This is the first year that our family looked into the Southwest Companion Pass. Not because we didn’t know about it, but because a few of our travel priorities have changed. We welcomed our first son, H, in February and we knew that our travel plans were changing some. We aren’t going to be traveling to Hong Kong, Bali, or Greece over the next couple of years. Instead, we will be traveling throughout the United States, Caribbean and Central America. This is where the Southwest Companion Pass is our best friend. Let me explain.
Introduction to Southwest Companion Pass
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about what the Companion Pass is. There are plenty of posts out there that talk about it and you can learn more directly from Southwest. What I will mention is that it is possibly the best travel tool out there, especially for families. Once you earn 110,000 Southwest qualifying (see below) points you get the Companion Pass for the remainder of the year earned and the following calendar year. Yes, you heard that correctly. 2 full years if timed correctly! This allows you and a designated companion (can be changed 3 times per year) to travel for the price of one. It is good on paid tickets and reward tickets. And the 110,000 points aren’t “cashed in” for the Pass, they are just a qualifier. You can then use those points on flights.
Why we chose to “invest” in the Southwest Companion Pass
As mentioned, with our new addition, we do not see any long international trips in our near future. Will that change? Possibly. But until we figure out what kind of traveler he is, we are not committing to a ton. So…that means more domestic and short-hop flights to the Caribbean, Central American, and Canada.
We took a few other things into account when banking on Southwest. First, Southwest flies to direct from RDU to several key destinations that we are interested in. Second, Chase points (which we have a lot of) transfer to Southwest, so it’s easy to top off our account. Third, from our view as outsiders, Southwest seems to be a family-friendly airline. This is something that is huge to us as we are starting out flying with the new one.
Every time one of us pays or uses points for a flight, the other flies free (we earned the Pass on Vicki’s account, so I’m the “Companion”). 2 for the price of 1. But then you add in a lap child since our son will be under 2 for the duration of the pass and it is really 3 for the price of 1. All you pay are taxes and fees starting at $5.60/person each way for domestic flights. You do not pay taxes and fees on lap children unless the trip is international. Not a bad deal at all. (I understand that we may learn / decide to buy a seat for him, but until we learn, I’m going to count him as a lap child!)
How we earned the Southwest Companion Pass. And how you can, too!
Marriott offers flight and hotel packages that allow customers to “cash” in their Marriott points for 7 hotel nights and airline points. These package prices vary in number of points needed, hotel tier, and airlines / airline points. Southwest allows people who redeem one of these Marriott packages that satisfy the 110,000 point requirements to get the Companion Pass (see below for special note). We redeemed 270,000 Marriott points for a 7 night Category 1-5 Marriott package at 120,000 Southwest points. Bada bing, bada boom. 7 nights in a Marriott hotel, 120,000 Southwest points and a Companion Pass. Now we need to figure out where to spend 7 nights!
Here’s how you can get the Companion Pass. There are a number of ways to earn the 110,000 points needed: flying Southwest, credit card sign up bonuses/spend, hotel transfers (soon to be eliminated) are a few. Unless you travel extensively, getting 110,000 Southwest points from flying is tough for most. I would recommend looking into the 2 Chase Southwest credit cards when they are at the 50,000 point sign up bonus. If you have a larger family, you can get a couple passes by having both you and your spouse get the 110,000 points.
*Note: Southwest is doing away with hotel transfers counting towards Companion Pass qualification on March 31, 2017.
Our plans this year with the Southwest Companion Pass
We have already booked one flight with the Companion Pass. We’re taking H to Nashville to see good friends who had a baby girl a day after H was born. This is a short hop from Raleigh, so it should (read: hopefully) be a good first flight. We’ll take any tips from you experts. Our savings for 3 tickets was about $900. A side note: not sure why these were pricing so expensive, but they were… We used points to pay for the flights, which only ended up being about 18,927 points. This equals about 4.86 cents/mile. Pretty awesome value if you’re into that sort of thing!
We also plan on taking H to at least one other state (thought is Missouri to a St. Louis Cardinals game) and Niagara Falls so he can get a new country under his belt. Vicki and I are planning on using some Hyatt certificates in Costa Rica in the Fall. This year is going to be a conservative travel year, but we’re going to be able to save a good amount of money with the Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best, if not the best, travel tools out there. While it will become a little more difficult to get with the removal of hotel transfers, it is still somewhat easy to get. You should strongly consider the Companion Pass to save on airfare and show more of the world to your family!