The Southwest Companion pass has undoubtedly long been the most valuable companion ticket benefit of any airline program and it continues to be so in 2023. The key value lies in the fact that this benefit is repeatable an unlimited number of times and it is not subject to availability of any special fare class. As long as there is a seat available for sale on the plane, a Southwest Companion pass holder can add his/her companion to their reservation and pay only the taxes ($5.60 one-way on domestic flights within the US), and that is true whether the primary traveler’s ticket was bought with cash or with Rapid Rewards points. If you travel in a pair from an airport served by Southwest, it is hard to ignore the value of this pass.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass
New in 2023, those who want to earn the pass will need to earn 135,000 Companion Pass-Qualifying Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. However, credit card holders get a boost of 10,000 Companion Pass-Qualifying points (not redeemable miles), which means that those with a Southwest Credit Card will effectively need to earn an additional 125,000 qualifying total points in a calendar year to qualify for the Companion Pass. See more in this post: Southwest Airlines increases companion pass qualification to 135K points starting 1/1/2023.
Once the member has earned the required qualifying points, the companion pass will be valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned and all of the following year. For example, if you earned your 135,000th point on July 1st, 2023, your Companion pass would be valid until December 31st, 2024. Therefore, earning the pass as early in the calendar year as possible will enable a member to maximize the length of validity of the Southwest Companion Pass.
Keep in mind that all qualifying points must post in the same calendar year (i.e. January through December of the same year). The timing of points earned is therefore of utmost importance. Consider the following two examples:
Example 1: Morgan
- Morgan earned 65,000 points in January 2023
- Morgan earned 70,000 points the following month in February 2023
- Morgan earned a Companion Pass (135,000 points earned in a single calendar year) valid through December 31, 2024
Example 2: Jamie
- Jamie earned 65,000 points in December 2022
- Jamie earned 70,000 points the following month in January 2023
- Jamie did not earn a Companion Pass (while Jamie has earned 135,000 points, they were not earned in the same calendar year)
While both Morgan and Jamie earned 135,000 qualifying points within just two consecutive months, only Morgan would earn a Companion Pass Jamie would not have a Companion Pass because the points didn’t post in the same calendar year.
Note that you do not need to “buy” the Companion Pass. You keep your points, you do not need to trade them for a pass. Furthermore, you do not need to wait to use your points. In the example above, Morgan could use those 65,000 points to book travel as soon as they are earned in January — Morgan doesn’t need to wait until the additional 70,000 points are earned in February. Once Morgan earns the 135,000th qualifying point of the calendar year in February, it will be possible to add a named Companion to any existing reservations.
It’s also possible to qualify for the companion pass by taking 100 flights with Southwest in a calendar year. That’s a lot of flying on Southwest so, for this guide, we’ll concentrate on earning it through points.
Shortcuts to a Southwest Companion Pass without spending a lot of money: Which points qualify?
There are many ways to earn Companion Pass qualifying points. Rapid Rewards points earned from flying and those earned from the Southwest credit cards (including from new credit card welcome bonuses) count towards the requirements. Most points earned through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal count towards the companion pass as do those from partners like rental car agencies.
In practice, we have found that the following things do count:
- Paid flight activity
- Points earned from credit card spend, including the initial intro bonus points
- Points earned from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping portal (however, seasonal bonuses from the portal do not count)
- Most (but not all) points earned from partners
For things that do not count toward the Companion Pass, see the following section of this post: Stuff that doesn’t count towards a Companion Pass.
Are there any shortcuts to earning a Southwest Companion Pass? What is the easiest way to earn a companion pass? As of 2023, there are several main shortcuts that work. Keep in mind that you do not need to earn all of the points from a single source — mix and match points from each of these shortcuts as you please.
Credit card bonuses
Chase frequently offers valuable welcome bonus points for signing up for their Southwest cards and meeting the minimum spend. There are several versions of the Southwest credit cards. In terms of consumer/personal credit cards, there are three: the Premier, Plus, and Priority cards. On the business side, there is the Premier Business and the Performance Business. Welcome bonuses on these cards increase and decrease throughout the year and have historically ranged from 40,000 points to 100,000 points, which means that it is often possible to earn enough points for a companion pass, or very close to it, by opening one or two credit cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements (note that the only way to open two of these cards is to open one business card and one consumer card). The new cardmember offer sometimes alternatively includes fewer points combined with a temporary promotional companion pass upon meeting minimum spending requirements.
Here is current offer information on each of the Southwest credit cards:
80K after $5K spend in first 3 months$199 Annual Fee
60K points after $3K spend in first 3 months $99 Annual Fee
50K points after $1K spend in the first 3 months $69 Annual Fee
50K points after $1K spend in the first 3 months $99 Annual Fee
This card is known to be subject to Chase's 5/24 rule.
50K points after $1K spend in the first 3 months $149 Annual Fee
This card is known to be subject to Chase's 5/24 rule.
It is important to note that Chase added rules on the Southwest credit cards in recent years. Each of the Southwest credit cards now carries 24-month language. In a nutshell:
- You are ineligible for the welcome bonus on a Southwest personal credit card if you currently have any Southwest Rapid Rewards personal credit card or have earned a new cardmember bonus on any Southwest personal credit card in the past 24 months
- You are ineligible for the welcome bonus on a Southwest business credit card if you currently have that specific Southwest Rapid Rewards business credit card or have earned a new cardmember bonus on that specific Southwest business credit card in the past 24 months. This is a key distinction: the verbiage on the application page does not preclude you from earning the welcome bonus on a second business credit card, it just needs to be the other product.
In short, the easiest path to earn the Companion Pass via credit card welcome offers requires opening at least one business card.
|Applying for Business Credit Cards
Yes, you have a business: In order to sign up for a business credit card, you must have a business. That said, it's common for people to have businesses without realizing it. If you sell items at a yard sale, or on eBay, for example, then you have a business. Similar examples include: consulting, writing (e.g. blog authorship, planning your first novel, etc.), handyman services, owning rental property, renting on airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, etc. In any of these cases, your business is considered a Sole Proprietorship unless you form a corporation of some sort.
When you apply for a business credit card as a sole proprietor, you can use your own name as your business name, use your own address and phone as the business' address and phone, and your social security number as the business' Tax ID / EIN. Alternatively, you can get a proper Tax ID / EIN from the IRS for free, in about a minute, through this website.
Is it OK to use business cards for personal expenses? Anecdotally, almost everyone I know uses business cards for personal expenses. That said, the terms in most business card applications state that you should use the card only for business use. Also, some consumer credit card protections do not apply to business cards. My advice: don't use the card for personal expenses if you're not comfortable doing so.
Ideally, you would time the sign-ups and spend so that the points would be earned as early in a calendar year as possible. That way, you’ll have the Companion Pass for nearly two years.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points post to your Southwest Airlines account upon statement close. Timing out purchases in order to earn points from welcome bonuses at the appropriate time is relatively easy to do. For example, if you would like to earn the welcome bonus on a card in January, be sure to wait to meet the minimum spending requirements until after your December statement closes (since purchase activity after your December statement has closed should post to your Southwest account upon the close of your January statement). The safest bet is to wait until January to meet the minimum spending requirement to avoid the risk of points posting early.
If you open more than one Southwest credit card in close proximity to each other for the purposes of earning the Companion Pass, be sure to time the spend so that you earn both bonuses in the same calendar year. If you choose to pursue such a strategy late in the year with the goal of earning welcome bonuses in January, be careful not to meet the spending threshold early. In other words, you may want to open Southwest credit cards in November or December but wait until January to meet the spending requirements so that you earn the bonuses in January and enjoy a companion pass for nearly two full years.
Unfortunately, Chase does apply its 5/24 rule to these cards. That means that you most likely won’t get approved if you’ve opened 5 or more cards (with any bank) in the past 24 months.
|Chase's 5/24 Rule: With most Chase credit cards, Chase will not approve your application if you have opened 5 or more cards with any bank in the past 24 months.
To determine your 5/24 status, see: 3 Easy Ways to Count Your 5/24 Status. The easiest option is to track all of your cards for free with Travel Freely.
Credit card spend
If you’re a big spender, then another way to get the Companion Pass is to simply charge $135,000 worth of expenses on a Southwest credit card (or cards) during a single calendar year.
Since the cards only award 1 point per dollar on most spend, this wouldn’t be the fastest way to earn the Companion Pass, nor the cheapest in terms of opportunity cost. However, if you know you’ll use the Companion Pass a ton, it might be worth it to you.
Note that points earned from credit card spending bonuses usually also count as Companion Pass qualifying points. For instance, when there is a targeted offer for cardholders to earn more points per dollar at certain types of stores, those additional points typically count toward the companion pass. See: Q4 Spending Offers: 10x At Gas Stations, 5x At Grocery Stores & Amazon (All 25 Activation Links).
1-800-Flowers lets you earn 1,000 Companion Pass qualifying Southwest points per order with promo code RR22. To qualify, orders must be $29.99 or more and only one promo code can be used per order. The terms of this deal have been updated to indicate that you can only receive these points a maximum of 12 times per year (i.e. max of 12,000 points).
Unfortunately, you can no longer stack a Celebrations Passport membership for free shipping on these orders, likely killing the deal in terms of earning cheap miles (See: 1-800-flowers-kills-cheap-miles). For full details on 1800Flowers, please see: 1800Flowers Extreme Stacking promo codes, portals, gift cards, and more.
If you do a lot of online shopping, you can earn points that qualify for the Companion Pass by shopping through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal. The portal offers different point bonuses for different stores. It is often possible to earn 5 or more points per dollar for shopping at some popular merchants.
Note that points from seasonal portal bonuses (such as “Spend $300, get 500 bonus points”) do not count towards the Companion Pass.
With some retailers, you may be able to take advantage of a double dip — whereby you shop through the portal to buy a gift card, earning miles on the gift card purchase, and later go through the portal again and use the gift card to buy merchandise and earn points once again. This type of double dip has mostly stopped working but there may be exceptions.
Southwest Airlines has several hotel partners (as seen on this page). Some hotel partners only allow for points transfer, but others allow you to earn Southwest points for your stays. These points are Companion Pass-qualifying.
For example, Southwest has a partnership with MGM Rewards whereby you can earn 600 Rapid Rewards points per stay at most of the MGM hotels in Las Vegas. As shown above, these points count towards the Companion Pass. Note that in the past it has been possible to double-dip and attach both your World of Hyatt and Southwest Airlines numbers to your MGM profile and earn points with both programs on the same stay (World of Hyatt points and elite credit are earned as per the terms of the World of Hyatt program), though this may no longer work.
Book hotels through Rocketmiles
Rocketmiles is a hotel booking site that rewards you with airline miles in lieu of earning hotel points, elite credit, etc. You choose the type of miles you want to earn and then the search results show the price of the hotel per night and the number of miles you can earn. If you pick Southwest Rapid Rewards, then it’s possible to earn Companion Pass qualifying points for your stay.
Unfortunately, Rocketmiles promotional bonuses are not Companion Pass qualifying points. In the above example, it shows the number “5,000” crossed out and replaced with “8,000 Rapid Rewards Points”. In this case, you would probably earn 5,000 Companion Pass qualifying points; the other 3,000 bonus are most likely a bonus. Also keep in mind that you will not earn hotel points or elite credit for bookings made through RocketMiles. If you have elite status with the hotel chain, it will probably not be recognized, so you will not receive benefits of your status like free breakfast.
Southwest Airlines partners with a number of rental car companies to offer points for renting through Southwest (see the current list here). Always be sure to compare the cost using any associated rate codes. Base points earned from car rentals do count toward the Southwest Companion Pass, but be aware that additional bonuses beyond base points may not.
Chase sometimes offers bonuses for referring friends to apply for a card you have. You can check to see if you have any referral offers by entering your last name, billing zip code, and the last four digits of your Southwest card here.
Historically, it was possible to earn 10,000 Rapid Rewards points per referral up to a maximum of 50,000 points per year, though the referral bonus has recently increased to 20,000 points per referral up to 100,000 points per calendar year from each card (this may be temporary, so YMMV).
The nice thing is that your Southwest credit card referral link can now be used to refer someone to any Southwest credit card. In other words, if you have the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier credit card, you could refer someone to the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Performance Business credit card or vice versa. This opens up more possibilities in terms of earning referral points.
It is furthermore noteworthy that referrals collected late in the year can be an interesting way to earn toward the pass. We discovered that referrals earned after your December statement closes but before December 31st will count toward the current year’s Chase referral cap, but will not post to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account until your next statement cuts (in January). One could therefore essentially double up on Companion Pass-eligible points by doing the following:
- Make sure your Southwest credit card statement cut date is set for early in December. As an example, let’s say your December statement posts on December 10th
- Refer 5 friends between December 11th-December 31st (for the usual 50,000 point cap for this calendar year)
- Refer 5 more friends between January 1-January 9th (50,000 point cap for the new calendar year)
- When your statement cuts again on January 10th, your Southwest account would theoretically be credited with 100,000 referral points from a single credit card (50K “earned” the previous calendar year from Chase’s perspective and 50K “earned” from the current calendar year, but all posted to your Southwest account in the same calendar year)
Again, the trick here is to make sure not to refer people to apply until after your December statement cut date. For more information on this method, see: An unexpected path to the Companion Pass.
SWABIZ is a program for small businesses to book and manage flights for their employees. SWABIZ sometimes offers points for referring new businesses to this program. In the past, those points did not count toward a Companion Pass, but beginning in 2022 they have advertised points earned for referring new businesses as being Companion Pass qualifying. Always check the terms carefully, but this could be a way to earn points quite easily for those who know small business owners / travel managers for small businesses. More detail can be found here. Also see this post for my experience with the program (though note that points were not Companion Pass qualifying when I did it).
Stuff that doesn’t count towards a Southwest Companion Pass
The most notable sources of non-qualifying points include: transfers from hotel partners (which ended March 31, 2017) and those transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. These points will NOT count towards earning a Southwest Companion Pass.
Purchased points, transferred points transferred between members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass Qualifying Points.
It is also important to note that bonus points at many partners do not count. Base points earned from partners do count in many instances — such as the 1,000 points with the 1800Flowers coupon code above, base RocketMiles points, etc. However, an extra added bonus may not count. You can easily go to your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards account and click “Recent Activity”, then filter by “Companion Pass qualifying points” to verify which transactions count toward your current total.
Also note that bonus points offered by SWABIZ may not count toward the Companion Pass. However, SWABIZ does sometimes specifically offer Companion Pass qualifying points for referring new businesses.
Choosing and changing your Southwest Companion Pass companion
Once a member has earned the required Rapid Rewards points, he or she can designate a companion to fly with the pass holder for free. Note that this companion can be changed 3 times per calendar year. While initial companion selection is done online through the “My Account” section at Southwest.com, any subsequent changes to your companion require a phone call to Southwest Rapid Rewards at 1-800-435-9792.
The phone process is simple: in my experience, it has taken less than 5 minutes to change companions. The terms on Southwest.com state that you should “allow 21 business days for processing” after calling to change your companion in order to be able to add your new companion to bookings. In my experience, it hasn’t taken any time at all — I have been able to add my new companion to my reservations the same day I made the call to change companions. Note that you will need to cancel any existing companion reservations before changing your companion.
Adding a companion to a Southwest Companion Pass holder’s reservation
The process of adding a companion is quite easy and can be done at any time until tickets are no longer sold for the flight in question. The companion pass holder simply needs to log in to Southwest.com and view My Reservations. From the reservation view, he or she will see a link that says “add companion”.
From here, it is straight-forward. The system will just charge taxes for the companion ($5.60 one-way for domestic flights within the US. Taxes to international destinations vary.
Again, this can be done up until Southwest stops selling tickets. It doesn’t matter if you paid $59 for your ticket and the only seats left are selling for $590 — if there is a seat available for purchase, you can add your companion.
Pro tip: if you add your companion and later want to cancel your flight, you must first cancel the companion’s itinerary before you can change or cancel the itinerary for the primary traveler.
Common questions about the Southwest Companion Pass
Here are a few other common questions that people ask about the Southwest Companion Pass:
How many times can I use a Southwest Companion Pass?
You can use a Southwest Companion Pass an unlimited number of times for travel though the final date of validity.
Can I change my Southwest Companion Pass companion?
Yes. You can change your companion up to 3 times per calendar year. Changes to your companion require a phone call to Southwest Rapid Rewards at 1-800-435-9792.
Can you add your Southwest companion if your company bought the ticket?
Yes, you can.
Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought your ticket using your Rapid Rewards points?
Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter whether you booked your ticket with a credit card or with Rapid Rewards points, you can add your companion and just pay the taxes.
Can you add your companion if someone else bought your ticket with their rapid rewards points?
Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter whose Rapid Rewards points are used to book the primary traveler’s ticket. In fact, it is even possible for the designated “companion” to use the companion’s points to book a single ticket for the primary traveler and then the primary traveler can add the companion to the reservation and only pay the taxes.
Can you fly to Hawaii with a Southwest Companion Pass?
Yes, you can. There are no destination restrictions on the use of a a Southwest Companion Pass; you can use your Companion Pass to travel to any destination served by Southwest so long as there are still enough tickets for sale on the flight for the passengers in your reservation.
Can you add your Southwest companion if you bought a Wanna Get Away fare and now there is only Business Select available?
Yes, you can. As long as there is a seat available for sale on the flight you would like to book, you can add your companion. It does not need to be in the same “fare class” as the one you originally purchased.
Are there any situations in which you can not add your Southwest companion?
Yes, but not many. One example of a situation in which it would not be possible to add a companion is this: You can not daisy-chain companions. That is to say this: Let’s imagine Bob earned 135,000 Rapid Rewards points and earns a companion pass. He designates Shelly as his companion. Shelly also earns 135,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year and she earns a companion pass of her own. She designates Billy Jean as her companion. Bob buys a ticket. He adds his companion, Shelly. Shelly can not add Billy Jean to the reservation.
Can I change my flight on a Southwest Companion Pass booking?
Yes. You will first need to cancel the companion’s reservation. You can then change the primary traveler’s flight.
Can I cancel the companion’s reservation if he/she cannot travel with me?
Yes. You can cancel their reservation and either receive a refund of the taxes or keep them as a credit to use on a future flight. Note that you need to choose the option to refund to your credit card rather than as travel funds if that is what you prefer.
Can my companion travel without me?
NO! The terms of the program explicitly forbid the companion from flying without the primary traveler and Southwest will likely revoke your companion pass if you do this. It is theoretically possible to do — both travelers check in and only the companion shows up — but will almost certainly get you in trouble with Southwest. Furthermore, if the itinerary is round trip, the companion might have his/her return flight cancelled. Don’t do this.
Does my companion earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points?
No, they do not. The primary traveler does earn points on a paid reservation (not a reservation made on points).
Do I need to carry the Southwest Companion Pass card with me?
A: No, you do not need the card. The terms may state that you should have the card with you, but nobody has ever asked to see mine (or anyone’s else’s as far as I know).
What happens to my companion’s reservations if I change my companion?
You must first cancel your companion’s reservations before changing companions.
Can I book a round trip flight that begins before my Companion Pass expires on December 31st, but returns after the pass has expired?
This isn’t possible. Southwest won’t let you add a companion to a reservation that extends beyond the pass validity period. You would have to book a one-way in December (you could add your companion to this reservation) and then a one-way returning in the new year where you pay for both seats.
Is there an advantage to booking one-way flights or round trip flights with the Southwest Companion Pass?
It makes more sense to book one-way flights with Southwest in general. In the vast majority of cases, the round trip price (at least on domestic flights within the US) is simply the cumulative total of the two one-way flights. You will enjoy greater flexibility in making changes to one segment or the other if you book one-way flights.
What happens if you take a voluntary bump on a Southwest Companion Pass ticket?
Officially, Southwest no longer overbooks flights, but there are probably still occasions where they need to adjust for weight and balance or crew needs. We are therefore keeping this section intact based on old policy as a guideline of what to expect should you find yourself in this situation.
In the event that Southwest overbooks a flight, they may offer travel vouchers in the gate area to volunteers who agree to switch to a later flight (known as “voluntary denied boarding compensation” — or, more colloquially, as a “bump voucher”). If you agree to take a “bump” to a later flight, this has at least in the past been Southwest’s official voluntary denied boarding compensation policy:
If you volunteer to give up your seat in an oversale situation and we can rebook you on a Southwest Airlines flight that will arrive within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, we will give you a travel voucher in the amount of $100 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s).
If we cannot confirm your travel within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, you will be placed on a priority standby list, and your compensation will increase to a travel voucher in the amount of $300 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s). If you are not accommodated as a standby Customer, we will confirm you on a later Southwest Airlines flight(s) with seats available to your destination. You will not incur an increase in fare.
To summarize/simplify the old policy:
- If your new flight gets you to your destination within 2 hours of your original arrival time, you get $100 + the price of your original one-way ticket
- If your new flight gets you to your destination more than 2 hours later than your original arrival time, you get $300 + price of your original one-way ticket.
How does that work if you paid with points? What about for your Companion?
If you paid with Rapid Rewards points, Southwest has a formula whereby they figure the cash value of the points. In my experience, this was roughly similar to the cash price of the ticket had I paid in cash instead of points — meaning that my voucher was worth $300 + the rough value of my one-way ticket.
Reports of the compensation for the companion varies. Your companion should receive a $300 voucher at minimum. In my experience, I was offered an additional $100 for the companion’s ticket — meaning that my companion received a voucher for $400 total. Reports online vary from no additional money for the companion’s ticket up to the $100 I was offered. YMMV here — and your friendliness/charm may play a role here.
What are some of the best uses of the Southwest Companion Pass?
This is obviously completely subjective. Obviously, you can enjoy some cheaper trips around the US. Southwest also flies to a growing number of international destinations, including:
Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico
Grand Cayman Island
Liberia, Costa Rica
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
San Jose, Costa Rica
Additionally, you can use Southwest to position for an award flight or cheap flight deal out of a different city. This can be a great option when saver-level awards on American/United/Delta are not available from your city.
Check in process for Southwest Companion Pass holders
One of the most polarizing features of Southwest is the check in and boarding process. Love it or hate it, Southwest does not assign seats and instead assigns boarding positions based on a number of factors, most notably when a customer checks in. This means that if you want a favorable boarding position so you can choose the aisle/window seat you want, you’ll need to check in as early as possible. Online check in begins 24 hours prior to departure, but Southwest also offers Early Bird Check In.
Early Bird Check-In
For a fee of $15-$25 each way, Southwest will automatically check you in beginning 36 hours before your flight — 12 hours before general check in opens. They will prompt you to add Early Bird Check-in on the booking confirmation page:
Alternatively, you can always add it later on by clicking on a reservation in your account and then clicking the button to add early bird check-in.
However, there is one notable problem with early bird check in: If you cancel your reservation, you will lose the money you paid for early bird check in (note that if Southwest cancels your flight, they will refund the fee). Normally, if you cancel a paid reservation with Southwest, you receive a credit that is good for a year from the date you first booked travel. If you booked your ticket on points, you can choose to have the taxes refunded to your original payment method. However, if you paid for early bird check in and you choose to cancel your ticket, you get neither a refund nor a credit for the Early Bird Check-in fee as that fee is totally nonrefundable. If you simply change your flight, you keep Early Bird Check-in. For this reason, I never add Early Bird Check-in until I’m sure that plans are firm. Also, I typically only add Early Bird Check-in to my ticket (the primary traveler, not the companion). There are a few reasons for this strategy:
- If ticket prices drop, Southwest will allow you to change/re-book at the lower fare and receive a refund of the difference in points or a credit if you paid the cash price. However, in order to change your flight, you must first cancel the companion ticket. This means that if you have paid for early bird check in on the companion’s reservation, you will lose that early bird check-in fee (and have to pay it anew if you want to add it to the new reservation).
- While some fellow passengers might not like it if you save a seat for your companion, I’ve never been told I couldn’t do it. Southwest’s “official” policy on this, which you can read about here, is to not have a policy either way. I always board the plane with a $50 bill in my pocket figuring that, in the worse case scenario of a passenger or flight attendant raising a complaint about me saving a seat, $50 would probably be enough to get someone to switch with me if need be. We’ve saved $15 this way plenty of times that I’ll still be well ahead of the game the day that I have to pay out. This strategy might not work for you, but it has worked for us.
- If you get bumped from your flight, you will lose early bird check in and will not get a refund of that fee.
- The utility of early bird check in can depend on your origination point.
Usefulness of Early Bird Check-in varies
The usefulness of Early Bird Check-in will likely depend on two main factors: whether or not you have a seat preference and your point of origin.
Southwest only flies the Boeing 737, though they fly several different variants of that plane. The smallest version they fly has 23 rows. Assuming that aisle seats and window seats are equally desirable, that means that there are about 92 “preferred” seats on even the smallest planes (23 aisle seats and 23 window seats on each side of the aisle). Each Boarding group has 60 people. Therefore, everyone in Boarding Group A will get a preferred seat if they want it. Since at least some of the people in Groups A and B will be traveling together (and therefore someone in the party will take a middle seat next to their companion), I think it’s generally true that nearly everyone in Group B will have access to a preferred seat as well. By the time Group C gets on board, it is much more likely that only middle seats are left. In my experience, checking in exactly 24 hours before the flight often (though not always) produces a Group B boarding pass.
However, that may vary a bit depending on the second factor: your point of origin. Southwest normally allows you to check in 24 hours before your scheduled departure. When you check in for your first segment, you are automatically checked in for all of your segments that day. This results in an advantage for those passengers who are not based in Southwest hubs.
Let’s consider that you are based somewhere in the Northeast — like Albany, NY. Southwest only flies a couple of direct routes out of Albany. Most itineraries from Albany connect in Baltimore, Chicago, or Orlando. So let’s take this Albany, NY to Los Angeles, CA itinerary as an example:
The initial flight (Southwest Flight #6542) leaves Albany at 5:40am on Friday morning. There is a connection in Baltimore to Southwest Flight #1951 — that flight leaves Baltimore at 8:05am. Since passengers can check in 24 hours before their initial flight, a passenger starting in Albany can check in for both flights together at 5:40am on Thursday. This means the Albany passenger will be checked in for that second flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles 2 hours and 20 minutes before someone originating in Baltimore is able to check in online. Of course, it’s not only passengers from Albany that have an advantage. Passengers originating in Boston get a 10-mintue head start on Albany — their first flight is at 5:30am (based on the schedule when this post was originally written). Those folks starting in Manchester, NH would beat Boston and Albany with their 5:15am departure:
The point here is that if you live in Manchester, NH, you probably don’t need Early Bird Check-in. If you can check in right at 5:15am 24 hours in advance, you only have to contend with folks originating in Manchester on your first flight and you will be among the first checking in on the Baltimore segment. You have a nice head start on the people who live in Baltimore.
Of course, on the flip side, this means that people who live in Baltimore may need to pay for Early Bird Check-in to have any chance at a decent boarding position. The people in Manchester, Boston, and Albany who also paid for Early Bird Check-in will continue to have a head start. However, those originating in Baltimore can put themselves ahead of the 24-hour check ins from Albany, Boston, Manchester, etc by paying for Early Bird Check-in. Therefore, if you live in a Southwest hub city, you may want to consider paying the premium.
Business select fare does not give Southwest Companion Pass companion priority boarding
Southwest sells Business Select fares that include priority security and A1-A15 boarding. While these tickets are generally much more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, they are sometimes not much more than “Anytime” fares – so if you’re booking close to departure, they can be a better value in terms of securing a good boarding position and priority security in some airports. These fares also include a free premium drink and earn more miles per dollar. They are furthermore refundable.
However, note that if you book business select, your companion will not (yet) share your favorable boarding position. He or she will still need to check in as usual (or purchase Early Bird Boarding or an upgraded boarding position at the gate). A few years ago, Southwest piloted a program where the companion would board with the Companion Pass holder in the Companion Pass holder’s boarding position, but that feature has not been made widely available.
This Complete Guide, like all of our resource pages, is a work in progress. We will add to it as necessary and adjust it as situations change and develop. If you have further questions or suggestions, please reach out in the comments and/or via our Contact Frequent Miler page.