This post was written in December 2015 but as of December 2018, it still holds true today. Southwest Airlines’ Companion Pass is the best deal for traveling families.
Why Southwest Ever?
Southwest Airlines does not offer upgrades (though their seats have a pitch comparable to some economy plus seats). That disqualifies them for much of our readership, but to those who are open, there are some serious benefits available from the largest domestic carrier in the United States.
One advantage of flying Southwest is their network of point-to-point destinations from non-hub airports like Omaha, and Kansas City, Tampa, and Albuquerque with cheap one-way flight pricing. They have also made hubs in convenient city locations like Dallas Love Field, and Chicago Midway and offer direct flights from non-hubs to almost every airport in the country from Orlando and Las Vegas.
Southwest’s biggest advantage is the Companion Pass. Here is how it works. After accruing 110,000 points in a calendar year the earner is rewarded with a companion pass whereby a named companion can fly with the earner for free until the end of the following calendar year. The airline does not distinguish points earned in the program as elite qualifying from regular redemption miles, meaning that you don’t even have to fly Southwest to earn the points.
That sounds more complex than it is.
I crossed 110,000 points in February of 2015. I named my wife as my companion. Any time that I fly through the rest of 2015 and all of 2016 she can be added on to my tickets for just the cost of taxes (usually $5.60/each way) even if I am flying on point redemption tickets.
But How Did I Earn the 110,000 Points by February?
I signed up for two credit cards from Chase, a bank I love. To be absolutely clear, I do not earn referral commissions for any credit cards but other bloggers do and if you want to apply you should find a blogger with a referral link. I am discussing the card because I love the Companion Pass, not because I am paid to do so. You can also apply with Chase directly.
The personal Southwest card awarded 50,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days, plus the 2,000 points for spending the $2,000 as it earns 1 Rapids Rewards point per $1 spent on the card. I did the same with the business card, giving me 104,000 points. I then made some normal purchases through the Southwest online shopping portal and earned the remaining 6,000 points to get me over the 110,000 mark.
Southwest does not distinguish points from credit card spend, flying or shopping. The only points that they do distinguish are purchased points (those don’t count), transfers from Ultimate Rewards points like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or Chase Ink or transfers in from hotel partners – those would not count according to reader Patrick, some hotel transfers do count, he identifies Choice hotels at a transfer rate of 3.3 Choice Privilege points to 1 Southwest Rapid Rewards point though I have not confirmed myself, we will take Patrick’s word on this. Everything else does.
How Have We Used It?
We are trying to get the most possible value out of the pass without losing our minds. Every time we have a flight we need to take that we do not fly American (where we have status) is one where we will fly in coach instead of first class. There are times where I will gladly forgo an upgrade to first class and fly coach. For example, my parents have a condo in Florida and our home airport has direct flights there.
In two hours we can be dropping our bags at their place and another ten minutes and we are in the pool. On top of that Southwest has two daily flights to that airport, one early in the day allowing us the maximum time if I need to take the day off from work to enjoy the beach instead of spending all day making connections and flying. The second option is a direct flight at 7PM in the evening which allows me to work the whole day and then go to the airport keeping some of those valuable days off saved for later.
Open bin space is another advantage to flying Southwest.
Direct flights have been a key advantage of flying Southwest, but I also wanted to get some real value out of it and that involved a connection. I surprised my wife with a trip to Aruba for her 30th birthday, but flights to international destinations are very much hub and spoke and less point to point, just like the big network carriers. On this particular flight, we flew through BWI before landing in Aruba 4.5 hours later.
The last thing you want to do when you get off a Southwest plane is to get on another one. So for us, we will limit future trips to just direct flights of less than three hours or when the others are astronomically higher which rarely happens.
Fart Can and Open Seating
I have yet to step on a Southwest plane that does not reek of flatulence. You can blame the airline, the cleaning crew or the clientele, but either way, it is always gross. And I feel gross when I fly them.
But once you get adjusted to the smell, the big advantage for us, is flights are rarely sold out 100%. While there may only be 5-10 open seats per flight (an excellent sign for the airline) we board with a baby at the end of “A” boarding. That means that my wife, myself and the baby get on after the first 60 people, but on a jet with seating for 140 or so, the infant tends to be something to avoid so we typically have a row to ourselves due to sociological reasons and suspicions of our baby’s behavior on a plane. That’s something that we don’t get when flying with the other airlines where people cannot choose to avoid seats next to babies.
How Much Value Is In The Companion Pass?
While our daughter was under two, the three of us are flying for just the cost of my ticket and my wife’s taxes. For Aruba that meant using points instead of paying about $500 out of pocket for me, and then my wife flew for $76 (taxes) and the baby for just $16 (I think there may have been an error there but I am not complaining). Assuming that we would have gone on the trip anyway and not just because it was free, we would have paid about $1125 to fly the same trip on American, though we would have earned status and miles and flown in first-class due to status and instruments.
Instead, however, we were just $76 each out of pocket plus my daughter’s $16 (total of $178) and about 24,000 points. That’s well worth putting a $1000 back in my pocket and makes an easy case for the program.
Assuming that we did this kind of trip for all of the miles from just the sign-up activity alone, the card would return more than $4500 to us, and that is an outsized value for two credit card sign-ups.
Any time there is an outsized value (and there have been dozens of examples in the past) expect a correction. I assume that Southwest will begin to distinguish their bonus points (though not regular spend points) from companion pass eligible points and essentially end a large number of the passes out there. I have no direct information to confirm this, but any time there is a value too large and too good to be true, it will be made untrue. If I were you, I would get on this now, If you apply for cards in November/December but don’t hit the full bonus points posting until January you will have two full years to enjoy it. It should also lock you in because it’s essentially making a contract with customers and while all airlines can change these policies any time they want, it would be bad PR for them to cancel the program with short notice (Mike, I am looking at you).
Have you tried to earn the Companion Pass? Do you love it? Have you found something you prefer more?