Get Your Very Own Southwest Companion Pass

Southwest Airlines has a product that they offer to their most active and loyal flyers called the Companion Pass. How it works is as follows: if you earn enough “points” in a calendar year (which, for Southwest, is based strictly on the dollar value of your travel), or if you fly enough segments, you’re awarded a pass that allows you to select one individual to fly with you completely free. You can only select one person, who can be changed up to three times per year, and you both must fly together in order to qualify for the free ticket.

You receive this benefit for the remainder of the calendar year in which it was earned plus the following year as well. For example, if you complete enough travel by May 2013 you’ll earn the pass for May 2013-December 2014. If you earn it in December 2013, you’ll keep it until December 2014.

A benefit like this is pretty much unheard of in the travel world. An entire year, or even almost two years, in which you can travel with someone without paying on any ticket (that includes tickets booked with points)? Nothing even close to that is offered by other major airlines. Though some do provide Companion Passes with their credit cards, these are only valid for 1-2 flights per year and almost always come with some marginal cost. With the Southwest Companion Pass you pay a $5 security fee on the second ticket, and nothing more. As many times as you’d like in the time period you have the pass.

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Not surprisingly  getting the pass isn’t easy. In order to get your hands on one the traditional way, you have to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points or fly 100 segments in a calendar year…which is the equivalent of nearly $20,000 in booked Southwest travel or one flight flown every 3 days. Obviously that’s not something many people achieve. Getting on an airplane every 3 days is pretty unlikely, but having it be all on the same airline is even rarer. As I mentioned in my Miami Budget post (note: old blog, post is gone forever), I have a Companion Pass and have selected Ashley as my partner. And, as I’m sure you all know, I do not fly Southwest nearly enough to qualify for the pass the “real” way.

The method I used to obtain my CP was a short-lived promotion involving purchasing items or gift cards through Southwest’s Shopping Portal and reselling them at a slight loss, but in the process earning over 100,000 Rapid Rewards points, which then were transferred to my SW frequent flyer account. Any points earned through the Shopping Mall, while not explicitly written as such, do indeed count as credit towards earning your pass. (note: of course, this is something Southwest could change at any time. Everything I outline here is absolutely at your own risk. It worked for me and has worked for many people before me, but there’s no telling if and when this roundabout method will shut down)

Even though that scenario is no longer active (though of course, you can just spend tons of money and click through the portal every time, and those points do still count towards your pass reqs), there is another way to earn the Companion Pass without traveling. It’s actually quite simple, but does involve signing up for two separate credit cards, reaching the minimum spend on both and spending, in total, $10,000 on both cards. Here’s how it can be done (keep in mind that this is for people starting with 0 points in their SW account. If you have some already, you can adjust your credit card spending down to reflect it):

  • Sign up for a Southwest Rapid Rewards account, if you don’t have one already
  • Apply (and be approved) for two credit cards:
    • Southwest Premier Card – $99 annual fee; spend $2,000 in 3 months to earn 50,000 points
    • A second card – unfortunately at the time of posting this there is not a second 50k offer live. However, Southwest consistently offers 50,000 points as a sign-up bonus on their business cards. Be sure to wait until both offers are live at the same time, because you must get all 110,000 points in the same year. And yes, you can apply for a business card even if you don’t have a fulltime business of your own. Have you ever sold anything on eBay? or Craigslist? That’s technically a business.
  • Meet the minimum spend requirements on both cards in order to receive 50,000 points from each
  • Spend $6,000 more than the minimum spend (on either card, doesn’t matter) in order to earn the extra 6,000 points necessary to qualify for the CP. You could also fly enough to earn those, do some shopping through the online mall, etc. But however you earn them, you’ll need 6,000 additional RR points to reach the total
not qualifying this year, but maybe I'll try again for 2015

not qualifying this year, but I might try for 2015

Once you’ve completed the above steps, and your credit card statements clear, you will have over 110,000 Rapid Rewards points deposited in your account (this can take a few weeks). These points will count towards earning your Companion Pass. All you have to do is choose your companion, and a shiny new card will be mailed to you in no time. Since you get to keep the pass for the rest of the calendar year in which it’s earned plus the following year, I would highly recommend waiting until January to do this (you’d have the pass the rest of 2015 AND all of 2016. Awesome!). And while the annual fees are $69-$99 on each card, you’re awarded 3,000-6,000 RR points on each anniversary (which essentially pays for the fee itself). You can, of course, cancel the cards before your 2nd year charges occur, if you’d prefer not to keep them.

Then, every time you book a flight through your account, you’ll be given the option (after booking) to add said companion to your flight. All for the can’t-be-beat price of $5! And don’t forget the true value of those 110,000 Rapid Rewards points you’ll now have in your account – that’s enough for over $1,600 in Southwest travel (which could be turned into twice that if you use your pass on each flight), or $1,100 in gift cards. Not too shabby for two credit card applications!

Be Fancy on a Budget

We all like nice things. Even I’ll admit it. I workout mostly in Lululemon, I love taking cabs instead of public transit and not much makes me happier than a bouquet of flowers. But guess what? You can enjoy these luxuries without breaking the bank.

  • Buy flowers at the grocery store – I love fresh flowers. Having a vase or two around my apartment can actually improve my mood. But the typical $50 bouquet from a fancy flower shop or online is certainly a budget buster, and simply can’t be justified for something that lasts about a week (change the water and trim the stems every day and you can get two weeks!). But don’t be turned off by the flowers sold at your area Shoprite, Trader Joe’s or other grocer. They’re usually from nearby farms, so they last longer, and bouquets are typically under $10.tjfridayflowers
  • Use Lyft or UberX instead of cabs – Uber rules. It’s easier, safer and quicker than standard taxis. Plus, the cars are nicer and payment is taken care of. No more being yelled at by a cab driver for asking to use the credit car machine they advertise offering! But taking Uber from place to place can add up quickly. You may not know that in many cities, Uber offers an awesome service where everyday drivers like you and me offer to take people from place to place. It’s called UberX, and almost always costs less than a cab. Lyft is just like UberX, except 100% of their business model is on pedestrians being the drivers. It’s not offered in all cities (come to Philly guys!), but where it is it can be a fantastic option for getting around. And if you use my referral code on Lyft – NICOLE494260 – or click the Uber link above, your first ride will be free!LyftUber
  • Shop at ThredUp, Twice or your local consignment store – ThredUp & Twice are both fairly new websites that offer very gently used or new clothing at drastically reduced prices. ThredUp offers a large variety of brands, while Twice focuses on the higher-end options. They both offer the option to mail in your unwanted clothing and get paid (I’ll be writing more on that in another post, but it’s not as great as it sounds), so what you’re seeing for sale are the actual items other people have mailed in. I’ve ordered several times from both of them – brands from Lululemon to BCBGMaxazria to Kate Spade – and have nothing but positive things to say about the quality of the items. Twice has a great return policy, and pays for shipping both ways. Plus, if you sign up with one of the links above you’ll start off with $10 in free creditThrifting_with_Twice___Thred_Up_-_Let_s_Be_Fair_png_and_Thrifting_with_Twice___Thred_Up_-_Let_s_Be_Fair_2_png
  • Fly first class (on miles, of course) – if you’re signing up for credit cards and racking up airline miles left and right, then why not spend ‘em? Sometimes it’s difficult to get low-level redemptions for round-trip domestic flights (25,000 miles on most airlines), but first class is more likely to be available. So you can spend 40,000-50,000 miles on coach, or that same 50,000 to sit up front. Even if lower redemptions are available, if it’s a long flight first class can still be worth it. And trust me, it’s so much more fun.

So get out there, fill your house with flowers and walk around in a discounted Anthropologie dress. Why not, right?

Cowboy Crack: The Best Dip Ever

Recently, a friend was having people over for a BBQ and I thought it’d be nice to bring something to contribute. I’m known for my baking, so I tried my hand at a new cookie recipe (it tasted great, but in all other ways was an epic fail. see here for proof). But then I stumbled on Living in Yellow’s recipe for something call Cowboy Crack and knew I had to make it.

It was one of the easier dips I’ve ever made, and was delicious. I’m going to list the ingredients here because I have tobut try your very best to forget what’s actually in it when you’re chowing down :)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups shredded cheese [I used mozzarella but you could easily use a mixture or any favorite]
  • 2 8 ounce packages cream cheese [I used regular but low fat should taste exactly the same. they were out at the grocery store that day or I would've used it]
  • 2 cans Rotel
  • 1 pound of sausage, removed from the casing and browned [I chose spicy italian to add some flavor, but you can use any kind you'd like]
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1-25 bags of chips

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Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients besides the sausage in your crockpot, and turn it on low
  2. While the other ingredients are softening slightly while warming, brown the sausage. I highly recommend removing the casings and browning like you would ground meat, because it will blend better in the dip later on. If you simply slice the sausage it will work fine, but scooping up larger pieces of sausage with chips isn’t ideal in my opinion
  3. Once the sausage is browned, pour out as much excess grease and fat as possible (use one of the empty Rotel cans and freeze before discarding!) and stir it into the crockpot mixtureunnamed-2
  4. Cook on low in the crockpot for another 1.5 – 2 hours, stirring occasionally
  5. If it’s helpful, you can keep the dip on warm for almost as long as you’d like. It tastes best served warm, though I will admit to eating quite a lot of it cold

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It’s that easy! I know the photo above doesn’t look like the most amazing dip you’ve ever eaten, but trust me when I say it will be a crowd-pleaser at any party.

 

Blueberry Greek Yogurt Muffins

A few months ago I baked up some blueberry muffins, made with greek yogurt. I found the recipe while wasting my day on Pinterest and had been dying to try it since. The great thing about working in an office with tons of dudes is that you could literally bring in burnt brownies and they’d be devoured before lunchtime. It’s like these boys haven’t seen food in days.

First things first: the batter for these muffins was amazing. The best batter I’ve ever tasted, which was surprising considering how bitter muffin batter can be. And the muffins themselves were awesomeI know I said the guys at the office will eat anything, and they will, but you know when you’ve made something good. And let me tell you – these were good. As in marriage proposal good (they’re kidding, but still).

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I only made two changes to the recipe; I added a little more canola oil when the batter seemed too dry, and I overloaded the dough in the first batch to only make 24 total, since I only had one 12-muffin tin and didn’t want to bake three batches. The first round took a solid half hour to bake through, but the second with smaller muffins was closer to 25 minutes. Oh, and I didn’t use cupcake liners because I forgot, and honestly muffins don’t need ‘em.

That’s all folks. Now head out to the grocery store, get some greek yogurt (and print this coupon beforehand!) and bake these babies up.

Your Annual Fee is Due…Now What?

Many credit cards have annual fees, and nearly any card worth having carries some sort of charge to keep it in your wallet. Oftentimes this fee is waived for the first year, so signing up for the card is a no-brainer. But what happens when your first anniversary rolls around and it’s time to actually pay for the card?

Normally I ask myself the same series of questions to determine if the card is worth keeping, or if I should call and cancel:

  1. Is the card worth the fee? This isn’t such an easy question. For instance, the American Express Platinum card charges a whopping $450 a year. However, with that you receive $200 of airline reimbursements, airline lounge access, SPG Gold status, preference at 3 major rental car companies, $100 towards Global Entry and many other fantastic benefits. Even after the airline credits the fee is still $250. But to frequent travelers simply the lounge access may be worth it alone. But if you don’t travel much, or have access via other means, it may not be sensible to keep. On the other hand, the Barclay’s US Airways card carries an $89 fee but awards 10,000 miles on each anniversary. Those miles are worth well over $89, so for anyone who travels on US Air there’s not much of a question there (you’d keep the card open). See how different each scenario can be? If you decide the card isn’t worth it, then ask yourself:
  2. How much is the card worth to me? Call up the phone number on the back of your card and tell the representative that you’re going to cancel it because the fee is too high. Nine times out of ten they’ll offer you some sort of consolation to stay. Think of how it goes when you call Comcast and they lower charges and offer free HBO to keep you on as a customer. Sometimes it’s the whole fee (of course keep it then), sometimes it’s points worth more than the fee (ditto) & sometimes it’s a portion of the charge. Go into the call knowing what your bottom line is, and don’t be convinced if the offer isn’t good enough. If you’re not pleased with what they have for you, then ask:
  3. Is there a fee-free option I can downgrade to? The phone rep may offer this to you. If you aren’t willing to pay the fee or accept any retention bonus, the next best option is to downgrade to a free card. Even if you’ll throw it in your sock drawer and never use it again, doing this will help keep your credit score healthy. Two factors in your score are the average age of your credit lines and the total credit offered to you. Both of these numbers will be hurt if you close a credit card. Even so, don’t keep a card simply for this reason. We aren’t sure how much it affects your credit exactly, but it isn’t worth paying to keep a card you won’t use. Nearly every paid card has a lesser, free option connected to it. If you can’t downgrade but you have another card with the same issuer, ask if you can move the credit to your other card before closing it down. Not always an option, but worth a try.

Keep in mind that if you see a charge for your annual fee on a credit card statement, you can still have it refunded to you. Most cards allow you to call in within 90 days for a full refund and will prorate it after that. So don’t see it and think it’s too late. Again – call the number on the back of the card and see if you can get anything to keep the card or, if you must, close the account.