How to Score Companion Passes to Get Free Flights — and Which Airlines Offer Them

This tool is one of the best ways to score a free flight. Here's how to use it effectively.

<p>Stephen M. Keller/Courtesy of Southwest Airlines</p>

Stephen M. Keller/Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

If you're something of a frequent flier — or if you live in a Southwest Airlines hub — you've probably heard the term "companion pass" thrown around a few times. Ultimately, a companion pass is exactly what it sounds like: a certificate that allows you to bring a friend on a flight for (mostly) free. Of course, there's fine print involved that severely limits the power of a companion pass, so free long-haul business-class tickets are rare. But you can indeed get a free or heavily discounted plane ticket with a companion pass, usually in economy.

In a nutshell, companion passes are two-for-one deals, though their use is often restricted by fare class and route, and you'll still have to pay taxes and fees. You must also be on the same reservation as your companion.

The most well-known companion pass is, arguably, the Southwest Companion Pass, because it's the only one that's reusable for a minimum period of a year. The rest of the companion passes out there are one-time-use annual perks for airline co-branded credit cards; their redemption value can often cover the card's annual fee.

Here's everything you need to know about the major airline companion passes.

Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is the airline's top-tier status reserved for frequent fliers. Once the status is earned, the traveler can designate one person who can tag along with them on every flight for free, though they are still charged for taxes and fees, which start at $5.60. In order to earn the pass, you'll need to fly 100 flights on Southwest or earn 35,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year — whenever you cross the threshold, you'll earn Companion Pass status for the remainder of the calendar year and the following year.

Rapid Rewards points can be earned on Southwest airfare, partner bookings for hotels and rental cars, using a Rapid Rewards co-branded credit card, shopping through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal, and dining at qualifying restaurants. Keep in mind that Rapid Rewards credit card sign-up bonuses count toward status, so that's one way to jumpstart your journey toward the Southwest Companion Pass.

Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare

This isn't a true companion pass, but rather a companion discount. Travelers with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card or the Alaska Airlines Visa Business Credit Card receive a one-time code on each card anniversary that allows them to buy a round-trip economy ticket for a travel companion for $99 plus taxes and fees. Existing cardholders don't have a spend requirement to earn the companion fare, but new cardholders will have to spend at least $6,000 a year to earn it.

American Airlines Companion Certificate

Like Alaska's Famous Companion Fare, American Airlines' Companion Certificate is also a companion discount. Travelers who hold the following credit cards are eligible for the certificate after spending $20,000 or $30,000 in a calendar year, depending on the card: AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard; AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard; AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard; or the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard. The certificate can be redeemed for $99 plus taxes and fees on one round-trip economy-class ticket in the continental U.S. However, residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands can use it on a round-trip flight from their home airport to a destination in the continental U.S.

British Airways Travel Together Ticket

A true companion pass, this ticket can be earned by British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card holders who spend $30,000 in a calendar year. The ticket is valid in all classes — even business class — on round-trip flights originating in the United States. Like all companion passes, you must pay taxes and fees, as well as carrier chargers, and British Airways' fine print mentions how expensive that can get: "For a peak, return flight from Los Angeles to London, these can amount to $651.33 in economy (World Traveller) and $1,984.57 in business (Club World)." That said, you're still getting a heavy discount, since a standard plane ticket would also include those charges.

Delta Companion Certificate

Four credit cards issue Delta companion certificates on each card anniversary: Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express and Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express, plus their business counterparts. The Platinum companion certificate can be used on one round-trip journey within the continental U.S. in economy, while the Reserve companion certificate can also be used in Comfort+ and first class. While you'll still have to pay taxes and fees, Delta caps the total amount to $75. Availability can be limited, though, as the companion certificates can only be used in certain fare classes.

Hawaiian Airlines Companion Discount

Holders of the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard or the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Business Mastercard are given a one-time 50-percent-off companion discount code for a round-trip economy flight between Hawaii and North America during their first year of card membership. On each card anniversary after that, cardholders receive $100 off one companion flight per year between Hawaii and the continental U.S. in economy.

Lufthansa Companion Ticket

After making a single purchase with their card in the first year they have it, Miles & More® World Elite Mastercard cardholders are given an economy-class companion pass for a round-trip flight from the U.S. to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia on Lufthansa. It can only be used in certain fare classes, and travelers are still responsible for paying taxes and fees. After that, on each card anniversary, cardholders receive another companion ticket.

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