13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes
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2021 marked my 13th year as a Southwest Companion Pass holder.
Back in October 2019, I applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card during a similar heightened offer as we are seeing today, but held off on meeting the minimum spend requirement until January 2020. My points posted the first week of the year and the Companion Pass was mine just a few days later. Earning my pass early in the year allowed me to be a passholder for 51 weeks in 2020 and a full 52 weeks for 2021.
For more than the last decade, thanks to the Companion Pass, I’ve been able to fly to domestic and international destinations where my husband, my daughter, my mom, my sister or a friend flies with me for free (other than taxes) as my companion. Unfortunately, I never calculated my true savings, but I know it’s well over $10,000. Even during 2020 and 2021 when I only used it on three one-way flights, I still saved close to $500.
If you’re yearning for your own chance to fly two-for-one, this particular moment is actually one of the best times to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. In fact, you can follow some of the same process I went through two years ago by applying for one of Southwest’s three personal cards now and then waiting until January for your points to post.
Right now, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card you can earn up to 100,000 bonus points — 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in three months from account opening and another 50,000 after you spend $12,000 in 12 months from account opening.
If you are able to meet the full minimum spend requirement, you’ll end up with 100,000 qualifying points towards the Companion Pass. Since you need to earn 125,000 points in a calendar year to earn the pass, this leaves you with just 13,000 points remaining — since you’ll also be earning 12,000 points by meeting the minimum spend requirement (or even more if your purchases include category bonus items).
If your points all post in 2021 (you’ll need to hit the minimum spend before your Dec. 2021 statement close date), your points will count towards earning the pass for the rest of 2021 and all of 2022. However, if you wait to meet the minimum spend (for both tiers of the bonus) until 2022, you’ll be one step closer to earning the pass for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023 — the strategy I applied two years ago.
Although the pass is pretty straightforward, there are still some things you should know. Fortunately, by having the pass for over a decade, I’ve learned the ins and outs of the pass, which will hopefully help you realize its maximum potential:
Maximize your time with the pass
Being strategic as to when to earn the Companion Pass is important. You’ll earn the pass for the rest of the calendar year in which you reach the qualifying threshold, plus the entire following year.
Earning the pass on Jan. 15, 2022, for example, will provide you with it until Dec. 31, 2023 — giving you 23.5 months with the pass. Earn the pass in Nov. 2022, and it will still expire on Dec. 31, 2023 — giving you only 15 months to use it. Or, if you earn the pass this year, for example in Dec. 2021, it will expire on Dec. 31, 2022 — a significantly lower 13 months at most with the pass.
That’s why now is the perfect time to start working on earning the pass. Even though you might apply for the credit cards now while it’s still 2021, the points only count towards the year they are posted to your account, regardless of when you apply for the card. So if you apply in October, November or December 2021 and wait until January 2022 (or later) to meet the minimum spend, you’ll earn the points in 2022, which will count towards the 125,000 qualifying points required to be a pass holder for 2022 and 2023.
Typically, points post two to five days after your statement closes in the month you meet the minimum spend requirement. So if you are looking to earn the pass as quickly as possible, try to meet the minimum spend the moment Jan. 1 hits. If you do so, the points will post once your statement closes, allowing you to start using the pass as soon as possible — as long as you’ve earned the full 125,000 qualifying points.
Tip: Even if you’ve not yet earned the pass, you can still book the primary passenger’s flight and once you earn the pass, you can add your companion to your flight. Just know that if the flight sells out before you secure your pass, you won’t be able to tack on your companion.
Because of that, I recommend booking a seat with points for your companion. This will save a spot for them on the plane, and then you can cancel that points reservation and re-book with the Companion Pass without losing the seat. And, if you don’t earn it in time, your companion will still be on your flight.
Anyone can be your companion
You can designate anyone you want to be your companion. It can be your significant other, your child, your parent, your best friend, your worst enemy — anyone.
You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year. After you set your initial companion, you can change it three times in 2022 and then three times in 2023 — if you earn the pass in 2022. This means you can have up to seven different people fly with you on the pass over two different calendar years. You can also pick a person as a companion multiple times. For example, let’s say you earn the pass in a few months and designate your spouse as the companion. You can then change your companion to your child (the first change), change a few months later to your friend (the second change) and a few months after that, change back to your spouse (the third change).
Tip: If you don’t use up your three changes in a given year, change your companion in December to the person who will be flying with you first in the following year.
Companion changes happen instantly
Although you can initially designate your companion online through your Southwest account right after earning your pass, you’ll have to call the airline at 1-800-435-9792 when you need to designate a different companion.
Online, the Southwest Companion Pass FAQs tell you that it can take up to 21 business days to process your new companion, but this isn’t the case in practice. As soon as you call Southwest and give them your new companion’s information, your pass is instantly updated and you can book your companion’s ticket right away.
Within a few weeks (most likely that “21 business days”), you’ll receive your new Companion Pass in the mail with your name and your companion’s. Having the physical pass is nice, but I’ve never needed to show it to anyone in all my years.
Depart with one companion, return with another
Because the companion change is immediate, there have been times when I used the pass for one passenger on my departure and another passenger for my return. For example, a few years ago, I flew to Florida with my parents and met my husband there. I used the Companion Pass for my mom on the flight down and for my husband on the return flight.
Immediately after my flight with my mom landed, I called Southwest and had them change the name on my Companion Pass to my husband. Once he was listed as my companion, I booked his flight for the return. There is a slight risk to this, since you aren’t adding your companion until a few days before departure. There only needs to be one seat available on your flight to book your companion’s reservation, but if the flight happens to be sold out, you could end up in a not-so-great situation.
Tip: Even though the first passenger isn’t flying with you on the return, book a companion ticket for them for the return. This will hold a seat and when you change your companion (and cancel the first companion’s reservation), that should open up a seat on the flight. You can then quickly book your new companion onto the flight. The Southwest representative that you speak to can do it all for you. There will be a little lag time between canceling the old ticket and booking the new ticket, so for a fully booked flight, you risk the chance that another passenger swoops in within those few minutes and books that seat.
The pass has no blackout dates or seat restrictions
This is a truly no-strings-attached pass.
Unlike many other companion passes in the travel world, there are no blackout dates, seat restrictions or fare restrictions. Yes, your companion can fly with you for free seven days a week, 52 week weeks a year. This even includes peak times, such as the day before Thanksgiving, winter break and any other day when many other airlines block their mileage redemption options.
As long as there’s at least one seat available for purchase on your flight (after you book your own ticket), you can add the companion to your reservation. This applies if their “Wanna Getaway” fares are sold out and only their expensive “Business Select” fares are available.
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, it’s not a one-time pass. Theoretically, you can use it every single day for a year with no restrictions.
Tip: The Companion Pass passenger must always fly with the primary passenger.
Your companion must check in separately
Although your companion is tied to your reservation, both passengers are given different confirmation numbers. This means that the two passengers must check in separately. Since Southwest doesn’t 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 the boarding number you’ll have.
You’ll want to check in both passengers at the same time so the boarding numbers are back to back if possible. If you forget to check in with your companion, the two of you may not be in the same boarding group, making it harder to find seats together. Other options include Early Bird Check-In, or you can use some of the four upgraded boarding positions available per year with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
The pass can be used on any ticket type
As I mentioned earlier, there are no restrictions on using the pass. So the Companion Pass reservation can be used on any ticket type, regardless of whether the primary passenger paid for a ticket with cash or points. This means you can use your points from the current credit card welcome bonus to pay for your flight and both you and your companion will fly for virtually 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. 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.
Southwest doesn’t automatically add your companion to the reservation
When you book your flight, Southwest won’t automatically add your companion to your reservation. You need to make the reservation yourself manually, but it only takes a minute.
Tip: Once you book your flight, make sure to add your companion right away, so you don’t forget. If you change your companion, you can easily cancel the old companion’s ticket for no fee. The amount paid on taxes/fees will be credited right back to the credit card used. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use the Southwest Companion Pass.
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.
You can use the pass for any route or destination
Note that the taxes and fees you pay on your companion ticket for international flights can be significantly more than those for domestic flights. On domestic flights, all you have to pay is the September 11 Security Fee, which is $5.60 per ticket per one-way flight. However, you’ll pay the same amount in fees on international flights as if you used points for the flight.
You can easily see the fees by making a mock reservation for the two city pairs while selecting the points option. For example, flying round-trip to Aruba will cost you about $85; flying round-trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, will cost you more than $140. (If your flight requires a layover, your taxes and fees might be slightly higher still.)
Cancel your companion’s reservation if you need to change a flight
Southwest has one of the best ticket change policies in the airline industry: You can change a flight at any time 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 money and/or points.
The only caveat to this policy is if you have a companion already added to 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’s ticket will not automatically follow your reservation to your new flight, even if you are rebooking the same flight to capture a price drop.
Companions get the same perks as other passengers
Even though your companion’s reservation is essentially free, they still get the same perks as any other passenger booked on points. This means if you’re flying for free with the Companion Pass, you still receive two free checked bags and no change or cancellation fees.
Companion reservations are also eligible to board the plane early by purchasing Early Bird Check-In or an upgraded boarding position. You can even use the complimentary upgraded boardings from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card if the primary traveler uses the card to pay for the upgraded boarding position.
The companion won’t receive Rapid Reward points for your flight or segments toward status (similar to a passenger who uses points for a flight), but it’s great that Southwest still provides many perks to those flying for free.
Southwest makes using the Companion Pass extremely easy — which is a large part of why the perk is so valuable. There are no hidden surprises and it’s a terrific value for families. So get the Companion Pass and start flying, it could save your family thousands of dollars a year depending on how much you travel.
Here are some more Companion Pass tips:
- 5 Things Families Should Know About the Companion Pass
- 15 Trips in 2 Years: How One Family Maximizes the Companion Pass
- Top Southwest International Destinations for Families
Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.
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