The Southwest Companion pass is undoubtedly the most valuable companion ticket benefit of any airline program. The key value lies in the fact that this benefit is repeatable an unlimited number of times and it is not subject to availability of any special fare class. As long as there is a seat available for sale on the plane, a Southwest Companion pass holder can add his/her companion to their reservation and pay only the taxes ($5.60 one-way on domestic flights within the US).
Earning the pass
In order to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, a Rapid Rewards member must earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points within a single year. Once the member has earned 110,000 points, the companion pass will be valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned and all of the following year. For example, if you earn your 110,000th point on July 1st, 2017, your Companion pass will be valid until December 31st, 2018. Therefore, earning the pass as early in the year as possible will enable a member to fully maximize the length of validity of the companion pass.
Which points qualify
There are many ways to earn Companion Pass qualifying points. Rapid Rewards points earned from flying and those earned from the Southwest credit cards (including from signup bonuses) count towards the 110,000 points necessary. Most points earned through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal count towards the companion pass as do those from partners like rental car agencies.
The most notable sources of non-qualifying points include: transfers from hotel partners (as of March 31, 2017) and those transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. These points will NOT count towards earning a Southwest Companion Pass.
Shortcuts to a Southwest Companion Pass
You may wonder: Are there any shortcuts to earning a Southwest Companion Pass? What is the easiest way to earn a companion pass? The answer is that there sure are. As of April 2017, there are four main shortcuts that work:
1) Credit card bonuses
Chase frequently offers 50,000 bonus points for signing up for their Southwest cards. There are three versions of the card: Premier, Premier Business, and Plus. The Plus card costs $69 per year. The Premier cards cost $99. The 50,000 point bonuses (found here, when available) currently require $2K spend in three months. An easy way to get 110,000 points in a hurry is to sign up for two of these cards and spend a combined $10,000 across the two cards. (As of April 2017, the business version of the card is actually offering a 60,000 point sign up bonus for spending $3,000 — meaning that if you signed up for bot a business and personal card, it would only require a combined $5,000 in spending to earn a total of 115,000 points). Ideally, you would time the sign-ups and spend so that the points would be earned as early in a calendar year as possible. That way, you’ll have the Companion Pass for nearly two years.
Credit card bonus total cost for 110,000 miles and a Companion Pass: ~$368
Assuming you sign up for one Premier card and one Plus card, you’ll pay a total of $168 in first year annual fees. Next, let’s look at how much you would have earned had you put the $10K spend on a 2% cash back card: $200. We’ll call that the opportunity cost of putting spend on the Southwest cards rather than the 2% cash back card. Therefore, the total cost (annual fees plus opportunity cost) comes to $368. That’s an incredible bargain for 110,000 points plus a Companion Pass!
Unfortunately, Chase does apply its 5/24 rule to these cards. That means that you most likely won’t get approved if you’ve opened 5 or more cards (with any bank) in the past 24 months.
2) Credit card spend
If you’re a big spender, then another way to get the Companion Pass is to simply charge $110,000 worth of expenses on a Southwest credit card. Done.
Credit card spend total cost for 110,000 miles and a Companion Pass: ~$2,200
If you were to put $110,000 in spend on a 2% cash back card, you would earn $2,200 cash back. So, the opportunity cost of this approach is $2,200.
1-800-Flowers lets you earn 1,000 Companion Pass qualifying Southwest points per order with promo code RR22. To qualify, orders must be $29.99 or more and only one promo code can be used per order. The trick, then, is to place 110 separate $30 orders to get 110,000 points and the Companion Pass. First, though, you’ll need to sign up for the Celebration Passport program (for $29.99) in order to get free shipping and handling on all of these orders.
1-800-Flowers total cost for 110,000 miles and a Companion Pass: $1665 to $3,300+
At worst, you would pay $30 x 110 = $3,300 plus ~$30 for Celebration Passport = $3,330. If your deliveries include sales tax (not all states collect sales tax for flower deliveries) your total will be even more. Often, though, it’s possible to cut your costs in half or better. For full (and complex) details, please see: 1800Flowers Extreme Stacking promo codes, portals, gift cards, and more.
4) Online Shopping
If you do a lot of online shopping, you can earn points that qualify for the Companion Pass by shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal. The portal offers different point bonuses for different stores. It’s often possible to earn 5 or more points per dollar for shopping at popular merchants. Note that points from seasonal portal bonuses (such as “Spend $300, get 500 bonus points”) do not count towards the Companion Pass.
Online shopping total cost for 110,000 miles and a Companion Pass: $1,100?
It’s hard to estimate the cost of this approach. Using a shopping portal is free, however there is an opportunity cost of using the Southwest portal instead of, say, a cash back portal. Portal rebate rates vary tremendously though, so it’s impossible to say exactly what that opportunity cost is. If we assume, on average, that you earn 5 points per dollar through the Southwest portal, but could have earned 5% cash back, then we can calculate the opportunity cost as $22,000 in spend at 5% cash back = $1,100.
4.5) Mix and match and referring friends
You do not have to earn all of the 110,000 points with a single method. You could earn some points with a single credit card bonus, other points with credit card spend, more points via online shopping, etc.
Additionally, Chase sometimes offers bonuses for referring friends to apply for a card you have. You can check to see if you have any referral offers by entering your last name, billing zip code, and the last four digits of your Southwest card here. Typically, you can earn 5,000 Rapid Rewards points per referral up to a maximum of 50,000 points per year. Charlie at Running with Miles reports that these points count towards a companion pass — meaning that you could get almost halfway there through referrals.
Stuff that doesn’t count towards a Companion Pass
“Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.
Purchased points, transferred points transferred between members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass Qualifying Points.
In practice, we have found that the following things do count:
- Paid flight activity
- Points earned from credit card spend, including the signup bonus
- Points earned from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping portal (however, seasonal bonuses from the portal do not count)
- Most (but not all) points earned from partners
The following do not count:
- Points purchased or gifted
- Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Points transferred from other loyalty programs
- Some partner bonuses. For example, when 1800Flowers occasionally offers a promo code for 1750 points per order, those points do not qualify.
Choosing and changing your Southwest Companion
Once a member has earned 110,000 Rapid Rewards points, he or she can designate a companion to fly with the pass holder for free. Note that this companion can be changed 3 times per calendar year. While initial companion selection is done online, any subsequent changes to your companion require a phone call to Southwest Rapid Rewards at 1-800-435-9792. The phone process is simple: in my experience, it has taken less than 5 minutes to change my companion. The terms on Southwest.com state that you should “allow 21 business days for processing”. In my experience, it didn’t take any time at all — I was able to add my new companion to my reservations the same day I made the call to change. Note that you will need to cancel any existing companion reservations before changing your companion.
Can I add a companion to my reservation if….?
The companion pass holder can add his/her companion to nearly any reservation in the pass holder’s name.
Can you add your Southwest companion if your company bought the ticket? Yes.
Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought your ticket using Rapid Rewards points? Yes.
Can you add your companion if someone else bought your ticket with their rapid rewards points? Yes.
Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought a Wanna Get Away fare and now there is only Business Select available? Yes.
Are there any situations in which you can not add your Southwest companion? Yes, but not many.
One example that comes to mind when it would not be possible to add a companion is this: You can not daisy-chain companions. That is to say this: Let’s imagine Bob earned 110,000 Rapid Rewards points and earns a companion pass. He designates Shelly as his companion. Shelly also earns 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year and she earns a companion pass of her own. She designates Billy Jean as her companion. Bob buys a ticket. He adds his companion, Shelly. Shelly can not add Billy Jean to the reservation.
Adding a companion
The process of adding a companion is quite easy and can be done at any time until tickets are no longer sold for the flight in question. The companion pass holder simply needs to log in to Southwest.com and view My Reservations. From the reservation view, he or she will see a link that says “add companion”.
From here, it is straight-forward. The system will just charge taxes for the companion ($5.60 one-way for domestic flights within the US. Taxes to international destinations vary.
Again, this can be done up until Southwest stops selling tickets. It doesn’t matter if you paid $59 for your ticket and the only seats left are selling for $590 — if there is a seat available for purchase, you can add your companion.
Some other common questions
Here are a few other common questions that people ask about the Southwest Companion Pass:
Q: Can I change my flight on a companion booking?
A: Yes. You will first need to cancel the companion’s reservation. You can then change the primary traveler’s flight.
Q: Can I just cancel the companion’s reservation if he/she cannot travel with me?
A: Yes. You can cancel their reservation and either receive a refund of the taxes or keep them as a credit to use on a future flight.
Q: Can my companion travel without me?
A: NO! The terms of the program explicitly forbid the companion from flying without the primary traveler and Southwest will likely revoke your companion pass if you do this. It is theoretically possible to do — both travelers check in and only the companion shows up — but will almost certainly get you in trouble with Southwest. Furthermore, if the itinerary is round trip, the companion might have his/her return flight cancelled. Don’t do this.
Q: Does my companion earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points?
A: No, they do not. The primary traveler does earn points on a paid reservation (not a reservation made on points).
Q: Do I need to carry the Companion Pass card with me?
A: No, you do not need the card. The terms may state that you should have the card with you, but nobody has ever asked to see mine (or anyone’s else’s as far as I know).
Q: What happens to my companion’s reservations if I change my companion?
A: You must first cancel your companion’s reservations before changing companions.
Q: Can I book a round trip flight that begins before my Companion Pass expires on December 31st, but returns after the pass has expired?
A: This isn’t possible. Southwest won’t let you add a companion to a reservation that extends beyond the pass validity period. You would have to book a one-way in December (you could add your companion to this reservation) and then a one-way returning in the new year where you pay for both seats.
Q: Is there an advantage to booking one-way flights or round trip flights with the Southwest Companion Pass?
A: It makes more sense to book one-way flights with Southwest in general. In the vast majority of cases, the round trip price (at least on domestic flights within the US) is simply the cumulative total of the two one-way flights. You will enjoy greater flexibility in making changes to one segment or the other if you book one-way flights.
Q: What are some of the best uses of the Southwest Companion Pass?
A: This is obviously completely subjective. Obviously, you can enjoy some cheaper trips around the US. Southwest also flies to a growing number of international destinations, including:
Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico
Grand Cayman Island
Liberia, Costa Rica
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
San Jose, Costa Rica
Additionally, you can use Southwest to position for an award flight or cheap flight deal out of a different city. This can be a great option when saver-level awards on American/United/Delta are not available from your city.
Southwest Check in process
One of the most polarizing features of Southwest is the check in and boarding process. Love it or hate it, Southwest does not assign seats and instead assigns boarding positions based on a number of factors, most notably when a customer checks in. This means that if you want a favorable boarding position so you can choose the aisle/window seat you want, you’ll need to check in as early as possible. Online check in begins 24 hours prior to departure, but Southwest also offers Early Bird Check In.
Early Bird Check-In
For a fee of $15, Southwest will automatically check you in beginning 36 hours before your flight — 12 hours before general check in opens. They will prompt you to add Early Bird Check-in on the booking confirmation page:
Alternatively, you can always add it later on by clicking on a reservation in your account and then clicking the button to add early bird check-in.
However, there is one notable problem with early bird check in: If you cancel your reservation, you will lose the money you paid for early bird check in. Normally, if you cancel a paid reservation with Southwest, you receive a credit that is good for a year from the date you first booked travel. If you booked your ticket on points, you can choose to have the taxes refunded to your original payment method. However, if you paid for early bird check in and you cancel your ticket, you get neither a refund nor a credit for the $15 Early Bird Check-in fee. If you simply change your flight, you keep Early Bird Check-in. For this reason, I never add Early Bird Check-in until I’m sure that plans are firm. Also, I typically only add Early Bird Check-in to my ticket (the primary traveler, not the companion). There are a few reasons for this strategy:
- If ticket prices drop, Southwest will allow you to change/re-book at the lower fare and receive a refund of the difference in points or a credit if you paid the cash price. However, in order to change your flight, you must first cancel the companion ticket. This means that if you have paid for early bird check in on the companion’s reservation, you will lose that $15 (and have to pay it anew if you want to add it to the new reservation).
- While some fellow passengers might not like it if you save a seat for your companion, I’ve never been told I couldn’t do it. Southwest’s “official” policy on this, which you can read about here, is to not have a policy either way. I always board the plane with a $50 bill in my pocket figuring that, in the worse case scenario of a passenger or flight attendant raising a complaint about me saving a seat, $50 would probably be enough to get someone to switch with me if need be. We’ve saved $15 this way plenty of times that I’ll still be well ahead of the game the day that I have to pay out. This strategy might not work for you, but it has worked for us.
- If you get bumped from your flight, you will lose early bird check in and will not get a refund of that fee.
- The utility of early bird check in can depend on your origination point.
Usefulness of Early Bird Check-in varies
The usefulness of Early Bird Check-in will likely depend on two main factors: whether or not you have a seat preference and your point of origin.
Southwest only flies the Boeing 737, though they fly several different variants of that plane. The smallest version they fly has 23 rows. Assuming that aisle seats and window seats are equally desirable, that means that there are about 92 “preferred” seats on even the smallest planes (23 aisle seats and 23 window seats on each side of the aisle). Each Boarding group has 60 people. Therefore, everyone in Boarding Group A will get a preferred seat if they want it. Since at least some of the people in Groups A and B will be traveling together (and therefore someone in the party will take a middle seat next to their companion), I think it’s generally true that nearly everyone in Group B will have access to a preferred seat as well. By the time Group C gets on board, it is much more likely that only middle seats are left. In my experience, checking in exactly 24 hours before the flight often (though not always) produces a Group B boarding pass.
However, that may vary a bit depending on the second factor: your point of origin. Southwest normally allows you to check in 24 hours before your scheduled departure. When you check in for your first segment, you are automatically checked in for all of your segments that day. This results in an advantage for those passengers who are not based in Southwest hubs.
Let’s consider that you are based somewhere in the Northeast — like Albany, NY. Southwest only flies a couple of direct routes out of Albany. Most itineraries from Albany connect in Baltimore, Chicago, or Orlando. So let’s take this Albany, NY to Los Angeles, CA itinerary as an example:
The initial flight (Southwest Flight #6542) leaves Albany at 5:40am on Friday morning. There is a connection in Baltimore to Southwest Flight #1951 — that flight leaves Baltimore at 8:05am. Since passengers can check in 24 hours before their initial flight, a passenger starting in Albany can check in for both flights together at 5:40am on Thursday. This means the Albany passenger will be checked in for that second flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles 2 hours and 20 minutes before someone originating in Baltimore is able to check in online. Of course, it’s not only passengers from Albany that have an advantage. Passengers originating in Boston get a 10-mintue head start on Albany — their first flight is at 5:30am. Those folks starting in Manchester, NH are going to beat Boston and Albany with their 5:15am departure:
The point here is that if you live in Manchester, NH, you probably don’t need Early Bird Check-in. If you can check in right at 5:15am 24 hours in advance, you only have to contend with folks originating in Manchester on your first flight and you will be among the first checking in on the Baltimore segment. You have a nice head start on the people who live in Baltimore.
Of course, on the flip side, this means that people who live in Baltimore may need to pay for Early Bird Check-in to have any chance at a decent boarding position. The people in Manchester, Boston, and Albany who also paid for Early Bird Check-in will continue to have a head start. However, those originating in Baltimore can put themselves ahead of the 24-hour check ins from Albany, Boston, Manchester, etc by paying for Early Bird Check-in. Therefore, if you live in a Southwest hub city, you may want to consider paying the premium.
Southwest sells Business Select fares that include priority security and A1-A15 boarding. While these tickets are generally much more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, they are sometimes not much more than “Anytime” fares – so if you’re booking close to departure, they can be a better value in terms of securing a good boarding position and priority security in some airports. These fares also include a free premium drink and earn more miles per dollar. They are furthermore refundable.
However, note that if you book business select, your companion will not (yet) share your favorable boarding position. He or she will still need to check in as usual (or purchase Early Bird Boarding or an upgraded boarding position at the gate). That said, as of 10/19/17, Southwest is targeting some Companion Pass holders at select airports to pilot a program where the companion will board with the Companion Pass holder in the Companion Pass holder’s boarding position. This program could be expanded in the future, keep your eye out for details.
Voluntary bump on a companion ticket
Occasionally, Southwest overbooks a flight and offers travel vouchers in the gate area to volunteers who agree to switch to a later flight (known as “voluntary denied boarding compensation” — or, more colloquially, as a “bump voucher”). If you agree to take a “bump” to a later flight, this is Southwest’s official voluntary denied boarding compensation policy:
If you volunteer to give up your seat in an oversale situation and we can rebook you on a Southwest Airlines flight that will arrive within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, we will give you a travel voucher in the amount of $100 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s).
If we cannot confirm your travel within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, you will be placed on a priority standby list, and your compensation will increase to a travel voucher in the amount of $300 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s). If you are not accommodated as a standby Customer, we will confirm you on a later Southwest Airlines flight(s) with seats available to your destination. You will not incur an increase in fare.
- If your new flight gets you to your destination within 2 hours of your original arrival time, you get $100 + the price of your original one-way ticket
- If your new flight gets you to your destination more than 2 hours later than your original arrival time, you get $300 + price of your original one-way ticket.
How does that work if you paid with points? What about for your Companion?
If you paid with Rapid Rewards points, Southwest has a formula whereby they figure the cash value of the points. In my experience, this was roughly similar to the cash price of the ticket had I paid in cash instead of points — meaning that my voucher was worth $300 + the rough value of my one-way ticket.
Reports of the compensation for the companion varies. Your companion should receive a $300 voucher at minimum. In my experience, I was offered an additional $100 for the companion’s ticket — meaning that my companion received a voucher for $400 total. Reports online vary from no additional money for the companion’s ticket up to the $100 I was offered. YMMV here — and your friendliness/charm may play a role here.
This Complete Guide, like all of our resource pages, is a work in progress. We will add to it as necessary and adjust it as situations change and develop. If you have further questions or suggestions, please reach out in the comments and/or via our Contact Frequent Miler page.