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The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most coveted symbols among Southwest frequent flyers. It's Southwest Airline's version of a buy-one-get-one deal, where you buy a flight and one lucky buddy gets to fly for free (aside from taxes and fees). But even fairly frequent Southwest flyers will have a hard time getting their hands on one.
It can be tough to earn, and its value lies in how often you use it once you have it. If you have a regular travel companion like a sibling, partner or BFF — and your travel plans this year involve attending six weddings, heading home for the winter holidays and spending the summer on the beaches of Hawaii — then you’ll more than likely save many hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by using it.
But you’ll also have to put in money (either in terms of purchasing Southwest airfare or spending money on a Southwest credit card) to earn it. So is the Southwest Companion Pass really all it's cracked up to be?
A quick overview of the Southwest Companion Pass
To earn the Companion Pass, you either need to take 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Among the best ways to earn qualifying points include:
Booking revenue airfares on Southwest (meaning it excludes tickets booked on points).
Booking a hotel or renting a car through one of Southwest’s partners.
Using a Rapid Rewards credit card.
Online shopping through the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal.
Once you’ve reached either the flight or point threshold, you’ll earn the Companion Pass for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earned it.
The pros of the Southwest Companion Pass
You don’t need us to tell you that getting a two-for-one deal (plus taxes and fees, which start at just $5.60) on flights for at least a year is a sweet deal. But here are a few other reasons why the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best deals out there:
You can still use the Companion Pass when booking with points
If you’ve accumulated the 125,000 Rapid Rewards points needed to earn the Companion Pass, then odds are you’ve got a ton of points to burn on airfare. You can use your points to book a Southwest flight for yourself, then use your pass to book your travel partner’s flight — essentially getting two flights for the price of none (aside from dipping into your points pool and paying taxes and fees).
» Learn more: Your guide to booking award flights on Southwest
Points earned through Rapid Rewards credit card welcome offers count toward reaching that Companion Pass
Taking 100 qualifying one-way flights could feel like an enormous feat, but if you’re open to applying for a Southwest credit card, your path to a Companion Pass could be significantly easier. Applying for a new credit card means you’ll likely take the path that requires you to earn 125,000 qualifying points to get a Companion Pass.
For example, here’s the welcome offer on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. That should help carve out a decent chunk of the 125,000-point goal.
You aren’t committed to one companion
Your travel plans might entail flying with your sibling to a wedding, taking a friend to Vegas and going on a romantic getaway to Hawaii with your partner. You can make all those trips happen on the Companion Pass, and they don’t all have to be with the same person.
You may change your designated companion up to three times each calendar year that you hold it.
However, you can’t hold multiple reservations with different companions at the same time. Any reservations with the current designated companion need to be canceled or completed before changing your designated companion, and you should also allow up to 21 business days for processing when you change that person.
This flexibility is a great benefit, but you’ll need to plan ahead to take advantage of it.
» Learn more: Southwest Airlines sweet spots
The cons of the Southwest Companion Pass
It’s easy to see why the Companion Pass is great, but it’s important to recognize that everything comes at some sort of cost. The value you get out of the pass might not be worth the effort you put into its pursuit.
Even with a credit card bonus, you’ll need to spend some money
Getting approved for a Rapid Rewards credit card and earning the welcome offer can certainly help get you a good chunk of the way toward Companion Pass ownership, but it won’t get you all the way there.
Usually, you’ll get the most points from Southwest’s business card. If you have any sort of small business and can get approved, you’ll get a healthy welcome bonus from the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
You’ll have to make up the difference through other means, like spending on your credit card. And with that comes risk that you could end up spending more than you should for the sake of earning miles.
Always weigh what you’ll spend to earn the pass versus how much the pass could save you. If you were going to buy new appliances and charge them to a credit card anyway, then it might make sense to use that to help you reach your Companion Pass. Just don’t fall for the trap of convincing yourself that it’s time to upgrade your perfectly good refrigerator because it’ll get you free flights (it’ll still cost you the price of a brand-new refrigerator).
Rapid Rewards credit cards may not provide the best value
Earning a Companion Pass will cost you either 100 qualifying one-way flights or 125,000 points.
Signing up for a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card could net you the following welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Let’s say that after earning those bonus points — coupled with points you’d earn from your regular Southwest flights — you’re still short of the 125,000 points. You’ll earn 1 point for every $1 spent on general purchases on Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards, so you could spend several thousand more on a Southwest credit card to earn it.
But that amount of cash may be better spent on another travel rewards card. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll earn this bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
This card offers 2x points on travel (5x points if you book your travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal), 3x on dining and 1x on all other purchases, so you may be able to earn points more quickly for all your travel spending — and transfer your points to Chase partners if you travel with carriers other than Southwest. And yes, the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is a partner loyalty program with Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
It’s important to compare the value of any points you’ll earn on these cards. Currently, NerdWallet values Southwest points at about 1.4 cents per point and Chase Ultimate Rewards points® from the Sapphire cards at about 1.8 cents each.
Or, take a card with a straightforward rewards structure like the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, which earns 2% rewards on all eligible purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off. That $50,000 in spending on that card would ultimately net you $1,000 in straight cash back. In that scenario, ask yourself if you’d rather have $1,000 or a Companion Pass. Frequent travelers might still find a Companion Pass worth more than $1,000, but you may not.
You’ll likely always feel pressured to book Southwest for as long as you hold it
You might be someone who generally takes Southwest flights, but what if you find yourself in a situation where the Southwest flight requires a layover and the United one is direct? What if you’re trying to get to Daytona Beach, Florida (which has its own airport), but the nearest Southwest-served airport is in Orlando?
You might feel tempted to take advantage of your Companion Pass by booking the flight with the layover, or landing in Orlando and taking the hour drive to the coast. But if you miss the layover, and the hour-long cab ride to your hotel costs $100, you might question if that half-price pair of tickets was really worth it.
The bottom line
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of those benefits that rewards travelers dream about. After all, it essentially cuts the airfare cost for partner trips in half. But it’s not easy to earn, and travelers can easily fall into the trap of spending more than they should just to earn it. Remember to weigh the cost of the pass against how much you’ll spend to earn it. And if you’re not a dedicated Southwest flyer, it’s OK if you want to skip it altogether.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card