I have written before about the valuable Southwest Airlines Companion Pass (pass holders can take another passenger with them for free). But its value proposition has lost its luster, we find ourselves using it so rarely because the value has eroded. Here’s why.
Companion Pass: Details
Southwest Airlines offers their most frequent travelers and engaged Rapid Rewards members the ability to earn the Companion Pass after crossing 110,000 miles earned in a calendar year. Once earned, a named companion traveler can be added to any reservation the pass holder books.
- 110,000 Rapid Reward points can be earned by flying, from partner programs (shopping portals, credit card bonuses, rental cars) but not from hotel transfers.
- Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the year in which it is earned and all of the following year. If you qualify on December 31st 2018, your Pass is valid for 366 days; if you qualify on January 1st 2019, the pass is valid for 731 days.
- The companion can be changed thrice annually, up to six different companions during a two-year period.
- Companion flies for just the cost of taxes ($5.60/flight domestically) as long as there is at least one seat for sale in addition to the Pass holder.
How We Use The Companion Pass
My wife has designated our daughter as her companion since sometimes they travel just the two of them. Southwest flies direct to Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando – all four of which are within a couple of hours drive from a favorite vacation spot. Who doesn’t want to trade Steel City blues for 2-for-1 fun in the sun? That was a little bit extra but you get the idea.
For connecting flights abroad to Southwest’s growing Caribbean market, flights from Pittsburgh can be expensive. We can save as much as $400 going to places like Montego Bay and Aruba. On the bucket list for the Companion Pass for our family is the always expensive Belize and the Cayman Islands. From South Florida or major markets like New York and Chicago, prices may be competitive – from Pittsburgh, less so. Saving the full cost of one of our three tickets can be the difference between going on the trip and staying home.
We see points and cash as the same on Southwest though we prefer to burn points before dollars any day.
Why It’s No Longer As Valuable
Southwest is expensive, really, really expensive. More than twice as expensive as the next best option often. For those who love Southwest (and search there first), they may have missed the grand exodus Southwest made from No Frills to Value Brand to Bloated Bundler. More accurately, the rest of the market shifted from a standard that would now be considered premium and Southwest stayed the course but increased their prices.
And because I can already hear the clacking keyboards of the Southwest apologists, “But I don’t have to pay for bags with Southwest” – absolutely true. However, many of their flights are so uncompetitive that adding $60 ($30 for a bag in each direction) doesn’t even come close to making Southwest a good value.
For the doubters, I have included the following comparisons all from Pittsburgh. In each of these cases, Southwest was much more expensive than the cheapest available. In the case of Fort Myers (below) Southwest was not exactly double the price with a connection added in one direction, however, they were more than double for a comparable direct flight.
How about a short notice trip to Cancun?
Just take a look at these flights to Houston, $839 direct round trip or $750+ with a connection:
And that’s really the problem. Southwest’s Companion Pass is a great value when you’re getting a free ticket (plus taxes) for another traveler. However, when the cost of that ticket is twice the rest of the market, where’s the value add? In fact, I could successfully argue that in fact it’s worse because the other passenger would forgo any mileage accrual or status qualification on a Companion Pass ticket.
How Does This Affect My Relationship With Southwest?
I once called the Companion Pass the best deal in domestic travel, but due to Southwest’s crazy high prices, it’s become a dud. My wife was excited to achieve the Companion Pass this year because of the addition of Hawaiian flights. However, in retrospect Southwest doesn’t compete with United to Chicago or Houston, why will they compete with them to Hawaii? Would we want to fly that product anyway?
We just won’t pursue the carrier anymore, we are already using them less. Like any other carrier, their affinity credit card relationships drive a large portion of their profitability. We don’t shop on their cards, use their shopping portals, or transfer valuable Ultimate Rewards points to the program either.
Do you have the Companion Pass? Has its value diminished to you due to higher prices? Are you just in LUV with those peanut passing fools and want to tell me all about it? Fire away in the comments.