How to Get and Maximize the Southwest Companion Pass

If you’re a Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program member with a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, your travel companion gets a free ticket, excluding taxes and fees, whenever you fly together.

That could add up to almost two years of free companion tickets, depending on when and how you qualify for the pass. The downsides: You can only change your travel companion a few times, and the pass is tough to earn if you don’t travel often or you don’t manage credit cards well.

But if you regularly fly on Southwest Airlines, securing this premium benefit and maximizing it may be worth the effort.

[Read: Best Airline Credit Cards.]

How Does the Southwest Companion Pass Work?

Depending on how often you fly and with whom, the Companion Pass could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Here’s what you need to know.

What You Get With the Companion Pass

You’ll choose one person to fly with you and only pay taxes and fees, starting at $5.60 one way. Once you’ve earned your Southwest Companion Pass, you will have it for the remainder of the calendar year, plus the next calendar year. The pass is valid whether you pay for your flight out-of-pocket or use points.

How Often You Can Use the Companion Pass

You can use the Companion Pass as many times as you’d like — there’s no limit. However, you can only change your companion three times a year, which may limit your options.

How You Earn the Companion Pass

There are a few different ways to earn the Companion Pass. To qualify for this premium perk, you typically need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or accumulate 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.

Points are considered qualified if you earned them from flights booked with the airline, or through Southwest’s co-branded credit cards or Rapid Rewards partners. Southwest credit cards include:

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card.

If you’re planning to use a Southwest credit card to earn the pass, you’ll need to spend enough to earn 125,000 points — this can come from a sign-up bonus, everyday spending or both. The most you’d need to spend is $125,000 because the base rewards rate on each card is one point per dollar. However, you can earn accelerated rewards in certain categories. If you time it right to earn a limited-time offer on the sign-up bonus, you could significantly reduce the spending requirement. The base welcome offer for new cardholders is 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Previous Southwest Companion Pass promotions have given Southwest frequent flyers an easier path to getting the pass. For instance, in the past the pass has been offered as part of a sign-up bonus. And the airline has provided the pass to Californians who were approved for a Southwest credit card and made just one purchase with it.

What Else You Get With Southwest

The Companion Pass isn’t the only thing unique about Southwest Airlines. “Tickets don’t have change fees,” says Gary Leff, author at frequent flyer blog View from the Wing and co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com. “So you can make speculative bookings — trips you think you might take.”

But if you need to cancel or change the itinerary, you don’t have to pay a fee to do so. While some other airlines have nixed cancellation and change fees on some of their tickets, it generally doesn’t apply if you booked a basic economy fare, or if you’re flying with a budget airline like Frontier, Spirit or Allegiant.

Also, Southwest doesn’t charge baggage fees for your first two checked bags, and its credit cards offer bonus points every time you renew your account and pay the annual fee. “The bonuses are only a few thousand points, but every little bit helps,” says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

If you qualify for A-List or A-List Preferred, the airline’s elite status tiers, you can also access priority check-in, security and boarding, a dedicated phone line, and more.

Companion Pass Limitations

Like any other airline benefit, the Southwest Companion Pass has some restrictions. For starters, your designated companion doesn’t get to use the pass unless he or she is traveling with you. Also, you need to book your flight first, then add your companion to the itinerary separately.

You can change your companion up to three times each calendar year, but you must cancel any open reservations with your current companion to change to a different one.

If you’re an A-List or A-List Preferred member, that status doesn’t extend to your companion.

[Read: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards.]

How to Use the Southwest Companion Pass

You should receive an email once you’ve qualified for the Companion Pass. At that point, you’ll log in to your online account with Southwest or call the airline and designate your companion. In your account, you’ll find “Choose Your Companion” on your Snapshot tab. Add the person’s information, then you can add your companion to an existing flight you have scheduled or to a new one.

Note that you can’t add a companion during the booking process. You’ll need to book your flight first, then you can add your companion from your online account or through a Southwest representative. If you do it online, you’ll navigate to the My Trips section and find the flight you want. Click on the “Add Companion” link and you’ll be taken to the pricing page, where you’ll add a payment method and submit payment for the taxes and fees on the flight.

When it’s time to check in, your companion won’t be automatically checked in when you complete the process. Your companion will need to check in separately, which may result in different boarding positions.

How to Maximize the Value of the Southwest Companion Pass

The earlier in the year you can earn the Companion Pass and the more often you fly, the more value you can extract from the pass.

One strategy is to open a new Southwest credit card when a hefty sign-up points bonus is available and to time major purchases to meet minimum spending requirements. This will allow you to bank as many points as possible toward your Companion Pass. You could earn the points you need in January of one year, then have your pass through the end of the following year.

If you try this strategy, keep in mind that you can only score sign-up bonuses on one Southwest consumer credit card at a time. If you own a business, you can have a consumer card and a business card and receive two welcome offers that can help you earn the Companion Pass.

[Read: Best Cash Back Credit Cards.]

Either way, this strategy is best for savvy credit card users who understand the terms and conditions of their accounts and avoid carrying balances. You may be required to spend a few thousand dollars within just a few months to get your sign-up bonus. If you don’t spend that much naturally, you may want to reconsider.

“The last thing anyone should do is overspend just to get credit card rewards, no matter how lucrative they might be,” Schulz says. “If a card requires you to spend more than you’re comfortable with, pick a different card.”

In some cases, travel enthusiasts have managed to apply for both a consumer and business Southwest credit card at the same time and ensure that all of their points post on their January statement so that they’ve earned the pass for almost two full years. However, this strategy can be risky if you don’t do it right and still requires a lot of spending, even with the two bonuses.

Should You Try for the Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass may sound too good to be true. Yes, it could provide significant savings, but you don’t necessarily need to rush to get the pass before it’s gone.

“I always assume that benefits that are much better than what the rest of the industry offers aren’t sustainable,” Leff says. “For a long time, I expected to see Southwest eliminate the Companion Pass. Instead, they tightened up the rules on how you could get it, and they actually leveraged their unique benefit to acquire co-branded credit card customers.”

If you like the idea of the Companion Pass, Schulz recommends considering your travel plans before you try to get it. “If you typically travel alone, it may not help,” he says. “If you live in or tend to travel to areas not serviced by Southwest, you won’t get the most out of it.”

The same goes if getting the Companion Pass would require you to overspend on credit cards.

But the pass could pay off if you live near a Southwest hub, plan to travel often in the next two years, travel frequently with the same person and can easily accrue the required points.

More from U.S. News

Credit Card Perks That Are Worth the Annual Fee

How to Earn Rewards When You Have Bad Credit

Are Credit Card Rewards Taxable?

How to Get and Maximize the Southwest Companion Pass originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 04/25/22:

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