Lessons learned from over a decade with the Southwest Companion Pass

2023 marked my 15th year as a Southwest Companion Pass holder. If all goes as planned, I will secure years 16 and 17 soon, too. For the last decade and a half, I’ve earned the pass in many ways. One of my favorite methods is through Southwest credit cards. In fact, this is how I’ve earned the pass a few times in the past and how I hope to earn it again in 2024 and 2025.

With the current heightened offers on Southwest credit cards, earning the pass through the credit card welcome bonuses is significantly easier. My goal this time is to earn the pass as early in 2024 as possible, allowing me to be a passholder for 51 weeks in 2024 and a full 52 weeks in 2025.

Thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass, I’ve been able to fly to domestic and international destinations where my husband, my daughter, my son, my mom, my sister or a friend flies with me for free (other than taxes) as my companion. Unfortunately, I’ve never calculated my true savings, but I know it’s well over $10,000 at this point.

If you’re yearning for your own chance to fly two-for-one, this particular moment is actually one of the best times to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. You can even follow the same process I went through by applying for one (or two) Southwest’s credit cards now and then waiting until January for your points to post.

Right now, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Once you meet the full minimum spend requirement, you’ll end up with 75,000 qualifying points toward the Companion Pass.

To earn the pass, you need to earn 135,000 points in a calendar year. However, if you’re a cardmember on the first of the year, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 qualifying bonus points toward the pass. So once all of the qualifying points are posted to your account, that’ll leave you with 50,000 points remaining to earn the pass.

To earn the rest of the needed 50,000 points, there are a few options.

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The easiest method — and the one I am pursuing currently — is to apply for a Southwest business credit card and get its welcome bonus. Currently, both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card are offering welcome bonuses that will earn you the remaining points required.

If you aren’t eligible for a business card (although, a lot of people are), you can earn the necessary points with additional credit card spending, flying Southwest points or doing partner activity, such as using the Southwest shopping portal.

To maximize the pass length, however, you’ll want to apply for the card(s) now but ensure all of your welcome bonus points are posted in 2024. This will earn you the pass for the rest of 2024 and all of 2025, meaning you’ll want to wait until 2024 to meet the minimum spend on the credit card.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Although the pass is pretty straightforward, there are still some things you should know. Fortunately, by having the pass for well more than a decade, I’ve learned the ins and outs of the pass. Hopefully, I can help you realize its maximum potential.

Maximize your time with the pass


Although I covered some of this above, being strategic as to when to earn the Companion Pass is extremely important. You’ll earn the pass for the rest of the calendar year in which you reach the qualifying threshold, plus the entire following year.

For example, earning the pass on Jan. 15, 2024, will give you the pass through Dec. 31, 2025 — that’s 23 and a half months as a passholder. Earn the pass in November 2024, and it will still expire on Dec. 31, 2025, giving you only 15 months to use it. If you earn the pass this year, for example, in December 2023, it will expire on Dec. 31, 2024. That’s just 13 months at most with the pass.

So, now is the perfect time to start working on earning the pass.

Even though you might apply for the credit cards now while it’s still 2023, the points only count toward the year they are posted to your account, regardless of when you apply for the card. So, if you apply in November or December 2023 and wait until January 2024 (or later) to meet the minimum spend, you’ll earn the points in 2024. This will count toward the 135,000 qualifying points required to be a passholder for 2024 and 2025.

Typically, points post two to five days after your statement closes in the month you meet the minimum spend requirement. So, if you are looking to earn the pass as quickly as possible, try to meet the minimum spend the moment Jan. 1 hits. If you do so, the points will post once your statement closes, allowing you to start using the pass as soon as possible — as long as you’ve earned the full 135,000 qualifying points.

You can book the primary passenger’s flight now

Even if you’ve not yet earned the pass, you can still book the primary passenger’s flight now. Then, once you earn the pass, you can add your companion to your flight. Just know that if the flight sells out before you secure your pass, you won’t be able to tack on your companion.

Because of that, I recommend booking a seat with points for your companion. This will save a spot for them on the plane, and then you can cancel that points reservation and rebook with the Companion Pass without losing the seat. If you don’t earn it in time, your companion will still be on your flight via points.

Anyone can be your companion

You can designate anyone as your companion. It can be your significant other, your child, your parent, your best friend, your worst enemy — anyone.

You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year. After you set your initial companion, you can change it three times in 2024 and then three times in 2025 — if you earn the pass in 2024.

This means you can have up to seven different people fly with you on the pass over two different calendar years. You can also pick a person as a companion multiple times. For example, let’s say you earn the pass in a few months and designate your spouse as the companion. You can then change your companion to your child (the first change), then a few months later to your friend (the second change). A few months after that, you can change back to your spouse (the third change).

Tip: If you don’t use up your three changes in a given year, change your companion in December to the person flying with you first in the following year.

Have your child fly with you for free. Well, almost free — you will pay the taxes on the fare. JENNIFER YELLIN/DEALS WE LIKE

Related: The best Southwest Airlines credit card for family travelers

Companion changes happen instantly

Although you can initially designate your companion online through your Southwest account right after earning your pass, you’ll have to call the airline at 800-435-9792 when you need to designate a different companion.

Online, the Southwest Companion Pass FAQs tell you that it can take up to 21 business days to process your new companion, but this isn’t the case in practice. As soon as you call Southwest and give them your new companion’s information, your pass is instantly updated, and you can book your companion’s ticket right away.

Within a few weeks (most likely that “21 business days”), you’ll receive your new Companion Pass in the mail with your name and your companion’s. Having the physical pass is nice, but I’ve never needed to show it to anyone in all my years.

Depart with one companion, return with another

Because the companion change is immediate, there have been times when I used the pass for one passenger on my departure and another passenger for my return. For example, a few years ago, I flew to Florida with my husband as my companion, but on the return flight, I had my sister fly with me. This flexibility is one of the best perks of the pass.

In conclusion, earning and utilizing the Southwest Companion Pass is a fantastic way to save money on flights and travel with a companion for free. By strategically timing your earning and taking advantage of credit card welcome bonuses, you can secure the pass for multiple years and maximize your travel opportunities. So why wait? Start planning your Southwest Companion Pass journey today!

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