Is Southwest's Companion Pass Really Worth It?

Texas-based Southwest Airlines has a reputation for doing things a bit differently, like its unique boarding process, for example. To be sure, the airline's signature Companion Pass perk definitely aligns with that outside-the-box philosophy. Just like the name implies, the Companion Pass allows your designated companion to travel with you for free anywhere that Southwest flies, and you can use it an unlimited amount of times with no restrictions or blackout dates. You'll still be required to pay taxes and fees for your companion, but they're quite reasonable at $5.60 one way and $11.60 round trip for domestic routes, though some international flights will incur higher taxes.

Also, it doesn't matter how you're paying for the flight. The Southwest Companion Pass applies to cash bookings, as well as flights obtained with the airline's Rapid Rewards loyalty points, or even credits you've accumulated in a travel bank from previously cancelled trips. For many loyal flyers of Southwest, the pass makes sense, but note you will definitely need to spend some serious money to earn a Companion Pass, whether that's funds spent on Southwest airfare, with the airline's partners, or with a co-branded Southwest Airlines credit card.

Next, we take a closer look at whether or not the Southwest Companion Pass is worth pursuing, given the number of travel rewards credit cards there are to choose from, as well as the competing welcome bonuses. Here are elements of the pass you'll want to consider as you decide.

You can't change companions on a whim

To begin using the Companion Pass, you'll need to name someone as your designated companion, which can be a spouse, co-worker, child, whoever you choose. This being said, you're not completely locked-in to that designated companion, as Southwest allows Companion Pass holders to change their designated companion three times each calendar year, but there's a big contingency: You can't change your designated companion if you have existing travel booked with your current companion. If you already have a future flight with your current designated companion, you'll need to either complete that trip or cancel it before substituting a new companion.

Which begs the question, how long is the Southwest Companion Pass valid for? The pass works for the remainder of the year in which it's earned — plus, the entire next year. For example, if you earned a Companion Pass in April 2024, it would expire on December 31, 2025. Yet, if you earned the pass in November 2024, it would expire on December 31, 2025, as well. Therefore, it is advantageous to try to acquire the pass as early as possible in the first year to receive maximum benefit from it.

You can get the pass in a few ways

There are basically three ways to earn a Companion Pass. The first is to fly 100 one-way flights (or 50 round trips) within a calendar year. All flights count toward this goal, regardless of their distance or duration. The next way to earn the pass is to accrue 135,000 qualifying points (that is, Southwest Rapid Reward points) within one calendar year. Some or all of those Rapid Reward points can come from flights purchased from Southwest, but note, different fare classes earn points at different rates. For example, the lowest priced "Wanna Get Away" fares accumulate points at six times the cash price of the ticket, while the more premium "Business Select" fares earn points more rapidly, at 12 times the purchase price of fares.

You can also earn Rapid Reward points via hotel stays and/or car rentals with Southwest's partners, which are various. You'll need to make sure your Rapid Rewards membership number is attached to any such reservation and in some cases, you will forgo receiving points in that partner's own loyalty program. For example, if you're staying at a Hyatt hotel, reward points will credit Southwest rather than Hyatt's own World of Hyatt rewards program.

Finally, Southwest Airlines regularly offers Companion Passes as rewards for completing certain challenges. Specifically, the airline's co-branded credit cards might dangle a Companion Pass as a carrot for spending a large amount of money within a certain period of time, like 90 days. However, beware that these promotional Companion Passes often expire more quickly than the regular type.

Credit cards and the Companion Pass

One common way to accumulate a large quantity of points on any airline is to open a co-branded credit card with a generous welcome bonus. In the case of Southwest Airlines specifically, there are five: three for personal use and two for businesses. A few of these credit cards offer the potential to earn a promotional Companion Pass outright, but the ones that don't (the two business versions, as it happens) offer a large amount of Rapid Reward points instead. Either 60,000 or 80,000 points (note, though accurate now, welcome bonuses are subject to frequent change) that can be applied toward the 135,000 points threshold to earn the full-fledged Companion Pass.

Note that freelancers, self-employed, and small business owners frequently meet the requirements for opening business credit card accounts, so you don't necessarily need to be heading a Fortune 500 company to take advantage of these promotions. However, a considerable amount of money will need to be spent within a fixed time period to earn the welcome bonus points.

The remainder of the 135,000 points not covered by a card's welcome bonus will still need to be earned, either by spending on the credit card, flying with Southwest, purchasing at retailers using the airline's shopping portal, or spending with travel partners. Any points purchased or transferred to Southwest from other loyalty programs won't count toward the Companion Pass goal.

Some credit cards offer a promotional pass

As alluded to earlier, there also exists three co-branded Southwest Airlines credit cards that give away a Companion Pass as part of a welcome bonus to new cardholders without need to spend any additional funds with the airline or its partners. There are three tiers to the Rapid Rewards cards: Plus, Priority, and Premium.

These three cards have slightly varying perks and multipliers for rewarding spending in different categories, as well as annual fees ranging from $69 to $149, so you'll want to do some due diligence before selecting one. Also note that the version of the Southwest Companion Pass that accompanies these credit cards is typically only valid for a maximum of 12 months or less, a shorter period of time than the full-strength Companion Pass that's earned organically.

This shortcoming, however, is offset by the fact that, in addition to the Companion Pass, the cards listed above also come with 30,000 Rapid Reward points, which can be redeemed for free flights on Southwest, though you'll still have to pay the taxes. That means that cardholders who unlock these bonuses can book an award flight for themselves with points and take a companion for free, except for the taxes for both passengers. At the time of writing, cardholders are required to spend $4,000 within three months of their account opening to unlock the bonuses.

Make sure you'll be flying Southwest enough

In essence, Southwest's Companion Pass provides two-for-one flights, not counting taxes and fees. That travel perk can easily be worth thousands of dollars to the right flier, but does that describe you? Consider whether Southwest has a significant presence (or any) at airports that are located nearby to you. Also consider the whole of your travel plans and how many flights to Southwest's destinations are in your immediate future.

Let's face it, consumers only have a limited amount of organic spending to make on rewards credit cards, so it's up to you to decide if pursuing a Companion Pass is a worthwhile goal or whether your focus should be elsewhere, which might even include good ol' fashioned cash back. Finally, when it comes to credit cards and rewards, be cautious of overspending or making frivolous purchases just to earn a welcome bonus, like a Companion Pass. For that matter, don't spend more on any credit card than you can afford to pay in full once the monthly statement arrives. While half-price tickets on Southwest is a major perk, to be sure, don't accumulate stressful and expensive debt to do it.