Hi Travel Junkies,

The leaves are changing colors, football is back (sort of, anyway), and companies are putting pumpkin spice in every product imaginable.

Which can only mean one thing; Southwest Companion Pass season is here!

 

HOT TIP

The Southwest Companion Pass (often abbreviated as “CP” or “SWCP”) is a perk offered by Southwest Airlines that allows you to bring a companion on any Southwest flight you fly for just the taxes and fees.

So let’s get right to it.

Today, we’re going to cover all things Southwest Companion Pass. This year’s strategy is pretty similar to last year’s, though the restrictions on the Southwest credit cards can be a little confusing. Give that section a second read if needed.

Here we go.

What is the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass (often abbreviated as “CP” or “SWCP”) is a perk offered by Southwest Airlines that allows you to bring a companion on any Southwest flight you fly for just the taxes and fees.

Think of it like a plus-one invite that you can use with any of your Southwest flight reservations. As long as you are physically on the plane, you can bring your plus-one Companion with you.

Unlike many of the other “companion passes” offered by competitor airlines (Delta, Alaska, British Airways, etc.), the Southwest Companion Pass has very few restrictions on when or how often you use it.

southwest

It works on both paid and award tickets, even if you weren’t the one purchasing the flight (work travel, generous family/friends, etc.).

It has no limit on how often you use it.

There are no blackout dates.

And there are no restrictions on which Southwest flights it can be used with.

Other “Companion Passes” Southwest Companion Pass
One-time useUnlimited use
Cash fares onlyCan be used on any flight
Restricted to specific flights/destinationsZero restrictions on flights/destinations
Require you to pay a $99 – $129 feeOnly have to pay standard taxes and fees
Blackout datesWorks with any open seat

There is one exception, however. You cannot use your Southwest Companion Pass if you are flying on someone else’s Companion Pass.

Can’t bring a plus one to the wedding if you are someone else’s plus one.

Otherwise, I would round up a group of 10xT Readers and take over an entire Southwest flight by creating a “companion chain”, where I would purchase one ticket and add a companion, who would add a companion, who would add a companion, and so forth. Allowing 150+ of us to fly for the price of just one ticket.

Bummer.

Once earned, the Southwest Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned plus the entire following calendar year.

So if you earned Companion Pass on October 9, 2020, it would be good through December 31, 2021.

But if you earned Companion Pass on say January 8, 2021, it would be good through December 31, 2022. More on that in a bit.

You have to pick one person at a time to be your designated companion, but you can change who that person is three times per the calendar year. So you could theoretically use it with 4 different people (start with person A, then switch to B, C, and D) per year.

southwest counters at airport

You have to choose who your Companion is, but you can change this person 3x per calendar year.

You can also switch back to someone who has already been your companion, but that will count as one of your changes (i.e. start with person A, then switch to B, C, and back to A).

Note that you will have to cancel all future Companion Pass reservations (just the Companion, not your original ticket) every time you change who your Companion is. Which isn’t a big deal, because you can always re-add the Companion ticket as long as there is a single open seat available on the flight.

Here’s the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read):

  • The Southwest Companion Pass (“CP”) lets you take a companion on any Southwest flight you fly (unless you are flying on someone else’s Southwest Companion Pass) for just the taxes and fees. There are no blackout dates or restrictions on how often it can be used.
  • The Companion Pass ticket works like a plus-one invite to a wedding, you can simply add it to any existing Southwest reservation in your name, regardless of who paid for your ticket or whether they used miles or cash. This can be done so at any time, not just when you originally book your own flight.
  • You have to choose one person to be your companion at a time but can switch who this person is 3x per the calendar year. In order to switch you have to cancel any future companion pass bookings.
  • Once earned, Southwest Companion Pass is good for the rest of the year + the entire following calendar year

So far so good? Next, let’s talk about how to earn one.

How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass

According to the Southwest website, “A Member who earns 125,000 Companion Pass qualifying points or who flies 100 qualifying one-way flights booked through Southwest Airlines per the calendar year will qualify for Companion Pass”.

Meaning that in order to earn a Southwest Companion Pass you have to do one of two things:

  1. Fly on 100 one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year
  2. Earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards Points in a calendar year

(Rapid Rewards Points is what Southwest calls their loyalty currency. This is what people are referring to when they say “Southwest points” or “Southwest miles”)

Unless you plan on flying Southwest ~2 times per week for an entire year, option #2 is going to be your only shot at earning a Companion Pass.

southwest airlines

Unless you plan on flying Southwest 2x per week for a year, their credit cards are your only chance at earning a Companion Pass

So how do you earn 125,000 Qualifying Southwest Rapid Reward Points in a calendar year?

Simple, by following these exact steps.

(Do not do any of these until you read and fully understand the rest of this article).

Step 1: Open the Southwest Business Credit Card and one of the Southwest personal credit cards

Southwest currently has 5 different credit cards that are all issued by Chase.

  1. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
  2. Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
  3. Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
  4. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
  5. Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

Each of these cards has historically offered a signup bonus of 40,000 to 80,000 Southwest points after you meet the minimum spending requirement in the first 3 months. Meaning that you could open two of them and earn 80,000 to ~120,000 qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points on the bonuses alone.

Doing this would just about earn you a Southwest Companion Pass.

But wait, here’s where the new wrinkle comes in.

Chase recently introduced new rules on the Southwest credit cards that restrict your ability to earn multiple sign-up bonuses.

In order to earn a bonus on a personal Southwest card all of the following statements have to be true:

  1. You have not earned a bonus on another Southwest personal card in the past 24 months
  2. You do not currently have a Southwest personal credit card

These restrictions apply to the following Southwest credit cards issued by Chase.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
  • Southwest Priority Credit Card

So the old strategy of opening two Southwest personal credit cards to earn a Companion Pass is effectively dead.

But this new restriction does not apply to the Southwest Airlines Business Credit cards. You can have both of them if you like, and having a Southwest Business Card in no way impacts your ability to get a Southwest personal credit card.

So the new strategy for earning a Southwest Companion Pass is to open either one personal Southwest credit card + one business Southwest credit card, or both of the Southwest Business Credit Cards.

The strategy for 2020 is to open the Southwest Business card and one of the three Southwest personal cards.

By opening two of these cards while they are offering bonuses of 40,000 to 60,000 points each and meeting the minimum spending limits, you could earn (40,000 bonus + 60,000 bonus + 2,000 spend + 1,000 spend =) 103,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Getting you more than 80% of the way to the 125,000 qualifying points needed to earn the Companion Pass.

(Note that the Southwest cards are currently subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so approvals will be impossible for anyone who has opened 5+ credit cards in the previous 24 months.)

The Southwest cards all have annual fees that are not waived for the first year, meaning you’ll have to pay something out of pocket to earn these points.

But let’s keep some perspective here, the ~$180 you’re paying in fees is a small fraction of the value you gain by earning a Companion Pass.

Step 2: Earn the remaining ~5,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points

With hopefully 105,000+ Southwest Rapid Rewards points earned from the two credit card bonuses you now just have to earn the remaining ~20,000 points to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

This can be done using a combination of any of the following three options.

  • Option 1: Spend on your Southwest credit cards

You earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest credit card (2 points per $1 on Southwest purchases), so spending ~$5,000 would earn you the remaining 5,000 Rapid Reward Points needed to hit 125,000. This option is perfect if you have a large bill coming up or can reach this amount through organic spending.

  • Option 2: Fly on Southwest

Option #2 is to earn the remaining points by flying revenue flights on Southwest. So consider booking any upcoming personal or work travel on Southwest whenever possible.

Remember that award flights (flights booked with points) do not earn Rapid Rewards, so those will not help you earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

  • Option 3: Take advantage of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Partners

Finally, use Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Partners to top off your points as needed.

Southwest’s Companion Pass page lists “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners as earning qualifying points for Companion Pass. So be sure to enroll in Southwest’s dining program and to check out their Home & Lifestyle offers to see if anything catches your eye.

Remember that you can use a combination of all of these strategies to earn the required 125,000 points. So try to use multiple if possible to earn Companion Pass even sooner.

Step 3: Verify that you have earned the Southwest Companion Pass and start using it!

This is the easiest step. Simply log in to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account to verify that you have earned the required 125,000 miles for the Companion Pass. Your Companion Pass Progress is one of the first things you’ll see at the top of the page.

And here’s the best part.

rapid rewards member

You get to keep all 125,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points when you earn the Companion Pass.

You don’t have to “buy” it with the miles you earned.
Meaning that you earn this amazing perk and have a boatload of points in your pocket to use as you please. Including with your shiny new Companion Pass.

Now is a good time to remind you that points transferred to your Southwest account do NOT count toward earning the Companion Pass. This includes points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Every year I make sure to mention this and every year I get dozens of emails from people who make this mistake. So please be careful.

TL;DR – how to earn 125,000 Southwest points in a calendar year:

  • Open one of the Southwest Business Credit Cards and one of the three Southwest personal credit cards to earn ~120,000 Southwest miles
  • Earn the remaining ~5,000 or so points by putting spend on the Southwest cards, flying on paid Southwest flights, or taking advantage of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Partners
  • Remember that points transferred to your Southwest account (from partners or other people) do not count toward earning the Companion Pass

Maximize the Value of Your Companion Pass

When it comes to maximizing the value of a Companion Pass I have found that it is best to think of it as a happy hour at your favorite bar. If happy hour runs from 6-8, would you rather show up at 6:00 or 7:45?

happy hour

If you’re like my friends you’ll be there at 6:00 (or even 5:00 on some days).

The same principle applies to the Southwest Companion Pass. Because the Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned, plus the entire next calendar year, it is best to earn it as early in the calendar year as possible.

Here’s how you can do this:

1) Sign up for 2 Southwest credit cards late in the year (anytime between October 1 and December 31 can work). I recommend doing one of the Southwest Business cards first and one of the personal cards ~30+ days later.

2) Spend all the way up to, but not over, the minimum spending requirement on both cards. Be very careful with this, if you hit the minimum spend too early you will completely blow your chance of earning Companion Pass.

3) Cross the minimum spending threshold right after January 1 so your bonus points count toward the Companion Pass in 2021

4) Earn the remaining ~5,000 points as soon as you can after January 1, which will earn you the Companion Pass for almost a full 24 months.

The timing here is crucial. If you accidentally hit a minimum spending limit prior to January 1 your points could count toward the 2020 total, which would reset on January 1, 2021.

Leave yourself at least a $200 cushion.

Every year I emphasize this and every year I still get dozens of emails from people who accidentally hit the minimum spend too early.

Usually due to the following circumstances:

  1. Forgetting that they added the card as a payment method to Amazon, Apple Pay, etc. and continuing to put spend on it.
  2. Giving the card to a spouse/family member who is unaware of the unique timing of Companion Pass

So again, please be very careful not to cross the minimum spend threshold too early.

If either of your Southwest credit card bonuses post before the ball drops in Times Square on NYE you did something wrong.

It is theoretically possible to hit your minimum spend requirement before NYE if your next statement date is already in 2021, but I am going to omit talking about this on purpose because it causes more confusion than anything.

Just remember the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Do not cross either minimum spending amount before that gaudy ball drops.

Moving on. Let’s talk about how to use the Southwest Companion Pass after you earn it.

How to Use the Southwest Companion Pass

Companion Pass works like a plus-one invite to a wedding. You do not book trips separately with it, but rather add it to any existing reservation made in the name of the individual who has earned the Companion Pass.

So start by simply booking your desired flight in your own name. Then, add the Companion Pass to your reservation either by calling Southwest or clicking on the “Add Companion” button in the upcoming trips section of your account.

You will be able to add a Companion ticket as long as there is at least one open seat on the flight.

How to Use the Southwest Companion Pass

After clicking the “add companion” button you will then have to complete checkout just like any other flight. Your Companion’s name and information should already be populated so simply scroll to the bottom to finalize the booking and pay the required taxes and fees.

Once complete, your Companion will receive their own confirmation number as if they booked their flight separately. This confirmation number will show up right next to your own in your Southwest account.

How to Use the Southwest Companion Pass

From this point forward your Companion’s ticket essentially works as if it was booked as their own standalone ticket. They will have to check in separately from you, will receive their own boarding pass, check their own bags, etc.

The one exception to this is if you, the Companion Pass holder, decide to cancel or skip your flight. This will immediately void your Companion’s ticket, and they will even be removed from the plane if they have already boarded.

So don’t try to pull the old switcheroo to score a free flight.

Again, the thing to remember is that the Southwest Companion Pass works like a plus-one invite. You can add or remove it from your reservation at any time without penalty (as long as there is at least one open seat on the flight). Even on flights booked months ago before you earned the CP.

But if you change or cancel your own reservation your Companion reservation will also be changed or canceled.

Changing the Name of Your Companion

Once you have earned Companion Pass you can choose who your first Companion will be by entering their information in your account at Southwest.com.

But changing who your Companion is will require a call to Southwest at 1-800-435-9792. All you need to do is provide your new Companion’s information and the change will be immediate. You can do this up to 3 times per calendar year.

Remember that each time you change your Companion you will need to cancel all future Companion ticket bookings. This needs to be done before calling Southwest to make the switch.

Once you make the switch you can begin using the Companion Pass immediately with your new Companion. You do not need to wait for the physical card to come in the mail.

It’s that simple!

Frequently Asked Questions:

How much is the Southwest Companion Pass “worth”?

While it is difficult to assign a specific value to the Companion Pass, you can come up with a rough number by looking at the value of Southwest points. 125,000 Southwest points is worth roughly $1,650 in travel when booking Southwest “Wanna Getaway Fares”. If you bring your companion on all the flights that you book with those points, you would be getting an additional $1,650 of free airfare for a total of $3,300 of value.

This also assumes that you never use the pass on paid fares, which would cause the value to be higher.

So call it $1,650 minimum (assuming you never bring your Companion) with an upside of $3,300+.

How do I book a flight for my companion?

You have to book your own flight first, then add the companion ticket once your booking has been confirmed. You can do this online by going to “My Trips” and clicking “Add Companion” to any existing itinerary. Note that you can add the Companion at any time, whether that be minutes after you book your own trip or hours before the flight departs (assuming there are seats available of course).

Do I have to buy the Companion Pass with the points I earned?

No. Once you earn the 125,000 points the pass is simply given to you. You still have those points to redeem for free flights on Southwest.

Can I spend my Southwest points? Or do I have to have 125,000 in my account at one time?

You can spend them. Companion Pass is earned simply by earning 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, not having 125,000 points at the same time.

Theoretically, you could earn Companion Pass while having 0 Southwest miles in your account.

Can I sign up for one Southwest card and have my wife/roommate/friend sign up for the other?

No. The 125,000 qualifying points have to be earned by the same person. Unfortunately, there is no way to “team up” to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

Do miles purchased from Southwest count toward the Companion Pass?

No.

Can I use my points to book flights for people other than my companion?

Yes. Your points can be used to book flights for anyone you’d like. Remember, however, that your companion can only fly with you.

Can the Companion Pass be used on Southwest flights that are booked with points?

Yes. The Companion Pass can be used on any type of Southwest ticket (unless you are booked as someone else’s companion).

How quickly does my designated companion go into effect?

When selecting or changing your companion the new name goes into effect immediately. You do not have to wait for the new Companion Pass card to arrive by mail. To change the name of your companion simply call Southwest Airlines and they can change it immediately.

Remember that this can only be done three times per the calendar year.

Note that you have to cancel any future companion tickets before changing the name. You can rebook them later, provided there are still seats available.

Can I book a Southwest flight right now, then add my Companion Pass ticket to the reservation once I earn the Companion Pass?

Yes. You can add your Companion ticket to any Southwest reservation in your name at any time, provided of course that there is at least one seat available on the plane.

Do I need to have my Companion Pass with me when I travel on Southwest?

No. In fact, the physical Companion Pass card that you receive in the mail is worthless. I just throw it away.

Do points transferred from other loyalty programs count toward the Companion Pass?

No.

I earned 50,000 Southwest points earlier in 2020. If I earn another 60,000 in early 2021 will I get the Companion Pass?

No. Doing this would mean you earned 50,000 points in 2020 and 60,000 in 2021 and would not earn a Companion Pass at all. All 125,000 points must be earned in the same calendar year. This is perhaps the most common mistake I see when it comes to Companion Pass.

Companion Pass is not awarded to you just for earning 125,000 Southwest points over the course of your lifetime. The 125,000 points have to be earned in the same calendar year.

Can I sign up for the Southwest Credit Cards in 2020 but wait to earn their bonuses/a Companion Pass in 2021?

Yes. But be very careful not to accidentally hit the minimum spending requirement on the cards early. I see this mistake made by dozens of people each year and unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to correct it.

Note also that you only have 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement and earn the bonus points. So you can’t sign up for the Southwest cards in say, July, and meet the minimum spend in January of the following year.

And finally, let’s boil everything we just covered down to 5 simple steps:

  1. Open one of the Southwest Airlines Business Credit Cards and one of the three Southwest personal credit cards sometime in November or December. Business card first, leaving a minimum 30 days between approvals for each of these cards.
  2. Cross the minimum spending requirements on each of these two credit cards sometime after January 1, 2021. Doing so before January 1 could cause you to miss out on the CP entirely, so be careful.
  3. Continue to spend on the cards, fly paid flights on Southwest, and take advantage of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Partners until you earn the required 125,000 qualifying points for Companion Pass
  4. Once earned, choose who your Companion will be and start using the pass! Simply add it to any existing reservation in your name by clicking “Add Companion” in your Southwest account.
  5. Your pass will be valid for the rest of the year and the entire following year. So get out there and use it!

 

Happy Travels,

Bryce