Very few topics get the attention afforded to the Southwest Companion Pass. You could spend a lifetime reading the 14.5 million web pages about it just from a Google search.
I was one of the people reading these posts that told me about how the Companion Pass was the be all and end all of the travel savings. Having the pass lets you fly on Southwest for half price. You could take twice as many trips as you did before and not pay any more money. Or if you had Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you’d only be spending for one ticket and the other one was free.
I fell for this line and decided that I was going to do whatever what I needed to in order to get one of these passes. After six months of trying and some false starts, I finally had the pass and 14 months to use it.
I found out that while it did save me some points, I didn’t save that much because we didn’t fly with Southwest much in that year, even though I tried to use them for every trip we took.
My experience with the Southwest Companion Pass is actually one of the things that convinced me to start writing Your Mileage May Vary. While it’s true that having the Southwest Companion Pass can possibly save you a ton of money, it’s also possible that you won’t really get that much savings from it. It all depends on how much you fly Southwest. For a moderate traveler, you’re talking two, maybe three trips a year and that’s saying that Southwest flies to where you’re going with a convenient schedule.
As it turns out, we no longer have to figure out what a Companion Pass is worth, as Chase bank has done it for us.
Until January 9, 2019, Chase was offering up to 60,000 points as a sign-up bonus for their Southwest personal credit cards. The initial bonus was 40,000 points for spending $1,000 in three months and an extra 20,000 points for spending $12,000 in the first 12 months. For comparison of a non-tiered offer, the Southwest Business credit card is currently offering 60,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months.
The day after the 60,000 points sign up bonus on the personal cards ended, Chase and Southwest gave us a hint on how much they value a Companion Pass. The new offer on all personal Southwest credit cards was as follows:
It’s tough to make direct comparisons since the amount of minimum spend is different for all of the offers but if we say this is equal to the best offer Chase has put on the Southwest cards, getting the Companion Pass for less than one year is then equal to 30,000 Rapid Rewards points. Since you don’t get the pass until you finish the spending requirement, it may be a month or two before you’ll be able to use it. And unlike the usual Companion Pass you get from earning 110,000 points in a year, this pass will expire at the end of 2019.
This tells me that Chase and Southwest know that:
- The Companion Pass is a coveted item and people will jump at this offer
- Most people overestimate how much value they’ll get from the pass
- Chase and Southwest are going to come out ahead by giving a companion pass and 30,000 fewer points
I figure that I usually get at least 1.5 cents of value per Southwest point so earning 30,000 points less is like paying $450 for the privilege of getting a companion pass. That’s not a lot of money to pay to get something that’s supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread.
The Companion Pass has a certain mystique about it because it wasn’t easy to get and you can’t put a price on its value. You’d hear stories about how people would save THOUSANDS of dollars a year because they had the pass. While I do not doubt these stories are true, there are plenty more people out there who did the work to get a companion pass and ended up using it two or three times and saved maybe $400.
Let’s realize that the power Companion Pass users have already locked in their pass for all of 2019 (and maybe 2020). To be eligible you must not have received a Southwest bonus in the last 24 months and also be under 5/24. How many Southwest power users still standing? That’s why this offer is for those people in the second group. It’s for people who have heard about the pass but didn’t want to go through the trouble of trying to get one. They might not even know what a Companion Pass is. For those people, they’re going to use it a few times in 2019 if they’re lucky. For Chase and Southwest, this promotion raises a ton of buzz for the credit cards and they’ll probably end up breaking even or might even save some money if these new customers end up not using the pass as much as they think they are going to.
I never talked about the Southwest Companion Pass being the holy grail of the travel universe because it’s not worth it for every traveler to go out of their way and try to get one. Your personal travel trends determine how much you can possibly save and then you still have to take into consideration if flying Southwest for all your trips make sense. Will you pay more money for a flight on Southwest just because you’ll get a free companion ticket? What about taking a flight with less favorable times or with a connection? Are you willing to fly a less comfortable plane? These are decisions you’re going to have to make when using your pass, I guarantee it.
I hope that this post gives you some reason to pause whenever you read an article telling you about any “must have” item. There’s no such thing. Look at what is being talked about and see if it fits into the way you like to travel. If it makes sense, go for it. If not, let it go with no regrets. If anything, I hope this is the main lesson you’ll come away with after reading Your Mileage May Vary.
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This article was originally posted on Your Mileage May Vary.