How to use the Southwest Companion Pass
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One of the best deals in all of travel is the Southwest Companion Pass. It allows you to take along a companion for free (plus applicable taxes and fees) on an unlimited number of Southwest flights for the length of the pass.
If you earn the pass the traditional method — which means earning 125,000 tier-qualifying points within a calendar year — you’ll have the pass for up to two years, depending on when you earn it. However, there are also times when Southwest offers promotional opportunities to earn the pass (with different expiration dates), and fortunately, one just popped up!
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How to earn the Southwest Companion Pass
To qualify for this generous benefit in 2021, you must earn 125,000 Companion Pass-eligible points in one calendar year. Fortunately, in 2021 Southwest is offering an olive branch to those who had a Southwest Rapid Reward account opened by Dec. 31, 2020. Eligible accounts will receive 25,000 tier-qualifying points into their account — meaning you actually only need to earn 100,000 tier-qualifying points during the remainder of the year. Once you earn the required points, you will get a Companion Pass for the rest of that calendar year and all of the following year.
There are many ways to earn those points, including flying on Southwest, booking hotels and renting vehicles via the Southwest website and more.
But instead of earning the necessary points the hard way, with the current Southwest credit card offers, just one single sign-up bonus can earn you the pass right off the bat. Southwest just launched a new offer on all three of their personal credit cards where you’ll earn the Companion Pass through Feb. 28, 2022, plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Note that the pass has a different expiration date with this offer than if you were to earn the pass through the traditional method.
This means it has never been easier to earn the Southwest Companion Pass by applying for the cobranded Southwest credit cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass through 2/28/2022, plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass through 2/28/2022, plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass through 2/28/2022, plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
In addition to the three co-branded Southwest personal credit cards, Chase also issues two Southwest business cards.
The sign-up bonus for these two cards did not change and instead of earning the promotional Companion Pass offer, you’ll earn more Rapid Reward points. However, sign-up bonuses and points earned from spending on these cards do count toward earning the Companion Pass as well:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Earn up to 100,000 bonus points; earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first six months.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card: Earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months and 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points after each account anniversary ($99 annual fee).
In fact, you might actually find that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card is your best bet to earn the Southwest Companion Pass (the traditional way). If you can spend an admittedly large $25,000 on the card within the first six months of card membership, you’ll earn 100,000 tier-qualifying points — the exact amount needed to earn the Companion Pass as long as you already received the boost of 25,000 bonus points into your account.
Earning the pass this way — the more traditional method — will allow you to have the pass through Dec. 31, 2022. While this will definitely allow you to have the pass in your pocket for much longer, this will only work for those who are eligible for a small business card and for those who can generate this much spend on a single card.
Or, you can always combine one of the three personal cards with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card and just meet the first-tier minimums spend requirement of the Performance bonus offer. This means spending $5,000 on the card within three months will earn you 70,000 points. Combine that with the 30,000 points earned from one of the three personal cards and you’re automatically at 100,000 points — the amount needed to earn the pass (assuming you received the 25,000 points in your account from Southwest).
The benefit of combining the two bonus offers is that you can earn the pass right away with the personal card and then apply for the business card at another point this year — when the timing is right to meet another minimum spend amount. Once you earn the full amount of points needed, you’ll then have the pass through Dec. 31, 2022 (since this is the traditional method of earning the pass).
Similar math can be applied by combing with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. With this card, you’ll earn 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on the card within the first three months. The only difference is that by combining the sign-up bonuses and the points earned from meeting the minimum spend requirement, you’ll end up with 98,000 points. This will then leave you just 2,000 points shy of the pass, which you’ll have to earn within this calendar year.
Check out our post on the best Southwest Airlines credit card to learn more about these cards.
How to use the Southwest Companion Pass
Once you’ve earned a Companion Pass on Southwest, Southwest makes it incredibly easy to use it. Here’s how:
Step 1: Set up your Companion Pass
As soon as you earn a Companion Pass, you should receive an email from Southwest within a few days congratulating you on your big accomplishment. If you want to monitor your progress in real-time, you can check your status by logging into your Rapid Rewards account on Southwest.com.
When you get this email, click on the links to set up your initial companion choice. You must have your companion’s full name (as it appears on his or her ID), birth date, email address and Rapid Rewards account number.
You can also call Southwest to designate your companion. But it’s easy to make the initial selection online, so there’s no reason to pick up the phone for this step.
Step 2: Confirm flight availability for your entire traveling party
Now that you have a companion selected, it’s time for the fun part — booking a flight when your companion will fly free (other than taxes and fees). However, before booking, it’s vital to check that there are enough seats available on the flight for your entire traveling party. A Companion Pass fare can only be added if there is a seat available for sale.
For example, if you have a family of four that will be traveling (one of them on a Companion Pass), search on Southwest.com for four seats. Note that all four seats do not have to be in the same fare bucket. So, if there are only three seats left with Wanna Get Away fares, but there are also Anytime and Business Select fares available, in addition to those three cheaper fares, your booking will work.
Step 3: Book flights for everyone other than your companion
The next step in using your Companion Pass is to book flight reservations as you normally would for everyone in your traveling party except the companion. This means that if you have a family of four where mom holds a Companion Pass and dad is the companion, you should book tickets for mom and the two kids first. Do not book flights for dad at this stage.
Most travelers will find that booking flights online on Southwest.com is very easy, although it’s also possible to book flights over the phone with Southwest phone agents. You can book these flights with cash or Rapid Rewards points, as either method works in conjunction with the Companion Pass.
If you are purchasing these tickets with cash, don’t forget to add the Rapid Rewards numbers of everyone in your traveling party to the booking. There’s no reason to leave points-earning possibilities on the table — even kids can earn frequent-flyer points on Southwest.
Step 4: Make your companion’s flight booking
After you have booked flights for everyone in your traveling party (except for your companion), the next step is to secure a flight reservation for that person. To avoid losing the ticket availability you just checked for in Step 1, I recommend booking your companion immediately after your flight is booked. This is especially important on flights that regularly sell out (think: peak Christmas dates to and from Hawaii).
The Companion Pass holder (mom, in our example) should return to the Southwest website and log into his or her Rapid Rewards account. Go to “My Account” at the top of the home page.
On the left-hand side of the screen, you’ll see a section called “My upcoming trips.” There, you should see the flight reservation you just made, along with any other trips you have booked on Southwest. If you have many flights reserved, you’ll need to click the “See all trips” link for all of your reservations to appear.
Underneath your flight details, you’ll see a button that says “Add Companion.” Click on it.
You’ll find that the “Trip & Price Details” are already pre-filled with the flight information and the cost of the taxes and fees. In this case, for a domestic one-way trip, that price is just $5.60 for your companion to fly.
Click “Continue” to go to the next page that includes “Passenger & Payment Info.” There, you will find your companion’s name and identifying information filled in. With everything pre-filled, there is very little chance for a booking mistake in this stage of the process.
Finally, you’ll be prompted through the process to pay applicable taxes and fees and secure the flight reservation for the companion. If you have a credit card already saved to your account profile, it’s even quicker and easier to complete the booking.
I have found that once you go through this process once, you’ll be able to book subsequent flights with your Companion Pass in just a minute or two. It is that simple.
Additional Southwest Companion Pass tips and tricks
Although the process of using the Southwest Companion Pass is almost always easy, there are a few idiosyncrasies that can arise. Companion Pass holders should also be aware of the following:
You’ll receive separate confirmation numbers
When you book flights for a group or family together, everyone will have the same confirmation number. However, with the Companion Pass, your companion will always be assigned a different Southwest confirmation number than the rest of the party. While this isn’t a big deal, it can matter for the strategy surrounding Southwest’s unique check-in policy.
When the time comes to check-in for your flight, this means you won’t be able to check-in online together. If you are playing the Southwest fastest-finger game at exactly 24 hours before your flight to get a prime boarding position, I highly recommend having two devices ready to check you and your companion in at the same time. If you check in one person first and then check in the other person next, you may well lose out on some of the best boarding positions.
You must call to change companions
While you can change your companion three times in a calendar year, Southwest Companion Pass holders should know that doing so requires you to make a phone call. There is no way to change a companion online. The fine print on Southwest’s site says that it may take up to 21 business days for processing. In our experience, the companion is always changed nearly instantaneously. It will take a while for a new Companion Pass card to arrive in the mail for your new companion, but the change is implemented for online booking purposes within seconds.
Watch out for reservations close together with different companions
While you can change companions up to three times in a single year, you won’t be able to change your companion until you’ve completed all travel with your current companion. If you have two trips close together with different companions, things can get a bit tricky.
For example, if you have a trip with your child on March 1 and another with your spouse on March 15, you won’t be able to add your spouse as a companion to that second trip until after March 1. It is theoretically possible that the March 15 flight could sell out before March 1, leaving your spouse high and dry for the March 15 trip. Although this situation doesn’t arise often, it’s an important consideration if you are planning to travel during peak times and/or on popular routes. If a flight does sell out, you may find yourself in the position of having to book a new flight for yourself at a higher price to find an itinerary with availability for your companion.
Using the Southwest Companion Pass is a breeze. And right now, earning it is pretty easy, too — thanks to the sign-up bonuses on the airline’s credit cards.
Of course, this year is a little different than most. If you’d like your family to travel more often in 2021 and the early part of 2022, the Southwest Companion Pass could be how you achieve that goal.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Yellin
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