I have called the Southwest Companion Pass the best deal in domestic travel, but when given the opportunity for a short winter-only Companion Pass, my family chose not to pursue it, here’s why.
The Best Deal In Travel
I have called the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass the best deal in domestic travel many times. In a typical year, earning a companion pass required travelers to earn 125,000 qualifying points in the prior year. Unlike other airlines, companion pass qualifying points could be earned from flying revenue flights booked as well as from credit card earnings and utilizing Rapid Rewards partners.
The pass allowed Rapid Rewards members to add a companion to any flight for which the primary traveler was booked so long as there was at least one more seat for sale on the flight. Both award flights and revenue flights were applicable, with companion pass travelers flying for just taxes and fees (often $5.60.) The traditional companion pass is valid for the rest of the year in which it is earned, and all of the following years. Savvy travelers try to earn as early in the calendar year as possible to maximize its value.
What has traditionally made the Companion Pass accessible is that even sign-up bonus points from Southwest credit cards (which award a significant volume of points after you spend some amount of money, usually $2,000-4,000 in the first 90 days) are considered eligible points.
Southwest has expanded its network over the last few years throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Hawaii as well as to major US airports such as Chicago O’Hare, Houston-Bush Intercontinental, and Miami as opposed to alternative cities the carrier is famous for utilizing like Chicago-Midway, and Houston Hobby.
In the years where my family held a companion pass, we were able to travel nearly on a whim. If the flight was cheap, we would pay using cash, if it was more money than we wanted to spend, we would transfer Ultimate Rewards points from one of our cards – it was and still is the best deal in domestic travel.
Short Companion Pass Promotion
Southwest has tried offering “short” Companion Pass opportunities for specific markets like California-only, or for specific periods of time. The latest iteration had the following criteria:
- Book two-one-way itineraries or one round-trip by September 9th, 2021
- Fly before November 18th, 2021
- Registration required prior to booking, existing trips would not qualify (unless refunded and rebooked)
- Companion Pass would be valid from January 6, 2022 – February 28, 2022.
Promotional Companion Pass offers are an interesting way to encourage guests who might not qualify outside of a promotional offer, the chance to see the value for themselves and enlist them for more Southwest flights in the future.
Why We Passed
The purchase window was far too short for our preference. We had less than a week to register, select dates, and a destination. We, like many of our readers, are generally very busy, and booking an unneeded flight was not the top priority. Had we had another week to make a selection, we might have found something that would have worked, but it felt as though we were forcing the issue.
Southwest is also more expensive than the alternatives we have for flights we intend to take. We would like to get away to Florida, but Southwest was more than double the cost of Spirit, for example. Due to my Spirit Gold status, a carry-on, and a checked bag are both free, as is seat selection, a snack on the flight, and the flights are operated nonstop by both carriers so there wasn’t an incentive to pay twice as much.
Sometimes, exchanging cash now for a future benefit is a good idea. Some mileage purchase opportunities deliver this chance but in this instance, we were trying to determine what the payoff would be for an unplanned future itinerary after purchasing an unnecessary current itinerary.
The costs were relatively low, about $600 roundtrip for my family of three combined, but in order to get value out of the pass, we would have to utilize a plan whereby we all brought someone with us, or I would be taking an unnecessary trip alone. I have done mileage/status runs almost every year so that’s nothing new, but instead of flying across the world to ensure my family could fly in premium classes on a trip we wanted to take, this would result in a far lower value to our family.
Had the terms and conditions been a little more flexible we probably would have booked through Southwest over Spirit, spending more money than we had to in order to save more money or travel more often in the future. But the window for purchase, and for use was just too small and the deals weren’t there. Maybe next time, Southwest – but not this time.
What do you think? Did you participate in this promotion? What value would you place on a short Companion Pass with limited requirements for achieving it?