By 10xTravel Reader Olivia
Are you intrigued by the Southwest (SW) Companion Pass?
With my Companion Pass and the points I earned, I’ve been able to see the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico with my husband and friends, snorkel in Bonaire with my husband, visit 3 new countries (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), and enjoy a solo weekend getaway to a yoga retreat in Massachusetts.
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Plus, we have a warm-weather holiday planned in Guanacaste Costa Rica for the end of the year. All of these trips were booked at a substantially lower cost due to the Companion Pass.
I applied for a personal Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card and a Southwest Rapid Rewards business credit card in February 2018, hit the minimum spend requirement in March/April 2018, and received the Southwest Companion Pass in May.
60,000 points after $3k spend in 3 monthsLearn more
I used the free annual night certificates and points I earned with the World of Hyatt Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Amex card. I also transferred 38,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and 4,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott to cover our hotel stays in Bonaire and Costa Rica.
Unfortunately, I initially struggled to get anyone to take me up on the Companion Pass due to already planned travel, illness, golf season (hubbie), home renovations etc. However, what is nice about earning the Companion Pass is that you also earn 110,000+ Rapid Rewards points along the way which you can also use for solo trips.
After a stressful few months, I used points to grab a last-minute flight to Albany, New York for a solo 2-night stay at Kripalu for yoga and massage and opera at Tanglewood (37,700 points).
In February 2019, I was finally able to use my Companion Pass. Hubbie and I flew to Mexico City with two friends to see the Monarch butterfly migration in Macheros (12,480 points). This is an amazing experience which we did at about a quarter of the cost of packaged tours. Our 6-night trip cost about $1,000 each for everything.
We stayed 2 nights in Red Tree House in Mexico City ($150 per night), had dinner at La Capital, took a private city day tour with Journeys Beyond the Surface ($290 total for all 4 of us, spent 4 nights at J&M Butterfly B&B in Macheros $95 per night, visited 2 Monarch butterfly reserves ($175 pp for both tours), took cooking class/artesania tours ($60 pp), and had private transfers from Mexico city and to the airport ($100 pp). If you are a foodie and into nature—this is the trip to plan.
In the butterfly reserve near Macheros
In late March/early April, we flew to Aruba to snorkel in Bonaire (27,456 points). We spent a night in Aruba at the beginning and end of our trip and took Aruba Air between Aruba and Bonaire ($541 total).
Our first-night stay was at an inexpensive AirBnB near the airport (Gonzalito Style House, $87) – the host offers free airport pickup and delivery, and kindly rented her vehicle to us to explore the island ($45 plus gas).
On Bonaire, our 6-night stay at the Courtyard Bonaire Dive Resort cost $78 and 62,500 Marriott points plus 1 free annual night certificate. We rented a Toyota Hilux pickup truck from J Jongenelis ($375) and did a lot of off-shore snorkeling.
I highly recommend a snorkel orientation (learn safe entry into the surf) and night snorkel with Brenda of H20Visions ($45 each). Our last night in Aruba at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino was almost free with Marriott points. We used 35,000 Marriott points — including 4,000 points transferred from Ultimate Rewards — and $3.50.
The total cost for this trip was about $,2300 for both of us—much less than the $4,100 it would have cost without playing the points game. Plus, the Aruba Air pilot allowed me to deplane in Curacao so I could “count” another country in my travels (now up to 70!). If you enjoy snorkeling or diving, put this trip on your list.
To end the year, we are flying to Liberia, Costa Rica (59,436 points) to explore Guanacaste. We booked the 5-night stay at the Hyatt Andaz Papagayo with a free annual night certificate plus 60,000 Hyatt points and 38,000 UR transferred to Hyatt,) followed by 3 nights at Casita Tenorio ($508.50, ), and 1 night at the AirBnB/tripadvisor rental Hobbit Cottage ($74,).
Between using Southwest Rapid Rewards points and the Companion Pass, our cost for this flight is only $264 (plus $100 for earlybird check-in ) for nonstop flights for both of us instead of the going rate of $2,148 for nonstop flights or $1,672 for 1 stop flights for the both of us. I estimate the total trip cost to be $2,872 for the 2 of us including rental car, food etc.
Southwest does not allow you to book further than about 5 months in advance and changes their schedule release day on a regular basis (e.g., May 23 to June 20 to May 30). You can check their schedule here. The actual release time is from 5 am CT to a little after 8 am CT.
The least expensive fares on Southwest (Wanna GetAway) may sell out quickly, but you can keep checking back to see if the fare drops and rebook it at the cheaper price. Southwest does not charge a change fee, and your earlybird purchase can be transferred to your new flights. Just make sure that both reservations for you and your companion are changed.
Within the United States, the cost of taxes/fees that you have to pay for points or Companion Pass tickets is minimal (e.g., $11 each way to Hartford, CT). But, for international flights, it can vary quite a bit (e.g., $108.81 per person to Mexico each way, $75.50 per person to Costa Rica each way, $84.83 per person to Aruba each way).
Southwest has limited nonstop flights. When originally planning our trip to Mexico to see the butterflies, Southwest had nonstop flights from/to Baltimore-Washington (BWI). But, by the time we got around to booking the flights, they all required a connection in Houston. This changed our 4+ hour flight to a 7+ hour travel day each way. Considering that there were sale fares to Mexico City on nonstop flights, this significantly reduced the “value” of the Companion Pass for us for that trip.
Unfortunately, for those of us on the East coast, you will have to call Southwest up to book your return flight from Hawaii—connecting flights are not showing up on their website to the East coast. You will likely have to spend the night in California on the way home. After the initial grab of cheap seats, the number of points that are required is also high (e.g., 25,933 one way to OGG in Maui for late September) and the total travel time is long (12 hours is shortest through SJC). Hubbie did not want to sit in a coach seat for such a long time, so we have made plans to go to Guanacaste, Costa Rica instead.
Early-bird check-in is an additional charge of $15-25 each way if you want to sit with your companion, do not want the dreaded middle seat, or want to guarantee there is room aboard for your carry-on. We find trying to nab a better boarding order by checking in 24 hours in advance doesn’t work well for us from BWI.
Southwest has a limited number of international destinations. As of the end of March, Southwest no longer flies to Mexico City.
So, is it worth it to try to get the Companion Pass?
I would say, yes with qualifications.
You need the time to take advantage of it, as well as an idea of where you want to go (and who to travel with). It allowed us to tick off bucket list items, see 3 new countries, and travel for a much lower cost so it was easily worth it for us.
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