The Holy Grail of Award Travel: Southwest Companion Pass
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[Disclosure: I may earn compensation from some of these links].
UPDATE: Both Southwest personal cards and business cards are offering 50,000 points. Click here for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa – 50,000 points with $2,000 spent in three months.
Southwest Airlines—either you love it or hate it. Messy group boarding, no assigned seats, two free checked bags, no lounges, no priority boarding. Status? Sort of. The Companion Pass is the best tool in an award travelers digital wallet.
The Southwest Companion pass is the holy grail of domestic award travel.
What is it?
After earning 110,000 miles, eligible passengers receive the companion pass allowing them to purchase a ticket with cash or miles and add a travel companion for no additional cost of miles or base price of ticket (you still pay the taxes).
My wife and I have used this many, many times on short and medium flights within the U.S., primarily to visit family in the Midwest. We’ve flown 10 one-way flights, valued at $3,000 on my companion pass so far.
The best part is that you and your companion (spouse, domestic partner, friend—it doesn’t matter!) can each earn it.
How long is it good for?
The companion pass, like many airline statuses is good for the year in which it was earned and the following year. So, if you earned it January 2016 the companion pass would be valid throughout the remainder of this year and the entire 2017. That’s nearly two years of companion-able tickets.
How do I earn it?
Credit card sign-ups, how else? There are three Southwest cards (two personal, one business). Their standard sign-ups are 25,000 bonus points (each carry an annual fee), but three or four times a year the sign-up goes to 50,000. That is when you should apply to earn the companion pass.
Southwest Plus [Personal] 50,000
2,000 ($2,000 minimum spend base points)
Southwest Premier [Personal] or Business 50,000
2,000 ($2,000 minimum spend base points)
For the other 6,000 miles, just spend on $6,000 on any of those cards and you’ll hit 110,000 miles earned.
You can also open up both cards in the same day, if you qualify. Don’t listen to the customer service agent. These are considered separate products.
The personal premier and premier business cards are both up to 50,000 points; currently the plus is down to 25,000. Trust me. It’s worth the wait if you don’t qualify for the business version.
How do I use it?
Simple! Sign in to your Rapid Rewards account, find the flight of your choice and then book your ticket. Pay the $5.60 per direction of travel. Once the ticket is ticketed, you’ll receive an email confirmation from Southwest. Sign back in to your account, and you’ll see:
After clicking that and paying the $5.60 per direction of travel for your companion, you’ll receive a separate email confirmation.
Important: Because these are two separate tickets, you each must check-in 24 hours prior to your flight departure.
Is my companion really free?
Basically, with the exception of 9/11 security taxes, which are $5.60 per direction, per person, on domestic award travel.
Whose it good for?
Anyone who has a travel buddy! If you have children, both you and your significant other can earn the companion pass and each add a child (over 2) and receive the same benefit.
You’ll get amazing benefit out of Southwest miles and the pass if you do a lot of domestic travel. Southwest also flies to some international destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. You can get great return on your points on these routes, but if you don’t like connecting, try flying out of Dallas-Love, Chicago Midway and Baltimore airports.
What else do I need to know?
- You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year;
- If you need to cancel a miles flight, southwest credits the miles back immediately and will refund you for the taxes, or let you use it at a later date for a different flight.
- Paying the annual fee does not count towards the sign-up bonus.
- Transferring points from Chase into your Southwest account will not count towards the companion pass.
What’s the catch?
There’s always a catch. This isn’t supposed to work. But it does and has for a while. I’m mentioning this because it’s important to realize that at any point this exploited flaw can stop working. General rule of thumb in the miles and points world is to jump on the offer or scheme while you can.
Have you had the Companion Pass? Do you plan on earning it for 2016 and 2017? Let me know in the comments!