I’ve already publicly stated my love for Southwest Airlines for auditions, but now I want to share one of the greatest tools of the frequent traveler’s trade: the Southwest Companion Pass.

Get excited

Get excited

What this wonderful little tool does is allows the holder to designate a companion and take them on any Southwest flight for free, regardless if you paid in cash, gift cards, or points. Well, almost free: you have to pay the tax on the fare (which is $5.60 each way for domestic flights). It’s valid for the remainder of the calendar year and the following year until December 31st. That means you could potentially hold it for two years. And the best part: with the strategy I outline, you’ll have around $3,500 worth of flights for free.

Here’s Southwest’s destination map:

Southwest Destinations

Southwest began flying to Central America and the Caribbean after integrating AirTran’s routes. Taxes leaving the international destinations tend to be slightly higher than $5.60 (for example: Aruba to Baltimore has $55 in taxes).

How to Make a Booking Utilizing the Companion Pass:

Companion Use 0

Go through the normal booking process and use either cash or points. I booked a flight for 15,863 points and $5.60 (a cash ticket would have been $246.98). Most other airlines were in the $200-250 range for this date and destination combination.

Companion Use 1

After booking the ticket, go to “My Account” and click on “Add Companion” near the center. Go through the normal ticket buying process. The only charge will be whatever the fees were for the original ticket:

Companion Use 2

So the grand total for two fully refundable tickets is: 15,863 points and $11.20 (or $252.58 if paying in cash). Not too shabby.

Now the big question: how do you get one?

Steps to Getting the Companion Pass

Let’s look at the fine print that Southwest has written about this:

A Member who earns 110,000 Companion Pass Qualifying Points through Rapid Rewards Partners or who flies 100 qualifying one-way flights booked through Southwest Airlines per calendar year will qualify for a Companion Pass.  “Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.

You need to either earn 110,000 points or fly 100 one-way flights in one calendar year to qualify for the companion pass. This sounds like a daunting task, but it’s actually pretty simple. The key part of this is that points earned with the Southwest credit cards qualify.

The standard offers for the three Southwest credit cards (there are two personal cards, Plus and Premier, and one business card, Premier Business) is 25,000 points. However, periodically throughout the year the sign up bonus is raised to 50,000 points after spending $2,000. If you are open two cards (either one personal and one business or both personals, like I did) you’ll have at least 104,000 points from meeting the spend requirements. Either pay for a few Southwest flights or just keep using your new credit cards (**responsibly and only on things you would spend money on already**) until you hit that magic 110,000 mark.

Fortunately right now one of the personal cards and the business card are both at 50,000. Click on the picture below to apply for the Southwest Premier (Personal) card with the temporary higher bonus (apply by January 15, 2016):

Southwest Premier Card for 50,000 points

Southwest Premier Card

The annual fee is $99 and is not waived the first year. However, 50,000 Southwest points is worth about $800 in fares and once you get 110,000 points, that value is doubled. 110,000 points is about $1,760 and multiplied by two due to the companion pass is $3,520 in free flights from opening two credit cards.

Timing is Everything

To fully maximize your Companion Pass try to reach that 110,000 point mark closer to the beginning of the year. I’d recommend opening the personal card now, but make sure you don’t hit the $2,000 spend mark until after January 1st. After your first 50,000 point bonus hits open either the other personal card or the business card. You need all of the points in one calendar year. Once you reach the mark, the companion pass will be valid until December 31st, 2017.

Use for Musicians

The different ways we can use the free companion ticket are endless. Here are just a few I’ve come up with:

  1. Trip to your significant other’s parents’ place for the holidays
  2. Caribbean vacation (winter is coming…)
  3. Splitting up audition costs (I’m a fan of the buddy system for auditions) – You can change your companion up to 3 times each calendar year. How about switching your companion to a friend who’s taking the same audition and have them pay half of the cash price and you use points?
  4. Any time you want to fly with another person

Conclusion

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable travel tools I use and has saved me a ton of money. All of your flight prices on Southwest are effectively cut in half.

Please let me know if you have any questions!