companion can still fly free with you.
This is basically unheard of in the airline world, as every other companion pass (that I’m aware of) requires the original person to pay for their ticket.
Not on Southwest.
So whether you pay $500 for a last-minute ticket, $150 for their normally cheap regular fares, or fly free yourself using your Southwest miles, your companion can come along as well.
What’s better than one person flying free on Southwest?
TWO PEOPLE FLYING FREE ON SOUTHWEST!
5. You Can Change Your Designated Companion Up to 3 Times Per Year
After you originally designate your companion you can change it and get a Companion Pass reissued with another person’s name up to three times a calendar year each year you maintain your Companion Pass.
This can be done instantly over the phone and is an awesome perk that often gets overlooked among all the other amazing things about the pass.
I’ll give you a good example of how I plan to use this to my advantage.
Naturally, Heather (my wife) will be my companion on many of my trips.
However, instead of designating her as my original companion, I plan on designating my best friend Jon because we are planning a trip together down to Florida.
After we take our trip and he flies for free (saving him anywhere between $150-300), I’ll call in and ask to designate Heather as my new companion.
Then, we’ll use the Companion Pass to fly all over this awesome country of ours.
You can even designate a new companion (i.e. Jon), change it to someone else (Heather) and then change it back to the original person (Jon).
The Southwest Companion Pass is an amazing, amazing perk and even those who only occasionally fly domestic should consider it. Southwest is expanding its route network every year with flights to the Caribbean and Latin America already happening.
For anyone who flies a decent amount (or would if it was cheaper), it’s an absolute must.
Grab a personal and business card, find a good companion, and experience the joys of free travel!
If you’ve got the Southwest Companion Pass, weigh in below. Is my love for it justified? Where have you gone with it? If you don’t have it, how do you plan on getting it? Fire away!
As I’ve mentioned many times before BA points can be incredibly valuable, but ONLY if you used in very specific circumstances.
Therefore, it is even more important with BA than with other airlines to know which circumstances give you the best bang for your buck because if you use them wrong, you could end up paying HUGE fuel surcharges…and nobody wants that!
If you’ve already got a nice stash of BA Avios points, great!
Using Avios points for short haul domestic flights can offer some incredible value. Because of the distance-based award chart, you can get flights that are as low as 4,500 points one-way if the distance flown is below 650 miles.
Only 4,500 points? That’s crazy, considering that the same flight would cost you almost 3x as much if you were flying with AA, United, or USAirways!
This works best for people who live near American Airline US hubs, which are Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and Miami (MIA).
There are tons of flights that fly out of these 5 hubs to places all over the United States, so if you live near one of the hubs, you can really make out like a bandit!
If you don’t start your journey at one of the hub cities, you won’t have as many options, and depending on where you are flying, you may have to pay for the leg from your home airport to the hub airport (minimum of 4,500 miles) and then pay for the leg from the hub to your destination.
This isn’t the end of the world, and can still be less than a regular airline would charge for a domestic flight, but its not the amazing deal that those lucky people near hub cities can get.
Examples (all examples in this post are for a roundtrip ticket in economy)
New York-Chicago Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers (AA, United, USAirways, Delta): All 25,000
New York-Miami Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers: All 25,000
Boston (non hub)-Miami Using Avios Points: 21,000 (4,500 for BOS-JFK, 7,500 for JFK-MIA x 2) Using regular carriers: 25,000
2. From the West Coast to Hawaii
Again, since the rewards chart is distance-based, it doesn’t matter that Hawaii is normally considered a different zone than the rest of North America by other airlines. All that matters is how many miles you are flying.
This means that by going to Hawaii from somewhere on the West Coast you can get a suuuweeettt deal!
If you are flying American Airlines, anywhere you fly from on that side of the country will route you through the main hub in Los Angeles, so if you can start in Los Angeles, you won’t have to pay for that extra leg to get there.
However, don’t forget that British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, meaning that you can also fly direct from Anchorage, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Diego or San Jose to Honolulu using your Avios points.
Each route is under 3,000 miles, which means you’ll only pay 12,500 one-way or 25,000 roundtrip! Hello, hula!
(huge thanks to reader planodude for pointing that out in the comments of last post…that’s why I love you guys; always helping each other, and me, out!)
Los Angeles-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
San Francisco (non-hub)-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 34,000 Using regular carriers: AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
3. Boston to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)
This is a very specific circumstance, but if you are able to make it work, this is the best deal out there for Avios points, even better than domestic short haul flights. Why? Two reasons:
1. Boston and Dublin are 2,993 miles apart, which puts it just below the 3,000 mile threshold in the Avios award chart, meaning you’ll only be paying 12,500 Avios points each way!
8 measly more miles and it’d be bumped up to category 5 (and cost 20,000 Avios points). Talk about cutting it close.
This route, from BOS to either Dublin or Shannon, is the only route that BA or it’s partners operate from the United States to Europe that falls under the 3,000 mile mark.
2. The route is flown by Aer Lingus, which for reasons unbeknowst to me, imposes only a small fuel surcharge ($150ish) when using BA Avios points and flying on their planes.
BA and every other one of its partners that fly between North America and Europe have huge fuel surcharges (think $400-600) when you use BA Avios points.
This makes it pointless to redeem Avios points on them, seeing as you could buy a ticket outright for the same price. For whatever reason, Aer Lingus has been spared (for now) so take advantage of it while you can.
Aer Lingus also flies to Dublin from New York and Chicago, but those tickets will cost you 40,000 Avios points instead of the 25,000 from Boston because they fall in category 5 on the Avios award chart. Still a really good deal, especially for people who wouldn’t be able to easily get to Boston.
If you’re looking to stretch your Avios points and save your dollars (and who isn’t) and can make your way to Boston (or even New York or Chicago) fairly easily, jump on this amazing deal to Dublin for only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip.
This isn’t just for people wanting to visit the Emerald Isle. If you want to continue on to the rest of Europe, down a quick pint of Guiness and then fly from Dublin to wherever else you want to go in Europe using a budget airline like Ryanair.
Boston-Dublin Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
New York or Chicago-Dublin Using Avios Points: 40k AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
4. Flying to Central or South America
Sometimes the actual amount of Avios points required will be less than the amount of miles other airlines charge because the distance is fairly short (like Miami to Bogota, Colombio in the examples below).
If this is the case, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you are getting great value.
Since you’ll never pay a fuel surcharge when using Avios points to fly LAN or for the AA flights that fly to Central or South America, this is a no-brainer if you are flying from somewhere pretty far south already (Miami, Dallas) or if you are flying to the northern part of South America (Bogota, Caracas, etc.)
However, even if the amount of points required isn’t less than other airlines, I still consider using Avios points to go to South America a good value.
If you ask me whether I’d rather use 25k Avios points or 25k United miles to get to Buenos Aires, I’ll pick the Avios points each time!
Any time you can get a flight using BA Avios points and not pay a fuel surcharge, take it, because they are few and far between.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with, so to give you a brief overview, LAN flies from Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), San Francisco and Orlando in the United States and Toronto in Canada and flies to a ton of destinations in Central and South America.
Direct flights on LAN from North American include:
New York (JFK) to Santiago and Lima Los Angeles to Lima Miami to Bogota, Caracas, Santiago, Punta Cana San Francisco to Lima
Of course, you can always fly in to one of these cities and then continue on from there, so your options are basically limitless.
In addition, AA operates a good amount of flights to Central and South America as well, hitting a bunch of cities in Central America and all the major ones in South America as well, including Buenos Aires and Rio. Did someone say Carnaval?
Miami to Bogota Using Avios Points: 20,000 AA: 30k (off-peak), 35k (peak) United: 40k USAirways: 60k Delta: 45k
New York to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina Using Avios Points: 50,000 Using AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United, USAirways, Delta: 60k
5. Flying to the Caribbean from the East Coast
Much of what was written about Central and South America holds true for flying to the Caribbean as well. If you are flying from somewhere pretty far south, such as Miami, you can get roundtrip tickets for as little as 15k Avios points to most places in the Caribbean (some are just a touch too far and cost 20k).
Amazingly, even coming from New York you can get tickets to places like the Dominican Republic for only 20k roundtrip!
Even the most generous of award charts, such as USAirways off-peak special of 25k roundtrip to the Caribbean, can’t match that!
Of course, if you are flying from further away, such as Los Angeles, you’ll be paying much more because its distance based. Still, at 40k roundtrip to a lot of the Caribbean, the value isn’t that bad. You West Coasters have cheap flights to Hawaii, us East Coasters can have the Caribbean!
Miami to Santo Domingo Using Avios points: 15,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
New York to St. Thomas
Using Avios points: 40,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
As you can see, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the British Airways Avios program. When used properly, Avios points can be much, much cheaper than other airlines (I’m still shaking my head at Miami to the Caribbean for 15k roundtrip!).
Just remember that you must use them in very specific situations.
Obviously, it’s best to use them if you can for shorter flights (since the chart is distance-based) but more importantly, only use them on routes that don’t impose a fuel surcharge, which are the ones above.
Do that, and you’ll be singing a different tune than the ol’ doom and gloom that typically accompanies Avios!
If the above trips sound enticing, go and grab the Chase British Airways card and start planning your trip!
Additionally, United’s rules when dealing with stopovers and open jaws are (fairly) simple and straightforward. If you’ve read parts 2 and 3 of Maximize Your Miles you know how convoluted the rules can be on American Airlines and USAirways, so luckily, United makes life a little easier.
Let’s take a look at their main rules, build an incredible sample itinerary using a stopover and open jaw and then talk about an awesome “trick” you can use to score a free one-way ticket to anywhere in North America (including the Caribbean).
Rule #1: United does not allow stopovers or open jaws on domestic tickets
This is standard procedure for all airlines, with the lone exception being Delta. Therefore, everything we will be talking about from here on out will deal with international itineraries.
Rule #2: United does not allow stopovers or open jaws on one-way tickets
The fact that United allows you to book one-way tickets with your frequent flyer miles is a good thing (remember, USAirways doesn’t allow one-way tickets).
The major downside is that you can’t take advantage of the perks of stopovers or open jaws if you book a one-way ticket.
Another difference between United and USAirways is that United representatives are not near as lenient as their Star Alliance counterparts over at USAirways. You can try to bend the rules at United (after all, it never hurts to try) but the odds are that you won’t get a rep that will let you break this rule.
If you want a stopover or open jaw, you’re going to have to book roundtrip.
Rule #3: United allows 1 stopover and 2 open jaws on roundtrip international tickets
This is where United has AA beat hands down. Let’s first look at the stopover, build a simple routing, and then add in the open jaws and get a little crazier!
The stopover can occur in any city that is within your route, meaning you don’t have to worry about having your stopover happen at a “North American gateway city” like AA.
If you are flying to somewhere in Europe, you can have your stopover in another European city before continuing on to your destination, which basically means the possibilities are endless.
For example, a basic itinerary could look like this:
Going: New York to London (stopover) to Paris (destination)
Return: Paris to New York
On AA, you couldn’t stop in London because its not in North America, but with United, it doesn’t matter. You can stop in any city that United or its partners on Star Alliance flies to that is on a somewhat reasonable route to your final destination.
Since this is ALOT, the world is your oyster!
Adding in the first open jaw
You may think you’d be content with getting to visit two cities on one award ticket, but remember, we are all about MAXIMIZATION!
Why visit two when you can visit three?
Let’s keep the original plan of flying New York-London (stopover)- Paris (destination). But now, instead of simply flying Paris-New York on the return leg, we want to add in an open jaw. This means that we will arrive in Paris but we will leave out of another city for our return leg.
Rome sound enticing to anyone? Now, our itinerary would look like this:
New York-London (stopover)-Paris (destination)
Return flight: Rome-New York
Of course, you’d be responsible for making your own way to Rome, but this is easily done, especially in Europe, where you can fly budget airlines between cities for less than $100 or simply take a train.
If you found that it would cost more to make your own way between Paris and Rome than it would be make your own way between London and Rome (which could be the case since Ryanair offers some amazing deals out of London), you could always flip flop your stopover and open jaw and book this itinerary:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return flight: Rome-Paris (stopover)- New York
Either way, you’d have to pay your own way to get between the open jaw cities, but this is easily done, especially in Europe, and it allows you add in a completely other city for a fraction of the cost.
Trick: How to get a free one-way ticket to anywhere in North America
Ok, so you’re happy with your itinerary, but you know that you still have another open jaw, and you have really taken the “maximize, maximize, maximize” mantra to heart, so you don’t want to waste the second open jaw.
First, I’ll start with the bad news: If you want to be able to use your second open jaw, you are going to have to give up your stopover in Europe so that you can “save” it for later.
But, there’s plenty of good news: The reward is free one-way ticket to anywhere in the North American region, which includes the US (minus Hawaii) and Canada (or a super discounted ticket elsewhere).
Here’s what you can do:
You can still use your first open jaw in Europe, as you originally planned, so let’s continue with our original itinerary. We’d now book something like this for the European part of our journey:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York
Since we still have a stopover and an open jaw left, we can call New York our stopover city (and stay there for up to a year) and then add on an extra leg to anywhere in the North America region, which includes the continental US, Alaska, and Canada. You’ve always dreamed of seeing Alaska, right?
Our full itinerary would look like this:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover for up to a year)- Anchorage (final destination)
You are now using your one open jaw in between London and Paris, your stopover in New York, and your second open jaw to have Anchorage as your ultimate ending point even though you originally flew out of New York.
All you’d have to do is get yourself a ticket home from Anchorage (which will cost 12.5k miles one way) and you not only a European vacation visiting 2 amazing cities but also an Alaskan adventure.
And all for the price of one award ticket!
Other options for your free one-way ticket
The above example shows how to get a free one-way ticket to Alaska (or anywhere else in the North American region) but what if you want to go somewhere else? That’s also possible.
For wherever you’d like to go, simply sub out Anchorage in the above example and add in the place you desire.
Instead of charging you for separate tickets (North America-Europe roundtrip plus North America-2nd region one-way), United will simply charge you the difference between the two regions, which is alot less.
For example, if you’d rather your free one-way get you to the Caribbean, you’d simply book your return leg to go there. An example would be:
New York- London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover)- Grand Cayman (final destination)
Since United’s award chart actually charges you less to fly from the Caribbean to Europe than North America to Europe, you’ll actually only pay 57,500 miles for this ticket as opposed to the 60,000 you’d pay if you ended your trip in North America (like the above example to Anchorage).
If you were to book these tickets separately, you’d pay 60k for your roundtrip ticket from North American to Europe and then 17.5k for a one-way ticket from North America to the Caribbean.
Instead, you are saving 20k miles by making New York a stopover and Grand Cayman your final destination.
Same rules apply. You’d book:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Return: Paris-New York (stopover)-Honolulu
Your total cost in miles would run 62,500.
You’d be getting charged an additional 2,500 miles because Europe to Hawaii prices out at 32,500 as opposed to 30,000 for Europe to North America region, but you are still saving a ton. If you were to book this as two separate awards, you’d pay 80k (60k for Europe to NA roundtrip and 20k for NA to Hawaii one-way).
You can do the same thing with South America. An example would be:
New York-London (destination) then open jaw
Paris-New York (stopover)- Buenos Aires (final destination)
The final price for this itinerary would be 77,500 miles.
If you were to book these seperately, you’d spend 90k total (60k from New York to Europe and then an additional 30k for a one-way from New York to Buenos Aires). By using the stopover trick, you’re saving 12,500 miles!
Free one-way vs. stopover in Europe: Which should you choose?
Determining whether you should book a free one-way ticket or keep your extra stopover in Europe is a good problem to have, and in the end, it comes down to preference. If your one-way falls in the North American region, both awards will price out the same, at 60k miles apiece.
With the stopover in Europe, we were able to build an itinerary that looked like this:
New York-London (stopover)-Paris then open jaw
With the free one-way, we would have an intinerary like this:
New York-London then open jaw
Paris-New York (stopover)-Anchorage
Each is a great trip, so just decide whether you’d enjoy visiting an extra city in Europe or getting a free trip out to somewhere in North America later on. Either way, you’re making out like a bandit and taking a trip that you could probably have only dreamed about before.
How To Book Stopovers and Open Jaws on United
The second best thing about booking stopovers and open jaws with United (behind being allowed to stopover at basically any city) is that you can do it all online.
Unlike American Airlines and USAirways, whose computer systems are stuck in the era of Zubaz pants and Fraggle Rock, United has decided to join the rest of us in the new millenium and has a system that is not only highly functional but also user-friendly.
You’ll quickly get the hang of it once you do it once, but for those people who are new to booking with United, especially when using stopovers and open jaws, I’ve created a short video tutorial:
Still Confused? Have Questions?
If you’ve read through and are thinking:
Stopovers and open jaws are awesome, I want to use them…but I’m still confused as heck about how to actually do it!
Don’t worry, you’re not alone!
I’ll walk you through, step by step, every single thing you need to do to learn about and book stopovers, open-jaws, and free one-ways. I’ve spent hundred of hours creating the #1 place for people who want to become EXPERTS at booking awards and maximizing their miles and want to do it fast!
4 weeks, and you’ll be an EXPERT, guaranteed! And you’ll be saving yourself $1,000’s of dollars!
Interested? Check out the Frequent Flyer Bootcamp page for more information. I look forward to whipping your butt in class!
Stopovers and open jaws can be an incredibly powerful tool to help you put together a vacation of a lifetime, and on no airline is this more apparent than United, which allows a ton of freedom in which choosing which city to stopover in. Add in the fact that you are able to add a free one-way for a later date and really, the possibilities are endless!
I would highly recommend that everyone consider using these to your advantage if you are booking a roundtrip ticket with your United frequent flyer miles.
The fact that you don’t even have to call in and book the tickets but instead can play around on United’s system till your heart’s content to figure out what works for you means that you really have no excuse.
So, what are you waiting for? Remember: MAXIMIZE, MAXIMIZE, MAXIMIZE!
Questions, comments, and unabashed bragging of the awesome trips you’ve booked is all welcome below. Fire away folks!
If you haven’t already, check out the other awesome Maximize Your Mile posts:
The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.
I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.
I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.
Parts 1-5 have focused on picking a destination and finding availability to that destination. Now, it’s time to shift our focus and actually begin getting you the miles you need to fly for free. If you’ve been following the Free Flight Primer and already have a stockpile of miles, great! But for most newbies, building up your miles balance is a crucial step. Let’s jump right in.
Step 1: Determine How Many Miles You Need
You did this back in Part 1, so I’ll just recap it quickly. If you want to re-read the full version, go here and scroll down to Step 3. The best place to start is milez.biz, which will give you the amount of points needed to fly to your destination across almost all airlines. Consider the following:
What airlines did you find availability on in Parts 3-5?
How many people are flying?
What cabin class do you want to fly?
Case Study: Remember Rob, our case study? He’s looking to fly from New York to Rome in late September. We found good award availability with OneWorld for the dates he wants, he is flying with his wife, and they are looking to fly economy. By looking at milez.biz or at the AA award chart we know that it will cost him 60k roundtrip per person, so he needs 120k AA miles.
Step 2: Determine What Credit Cards Will Get You Your Miles
Credit card signups are far and away the best way to earn miles quickly. There are other ways to pad your balance (which we will discuss later) but to get your free flights, you’ll need to apply for a credit card or two (or three, or four…). So now the question becomes which one?
If you are completely new to the game, I’d recommend you read my Tips For Picking the Right Card page, which gives you a simplified, general overview of what to look for in a credit card. On top of those considerations, we now must also look at our specific scenario and what airlines we are looking to fly.
Two basic recommendations:
1. If you are looking to fly OneWorld, by far the best sign up bonus available is the Citi/AAdvantage cards.
2. If you are looking to fly Star Alliance, there are a few Chase cards that make sense for you. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold [No longer available], and Chase Ink Plus are all good options.
In addition, the Chase United Explorer card is another good option.
Case Study: Rob is flying OneWorld, so he needs 120k AA miles. He already has 38k in his AA account, meaning that an extra 100k would put him over the 120k mark we need for him to fly to Europe and back.
Step 3: Apply for the card(s) and start making the minimum spend.
After getting approved for the card, every card has some requirement to meet before you get the miles in your account. For some cards, this is simply “after first purchase” meaning that you can buy one thing, no matter what, and you’ll get the miles.
For other cards, you must spend a certain amount in a certain time frame (i.e. $2,500 in 3 months). IF YOU DON’T HIT THE MINIMUM SPEND, YOU WON’T GET THE MILES. Always, always make sure you can hit the minimum spend.
Since you have already found the flights you want, the sooner you make the minimum spend, the sooner the miles post to your account. The sooner the miles post to your account, the sooner you can use them to book your flight.
See the pattern? The sooner, the better. Every day you wait is another day that the flights you wanted could be snatched up, so while I don’t advocate going out and spending just to spend, if your travel is coming up fairly soon, then I’d suggest making the spend as quickly as you feasibly, and responsibly, can.
Morals of the story:
1. Plan ahead if possible. It is going to be very difficult to go from 0 miles in March to booking a 100k worth of flights for travel in May. Not impossible, but difficult. Even if you do make the minimum spend and your miles post quickly, the award space that close to the travel date will most likely be gone.
2. If you do find yourself in the above situation and are under the gun to get miles, be flexible with your dates. Something may not be open on the Saturday that you want to leave, but it might be available on Tuesday. Make sure to check all options.
Case study: Rob’s wife applied for both the Citi/AA Visa and Citi/AA Amex using the two browser trick (now dead). She was instantly approved for both. She has met the minimum spend on the Visa and is now working on the minimum spend on the AmEx.
Step 4 (if necessary): Transfer the Points
For some cards, the miles you earn will go directly to your account with that airline (for example, the Citi/AAdvantage card earns you American Airlines miles). For other cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. you’ll need to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to the airline of your choosing (such as United). This can be done online and if you are transferring Chase or American Express points, the transfers are instant (the only exception to this is if you are transferring AmEx to ANA, in which case it usually takes 48 hours). If you a transferring Starwoods points, be aware that they can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.
Case study: Rob and his wife will not need to transfer points, since they are earning AA miles using the Citi/AAdvantage cards and will also be redeeming AA miles for their tickets.
Step 5: Earn Miles Through Ways Other Than Sign Up Bonuses
While signup bonuses will give you the bulk of your points, you can also pad your mileage balances in a variety of other methods. This is especially helpful when a signup bonus leaves you a few thousand points shy of the amount you need for an award ticket. For example, let’s say you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the 50k signup bonus but you need 60k for your roundtrip ticket to Europe. If you are smart, you could end up with these 10k just by meeting your minimum spend.
The easiest way is to use shopping portals. I document why you should use them in this post and then show you how to use my personal favorite, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, here. To highlight our above example, if you went through the Chase UR Mall and spent $350 at Groupon, which was running a 30 points/$1 promotion, you’d already have your extra 10k.
I’ve harped on it continuously in other posts, but if you aren’t using shopping portals than you should start considering it, at least for the online purchases you already make.
Each card, in addition to a sign up bonus, will offer some sort of mileage earning for using it. For most cards, it is 1 point/$1 spent, although some offer special bonus categories where they’ll give you 2 points/$1 or even 5 points/$1 spent. For the Chase Sapphire, you’ll get 2x points on travel and dining, meaning that if you used it only these two categories to make your minimum spend of $3,000, you’d end up with an additional 6k points above your sign up bonus.
If you only have one card, it makes sense to use it in lieu of cash as much as possible. You’ll be earning miles and not paying anything extra. If you have more than one card, start being cognizant of which cards give bonuses in what categories and tailor your usage accordingly.
Case study: After the sign up bonus, Rob will have enough AA miles to make his trip. The AA cards only offer 1/$1 for all categories, so after meeting the minimum spend, he’ll have an extra 5k AA miles in his arsenal.
Step 6: Sign up for Award Wallet to Track Your Points
The more involved you get in this game, the more confusing it can get to remember what points you have with what airlines. Why not use a free product that does all hard work for you? Award Wallet will store your account balances for all types of airlines and hotels (except AA, which has blocked Award Wallet) and will update automatically once you set it up. I can’t think of a single good reason not to use it, and recommend it to everyone I know.