11 Lessons from 11 Years With a Southwest Companion Pass

Jan 30, 2019

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I have been a Southwest Companion Pass holder for the past 11 years. During these years, I’ve flown to many domestic and international destinations on the pass with my husband, my daughter, my mom, my sister or a friend flying as my companion for free (other than taxes) — saving my family well over $10,000 on travel.

Over the past 11 years, I have learned the ins and outs of the pass, which I would like to now pass on to you.

Here are tips for deciding which Southwest card is best for your family.

1. Anyone Can Be Your Companion

You can designate anyone you want to be your companion. Your companion can be your significant other, your child, your parent, your best friend, your worst enemy — really, anyone.

You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year. If you are able to snag the Companion Pass for two years, this means that you can change your companion three times in 2019 and then again three times in 2020. You can also pick the same person as a companion again. For example, let’s say you earn the pass now and designate your spouse as the companion. You can then change your companion to your child (change #1), a few months later to your friend (change #2) and a few months later change back to your spouse (change #3).

Tip: If you did not use up your three changes in a given year, come December, change your companion to the person who will be flying with you first in the following year.

Have your child fly with you for free!
Have your child fly with you for free! Well, almost free. You will pay the taxes on the fare.

2. Changing Your Companion Is Instant

Although you can initially designate your companion online through your Southwest account right after earning your pass, you’ll have to call Southwest (1-800-435-9792) when you need to change your pass to a different passenger.

Online, the Southwest Companion Pass FAQs tells you that it can take up to 21 business days to process your new companion. Fortunately though, this is not the case. Upon calling Southwest and giving them your new companion’s information, your companion will be instantly changed. You can then go ahead and book your companion’s ticket right away.

Within a few weeks (most likely that “21 business day mark”), you’ll receive your new Companion Pass in the mail with your name plus your companion’s name. While having the physical pass is nice, in 11 years I’ve never needed to show it to anyone.

3. You Can Fly With 1 Companion on Departure and a Different Companion on Return

Since your companion can be changed right away, there have been times where I used the pass for one passenger on my departure and another passenger for my return. For example, there was one time when my husband was meeting me in Florida and I was flying down with my parents (this was pre-kids). My parents were then staying in Florida longer than us, but my husband and I were returning from our vacation together. So I used the Companion Pass for my mom on my departure flight and for my husband on my return flight.

As described above, the process to change your companion is quite easy. In this scenario, immediately after my flight landed with my mom, I called Southwest and had them change the name on my Companion Pass to my husband. Once my husband was listed as my companion, I was then able to book his flight for the return. There is a slight risk to this since you aren’t adding on your companion until a few days before your flight’s departure. Remember: Only one seat needs to be available for you to book your companion’s reservation but if the flight happens to be sold out, you might end up in a not-so-great situation.

Tip: Even though the first passenger isn’t flying with you on the return, book their companion ticket for the return anyway. This will hold a seat and when you go to change your companion (thus canceling the current companion’s reservation) that should open up a seat on the flight. You can then quickly book your new companion on the flight. The Southwest representative that you speak to can do it all for you. There will be a few minutes lag between canceling the old ticket and booking the new ticket, so for a fully booked flight, you do risk the chance that another passenger swoops in within those few minutes and books that seat.

4. The Pass Has No Blackout Dates or Seat Restrictions

This really is a no-strings-attached pass. Unlike many other companion passes in the travel world, there are no blackout dates or seat restrictions or fare restrictions. Yes, your companion can fly with you for free during peak times, such as the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation and any other day when many other airlines actually blackout their mileage redemption options. As long as there is at least one seat available for purchase, you can add the companion onto your reservation.

5. Use the Pass Unlimited Times Throughout the Year

Yes, you read that correctly. Your companion can fly with you for free an unlimited number of times while the Companion Pass is valid. Unlike some other passes, this is not a one-time usage. This means you can theoretically fly 2-for-1 every single day for the entire year with no restrictions.

Tip: The Companion Pass passenger must always fly with the primary passenger.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

6. Your Companion Must Check In Separately

Although your companion is tied to your reservation, both passengers are given different confirmation numbers. This means when checking in for your flight, both passengers must check-in separately. Since Southwest does not have seat assignments, you board based on the boarding number shown on your boarding pass. Southwest will allow you to start checking in for your flight 24-hours in advance, and the earlier you check in, the better boarding number you’ll have.

This means you’ll want to check in both passengers at the same time so the boarding numbers are back to back. If you forget to check in your companion, they might not be able to board until a different boarding group, thus making it harder to find seats together. Other options include Early Bird Check-In or use some of the four upgraded boarding positions available per year with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

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7. The Pass Can Be Used on Any Ticket Type

As I mentioned earlier, there really are no restrictions on using the pass, which means the Companion Pass reservation can be used on any ticket type. It doesn’t matter if the primary passenger paid for his or her ticket with cash or used points, the Companion Pass can still be added onto the reservation. This means you can use your points from the current credit card welcome bonus offer and both you and your companion will fly virtually for free.

You can also transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card at a 1:1 ratio and book travel that way.

Tip: The points used to book your flight can come from any account, even your companion’s account. You just need to make the reservation in your name and attach your Rapid Rewards number to the flight. The reservation will then show up in your Southwest account and allow you to tack on your companion’s reservation.

8. Your Companion Cannot Fly Standby

If you are an A-List or A-List Preferred member and have the Companion Pass, those A-List benefits do not carry over to the person flying for free with you. If you were to go standby on an earlier flight, your companion cannot also go standby. If you do end up getting a seat on an earlier flight, that will cancel your companion’s ticket.

Tip: Right now you can status match to Southwest A-List!

9. Southwest Does Not Automatically Add Your Companion to the Reservation

When you book your flight, Southwest will not automatically add your companion onto your reservation. While you need to manually make the reservation yourself, it really only takes an extra minute.

Tip: Once you make your flight, make sure to add your companion right away so you do not forget to do it. If your companion ends up no longer flying with you, or you change your companion, you can easily cancel the companion’s ticket for no fee. The amount paid for taxes/fees will be credited right back to the credit card that was used. Here’s a step-by-step on how to actually use the Southwest Companion Pass.

Book your companions ticket easily on your Southwest.com account

10. You Can Use the Pass for Any Route or Destination

The Companion Pass can be used to fly a passenger for free to any destination that Southwest flies. This includes all domestic and international destinations as well as upcoming Hawaii flights!

Hawaii here we come! (Image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Hawaii here we come! (Image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The one thing to note is that the taxes and fees you pay on your companion ticket for international flights can be significantly more than domestic flights. On domestic flights, all you have to pay is the September 11 Security Fee, which is $5.60 per one-way flight. On international flights, however, you’ll pay the same amount in fees as if you were to have used points for the flight. You can easily see the amount in fees if you were to do a mock reservation for the two city pairs while selecting the points option. For example, flying round-trip to Liberia, Costa Rica, will cost you about $80 while flying round-trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, will cost you more than $130.

The taxes and fees to certain international destinations can really add up.

Tip: Look to Puerto Rico for a Caribbean feel without international taxes!

Puerto Rico is a great Companion Pass destination
Puerto Rico is a great Companion Pass destination.

11. Cancel Your Companion’s Reservation If You Need to Change a Flight

Southwest has one of the best policies when it comes to changing a flight. You can change a flight at any point for no fee up to 10 minutes before its departure time. This means you can always rebook a flight if the price goes down — saving your family a good amount of money/points.

The only caveat to this policy is if you have a companion already added onto your reservation. In that case, to change a ticket (or to rebook the same flight at a lower price), you’ll need to first cancel your companion’s reservation. After you change your ticket, manually add your companion back onto the reservation. Your companion ticket will not automatically follow your changed flight, even if you are just rebooking your same flight due to a price drop.

Bottom Line

Southwest really does make using the Companion Pass extremely easy. There are no hidden surprises and it’s a terrific value for families. So, go get the Companion Pass and start traveling as much as possible.

Jennifer Yellin covers family travel deals for TPG and blogs at Deals We Like. Follow her family’s adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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