Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Complete Guide

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Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards is a unique loyalty program that shares some characteristics common of airline loyalty programs (like priority check-in and boarding for elite members), but some more unique features (like the ability to bring a companion for free when you’ve earned enough points in a calendar year and points that never expire). This guide is designed to include everything you need to know about the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Overview

Southwest Rapid Rewards shares traits that are common to most airline rewards programs:

  • Earn points from paid flights (based on the cost of the fare)
  • Use points to book free flight awards.
  • The cost, in points, for free flights depends upon the cash price of the flight
  • Those who spend a lot on paid flights earn elite status.
  • There are two elite status levels: A-list and A-list Preferred. The higher your status, the more perks you get.
  • Branded credit cards can be used to earn points and to help earn elite status.

Rapid Rewards also has a few traits that are unique:

  • If you earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year, you earn a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows a companion to fly with you for free (paying only the taxes) every time you fly whether the primary passholder’s ticket was purchased with money or points
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire
  • Award flights are highly flexible and can be cancelled or changed with no fee up until 10 minutes prior to departure

Earning points

Members can earn points through paid flight activity, credit card spend and bonuses, and many types of partner activity (including the shopping portal, car rentals with partners, flower delivery, and more). Southwest Rapid Rewards points do not expire, which means there is low risk in collecting points.

On paid flights, members earn points based on fare type and price:

  • Wanna Get Away Fares: Earn 6x points per $1 on base fare
  • Anytime Fares: Earn 10x points per $1 on base fare
  • Business Select fares: Earn 12x points per $1 on base fare

Elite members earn bonuses (A-list gets 25% bonus points, A-list Preferred gets 100% bonus).

Partner activity that can increase your points balance includes:

Keeping points alive

Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire, so there is no activity necessary to keep them alive. Note that if you close your account, you will forfeit any points in the account at time of closure.

How much are Southwest Rapid Rewards points worth?

Our Reasonable Redemption Value for Southwest Rapid Rewards points is 1.5c each. However, the actual value of points varies based on the price of the flight and route. We took a deep dive into the value of points in this post: The new true value of Southwest points. How to get up to 1.9 cents per point value. In short, points are worth more toward cheaper fares and certain international routes where taxes make up a more significant portion of the cost. See that post for full details.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards award flights

All seats available for sale on a Southwest Airlines flight can be booked with points as an award ticket. The number of points required for a flight depends on the cash price of the fare and points can be used regardless of fare type (“Wanna Get Away”, “Anything”, and “Business Select” fares are all available using points). Points are generally worth 1.4c-1.9c per point toward paid fares (the value varies somewhat depending on taxes; see: The new true value of Southwest points. How to get up to 1.9c in value)

A unique feature of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is the flexibility of award tickets: awards can be cancelled up 10 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart for no fee. Points are immediately re-deposited into your Southwest Rapid Rewards account. Flights can alternatively be changed just as easily, sometimes without even paying a fare difference.

Southwest Airlines Elite status

Southwest offers two levels of elite status: A-list and A-list Preferred. Companion Pass is arguably a third level of elite status, though it comes with no elite benefits other than the companion ticket so we’ll cover that separately in this guide. Requirements for A-list and A-list Preferred status are straightforward and benefits are similar

A-list

Requirements: 25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 tier-qualifying points

Benefits:

  • Priority boarding (the system automatically assigns a position 36 hours before your flight (same as Early Bird check-in).
  • 25% bonus points earned on paid fares (15x Business Select, 12.5x Anytime, 7.5x Wanna Get Away)
  • Free same-day standby (note that this does not extend to any companions on the same reservation)
  • Priority check-in and security (where available)
A-list Preferred

Requirements: 50 one-way qualifying flights or 70,000 tier-qualifying points

Benefits:

  • Priority boarding (the system automatically assigns a position 36 hours before your flight (same as Early Bird check-in). A-list Preferred receives priority over A-list but both are behind Business Select passengers
  • 100% bonus points on paid fares (24x Business Select, 20x Anytime, 12x Wanna Get Away)
  • Free same-day standby (note that this does not extend to any companions on the same reservation)
  • Priority check-in and security (where available)
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

Elite status things to know:

  • Perks like same-day standby do not extend to companions on the same reservation, even for those traveling with a free Companion Pass companion
  • Credit card spend can shorten your path: You earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10K spent on several of the Southwest credit cards (up to 15,000 TQPs per calendar year)

Shortcuts to Southwest Rapid Rewards elite status

As noted above, credit card holders can reduce their path to elite status through spend. Every $10K spend on most of the Southwest Airlines credit cards will yield 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points up to a max of 15K TQPs per calendar year (on $100K spend). That’s not enough to earn elite status through credit card spend alone, but spend can get you more than halfway to A-list status.

Southwest Companion Pass Overview

The key details of the Southwest Companion Pass are:

  • A member who earns 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a single calendar year earns a Companion Pass, enabling the pass holder to bring a companion for free (the companion just pays the taxes)
  • The companion can be changed up to 3 times per calendar year
  • As long as a seat is available for sale on the flight, a Companion Pass holder can add their companion. The same fare type does not need to be available.

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass can be an extremely valuable tool given that it enables the primary passholder to bring a free companion an unlimited number of times whether the passholder’s flight was purchased with money or points (the primary passholder’s ticket can even be purchased with points from someone else’s account and they can still add the companion for free). It’s worth noting that the companion can be added at any time up until 10 minutes before departure as long as there are seats available for sale and regardless of the fare type originally purchased. In other words, if the primary pass holder buys a Wanna Get Away fare, their companion can still be added even if only Business Select fares remain for sale.

The 125,000 points required for a Companion Pass can be earned from paid flights, credit card spend, credit card welcome bonuses, or many types of partner activity including shopping portal purchases and rental cars. See our Southwest Airlines Companion Pass complete guide for full details.

Shortcuts to a Southwest Companion Pass

The Companion Pass has a multitude of shortcuts. The most popular shortcut is via new credit card bonuses since even the new member spending bonus counts toward the 125K points that must be earned in a calendar year to get the Companion Pass. For instance, if a member were to open a Southwest consumer credit card and a Southwest business credit card and they each featured an offer like 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months, opening both cards and meeting the associated spending requirements in the same calendar year would yield 126K total points — enough for a Companion Pass.

However, there are also many other ways to earn Companion Pass qualifying points. In practice, we have found that the following things do count:

  • Paid flight activity
  • Points earned from credit card spend, including the signup bonus
  • 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

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.

Which points qualify toward the Southwest Companion Pass?

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 80,000 points, which means that it is often possible to earn enough points for a companion pass, or very close to it, by opening two credit cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements. Here is current offer information on each of the Southwest credit cards:

Card Offer
Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card
60K miles
60K after $3K spend in 3 months

$99 Annual Fee

This card is subject to Chase's 5/24 rule (click here for details).

Recent better offer: None. This is the highest public offer we've seen.

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$69 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$149 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$99 Annual Fee

It is important to note that Chase added new 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 of course 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. A member who earns 63,000 points in December and another 63,000 points in January will not have a companion pass since the points were not earned in the same calendar year.

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 $125,000 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.

1-800-Flowers

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.

Online Shopping

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’s often possible to earn 5 or more points per dollar for shopping at 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. Check our Frequent Miler Laboratory for results with your retailer of choice.

Hotel partners
The bedroom in a standard room at Delano Las Vegas, where you can earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points for your stay.

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 Mlife 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 it is possible to double-dip and attach both your World of Hyatt and Southwest Airlines numbers to your MGM Mlife 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).

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.

Rental Cars

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.

Referring friends

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. Typically, you can earn 10,000 Rapid Rewards points per referral up to a maximum of 50,000 points per year. What’s more, 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 (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.

Stuff that doesn’t count towards a Companion Pass

The most notable sources of non-qualifying points include: transfers from hotel partners (as of March 31, 2017) and those transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. These points will NOT count towards earning a Southwest Companion Pass.

Southwest states that:

 

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.

Sharing points with others

You can transfer points to another member, but Southwest charges a fee to do so. Instead, you can simply use your points to book a flight for someone else whether or not you will travel with them. Note that if you use your points to book a flight for someone who has a Companion Pass, he or she can still add their companion for free. There is little reason to consider paying for a transfer.

Southwest “More Rewards”: International flights, experiences, and more

Southwest credit card holders have access to additional redemption opportunities via “More Rewards”. These opportunities generally yield less value per point than redeeming for Southwest flights, but it opens the possibility to use points for international flights (including in premium cabins), experiences, gift cards and more. Card holders can click through the link on this page and log in to view options.

International flights can only be booked on routes that are not served by Southwest and it is possibly that some carriers may not be available. However, based on sample searches, it appears that flights can be booked at a value of approximately 1c per point. Flights do not need to be to/from the United States (for example, a flight from Germany to Spain or Hong Kong to Bangkok can be booked via the air portal.

You can also use points to pay for car rentals, experiences, vacation packages, and even travel insurance, though values tend to be quite poor.

Southwest Credit Cards

Chase issues quite a few Southwest Airlines consumer and business credit cards. Current offer information for these cards can be found below:

Card Offer
Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card
60K miles
60K after $3K spend in 3 months

$99 Annual Fee

This card is subject to Chase's 5/24 rule (click here for details).

Recent better offer: None. This is the highest public offer we've seen.

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$69 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$149 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
40K points
40K points after $1K in purchases in the first 3 months + earn 3x dining, including takeout/delivery, for first year

$99 Annual Fee

It is important to note that Chase added new 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.

Those looking to earn a Companion Pass via credit card welcome offers will need to open at least one business card.

Southwest Check in process

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, 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:

Add early bird 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.

Add early bird later

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. 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 cancel your ticket, you get neither a refund nor a credit for the $15 Early Bird Check-in fee. 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:

  1. 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 $15 (and have to pay it anew if you want to add it to the new reservation).
  2. 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.
  3. If you get bumped from your flight, you will lose early bird check in and will not get a refund of that fee.
  4. The utility of early bird check in can depend on your origination point.

When Early Bird Check-in might not make sense

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:

ALB-LAX Southwest

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. Those folks starting in Manchester, NH are going to beat Boston and Albany with their 5:15am departure:

MHT-LAX Southwest
Those originating in Manchester connect to the same Southwest Flight #1951 in Baltimore, but they get to check in before everyone else.

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 benefits & drawbacks

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.

At only $22 more than an Anytime fare, this fare includes priority A1-A15 boarding, priority security in select airports, a free premium drink, and it’s 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). That said, as of 10/19/17, Southwest has been targeting some Companion Pass holders at select airports to pilot a program where the companion will board with the Companion Pass holder in the Companion Pass holder’s boarding position. This program could be expanded in the future, keep your eye out for details.

Q & A

Here are a few other common questions that people ask about the Southwest Companion Pass:

Q: Can I change my flight on a companion booking?

A: Yes. You will first need to cancel the companion’s reservation. You can then change the primary traveler’s flight.

Q: How soon are my points refunded for a canceled booking?

A: Immediately. Points go directly back into your account and do not expire.

Q: Can a companion pass holder cancel the companion’s reservation if he/she cannot travel with me?

A: 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.

Q: Can a Companion Pass holder’s companion travel without the primary passholder?

A: 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.

Q: Does my companion earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points?

A: No, they do not. The primary traveler does earn points on a paid reservation (not a reservation made on points).

Q: What happens to my companion’s reservations if I change my companion?

A: You must first cancel your companion’s reservations before changing companions.

Q: Can I book a round trip flight that begins before my Companion Pass expires on December 31st, but returns after the pass has expired?

A: 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.

Q: Is there an advantage to booking one-way flights or round trip flights with the Southwest Companion Pass?

A: 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.

Q: What are some of the best uses of the Southwest Companion Pass?

A: 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:

Aruba
Belize
Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico
Cancun, Mexico
Cuba
Grand Cayman Island
Liberia, Costa Rica
Mexico City
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Nassau, Bahamas
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.

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