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There’s no better way to spread the love than to share free flights with a friend all year long (and even a bit longer).
You don’t have to be an employee of the airline to do it, but you do need to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, which is one of the best deals to be had for domestic travel.
The basics of the Southwest Companion Pass are that once you earn it (via accumulating enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points that qualify in a given year) you can bring a companion along on all your Southwest flights for almost free for over a year (just pay the cost of additional taxes, which are a little over $5 per direction for domestic flights).
You earn it by accumulating Southwest Rapid Rewards ‘Companion Pass Qualifying Points‘,’ which can be earned via flying, credit card spending, and more ways we talk about below.
How does the Companion Pass work?
The Southwest Companion Pass can hold some great value for domestic travel and to the destinations that Southwest serves in the Caribbean and Central America.
As mentioned above, the Southwest Companion Pass allows the passholder to designate a companion who can fly with the passholder on the same flight for only the cost of taxes. This applies to both paid flights and award flights booked with Southwest.
There are a few reasons why this is one of the best deals to be had if you fly primarily with another person:
- You can use the pass as many times as you want for the entire time the pass is valid. If you wanted to fly somewhere new every single week or weekend, that is allowed! It is a great way to see a lot of the US and a few international destinations for about half of what it would otherwise cost.
- The pass can be valid for up to two years. When you earn the pass, you earn it for the remainder of the current year and the entire following year. If you earn the pass in March 2016, the pass is good for March to December of 2016 and all of 2017. If you earn the pass in December of 2016, it is only good for December of 2016 and all of 2017. For this reason, it is best to earn the pass as close to the beginning of the year as possible because you can get almost two years of use out of the companion pass.
- You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year. If you don’t travel with the same person all the time, this gives you the ability to bring a couple of different people along as your companion over the course of the time you have the pass. Each time you change the name of your designated companion counts toward your limit of three, even if you use revert back to someone you already had as a companion earlier in the year.
- The pass works for both paid and award tickets. Most other airline companion passes or tickets are restricted to only paid tickets and sometimes even only certain fare classes. With the Southwest Companion Pass, as long as there is a seat available for the flight, you are able to book it for your companion. It doesn’t matter if the availability is in the same fare class, it doesn’t matter what type of fare you originally booked, and it doesn’t matter if you booked the ticket with cash or with points.
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass
To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you must earn 110,000 Qualifying Points or fly 100 one-way qualifying flights within one calendar year.
This sounds very difficult, but you might be surprised as to what counts toward the qualifying points, and the many ways to earn them without flying.
We have a full rundown of all the points that count (and don’t count) toward Companion Pass status here, but some of the more useful ones are these:
1. Sign up for Two Southwest Credit Cards
The easiest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is to simply apply for two of the three Southwest credit cards when the signup bonuses are 50,000 points each – which in the past has happened a few times a year, but might or might not happen again, so keep an eye open.
After completing the minimum spending requirements to earn the points for both cards you should have 100,000 Qualifying Points from the sign-up bonuses and 4,000+ Qualifying Points from completing the minimum spending requirements, depending on what they are when you apply.
This leaves you having to earn about 6,000 more Qualifying Points in order to have earned the companion pass. Those points can be earned by spending on your Southwest Credit Card(s), shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal, or flying on paid Southwest flights.
2. Shop Using the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal
Any points earned through the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal are Qualifying Points for the Southwest Companion Pass. Depending on the store, you will likely see offers for 1 Rapid Rewards Point per dollar spent up to 5 Rapid Rewards Points per dollar spent. Occasionally you will be able to earn even more than that.
At a rate of 1 Rapid Reward Point per dollar, you would need to spend $110,000 through the Rapid Rewards portal to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. This is probably not going to be reasonable for most people unless you have a lot of business / personal spending that you are reimbursed for.
Even at a rate of 5 Rapid Rewards Points per dollar spent, you would need to spend $22,000 through the portal to get the Companion Pass, which is still a stretch for most people.
Earning Qualifying Points through the shopping portal is best for topping off the remaining points you need to get the Companion Pass, as opposed to completing the quest outright.
3. Fly Southwest
This is definitely the toughest and most expensive way to earn the Companion Pass, but most people earn Companion Pass via at least some regular flying.
If you always buy Wanna Get Away fares (the least expensive fares), you will earn 6 Qualifying Points per dollar spent. If this is the only method you use to earn Southwest Points, it will cost you about $18,300 to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
If you always buy Business Select fares (the most expensive), you will earn 12 Qualifying Points per dollar spent, and it would cost you about $9,200 to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. All segments would need to be flown within one calendar year in order to qualify for the Companion Pass.
You can also fly 100 segments, again, all in one year, on Southwest to qualify for the Companion Pass.
4. Hotel point transfers (ends 3/31/2017)
Transfers of points from hotel partners like Marriott Rewards will count, but only until March 31, 2017.
What Doesn’t Count
From how we’ve made it sound so far, it seems that any points that post to your Southwest account will be Qualifying Points for the Southwest Companion Pass, but that unfortunately isn’t true. Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card do transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards, but these transfers do not count as Qualifying Points for the Companion Pass.
There are also a few other exceptions to what points do and don’t count towards qualifying you can read about here.
How to Use the Southwest Companion Pass
Now that you have the Southwest Companion Pass, it is time to put it to use! To use your companion pass, the first step is to book a flight as you normally would. Once you have booked your itinerary, you will be able to view it in your existing reservations.
At the bottom of your flight details, you will have the option to “Add a Companion.” You will be taken to a page that confirms all of the flight details and you will be able to enter payment information to cover the taxes for the flight.
To make sure that your companion is added correctly, you can go back to your reservations and you should see two different confirmation numbers – one for you, and one for your companion.
You should also receive an email with confirmation of the purchase for the companion ticket.
How to Change Your Companion
You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year when you hold the pass. The easiest way to change your companion is to call Southwest customer service at 1-800-435-9792 and request to have your companion changed. Your new companion will be effective immediately, and a new Companion Pass will be sent out in the mail.
Tips and Reminders
- You can book any seat that is for sale – it doesn’t just have to be the cheapest “Wanna Get Away” fares.
- The Companion Pass can be used for both flights booked with cash and flights booked with points.
- You can add your companion any time – you don’t have to do it immediately after booking the flight. And the fare you originally bought doesn’t have to be available – there just has to be a single extra seat left on the flight, which makes for great flexibility.
- There’s no fee to cancel or change. You can remove your companion free any time, and you can change or refund your tickets any time with no fee.
- You have to check in separately. You have two different confirmation numbers and you must check both in separately in order to get your boarding order.
Other than that, the Companion Pass is an easy, rewarding way to bring a friend (or three) along for free, plus a few taxes, on all the Southwest flights you take.