Southwest Companion Pass: Lessons learned over a decade

Nov 6, 2019

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Next year will mark my 12th year as a Southwest Companion Pass holder. I’ve flown to domestic and international destinations on the pass with my husband, my daughter, my mom, my sister and a friend, with my companions flying for free (other than taxes). I calculate my savings at well over $10,000.

I recently applied for the Southwest credit card as my way to secure the pass while Southwest was offering an increased welcome offer. It was before the airline announced changes on the number of points needed to earn the pass. I am going to need 125,000 qualifying points to earn the pass in 2020 (instead of the previous 110,000 points). It will take a little more effort but it’s completely do-able. Here are my top ways to earn the points needed for the Southwest Companion Pass.

Over the past almost 12 years, I have learned the ins and outs of the pass and here they are:

Related: The best Southwest airlines credit card for family travelers

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. If you are able to snag the Companion Pass for two years, you can change your companion three times in 2020 and then again three times in 2021. You can also pick a person as a companion multiple times. 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), change a few months later to your friend (change #2) and a few months later change back to your spouse (change #3). The three changes per year do not include the person who is originally designated to be your passholder, which means you can actually have up to seven different people fly with you on the pass over the two years.

Tip: If you did not 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.

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. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin)

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 tell you that it can take up to 21 business days to process your new companion, but this is not the case. As soon as you call Southwest and give them your new companion’s information, your companion for the pass will be instantly changed. 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 name. Having the physical pass is nice, but in all my years I’ve never needed to show it to anyone.

Fly with one companion on departure and a different companion on return

Because the companion change can be accomplished immediately, there have been times when I used the pass for one passenger on my departure and another passenger for my return. For example, there I flew to Florida with my parents once 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 my husband was listed as my companion, I booked 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. You only need to have one seat available 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 few minutes’ lag 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 really is a no-strings-attached pass. Unlike many other companion passes in the travel world, such as Frontier’s Kids Fly Free promotion, there are no blackout dates or seat restrictions or fare restrictions. Yes, your companion can fly with you for free seven days a week, 52 week weeks a year — including peak times, such as the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation and any other day when many other airlines actually black out their mileage redemption options. As long as there is at least one seat available for purchase, you can add the companion onto your reservation.

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 is not a one-time pass. Theoretically, you can fly 2-for-1 every single day for a 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.)

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 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.

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, 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, 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 to pay for your flight 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.

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.

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. You need to manually make the reservation yourself, but it really only takes an extra minute.

Tip: Once you book 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

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, including Hawaii.

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

Note that the taxes and fees you pay on your companion ticket for international flights can be significantly more than for 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 used points for the flight. You can easily see the amount in fees by doing 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; flying round-trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, will cost you more than $135. (If your flight requires a layover, your taxes/fees might be slightly higher still.)

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

Cancel your companion’s reservation if you need to change a flight

Southwest has one of the best change policies: 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 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’s ticket will not automatically follow your reservation to your new flight, even if you are just rebooking the same flight to capture a price drop.

Companions get the same perks

Even though your companion’s reservation is free (despite the taxes/fees paid), they still get the same perks as any other passenger booked on points. This means if you are 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 boarding positions from having either the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card.

If the primary traveler has one of those two credit cards, they can pay for the companion’s upgraded boarding position with a credit card and have it covered as one of the card’s four included upgrades per year.

You 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 is great that Southwest still allows many perks to those flying for free.

Bottom line

Southwest makes 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.

Here are some more Companion Pass tips:

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