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The Southwest Companion Pass has been called the best deal in family travel many times over, and with good reason. For families who must always purchase three, four or more plane tickets, having one member fly totally free (other than taxes) relieves some major financial pressure.

I’m in my second year as a Companion Pass holder, and the benefit has already saved our family several thousand dollars. We’ve been able to afford a number of extra trips due to the money saved. It’s also afforded us the luxury of improved family travel logistics. I don’t stress as much about booking a flight with a better flight time that is slightly more expensive because we are buying three tickets instead of four.

Does the Companion Pass sound valuable for your family, too? If you are curious about the Companion Pass and are looking to earn one yourself, here are five things that all family travelers need to know.

Southwest Companion Pass
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

1. It’s Possible to Earn Without Flying

Families need to know that getting a Southwest Companion Pass is possible even without lots of paid flying on Southwest Airlines. All of the three Southwest personal credit cards are currently offering up to 60,000 points. Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months your account is open.

Travelers need to earn 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year to earn the pass, but the credit card bonus points count, making it a more achievable goal.

Just remember that if you have a Southwest personal credit card right now, you are not eligible for one of these offers per the terms. If you have received a sign-up bonus for any Southwest personal credit card in the last 24 months, you also are not eligible. You likely won’t be approved either if you fall within the purview of Chase’s 5/24 rule (i.e., have gotten five or more credit cards in the past 24 months).

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Don’t forget, however, that your spouse might very well be eligible instead if you are locked out of new Southwest cards for now (even if they are an authorized user on your account). Many families have the advantage of being able to apply for credit cards in two-player mode, which can open up more possibilities. In fact, my husband and I often purposefully stagger our applications so that one of us is eligible when offers like this come around.

Do know that the 60k bonus points you earn with the personal Southwest credit cards count toward the Companion Pass even if/when you use them to book award travel on Southwest. You only have to have earned the points in a calendar year for them to count for the pass, you don’t have to still have them sitting in your Southwest account all at the same time. Those 60,000 bonus points are valued at $900 by TPG, so the bonus alone is pretty great even without the Companion Pass factor.

If you can’t earn the additional 70,000 Rapid Rewards points needed in one calendar year to get to 110k earned points and trigger the Companion Pass with paid Southwest travel, spending on the credit card, shopping via the online shopping site, etc. then keep in mind that the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card also has a  60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. You do need a small business for this card, but you can hold a personal and a small business Southwest credit card at the same time.

2. The Companion Pass Is Incredibly Easy to Use

If you’ve never had Southwest’s Companion Pass before, you might be concerned that it could be a hassle to use. Thankfully, like most things Southwest, the Companion Pass is incredibly simple to redeem and use as often as you wish. There’s no need even to make a phone call to an airline representative to book a flight using the Companion Pass.

Using the Companion Pass adds maybe a minute or two tops onto each online flight booking experience. Simply book Southwest flights for yourself and the rest of your family first, leaving the family member designated as your companion out of the booking. Then log in to your Rapid Rewards account, find the reservation and click the “Add Companion” button. The system pre-fills your companion’s name and makes it easy to make the very same flight booking. You simply need to put in a credit card number to pay the taxes and fees.

Southwest Add Companion

3. Southwest Companion Pass Works on Both Revenue and Points Bookings

Do you have a huge stash of Southwest Rapid Rewards points and want to make award bookings for your Southwest travels? Never fear! A Southwest Companion Pass works on both points and revenue bookings. There’s no need to spend your family’s hard-earned cash just to make use of your Companion Pass. Simply book your flights with Rapid Rewards points as you normally would, and then add the companion’s fare using with the Companion Pass via the exact same method that you would with a paid booking.

4. It’s Quick and Easy to Change Companions

One of the things that sometimes worries first-timers with a Companion Pass is which companion to choose. While you do have to choose someone initially, you can change companions up to three times in a calendar year after that. As a result, there is plenty of flexibility for families, even if you don’t always all travel together.

I personally selected my oldest child as my companion first because my husband isn’t always able to join us on every trip due to his work schedule. Later in the year, I was able to switch my companion to my husband when we wanted to take a trip as a couple without our kids.

Just remember that you have to complete all travel with your current companion before switching your Companion Pass to name a new companion. So if you have a trip with your child booked for October 1 and another trip with your spouse planned for October 30, you won’t be able to book a ticket for your spouse until you complete that first trip with your child. When trips with different companions are close together, it’s possible that seats could sell out for your chosen flight before you can secure your companion a ticket. Keep this limitation in mind, especially when choosing to fly during popular times when there is a risk of a flight selling out.

5. The Companion Pass Works on All Southwest Flights

While many companion offers in the travel world have fine print restrictions, the Southwest Companion Pass doesn’t. It works on each and every flight that Southwest operates. For those of you with mai tais and palm trees on the brain, the Companion Pass also works for Southwest flights to and within Hawaii!

travel destination Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head resorts in Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Oahu’s Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Companion Pass is even valid on Southwest’s international routes. Remember that you still must pay applicable taxes and fees for your companion and those can be higher on international flights (up to $100+ in some countries), but they are still small in comparison to what a regular fare would normally cost your companion.

(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin / DealsWeLike.com)
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin / DealsWeLike.com)

There are no blackout dates on your Southwest Companion Pass usage. So if you want to use your Companion Pass to fly your family on one of the busiest travel days of the year, like the Sunday after Thanksgiving, you can as long as there are two seats for sale on the flight.

Bottom Line

Earning the 60,000 points toward the Southwest Companion Pass with just one credit card bonus is a huge boon to traveling families that want to travel more for less. For families who have reason to fly Southwest even a few times a year, it’s definitely an offer worth considering.

Leslie Harvey is a mom of two children, ages 9 and 5, from the San Francisco Bay Area. She blogs at Trips With Tykes, is the co-host of the podcast Disney Deciphered and co-owns the Disneyland planning Facebook group, Disneyland with Kids.

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