The Southwest Companion Pass has long been considered the holy grail of travel passes you can earn through an airline credit card. The Companion Pass is valuable for a few reasons, starting with the fact that 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 cash. That means the owner of the pass can get their companion flight for free—even if they didn’t pay for their own flight.

How to get the Southwest Companion Pass

To qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll need to join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points per calendar year. Many people achieve Companion Pass status by using a combination of Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses, credit card spending, and rental car or hotel bookings made through Southwest.

Since the sign-up bonuses on Southwest credit cards vary and fluctuate, you should keep an eye out for times when the bonus is higher than usual. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card currently earns 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Alternatively, let’s say you get a personal Southwest Companion Pass credit card and pair it with a Southwest business credit card. You may earn most of the points you need for the Companion Pass through their sign-up bonuses, but you would need to spend enough on your credit cards and with Southwest partners to surpass the point threshold.

Southwest Companion Pass changes due to COVID-19

Previously, Southwest Airlines changed how you could earn the pass due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Companion Pass holders who had their pass through December 2020 received an extension through Dec. 31, 2021 because of the pandemic. Southwest also automatically added extra qualifying points and flights to Rapid Rewards accounts opened before Dec. 31, 2020, making it easier to qualify for Companion Pass, A-List or A-List Preferred status. Unfortunately, Southwest did not offer these extensions or credits to those who became Rapid Rewards members in 2021. It’s now back to its normal pre-pandemic operations and requirements.

How to earn points toward Companion Pass

Points that qualify for the Companion Pass include:

  • Flights booked through Southwest
  • Points earned on Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Cards
  • Base points earned from Rapid Rewards partners

Southwest credit card points count toward Companion Pass status when they are posted to your Rapid Rewards account (after your credit card closing date) and not on the day the spending occurs. Southwest makes this distinction on credit card spending because its Companion Pass is so valuable. If you wait until December 31 to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, know that running out and spending money on your credit card that day likely won’t help. You’d have to spend the money early enough so the points post to your account in your December billing statement, and you’d have to ensure you earn the full 125,000 points needed for the pass before the calendar year ends.

Also, it should be noted not all Southwest points count toward the Companion Pass. For example, points transferred to this program from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count. Certain bonus offers don’t count either, so you’ll always want to check the terms and conditions first.

No limit on earning points with select Southwest cards

In 2021, certain Southwest credit card members had the rewards limit for tier qualifying point spending removed, and this has continued into 2022. The limit was previously capped at 15,000 points, but now there is no limit to how many points you can earn. You’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 in purchases. And you’re eligible for this uncapped spending offer if you have one of these Southwest cards:

How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

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. Still, you will owe airline taxes and fees for your companion. These fees start at $5.60 per leg for domestic flights and can go 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 many times can you use the Southwest Companion Pass?

One major reason consumers love this pass is the fact that you can use it 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 is the Companion Pass good for?

Since the Southwest Companion Pass is good for the remainder of the year you earn it in and the entire following year, how long you have the pass depends on when you reach the point threshold during the calendar year.

For example, if you opened a Rapid Rewards account on Jan. 1, 2022, and if you earn 125,000 points (and they’re posted to your account) by the end of June 2022, you’ll enjoy the benefits of the Southwest Companion Pass for the rest of 2022 and throughout 2023.

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 savings.

The bottom line

Southwest Airlines has one of the most convenient cancellation and rebooking policies of any airline. Plus, you can fly all over the U.S. and to Mexico and the Caribbean with the program. If you’re willing to put in the work, the Southwest Companion Pass will be more than worth it since it comes with numerous benefits and savings that can be enjoyed during the year you earn it—and the year after.