Traveling as a family of four is expensive. We like Southwest Airlines because they have low rates, and lots of perks, like free checked bags. Even better? The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. We scored TWO Southwest Airlines Companion Passes for 2020*, which means our kids will fly free when we fly all of next year and the rest of this year, too. Wanna know how to get the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass? I'm sharing how we did it.
How our family scored TWO Southwest Airlines Companion Passes
*Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 so the big joke was on me about being excited for lots of air travel in 2020. However, Southwest extended the companion passes and we were able to use them in 2021, so I feel that we got a decent return on our investment. This post has been updated (current as of February 2022) to reflect current Southwest Airlines policy on Companion Passes.
First things first: What is a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass?
Just what is sounds like. It's a pass that allows someone else you designate to fly with you as your companion for a set period of time. When you make your reservation on a Southwest Airlines flight, you can book your designated companion for free as long as there's space available on that flight. You pay taxes and fees for your companion. It's an awesome deal.
How do I qualify for Southwest Airlines Companion Passes?
First, you have to open up a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Account, which is fast and easy to do. If you fly Southwest at all, you should definitely have a Rapid Rewards account because they have a great loyalty program and miles earned never expire. You can qualify for the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass by accruing a certain number of points or a certain number of flights in a calendar year period.
Currently, Southwest requires a passenger to accrue 125,000 Rapid Rewards points or take 100 flights to receive the Companion Pass. Yes, 100 flights is a lot of flights and obviously, to qualify for the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass with flights is probably only attainable for ultra frequent flyers. We qualified using points, which is was attainable for us.
Read more: Want to better understand Southwest Airlines change policy?
How we qualified for TWO Southwest Airlines Companion Passes in 2020
Even though we qualified at the end of 2019, the process to do it again would be the same. In order to do so, you have to prioritize using Southwest Airlines when you fly and prioritize using their Rapid Rewards Chase Visa.
Flying as a family of four and paying for two tickets is a pretty sweet deal and worth the effort to get there. Remember, companions will pay taxes and fees but the price is minimal.
We qualified with Rapid Rewards Points earned from Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa from Chase. We have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa, which is our primary family credit card. I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Performance Credit Card, which I used for most of my 2019 business expenses, such as web hosting, printing, training, office supplies, and some business travel.
We use these two cards exclusively to pay for absolutely dollar we spent with the goal of earning those passes – kind of. I'll explain in a minute.
We pay our credit card balances off monthly and I recommend doing that if you're going to use your cards this way. We were deliberate about gaining our points but we also recognized the need not to accrue debt to get travel perks.
What pushed us over the top for getting a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass?
We realized in mid-September that we were both within sniffing distance of getting a companion pass but that we'd need to spend/travel strategically to get to 110,000* points each. We bought our Christmas presents early and paid ahead on our kids' martial arts lessons. We didn't buy more things but we were more focused on using only our Southwest cars and stocked up on a few things that we knew we'd use anyway.
What pushed us over the top is booking more travel. Here's what we did:
We booked two trips we hadn't planned on taking, one in October 2019 and one in November 2019. While we did gain some points with airfare x 4, where we really scored big was with hotel points/special offers. We did a two-night stay at the Arizona Biltmore, which is a luxury resort outside Phoenix and a three-night stay at a golf resort in Sedona. We do like Arizona but for these trips, we followed the points.
We got 26,000 points for the Biltmore and 18,000 points for the resort in Sedona. These points got us to the finish line. Although we hadn't planned on those trips, they were great trips, especially the Arizona Biltmore. I would go back in a heartbeat. The ultimate reward was 12 months+ of free flights for our kids. I call that a win.
*Southwest Airlines increased the point requirement from 110,000 to 250,000 in 2020.
Finding the killer point deals on Southwest.com
On the home page, select “special offers” then select “hotels.” Note you can also select vacations, cars or flights and see what comes up but we searched for “hotels” both times.” This takes you to a partnership screen with Booking.com. You'll see a list of flight deals but what you want is the search box at the top.
Put in a city you want to visit and plug in some dates. Wait for the “Rapid Rewards Plus Points” to load – you'll see a red line load across the top of your screen as the available hotels populate. All hotels are going to have Rapid Rewards points associated with them but you'll want to look for the points in the bold blue box.
Finding the killer points deals requires some trial and error with locations and dates. Spending 10 minutes in February 2022 searching for points deals yielded a 10,000 points per night deal at a hotel in Miami's South Beach that lines up with our spring travel dates. I also found a hotel in Arizona* offering a 17,000 point bonus for a three-night stay and some really tempting points deals at hotels in Aruba.
You'll need to enter every destination individually – there is no “hot deals” section. I wish there was.
*Some of the properties that are popping up with the good points deals are owned by Diamond Resorts. While the resorts are okay, you'll be invited to a time share sales pitch. We are Diamond members, which is the absolute biggest travel mistake we've ever made. I recommend you skip it.
Related reading: Can you save seats on Southwest Airlines? The answer is complicated but read here.
These screenshots are from 2019 but the process is still the same.
I plugged in some random dates to visit New Orleans. The best deal looks like 14,000 Rapid Rewards points to stay at a particular property. Keep in mind this level of points is going to be a fairly high-end property so be prepared to spend some money on the room. You'll have to decide if that is worth it.
When I go to select my room, there are options to upgrade to even more points. As you can see, I can get 20,000 points if I spend an additional fee for my room. $649 gets me three night and 14,000 points but $763 gives me the same room and 20,000 points, which can big a big jump if you're trying to qualify for that companion pass.
Our two trips to Arizona in 2019 (when travel was so much simpler, sigh) were enough to put my husband and I both over the threshold for a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass using points.
Keep in mind, we started getting serious about this in September. If we'd been more strategic about it at the start of the year, we probably wouldn't have needed to take both trips – but they were fun.
What's the bottom line?
For us, it meant a year's worth of half price travel for our family of four. While we didn't fly as a family in 2020, Southwest very generously extended the life of the passes and we got to use our companion passes three times, which wasn't as often as we'd hoped but it was still a good deal.
It also gave us a new perspective on working toward goals using our miles and points versus just rolling with what we got. It helped us to be more proactive with all of our loyalty programs.
Your mileage may vary and you may not see the types of deals I mentioned above for the where/when you want to travel. I've consistently played with dates over the past year and it seems like Arizona, New Orleans, Hawaii, Aruba, and the Bahamas consistently offer the super points. I keep plugging new destinations in (I like to stick to places where I can get a direct flight since these tend to be shorter trips for us) and seeing what's available.
For more information or to read about the Companion Pass directly from the horse's mouth, read here.