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15 lessons from 15 years of having the Southwest Companion Pass

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

2023 marked my 15th year as a Southwest Companion Pass holder. If all goes as planned, I will secure years 16 and 17 soon, too.

For the last decade and a half, I’ve earned the pass in many ways. One of my favorite methods is through Southwest credit cards. In fact, this is how I’ve earned the pass a few times in the past and how I hope to earn it again in 2024 and 2025.

With the current heightened offers on Southwest credit cards, earning the pass through the credit card welcome bonuses is significantly easier. My goal this time is to earn the pass as early in 2024 as possible, allowing me to be a passholder for 51 weeks in 2024 and a full 52 weeks in 2025.

Thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass, I’ve been able to fly to domestic and international destinations where my husband, my daughter, my son, my mom, my sister or a friend flies with me for free (other than taxes) as my companion. Unfortunately, I’ve never calculated my true savings, but I know it’s well over $10,000 at this point.

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. You can even follow the same process I went through by applying for one (or two) Southwest’s credit 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 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Once you meet the full minimum spend requirement, you’ll end up with 75,000 qualifying points toward the Companion Pass.

To earn the pass, you need to earn 135,000 points in a calendar year. However, if you’re a cardmember on the first of the year, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 qualifying bonus points toward the pass. So once all of the qualifying points are posted to your account, that’ll leave you with 50,000 points remaining to earn the pass.

To earn the rest of the needed 50,000 points, there are a few options.

The easiest method — and the one I am pursuing currently — is to apply for a Southwest business credit card and get its welcome bonus. Currently, both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card are offering welcome bonuses that will earn you the remaining points required.

If you aren’t eligible for a business card (although, a lot of people are), you can earn the necessary points with additional credit card spending, flying Southwest points or doing partner activity, such as using the Southwest shopping portal.

To maximize the pass length, however, you’ll want to apply for the card(s) now but ensure all of your welcome bonus points are posted in 2024. This will earn you the pass for the rest of 2024 and all of 2025, meaning you’ll want to wait until 2024 to meet the minimum spend on the credit card.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Although the pass is pretty straightforward, there are still some things you should know. Fortunately, by having the pass for well more than a decade, I’ve learned the ins and outs of the pass. Hopefully, I can help you realize its maximum potential.

Maximize your time with the pass

Southwest plane

Although I covered some of this above, being strategic as to when to earn the Companion Pass is extremely 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.

For example, earning the pass on Jan. 15, 2024, will give you the pass through Dec. 31, 2025 — that’s 23 and a half months as a passholder. Earn the pass in November 2024, and it will still expire on Dec. 31, 2025, giving you only 15 months to use it. If you earn the pass this year, for example, in December 2023, it will expire on Dec. 31, 2024. That’s just 13 months at most with the pass.

So, 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 2023, the points only count toward the year they are posted to your account, regardless of when you apply for the card. So, if you apply in November or December 2023 and wait until January 2024 (or later) to meet the minimum spend, you’ll earn the points in 2024. This will count toward the 135,000 qualifying points required to be a passholder for 2024 and 2025.

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 135,000 qualifying points.

You can book the primary passenger’s flight now

Even if you’ve not yet earned the pass, you can still book the primary passenger’s flight now. Then, 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 rebook with the Companion Pass without losing the seat. If you don’t earn it in time, your companion will still be on your flight via points.

Anyone can be your companion

You can designate anyone as 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 2024 and then three times in 2025 — if you earn the pass in 2024.

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), then a few months later to your friend (the second change). A few months after that, you can 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 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. JENNIFER YELLIN/DEALS WE LIKE

Related: The best Southwest Airlines credit card for family travelers

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 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 whom you speak with 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. Your companion can fly with you for free seven days a week, 52 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 even if a “Wanna Getaway” fare is sold out and only the really expensive Business Select fare is available.

Related: How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

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.

lining up at gate

Your companion must check in separately

Although your companion is tied to your reservation, both passengers receive 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; 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 using some of the four upgraded boarding positions available per year with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

Related: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines

The pass can be used on any ticket type

As I mentioned earlier, there are no restrictions on using the pass. You can use the Companion Pass reservation 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 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.

Points redeemed can be used from the companion’s account

The points used to book your flight can come from any account, even your companion’s Rapid Rewards 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.

southwest plane

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.

Also, if you, by chance forget to add your companion onto your flight and the flight ends up sold out, keep on refreshing for the next few days as a seat typically comes available at some point.

upcoming trips on southwest

Your companion can fly standby

Earlier this year, Southwest added a phenomenal benefit for all passengers: the option to fly standby for free. This means that regardless of your fare type, you can fly standby.

However, the process works slightly differently when flying on the Companion Pass. If you and your companion want to use the same-day standby benefit, the only way to get added to the standby list is in person at the airport — you can’t use the Southwest app or website.

Additionally, there must be a seat available for both you and your companion on the desired flight.

Related: What it’s really like flying Southwest Airlines all the way to Hawaii

You can use the pass for any route or destination

The Companion Pass can fly a passenger for free to any destination Southwest flies. This includes all domestic and international destinations, including Hawaii.

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 Passenger Fee, also known as 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, a round-trip flight to Aruba will cost you about $90. A round-trip flight 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.)

Related: The best all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, from honeymoon hot spots to family-friendly resorts

Tip: Look to Puerto Rico for a Caribbean feel or at one of Hawaii’s many islands to avoid international taxes.

southwest flights

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 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 rebook the same flight at a lower price), you’ll need to cancel your companion’s reservation first. After changing your ticket, manually add your companion to 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.

Bottom line

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.