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What is a companion pass?

A very valuable airline loyalty benefit that lets you invite one person to fly with you for free (excluding taxes and fees), or at a discounted rate, when you purchase or redeem a flight ticket.

Companion passes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are much more valuable than others, and some airlines don’t offer them at all. Some passes are hard to get, while others are part of new card member perks. We’ll go over a few of the more popular ones you might come across.

Southwest Airlines Companion Pass

Southwest Airlines has the most famous Companion Pass award, and for good reason. The Southwest Airlines award is not a one-time ticket, but rather a multi-use benefit for you and a companion. Earning the Companion Pass can be tough, but once you get it it’s well worth it:

“To qualify, simply fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, and you’ll earn Companion Pass for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earned it.”

-From Southwest.com

This means that if you get the Companion Pass by April of next year (2018), you would have a companion pass—which covers the ticket cost, excluding taxes and fees—for every following Southwest Airlines flight in 2018 and all flights in 2019. That’s major cash savings!

You’re probably wondering “How can I possibly fly that much in one year to qualify!? I’ll never get the pass.” The requirement is certainly steep, but fortunately there is a simpler way to meet it.

How? Credit card sign-up bonuses! Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses count towards the 110,000 miles. If you were to sign up for both Southwest Airlines credit card offers—the Premier Credit Card and the Plus Credit Card (each offering 40,000 point sign-up bonuses)—you would only need 30,000 more points. At that point, the total becomes more attainable by using the Southwest cards exclusively, signing up for Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining, using Southwest’s shopping portal, and flying only on Southwest. As long as you hit the limit in one calendar year, you’ll get at least one more full year of Companion Pass benefits—easily worth the effort.

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SkyMiles Companion Certificate

Delta also offers a pretty good companion pass benefit called a SkyMiles Companion Certificate. While not as lucrative as the Southwest Companion Pass, the Companion Certificate is much easier to get—simply sign up for one of the eligible credit cards and you’re set.

SkyMiles Companion Certificates are annual awards given to cardholders of two Delta Airlines credit cards: the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card and Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express.

The value of the certificates is different depending on the card, as outlined on Delta.com:

  • As a Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Member, you’ll receive a domestic Main Cabin Companion Certificate each year upon renewal.
  • As a Delta Reserve Credit Card Member, you’ll receive a domestic First Class or Main Cabin Companion Certificate each year upon renewal.

Although only one-time uses, cardholders receive the Companion Certificate every year when they renew their credit card. This alone makes paying the annual fee ($195 for the Platinum Delta, $450 for the Delta Reserve) worthwhile if used correctly.

As with the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll only have to cover taxes and fees when redeeming the SkyMiles Companion Certificate.

One limitation worth noting is that the certificate can only be used for flights within the contiguous 48 states, it cannot be redeemed for flights to Hawaii, Alaska, or island territories.

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

Alaska Airlines’ Companion Fare™ is a favorite among the airline’s loyalists. Like with Delta’s Companion Certificate, cardholders receive the Companion Fare™ every year when they renew their card. Alaska offers the fare for most of their cards, including their Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® and Alaska Airlines Visa® Business cards.

While the full ticket price is typically not free for Alaska like it is with other airlines—passengers must pay a base fare of $99 plus taxes and fees—the airline occasionally has promotions for new customers, waiving the base fare for the first year.

Nevertheless, Alaska’s Companion Fare™ is a valuable reward even after paying the card’s annual fee and the base fare. The Companion Fare™ can be redeemed on any Alaska Airlines coach class ticket (one way, round-trip, and multi-city) and you’re even allowed to change your ticket as often as you want—even to entirely different cities and dates. Not too shabby!

Other Companion Passes

Other airlines offer companion passes; however there are usually high spend requirements to get them. For example, both American Airlines and British Airways offer credit cards that grant companion passes to cardholders who spend over $30,000 in a calendar year. Pretty steep for most, but a great extra perk if you can get it!