Guide to the Southwest Companion Pass

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The Southwest Companion Pass has long been considered the holy grail of travel passes you can earn through an airline credit card. This companion pass is valuable for a few reasons, the first one being the fact it’s good for the year you earn it and the entire following year. Not only that, but the Southwest Companion Pass is usable whether the owner pays for their flight with points or with cash.

Yes, you read that right! Due to the way this companion pass works, the owner of the pass can get their companion flight for free—even if they didn’t pay for their own.

Southwest Companion Pass changes due to COVID-19

Southwest Airlines has rolled out some fresh changes in how you can earn the pass due to the emergence of COVID-19, which we outline below.

Also, note that, if you already had the Southwest Companion Pass through December of 2020, you’ll receive an extension of your Companion Pass status because of the pandemic. This means your pass won’t expire until Dec. 31, 2021.

Even better, if you opened your Rapid Rewards account by Dec. 31, 2020, Southwest will automatically add extra qualifying points and flights to your account to make it a bit easier to qualify for Companion Pass and A-List or A-List Preferred status. You should find these posted to your account within a week:

  • 15,000 tier qualifying points
  • 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points
  • 10 qualifying flight credits toward A-List/A-List Preferred
  • 25 qualifying flights toward Companion Pass

Unfortunately, you won’t qualify for these credits if you just became a Rapid Rewards member in 2021. On the bright side, certain Southwest rewards credit card members will have the rewards limit for tier qualifying point spending removed for 2021. That means the total number of tier qualifying points toward elite status you can earn from the monthly spending within each of your billing cycles (1,500 points earned for each $10,000 in combined purchases) won’t be capped at 15,000 points this year. You’ll be eligible for this uncapped spending offer if you have one of these Southwest cards:

How does the Southwest Companion Pass work?

To qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points in an eligible manner. Activities that can count toward the Southwest Companion Pass include:

  • Flights flown with the airline in 2021
  • Partner hotel stays completed on or before 12/31/2021
  • Partner rental cars returned on or before 12/31/2021
  • Points earned with a Southwest credit card for the year in which each statement closes and the points actually post to your account

Points from a Southwest credit card count toward this status based on when they post to your account after your credit card closing date and not on the day the spending occurs. Southwest makes this distinction on credit card spending because their companion pass is so valuable. If you’re on the verge of earning the Southwest Companion Pass, they want you to know that running out and spending money on your credit card on December 31 won’t likely help. You have to spend the money early enough so the points post to your account in your December billing statement, and you have to ensure you earn the full 125,000 points for the pass before the calendar year ends.

To use the pass, all you have to do is log into your Southwest Rapid Rewards account and set up a designated “companion.” This person gets to fly with you on each domestic or international flight you take, although you will owe airline taxes and fees for your companion. These start from $5.60 per leg for domestic flights and up to $100 or more for international flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

You can only change your designated “companion” up to three times per calendar year. Also, your companion can only fly for free with you; they cannot use the pass to fly alone or with someone else.

How do I get the Southwest Companion Pass?

To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll need to join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and earn at least 125,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year. Many people do this using a combination of Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses, spending on their cards and rental car or hotel bookings made through Southwest.

Since the sign-up bonuses on Southwest credit cards vary and fluctuate, you’ll need to keep your eye out for times when the bonus is higher than normal. But imagine for a moment you get one personal Southwest Companion Pass credit card and pair it with a Southwest credit card for business. You may wind up earning most of the points you need to earn the Companion Pass through these two sign-up bonuses, but you would need to spend enough on your credit cards and with Southwest partners to surpass the point threshold.

As an example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is currently offering up to 100,000 bonus points—50,000 if you spend $2,000 in the first three months of account opening and an additional 50,000 if you spend a total of $12,000 in the first 12 months. When you consider the points you earn from the spend it takes to get there, this bonus alone can get you about 90 percent of the way to Companion Pass on its own. However, you would need to complete enough eligible activity to get the rest of the way.

And this is where things get tricky, mostly because you need to know that not all Southwest points count toward the Companion Pass. Points transferred to this program from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count, for example. Certain bonus offers don’t count either, so you’ll always want to check the terms and conditions.

How many times can you use the Southwest Companion Pass?

One major reason consumers love this pass is the fact you can use it over and over again. In fact, you can use this companion pass an unlimited number of times during the year you earn it and the entire following year.

With that in mind, the Southwest Companion Pass rules don’t set any limits on how much value you can get in return. You can use your Companion Pass every week if you want to, and you can even use it when you pay for your flight with points instead of cash.

How long do I have my companion pass?

As we mentioned already, the Southwest Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the year you earn it and the entire following year. With that in mind, how long you have it depends on when you reach the point threshold during the calendar year.

If you opened a Rapid Rewards account on January 1, 2021, and earned 125,000 points that posted to your account by the end of June 2021, for example, you could enjoy the benefits of the Southwest Companion Pass for an entire year-and-a-half.

This is why savvy travelers tend to be strategic when it comes to earning their points. The earlier in the year you achieve Southwest Companion Pass status, the longer you’re able to enjoy the benefits and the savings.

Since Southwest Airlines has one of the most convenient cancellation and rebooking policies of any airline, and since you can fly all over the United States and to Mexico and the Caribbean with their program, all the work you put in will be worth it.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
Edited by
Senior Editor, Credit Card Product News