Visiting Six National Parks for $266 — Reader Success Story

Feb 8, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Monique, who booked several trips with rewards from a single credit card sign-up bonus:

I dreamed about getting the Southwest Companion Pass, but figured it would be too difficult! So in the fall of 2017, when I saw your article about how California residents could get the Companion Pass after getting a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card and making a single purchase, I immediately signed up.

My companion (my boyfriend) and I looked at Southwest’s route map and realized a lot of National Parks are within a reasonable driving distance from Southwest destinations. We checked competitors’ pricing at those airports and did a cost-benefit analysis of visiting parks that had a closer regional airport. However, Southwest’s fares were competitive in most cases, and the Companion Pass made it a superior deal.

Now that 2018 has passed, I’m happy to report we were able to visit a handful of National Parks. We flew to Las Vegas (LAS) to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon, to Salt Lake City (SLC) to visit Arches and Canyonlands, to Seattle (SEA) to visit Olympic National Park, and to Portland (PDX) to visit Crater Lake. The Southwest credit card offer had an additional sign-up bonus of 40,000 points; with the points we earned from meeting the minimum spend requirement, that covered all but one of our trips. We paid $186 out of pocket for one cash flight and the taxes/fees on the other four flights.

The fees to visit each park individually would have been $185, so we decided to get a National Parks Pass for $80 to use with our Companion Pass travels, saving us an easy $105. That brought the cost for our flights and park admission to $266. I also used my Chase Sapphire Reserve for all of our car rentals for peace of mind with primary rental coverage. All of these trips were really fun and showed us how beautiful and diverse US landscapes can be! We’ve also come to realize how great of a value the Companion Pass is, and we have our sights on obtaining it again.

The Southwest Companion Pass remains one of the most valuable travel rewards out there, since you can use it on any flight (whether you’re paying with cash or points) so long as there’s an open seat. The standard path to Companion Pass qualification involves earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points or taking 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year, but a few shortcuts in the past few years (like the targeted offer Monique received) have made it more accessible. Most recently, Southwest launched a new set of publicly available credit card offers (expiring on February 11) that can earn the Companion Pass with a single sign-up bonus.

The downside to these offers is that your pass is only valid through the end of the year, whereas qualifying the “hard” way (on points or through flying) lets you keep the pass for the remainder of the current year plus the entire following year. You also get fewer points than you would from the standard bonus on these Rapid Rewards cards, so you’re effectively trading that value to expedite your Companion Pass. I think qualifying the old-fashioned way is generally the better deal, but these offers are a good option if earning 110,000 points is a stretch, or if you’ll have a lot of opportunities to use the pass right away.

If you’re on the fence about which approach to take, keep in mind that they aren’t mutually exclusive. You could earn one bonus that comes with the Companion Pass and still work on reaching the points threshold by the end of the year to give yourself another year of eligibility.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Monique a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Rich Martello/Unsplash. 

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