The Southwest Companion Pass is a pass from Southwest Airlines that allows you to bring a companion on all your flights for free. Southwest is one of the best airlines for booking cheap flights and for using points for domestic flights, which makes the companion pass a pretty powerful way to save.
Maybe you've heard of the Southwest Companion Pass and thought it was just one of those incredible, unachievable travel perks that only business travelers ever get. Actually, the the companion pass is at the apex of both quality and achievability. But should you get it? Let's find out.
The Basics of the Southwest Companion Pass
We'll start with some elementary things about the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The basics of the Southwest Companion Pass are simple. If you hold a companion pass, you get to designate a companion, and then any fare you purchase or book with miles on Southwest Airlines comes with a free fare (on the same flight) for your companion. The companion will still have to pay a small amount of taxes and fees.
Who Can Be Your Southwest Companion?
Anyone. When you get the companion pass, you designate and person to be your companion. Then, you can change your Southwest companion up to three times during the life of the pass. So over the life of the pass you can have up to four companions.
How Many Times Can I Use the Southwest Companion Pass?
As many as you want. Within the other restrictions of the program, there's no limit on the number of times you can use the companion pass.
How Long Is the Companion Pass Good For?
The companion pass is good until the end of the calendar year following the date of issuance. So if your companion pass is issued between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, it will be good until December 31, 2019. That means a Southwest Companion Pass can be good for between 1 and 2 years.
How do you get the Southwest Companion Pass?
Flyers who earn 110,000 Southwest points or fly 100 one-way Southwest flights in a year are awarded the Southwest Companion Pass. Not all Southwest points will do, though, you need to get qualifying points. So, for example, points you transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest do not count for the companion pass. (But you can transfer those points and use them to book flights, on which you would get to bring a free companion if you had the pass.)
One way to get the companion pass is to fly those 100 one-way segments. The most popular way for travel hackers, though, is to use Chase's co-branded Southwest credit cards. The points earned on those cards, including the signup bonuses, are credited toward the companion pass. As of this update (Jan. 17, 2018), two of those cards have signup bonuses of 50,000 and 60,000 points. Together with the $4,000 you have to spend to get those bonuses, you'll have 114,000 Southwest points, 4,000 more than the amount needed for the companion pass!
When you earn the companion pass, you don't lose the 110,000 points. Southwest is one of the few ways we support using points domestic flights, so if you fly domestically a lot, those points might be worth the effort of getting the signup bonuses even ignoring the value of the companion pass.
What Is The Southwest Companion Pass Worth?
Obviously, this depends on how much you fly. The companion pass is worth the cost of the flights you take with a companion using it. So if you only fly one time each year, it will be worth between the cost of one and two roundtrip flights (depending on how long you hold it for).
How Much Are The Points + Companion Pass Worth?
We can also estimate the maximum value someone can get out of the companion pass when they combine it with the points they earned from their signup bonuses.
Given Chase's 5/24 rule, the fact that you must wait two years from receiving a Chase signup bonus to qualify for it again, and the life of the companion pass at a maximum of two years, we might assume a die-hard travel hacker who flies Southwest does the following:
- Earn 110,000 miles on Southwest using Chase's co-branded cards and get a companion pass for two years (January to December the following year)
- Wait two years for Chases 5/24 to clear and to be able to get the bonuses for the co-branded cards again
- Get the Southwest cards again, quickly earn 110,000 miles and get the companion pass for two years again
Those 110,000 miles are worth about $1,500 in flights on Southwest. Since your companion pass can be used on flights you book with miles, your 110,000 miles + companion pass are worth 220,000 miles, or about $3,000 in flights. So every two years doing this trick, you'll earn about $3,000 in flights combining your points with your companion pass. The companion pass itself is responsible for $1,500 of that value.
Is the Southwest Companion Pass Good for Disney Or Family Travelers?
The value of the Southwest Companion Pass is highly subjective, and as a site written primarily for Disney and family travelers, we want to take a bit to discuss how those travelers might evaluate the companion pass.
Southwest Is a Pretty Good Low-Cost Airline
Southwest is widely considered the nicest of the domestic low-cost airlines. In particular, their baggage policy is quite generous. With two free checked bags, one free carry-on, and a personal item, when you fly Southwest you usually don't have to worry about packing to avoid baggage fees. Their prices are also quite reasonable. Finally, Southwest is a participant in TSA PreCheck, which we consider a must-have for families.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our Guide to Booking Cheap Flights|
Airports Southwest Flies To
Southwest flies to the major airports for domestic Disney destinations: MCO (Orlando), SNA (Orange County) and LAX (Los Angeles). This at the very least means Southwest is worth knowing as a Disney traveler. They'll soon fly to Hawaii (home of Disney's Aulani), too.
However, the other half of the equation is whether Southwest flies to your home airport (or a local one). We prefer to fly out of O'Hare in Chicago (no Southwest), but Southwest flies out of Midway, which is a fine option for us as well. If Southwest doesn't fly anywhere near you, there's little sense considering the companion pass.
Companion Pass for Families
If you regularly fly with more than one companion, the Southwest Companion Pass might not be so valuable. A family of four, for example, still has to pay for three fares. Southwest is generally low-cost, but often not the best option on flights, and that differences adds up as families get bigger. If you're willing to fly other low-cost or ultra-low-cost airlines, you can often beat Southwest fares.
Then again, if two parents each earn the 110,000 miles and the companion pass, that family of four only has two pay for two fares. This, however, is a tough game to play, as you'll need both parents to get approved for both cards and meet the minimum spend in roughly the same amount of time for everything to work out.
Why Not At Least Try?
Just because it's earned using signup bonuses doesn't mean the companion pass is completely without costs. Here are some of the reasons you might not want to try to get the companion pass "just because."
Chase 5/24 and Similar Rules
With Chase's 5/24 rule you won't be able to get most Chase cards if you've opened five credit card accounts (with any bank) in the past 24 months. Getting the companion pass with signup bonuses requires you to use two of your Chase 5/24. On balance, international travelers will probably be better off getting two cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Issuers have other rules, some we don't even know specifics of, that mean you shouldn't go earning miles "just because."
Chase's Two-Year Rule
You can't earn a signup bonus for a Chase card if you've been awarded a bonus for that card in the past two years. You don't want to wind up getting a bonus now, not using (or maybe even earning) your companion pass, and then having to wait two years to try again.
Chase's Credit Limitations
As a general rule, Chase won't give you more total credit than you list as your income. Your mileage will certainly vary on this rule, but you can expect to have to discuss your credit with them once you hit this limit (although once when we didn't return their call they just issued the card with the minimum limit anyways). For the most part, you can just shift credit between cards, but some have minimum limits. For example, you have to have a limit of at least $10,000 on the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Your Spending "Capital"
We don't advocate manufactured spending, which means you can only earn as many signup bonuses as your ordinary life spending can support. Using those resources for the companion pass means pushing other opportunities into the future.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our Starter Guide to Travel Hacking|
The Southwest Companion Pass is a good aspiration for families (1) who have easy access to an airport that flies Southwest and (2) who have no significant travel goals other than Southwest flights in the next two years. If you fly domestic a few times a year, the 110,000 Southwest miles plus the companion pass is probably a good use of your resources.
Beyond that, it would be preferable that you be well short of Chase's 5/24 rule. Generally, you'd be on the safe side to focus on more flexible rewards and, if you want to save money on flights, considering the other low-cost carriers.