Most products on this page are from partners who may compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how they appear on the page. However, opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

Among points and miles enthusiasts, the Southwest Companion Pass® is often considered to be the holy grail. After all, what's not to like about nearly free flights for your plus-one for a year or more?

But after earning the Companion Pass several years ago, I learned that its value was a lot more limited than I'd hoped — not just for me, but for most people. That's not to say that no one should go after it, but here's why I won't again.

Many People Don't Travel Often Enough

iStock

I was married when I earned the Companion Pass, but while I often traveled solo for work-related reasons, I didn't travel often enough with my then-wife to get more than a few hundred dollars worth of value out of the pass.

At the time, we had a young child, so the prospect of flying was daunting. Also, as a stressed-out new mother, the only person I would fly with was understandably less interested in upending her routine with constant trips than I was. 

But our situation wasn't unique. According to a Gallup poll, 62% of Americans didn't fly in 2021, and only 15% took more than two trips by air. While the coronavirus pandemic limited interest in travel that year, those numbers aren't much lower than they were in 2015, when 55% of Americans took no trips, and 19% took more than two. 

It Can Take a Lot of Work

When I earned the Companion Pass in 2015, I needed to earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards® points in a calendar year. To earn it, I applied for two Southwest credit cards: the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card.

With my meager budget at the time, I barely met the spending requirements for the cards' bonus offers, but they weren't enough on their own to get the pass. I ended up having to volunteer to pay a reimbursable expense at work to reach the 110,000-point minimum. 

At the time, I was willing to strategize and do everything I could to earn the bonus. But for many people, opening two credit cards in a short period of time and meeting the timing and spending requirements to earn the pass is a tough sell. If you're relatively new to travel rewards or don't want to make it a hobby, it could feel too risky.  

What's more, the requirement to earn the pass has been upped since 2015, which makes earning it outside of special promotions an even larger commitment.

Southwest Isn't Always the Cheapest Option

Southwest plane taking off in Las Vegas

iStock

The Southwest Companion Pass works best when you can pair it with the cheap fares Southwest is known for. But unless you live near one of the airports the budget airline uses as a hub, inexpensive flights are limited. 

For example, my home airport is Salt Lake City International. Most of the time, I can find cheap Southwest flights to Las Vegas and Denver, and occasionally, I can get good deals to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but that's about it. 

If I wanted to fly anywhere else, the cost was often steep compared to other airlines. Even though I'd only have to pay taxes and fees for my companion, I still had to use points or cash to cover my ticket, which didn't feel worth it when I could find much cheaper tickets on another airline.

My Efforts Were Better Spent Elsewhere

Don't get me wrong; the Southwest Companion Pass has significant value potential. But unless you travel several times a year and prefer one airline over all the others, I learned that it doesn't really make sense to focus your efforts on maximizing rewards and benefits with airline credit cards.

Instead, I decided to put my energy into rewards and benefits with general travel rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards® and Capital One Miles

Recommended Travel Credit Cards

Credit Card Intro Bonus Annual Fee Rewards Rate Learn More

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

$95 1x- 5xPoints More Info

The card offers 5x points per dollar on Chase Travel℠, 3x points on dining (including eligible takeout and delivery services), as well as 3x points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs). This card earns 2x points on all other travel spending and 1x point per dollar everywhere else. Chase broadly defines travel to include not just airfare, hotels and rental cars, but expenses like parking, tolls and public transit too.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

$69 1x - 2xPoints More Info

Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases. Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners. Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare. Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming. Earn 1X points on all other purchases.

United Gateway℠ Card

20,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $280 (20,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

$0 1x - 2xPoints More Info

Earn 2X United miles per dollar on United purchases, local transit and commuting and at gas stations. You’ll earn 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Citi Premier® Card

60,000Citi ThankYou Points More Info

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after making $4,000 worth of purchases during the first three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,080 (60,000 Citi ThankYou Points * 0.018 base)

$95 1X-10XPoints More Info

10X total ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024. 3X -- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Other Hotels 3X -- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets 1X -- Earn 1 Point on All Other Purchases

These programs offer much more flexibility with travel redemptions, allowing me to use my points or miles for more than just award flights. They also gave me the flexibility to transfer my rewards to multiple airline and hotel loyalty programs.

More recently, I've decided to drop travel rewards programs altogether, focusing on the ultimate flexibility and simplicity of cash back. 

Recommended Cash-Back Credit Cards

Credit Card Rewards Rate Intro Bonus Annual Fee Learn More

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

1.5% - 5%Cashback More Info

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

1.5%Extra Cash Back More Info

Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) — worth up to $300 cash back. That's 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 4.5% on dining and drugstores, and 3% on all other purchases.

$0

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

2%Cashback More Info

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.

$200Cash Bonus More Info

Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.

$0
Citi Double Cash

Citi Double Cash® Card

2%Cashback More Info

Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time. Plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24.

$200Cash Bonus More Info

Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

$0

Ink Business Cash® Credit Card

1% - 5%Cashback More Info

Earn 5% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. It also offers you 2% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year.

$750Cash Bonus More Info

Earn $350 when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months and an additional $400 when you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first six months after account opening

$0

Should You Shoot for the Southwest Companion Pass?

While points and miles enthusiasts put a lot of stock in the Southwest Companion Pass, I'd argue that the effort required to earn it and maximize its value makes it worthwhile only for a small percentage of travelers. 

Here are some situations where it could make sense to work toward earning the Companion Pass:

  • You frequently fly with Southwest and often travel with a plus-one. 
  • You're willing to jump through the necessary hoops to earn the pass.
  • Your home airport is a Southwest hub or frequently offers cheap Southwest flights to a variety of destinations.

Compare Southwest Consumer Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee Intro Bonus Perks Learn More

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

$69 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Baggage delay insurance
$99 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Baggage delay insurance

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

$149 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • 25% back on inflight drinks & Wi-Fi
  • 4 upgraded boardings when available

Additionally, Southwest periodically runs a limited-time promotion, allowing Rapid Rewards members to try the pass for a couple of months when they register and book a single round-trip flight or two one-way flights within a certain time frame. 

The Bottom Line

While I've personally decided against trying to earn the Companion Pass again, the Southwest Companion Pass can offer significant value to couples and families that frequently fly with the budget airline. 

Before you decide to go all in on earning the benefit, though, carefully consider your travel and spending habits to determine whether it's worth the effort. 

Earn Valuable Points or Miles for Travel

Best Travel Credit Cards

Visit the Marketplace
suitcase
BL

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and credit card expert. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and worked in financial planning, banking and auto finance before writing full-time for NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero. Ben is now a full-time freelance writer and enjoys traveling and spending time with his two kids. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, Success and Slickdeals.