I’ve flown my family 2-for-1 with the Southwest Companion Pass over the past 11 years. It has truly saved my family over $10,000 and has allowed us to take trips that we might not have otherwise taken. In my opinion, it is by far the best perk in the entire travel industry and a benefit that most travelers should look into, especially those traveling with a family. In a nutshell, the pass allows a companion to fly with you for free an unlimited number of times during the life of the pass. It is truly a “no strings attached” benefit. Remember, the bonus points received from the Southwest credit cards count towards earning the companion pass!
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card ($149 annual fee)
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card ($99 annual fee)
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card ($69 annual fee)
Since I’ve had the pass for many many years, I’ve learned the in’s and out’s pretty quickly. So here are my top 10 tips when using the pass:
1. You Can Change Your Companion 3 Times a Year
With the Southwest Companion Pass anyone can be your companion. This can include a friend, significant other, child—really anyone! But it is good to know that there are restrictions on how many times you can change your companion during the calendar year. When you first earn the Companion Pass, Southwest will ask you to designate your companion. Once this person is added onto your account, you can add them to any reservation you already have booked.
If you need to change your companion, you can do so, but all reservations booked with your current companion will be canceled. You can then add your new companion onto any upcoming flights. You can also repeat companion, which means you can go back and forth, but every change will still count towards your three times a year number.
TIP: The first time you designate your companion, it does not count towards the “three changes” magical number. Also, if you earn the Companion Pass again for the following year, your number will reset and you will be able to change your companion three more times during the new calendar year.
2. You Must Call Southwest to Change Your Companion
Although you can designate your first companion through your online account, every time you need to change your companion you’ll need to call Southwest—as of today, there is no way to do it online. When you call Southwest, they will cancel any upcoming reservations you might have for your current companion and can add on your new companion to those flights. There is no way to keep your old companion onto future flights.
Once the Southwest representative changes your companion, your companion is instantly changed in the system. Even though you will not receive the new companion pass in the mail for a few weeks, you can start booking your new companion immediately. You can even add them onto a flight for the same day, if needed. I’ve never once had to actually show the card to anyone at the airport.
TIP: If you are looking to change your companion again for future flights already booked and want to make sure there is a seat still available for them, add your current companion onto those flights even though you know your companion will change. That locks in a seat for them and when you go to change your companion at a later date, the representative will cancel the current reservation and add on the new companion to the future flight.
3. Add Your Companion Onto Your Reservation Right Away
With the Southwest Companion Pass, there are absolutely no seat restrictions. The only requirement is there is at least once seat left for sale—even if it is only one of those expensive Business Select fares available. When you book the primary passengers flight, you’ll want to add your Companion on right away. This will ensure that there is a seat for them.
I once faced the issue that I completely forgot to add my daughter onto my flight. I only realized this a few days before our vacation was about to start and our flight was sold out! Fortunately, there is lost of movement on Southwest flights since you can cancel with no fee. My husband and I checked the route what seemed to be like every second for about 36 hours and fortunately a seat opened up. We immediately snagged that seat for our daughter and we were good to go. But it was definitely stressful!
TIP: Southwest does not immediately add your Companion Pass onto an existing reservation. You will need to manually do it, so do not forget!
4. The Primary Passenger Can Use Points to Book their Flight
The best part about the pass is that even the primary passenger can use points to book their flight—meaning both passengers are essentially flying for free! Many other companion passes in the travel world require the first passenger to purchase a certain fare level seat. That is not the case with Southwest. There is no minimum cost for the flight and even points can be used, which is amazing!
TIP: You can even use points from another persons account to book your ticket and still add on the Companion. For example, if your Companion has Southwest points, he or she can book you a ticket and then you can add them on as your Companion!
5. Your Companion Must Check Into their Flight Separately
Even though your Companion is attached to your reservation, they will receive a completely different confirmation number. With Southwest, you can check into your flight exactly 24-hours prior to departure. The earlier you check in, the better boarding number you’ll receive. Remember, Southwest does not have assigned seats and operates as a first come, first serve. You’ll board in the order of your boarding number, so getting the best boarding number as possible is important to ensure that all passengers in your party can sit together.
TIP: If you have a child 6 or younger in your family, the entire family can board during family boarding. This happens between the “A” and “B” groups. Boarding right after the A group is perfectly fine and your entire family should have no problem getting seats together.
6. There are No Blackout Dates
With the Southwest Companion Pass there truly are no black out dates. Your companion can fly with you for free 7 days a week, 365 days a year. While the primary passenger might end up paying slightly more if you are flying during peak dates, the companions flight will still cost $0 plus the same amount in taxes/fees.
7. There are No Route Restrictions
Southwest currently flies to 99 destinations throughout the US, Mexico, Caribbean, and Central America. And pretty soon they will be flying in and out of Hawaii! You can use the companion pass to fly for free to every single one of their destinations on every single route!
TIP: The only cost you are on the hook for are the taxes/fees. Domestic flights cost $5.60 per one way. International flights vary based on the country—roundtrip taxes/fees can end up costing anywhere between $30-$120.
8. You Must Fly By the Companion Expiration Date, Not Simply Book By
Expiration dates can sometimes be confusing in the travel world. Some times you simply must “book by” the expiration date, while other times you must actually “stay by or fly by” the expiration date. I’ve had many readers inquire how the expiration date works for the Companion Pass and unfortunately it is the later. You must actually travel by the expiration date. For example, if you are currently a companion pass holder and your pass is set to expire on December 31, 2019, all travel must be completed by December 31, 2019, regardless of when you book your flight. TIP: Even if you book as a roundtrip with the outbound in 2019 and the return in 2020, you’ll only be able to apply the pass to the outbound flight. And to apply the pass to the flight the outbound flight, you’ll actually have to book as two one ways.
9. You Do Not Need to Wait to Earn the Companion Pass to Book Your Flight
You can still go ahead and book the primary passengers flight first even if have not yet earned the pass. Once you actually earn the pass you can then add the Companion Pass reservation onto the primary passengers reservation. The two flights do not need to be booked together. You can even book a Companion Pass flight onto a reservation that was booked months ago. You just cannot book the companion’s flight until you have actually earned the pass.
TIP: Book the primarily passengers flight as early as possible to get the best price. If the flight happens to go down in price, you can always get a refund for the difference in either points or a credit depending on how you booked your ticket.
10. Companions Cannot Fly Standby
Southwest only allows passengers to go standby on an earlier flight if they have A-List status. They are extremely strict with this policy and if you do not have status and want to catch an earlier flight they will instead require you to pay the fare difference between what you paid and the current selling rate—which can be hundreds of dollars! If you happen to have both the Companion Pass and A-List status, unfortunately you will not be able to combine the perks of going standby and have a companion fly with you. If you go standby at the airport, you are not able to apply a companion to your ticket. And since your companion must fly with you, your companion cannot fly on the originally booked flight if you go standby.
TIP: Southwest is currently running a status match promotion where if you have status with any other airline, Southwest will grant you A-List status for 90 days. Within those 90 days, if you complete 3 roundtrip (or 6 one-way) fights, your A-List status will be extended another 12 months.
The Companion Pass is an amazing perk, but knowing these tips can absolutely help you maximize your savings! Enjoy flying for free for the rest of the year!