Southwest is one of our favorite airlines and we’re not alone. They have a business model that’s easy to understand. They don’t charge for you to bring a bag on the plane and you also get two free checked bags per passenger. Southwest planes only have one class of service so there’s no paying extra to get a seat in the extra legroom section and no first-class to upgrade into.
Not to be left behind the other carriers who throw perks at the business travelers as thanks for their loyalty, Southwest tries their best to compete but there’s only so much they can offer. After 25 flights in a year, you become an A-List member which allows you stand-by for an earlier flight for free and provides priority boarding, meaning you get a spot at the beginning of the A boarding group and are the first one to pick whatever seat you want on the plane (exit row, bulkhead). After 50 flights, you are A-List Preferred and now can get free WiFi. But Southwest saves their best perk for those who fly with them the most often.
There are no more tiers but if you take 100 flights or earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points with Southwest in a calendar year, you earn a Companion Pass. If you read some blogs, this is the single most valuable item you can earn in the points world. I think the appeal to the Companion Pass is its unlimited savings potential.
What is Southwest’s Companion Pass, how can you earn it and what are the restrictions?
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is Southwest’s way to reward their best customers. Once you earn the pass, you can bring a companion with you on any trip and they only have to pay the taxes and fees on the ticket (which start at $5.60 for a one-way domestic flight.) When you earn the pass, it’s good for the rest of the year you earn it and the entire following year. You now see why this can be such a valuable asset. For at least a year, a guest can join you on any trip on Southwest for almost free. This includes Southwest’s international flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, although those flights do charge slightly higher taxes. There’s more excitement since Southwest is very close to starting flights to Hawaii and being able to use the Companion Pass for those flights will save you a bunch of money.
How do you earn a Companion Pass?
The way the pass was intended to be earned was by flying on Southwest. You received the pass after 100 qualifying flights or by earning 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
That second part is what lights up a point hacker’s life. Today, earning 125,000 points in a year isn’t very hard. You used to be able to book a Marriott hotel plus air package with Marriott Rewards points. If you deposited the points into your Southwest account, they counted towards the Companion Pass. Many people did this in January and had a companion pass for almost two years and repeated the process every other year. In 2017, Southwest stopped counting those miles towards the Companion Pass but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
Southwest offers several credit cards through Chase (three personal cards and a business card) that offer sign up bonuses. These bonuses DO still count towards the companion pass. Occasionally the Southwest cards had 60,000 points or higher sign-up bonuses so all you needed to do was to sign up for two of them and spend $10,000 combined and there’s your Companion Pass. This was the way I eventually earned the pass for the one year I had it.
Unfortunately, Chase has cracked down on this process in several ways. Now you’re only able to get a sign-up bonus for a Southwest card if you haven’t received one in the last 24 months. That means no signing up for the Plus, Premier or Priority cards at the same time. The only workaround is that you can still get the Business and any of the personal cards so earning the points for a companion pass is still possible. Making things even more difficult is that all of the Southwest cards fall under the Chase 5/24 rule, meaning if you’ve applied for more than 5 cards in the last two years (from any bank), you won’t be approved for a new Chase card. That doesn’t stop Chase from offering the Companion Pass as a sign-up bonus for getting one of their credit cards.
So What’s The Advantage of Having A Companion Pass?
What’s the advantage? Flying for free, that’s the advantage.
Being able to fly anywhere you want for almost half-price has a certain appeal. Since there’s no limit on how many flights you can make with your companion, the value of a Companion Pass is only limited by how many trips you can take.
I will say that having the pass allowed me to make reservations for flights I otherwise wouldn’t have, like adding a flight from Austin to El Paso so we could drive to Carlsbad Caverns.
Having the pass was great but there were also some limitations to using it.
What Are The Restrictions Of The Companion Pass?
The number one restriction has to be that the requirement that Southwest flies to the places you want to visit. If they don’t, what’s the point in getting the pass? This also applies if you don’t live near a city where Southwest Airlines flies.
The next restriction is that you can only have one companion at a time.
Sorry, wrong companions 🙂
The Companion Pass requires you to pick the person you want to travel with you for free. Once you’ve selected your companion, you can make a “free” reservation for them on any flight once you’ve completed your own booking. But what if you want to make a trip in the future and will be traveling with a different companion? Well, it’s possible to change companions by calling Southwest up to three times in a calendar year. However, if there are any flights with the prior companion when you make the change, they’ll be canceled. So you’ll need to complete any travels with your first companion before changing to the second person.
This also brings up the case that the person who has the Companion Pass NEEDS to be on the flight. If they have to cancel their trip, the companion’s ticket will be canceled as well.
The last restriction that trips up people is that travel with a companion must be COMPLETED, NOT JUST BOOKED before the Companion Pass expires. That usually means the travel must be done before the end of the year. If you make a companion booking for the next year but don’t keep the pass, the companion ticket will be canceled.
One positive of booking the primary traveler’s ticket first is that you may be able to sneak in booking a ticket at a lower price. If there’s only one Gotta Get Away fare left, you can book that ticket. As long as there’s another ticket available on the flight, the companion can get it for free, regardless of what the price for that NEXT ticket is.
Is the Companion Ticket Really Free?
In my opinion, the ticket with the Companion Pass isn’t free. You need to pay the taxes and fees on the companion ticket and that is some cost you’ll need to pay. I’d also need to figure in the cost of paying for Early Bird seating which if you want, you’ll need to pay for each ticket. That means you’ll be paying an additional $15 – $25 for each ticket. That might be as much as $100 for two people on a round-trip. If you’re traveling with a companion, I’d imagine that you want to sit close to one another, or maybe not.
These are the details about the Southwest Companion Pass. It’s been an intriguing object for years, with numerous articles written about how’s the best way to acquire it, how it will transform the way you travel and why not getting one means you’re not really trying to save money when you travel. Well maybe they don’t say that exactly, but you know what I mean. It’s like being told that not having a Companion Pass makes you less of a miles and points aficionado and for me, that’s just not true. I like you just the way you are. Companion Pass or not.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary