Early 2021 is the best time to be thinking about the Southwest Companion Pass. WHY? Because if you earn your pass in early 2021, your pass will be good through the end of 2022!
The companion pass is quite simply the best thing in free travel for most domestic travelers. If you don’t take big international vacations, you’re probably always looking to Southwest for the best deals on domestic travel (and some nearby Int’l destinations). Regardless of the companion pass, we love using Southwest Rapid Rewards because this airline and its miles rock! They allow free bags and their miles are normally great miles to the cash value. If you are booking 14+ days out, you can normally find super deals on using your points for nonstop routes.
Unlike most other airlines, Southwest has no cancellation fees for using miles. You can cancel at any time and get your miles back immediately. That’s why my wife and I love SW points so much. If we’re 50/50 on taking a trip, we can book the flights and know that we can always cancel.
An example… In 2017, I was so excited about going to a Coldplay concert in Mexico City. But in Denver, snow was in the forecast for my flight. I booked another flight the next day on Southwest as a backup. When I was able to make my original flight, I canceled the Southwest flight for free and got all of my miles back.
Here’s the best thing: the Southwest Companion Pass.
The Companion Pass allows you to add a travel companion who can travel for free (have to pay taxes and fees) on any flight that you book using cash OR Rapid Rewards points. The pass is good for the rest of the year in which you earn it AND the following year! So if you earn it in 2021, the pass is good for ALL of 2021 AND ALL of 2022. That is a lot of value right there, especially if you get on this early in the year. Unlike other airline incentives, the Southwest Companion Pass can be used an unlimited number of times!!!
The only real restriction is that you can only change your companion on the pass up to three times per year. You choose one person at a time to be your companion. However, you can change that person three times per calendar year.
To earn a companion pass, you have to accumulate 125,000 Rapid Rewards miles in a calendar year. Yikes! BUT, the way Travel Freely members earn this so easily is through the sign-up bonuses of Southwest credit cards. Check out the eligibility rules from Southwest:
“Companion Pass Qualifying Points are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned by making purchases with a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners.” – from Southwest on the Companion Pass.
The base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners include sign-up bonuses from Rapid Rewards credit cards. Here’s what does and does not qualify.
“Qualifying points” for Southwest are:
- Points earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines
- Points earned on Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards
- Base points earned from Rapid Reward Partners
The following do NOT count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass:
- Points transferred to Southwest (from programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Points you purchase from Southwest
- Points you convert from hotel and car loyalty programs
- Points you earn from Rapid Rewards Program enrollment
- Points you transfer from another Southwest Rapid Rewards member
So here’s how Travel Freely members earn the Southwest Companion Pass:
The Travel Freely EASIEST Strategy: Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
Until the Spring of 2018, you could sign up for multiple personal Southwest cards and easily earn the companion pass through those bonuses. But the rules changed in Spring 2018. It’s a little trickier. You can only be approved for a Southwest personal credit card if a) you do NOT currently have a Southwest personal credit card, and b) it has been 24 months since your last bonus on a Southwest Personal Credit card. So, if you’ve had a card in the past 28 months, you need to know the date opened, and you might need to consider having your significant other get the Companion Pass instead.
The easiest and fastest way to earn this pass is for you (or a spouse) to sign up for one personal card (Priority, Plus, or Premier) and one business card – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier or Performance Business Card, which have currently have great sign-up bonuses.
By getting a personal AND business card, you can easily reach the 125,000 miles required after hitting the bonuses! As of posting date, there are no known rules against getting both business cards, so another easy option is to get both business cards and avoid applying for personal cards altogether.
The same person must sign up for both cards – in other words, the primary cardholder of both cards must have the same Rapid Rewards number so that the bonuses go to the same account.
Note: Many people stop when they realize they have to get a business card. Don’t stop! It is very possible to get a business card even if you have a tiny side hustle. Read our post “Am I Eligible For a Business Credit Card?”. It’s not necessary to have an EIN number to apply for a business credit card if you are a Sole Proprietor. You simply use your SSN as the EIN and make sure to put your actual name as the business name instead of the business name. Here are specific instructions on how to apply as a Sole Proprietor.
Southwest Personal Cards
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Personal Card, OR
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Personal Card, OR
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Personal Card
Southwest Business Card
3 Details to Remember:
Detail #1: Chase Rules Regarding Sign-up Bonuses
If you have had a personal or business card in the past, you can only get that same card again IF a) it has been 24 months since you received a bonus (normally 28 months since the card opened date); and b) You do not currently have the card. This is why Travel Freely software is SO helpful. It will track these dates and the CardGenie will only recommend cards you are eligible to receive. Sign up for free (no credit card required).
Detail #2: It’s Important to know your 5/24 Number
Chase is the bank issuer for these cards. They are subject to their “unofficial” 5/24 rule. So, make sure your cards are added to your Travel Freely dashboard and make sure your 5/24 number is under 5. Not sure what you’re 5/24 number is? Here’s an article that is also in our Travel Freely resources. Basically, you need to prioritize signing up Chase credit cards above others in order to be approved for Chase cards.
The Southwest Companion Pass is by far the best deal in free travel for the average traveler. There’s no comparison. While we still recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred as the best starter card for those with good credit, this is the best play for those ready to get more than one card. If you can jump on this early in the year, it brings even more value.
Detail #3: Remember Transfer Points Will NOT count
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards. BUT, these transferred points will NOT count towards your Companion Pass points total.
When to start? NOW!
Some people have been successful at getting approved for both a personal and business card on the same day, but it is more difficult compared to spacing out applications. Best strategy is to separate your personal and business card applications by 30+ days. So, if you want to space them out, you can apply for one now and then the other 31 days later. Some people have success only waiting 5-6 days between applications.
Note: If you already have 2 tickets booked in early 2021 on Southwest, it may be possible to convert those flights to a free companion flight retro-actively once you earn the Companion Pass. You have to earn the Companion Pass before you take those flights, though.
Earn Additional Points
Besides sign-up bonuses, the easiest ways to quickly earn points is through:
To earn the remaining points, or if you’re not interested in opening a business card, there are a few ways to earn a larger amount of Southwest miles. Remember that miles need to be earned in January 2021 or later:
- Consider booking hotels through SouthwestHotels.com where you can sometimes earn up to 10,000 miles per night!
- Use Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal. Note, anything earned specifically as “bonus” points will not count towards your Companion Pass total.
- Put additional monthly, everyday spending on this card.
Choosing and changing your Southwest Companion
Once a member has earned 125,000 Rapid Rewards points, he or she can designate a companion to fly with the pass holder for free. Note that this companion can be changed 3 times per calendar year.
While initial companion selection is done online through the “My Account” section at Southwest.com, any subsequent changes to your companion require a phone call to Southwest Rapid Rewards at 1-800-435-9792. The phone process is simple: in my experience, it has taken less than 5 minutes to change companions.
The terms on Southwest.com state that you should “allow 21 business days for processing” after calling to change your companion in order to be able to add your new companion to bookings. In my experience, it didn’t take any time at all — I was able to add my new companion to my reservations the same day I made the call to change companions. Note that you will need to cancel any existing companion reservations before changing your companion.
Earn $200-300 in rewards last year? LOL.
Travel Freely members average $2,000+ in free travel EVERY year!
Can I add a companion to my reservation if….?
The companion pass holder can add his/her companion to nearly any reservation in the pass holder’s name.
Q: Can you add your Southwest companion if your company bought the ticket?
A: Yes, you can.
Q: Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought your ticket using your Rapid Rewards points?
A: Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter whether you booked your ticket with a credit card or with Rapid Rewards points, you can add your companion and just pay the taxes.
Q: Can you add your companion if someone else bought your ticket with their rapid rewards points?
A: Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter whose Rapid Rewards points are used to book the primary traveler’s ticket. In fact, it is even possible for the designated “companion” to use the companion’s points to book a single ticket for the primary traveler and then the primary traveler can add the companion to the reservation and only pay the taxes.
Q: Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought a Wanna Get Away fare and now there is only Business Select available?
A: Yes, you can. As long as there is a seat available for sale on the flight you would like to book, you can add your companion. It does not need to be in the same “fare class” as the one you originally purchased.
Q: Are there any situations in which you can not add your Southwest companion?
A: Yes, but not many.
One example of a situation in which it would not be possible to add a companion is this: You can not daisy-chain companions. That is to say this: Let’s imagine Bob earned 125,000 Rapid Rewards points and earns a companion pass. He designates Shelly as his companion. Shelly also earns 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year and she earns a companion pass of her own. She designates Billy Jean as her companion. Bob buys a ticket. He adds his companion, Shelly. Shelly can not add Billy Jean to the reservation.
Adding a companion
The process of adding a companion is quite easy and can be done at any time until tickets are no longer sold for the flight in question. The companion pass holder simply needs to log in to Southwest.com and view My Reservations. From the reservation view, he or she will see a link that says “add companion”.
From here, it is straight-forward. The system will just charge taxes for the companion ($5.60 one-way for domestic flights within the US. Taxes to international destinations vary.
Again, this can be done up until Southwest stops selling tickets. It doesn’t matter if you paid $59 for your ticket and the only seats left are selling for $590 — if there is a seat available for purchase, you can add your companion.
Some other common questions
Here are a few other common questions that people ask about the Southwest Companion Pass:
Q: Can I change my flight on a companion booking?
A: Yes. You will first need to cancel the companion’s reservation. You can then change the primary traveler’s flight.
Q: Can I just cancel the companion’s reservation if he/she cannot travel with me?
A: Yes. You can cancel their reservation and either receive a refund of the taxes or keep them as a credit to use on a future flight. Note that you need to choose the option to refund to your credit card rather than as travel funds if that is what you prefer.
Q: Can my companion travel without me?
A: NO! The terms of the program explicitly forbid the companion from flying without the primary traveler and Southwest will likely revoke your companion pass if you do this. It is theoretically possible to do — both travelers check in and only the companion shows up — but will almost certainly get you in trouble with Southwest. Furthermore, if the itinerary is round trip, the companion might have his/her return flight cancelled. Don’t do this.
Q: Does my companion earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points?
A: No, they do not. The primary traveler does earn points on a paid reservation (not a reservation made on points).
Q: Do I need to carry the Companion Pass card with me?
A: No, you do not need the card. The terms may state that you should have the card with you, but nobody has ever asked to see mine (or anyone’s else’s as far as I know).
Q: What happens to my companion’s reservations if I change my companion?
A: You must first cancel your companion’s reservations before changing companions.
Q: Can I book a round trip flight that begins before my Companion Pass expires on December 31st, but returns after the pass has expired?
A: This isn’t possible. Southwest won’t let you add a companion to a reservation that extends beyond the pass validity period. You would have to book a one-way in December (you could add your companion to this reservation) and then a one-way returning in the new year where you pay for both seats.
Q: Is there an advantage to booking one-way flights or round trip flights with the Southwest Companion Pass?
A: It makes more sense to book one-way flights with Southwest in general. In the vast majority of cases, the round trip price (at least on domestic flights within the US) is simply the cumulative total of the two one-way flights. You will enjoy greater flexibility in making changes to one segment or the other if you book one-way flights.
Q: What are some of the best uses of the Southwest Companion Pass?
A: This is obviously completely subjective. Obviously, you can enjoy some cheaper trips around the US (and Hawaii!). Southwest also flies to a growing number of international destinations, including:
Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico
Grand Cayman Island
Liberia, Costa Rica
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
San Jose, Costa Rica
Additionally, you can use Southwest to position for an award flight or cheap flight deal out of a different city. This can be a great option when saver-level awards on American/United/Delta are not available from your city.
Ready to go for the companion pass? Have a question specific to your situation? Please email Zac at [email protected] for any help.
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