Southwest Airlines Companion Pass: Inside the coveted benefit

A mother and toddler looking out an airport window at an airplane.Image: A mother and toddler looking out an airport window at an airplane.

In a Nutshell

Every time you fly, the Southwest Companion Pass lets you bring a friend or family member free of airline charges. Take a look to see if it’s right for you.
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The Southwest Companion Pass may be one of the most coveted airline perks for travelers.

The Southwest Companion Pass lets you bring along a designated friend or family member for next to nothing every time you fly. This can be a great way to cut costs and maximize your travel budget.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at how this unique perk works and what it offers — along with some of the fastest ways to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

What is the Southwest Companion Pass and how does it work?

The Southwest Companion Pass is like a coupon for buy-one-get-one-free airfare. Plus, there are no seat restrictions or blackout dates, so you can use it anytime.

When you fly with the Companion Pass, you can bring along a friend or family member — free of airline charges. After you purchase your ticket or redeem Rapid Rewards® points for your flight, the cost of your companion’s ticket comprises only taxes and fees, which start at $5.60.

One of the coolest things about this perk is that you can use it as often as you fly with Southwest for the remainder of the year in which you qualify, plus the entire year after that.

Before booking your first Companion Pass flight, you’ll have to log into your Southwest account to designate your companion. Then Southwest will send that person an official Companion Pass member kit.

Take note: You’ll have to choose one person to be your designated companion, but Southwest allows you to switch companions up to three times per calendar year.

How do I get a Southwest Companion Pass?

To qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll have one calendar year to achieve one of the following:

  • Complete 100 qualifying one-way flight segments
  • Earn 135,000 qualifying points

If you’re looking to qualify with flights, it could be tricky to rack up enough trips — unless you fly a lot. To complete 100 one-way flights, which is essentially the same thing as 50 round-trip flights, you’d need to take about one trip each week.

Earning qualifying points might be a bit more straightforward — and there are a few ways you can do it. You can earn points by flying on Southwest, using a Southwest credit card or accumulating base points through Rapid Rewards partners.

But not all points count toward earning Companion Pass status. You can’t use purchased or member-transferred points, or points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, eRewards®, Valued Opinions or Diners Club®. Points earned from Rapid Rewards enrollment, tier and flight bonus points or partner bonus points, except from Rapid Rewards Chase Credit Cards, won’t count either. And you won’t be awarded points for your companion’s flight.

5 tips for earning the Companion Pass faster

Though there are many ways to earn points, the simplest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass may be by spending money on a Southwest credit card.

All of the points you earn, including anniversary points, on a Southwest credit card count toward the Companion Pass. You can only open one personal Southwest credit card at a time. But if you own a small business or are self-employed, you may also apply for a Southwest business credit card to help you supercharge your way to the Companion Pass.

1. Apply for a personal Southwest credit card

Southwest offers three personal credit cards.

All three of these cards have the same sign-up bonus: You’ll get 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases during the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, you’ll earn points for Southwest purchases as well as on everyday spending categories.

Since you can have only one Southwest card at a time, make sure to compare the details of each option to find the card that fits your lifestyle best.

2. Apply for a Southwest business credit card

Southwest also offers two business credit cards that could help you earn the Companion Pass even faster.

  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit CardThis card comes with a $99 annual fee and 6,000 anniversary bonus points. You’ll get 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. Plus, you can get an additional 60,000 points if you spend $15,000 total on purchases in your first 9 months.
  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card —  You’ll have to decide whether this card’s 9,000 anniversary points are worth the $199 annual fee. New cardholders will get 80,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening. And you can get an additional 40,000 points after spending $15,000 total on purchases in your first 9 months.

3. Fly with Southwest

Every time you fly, you’ll earn points that count toward the Companion Pass (as long as you don’t use points for any portion of the fare). The number of points you earn depends on the cost of the flight and the type of fare you book.

  • Most affordable: Wanna Get Away? tickets earn 6 points per $1 spent on airfare.
  • Midtier: Anytime tickets earn 10 points per $1.
  • High end: Business Select tickets earn 12 points per $1.

So if your base fare is $100, you’d earn 600 points on a Wanna Get Away? ticket, 1,000 points on an Anytime ticket, and 1,200 points on a Business Select ticket.

These points come in addition to the points you get from your credit card when you make a Southwest purchase.

4. Book your travel though Southwest

You can earn qualifying points toward the Companion Pass by booking hotels and rental cars through Southwest.

When you book a hotel through Rocketmiles, Southwest’s hotel partner, you can earn up to 10,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per night.

Renting a car through one of Southwest’s partners can help you earn even more points. Southwest partners with a handful of car rental agencies, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National, Payless and Thrifty.

5. Shop online or eat out through Southwest

If you enjoy shopping online, you can earn hundreds — or even thousands — of points by placing your order through Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Shopping® portal. Southwest partners with more than 800 stores, so this could be a good option to explore if you’re looking for a way to start racking up points without traveling.

Southwest also partners with local restaurants. And when you sign up for Rapid Rewards Dining®, you could earn more points every time you eat out at select restaurants.

What should I know about flying Southwest?

Southwest is a little different than other airlines. Before you take off on your journey to earn the Companion Pass, here are a couple of things to keep in mind about how Southwest operates.

  • Where Southwest flies — Southwest flies mostly domestic flights in the U.S. While there are a few routes to Latin America, you won’t be able to book a trip across the world to places like Europe, Asia or Australia as you could with other airlines.
  • How seating works — Southwest doesn’t assign seats and has a first-come, first-serve policy upon check-in, which begins 24 hours before departure. Having Southwest’s A-List status or the right credit card could help you secure priority boarding, but you might be disappointed there’s no first class.
  • Fees — Southwest doesn’t charge many of the typical fees you may see other airlines charge for things like checked bags or flight changes.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.