I Forgot to Book My Companion Ticket — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jerry, whose strategy for maximizing his Rapid Rewards points backfired. Here’s what he had to say:
I was able to obtain a Southwest Companion Pass a year ago, and have used it a number of times. I always check to see if award rates have gone down after I book, but Southwest makes you first cancel your companion before you can change the original ticket. You then have to rebook the companion, which results in a new confirmation number. It's worth the effort to save points, but it's a small hassle.
So on a trip to Orlando last Christmas, I booked early and decided to hold off on the companion booking until later, thereby eliminating the need to cancel if prices went down. Instead, prices climbed slowly, and as December approached, I stopped checking and forgot I had never booked the companion ticket.
I didn't remember until three days before we were to leave, and at that point the flight was sold out. I had to change to a much more expensive flight on another day that still had seats available to use the Companion Pass. This taught me a costly lesson: always book your companion at the same time you book your own ticket!
Southwest has the most generous change and cancellation policy out there, as it allows you to alter your itinerary easily and repeatedly with no fees. You can leverage that policy to save on award flights even when using the Companion Pass, since you can add your companion to any reservation so long as a seat is available. If the flight is full, then naturally your companion can't join you, so it's important to confirm their ticket while there's still room.
Jerry got a little too cute with his re-booking strategy and ended up paying more instead of saving, but I don't think his approach is inherently flawed. You can wait to add your companion so long as you're mindful of how full the flight is, which you can get a sense of on Southwest.com. Just play with the number of tickets you want to buy, and you'll know you've hit the limit when your search results indicate a flight is entirely sold out (including Business Select and Anytime fares, not just Wanna Get Away Fares).
You can afford to wait longer if you're flying when demand is low and you have viable alternatives (in case your flight suddenly fills up). But during peak travel times I would book once you see fewer than 5-8 seats available. Prices aren't likely to go down at that point anyway, so it's best to just lock in your fare and call off the search.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jerry for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!