When you have the pleasure (or the misfortune, if you see it that way) of flying often enough to earn the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, a wealth of travel opportunities opens up for you and your companion.
It’s no easy task to earn 110,000 airline points within 12 months, requiring as many 10 one-way flights in a single month. It’s exhausting, while absolutely exhilarating. It’s claustrophobic, while also strangely freeing. It’s lonely, while introducing you to thousands of people you’d otherwise never meet.
But when you’ve accomplished this feat, and 109,999 miles turns over to 110,000 miles (as the crow flies), it’s truly something to be excited about – or so I’m told. I’ve never dreamed of getting close enough to earn this coveted pass. Instead, I’ve been lucky enough to be the designated Companion, three times.
What precisely does this mean? Well, for one year I would fly free on any Southwest flight the weary traveler who’d earned the Companion Pass flew on. (Well, not exactly free – our trips to places like California, Florida, Cuba and Costa Rica cost us about $11.20 round trip for my ticket – $5.60 each way.)
There’s still the cost of the 1st ticket, because only with that ticket would my flight be covered – but when you’ve traveled 110,000 miles in a calendar year you’ve also managed to rack up a lot of your own frequent flyer points. Using those points for the 1st ticket, it would be $11.20 each, in airline fees, round trip.
What an adventure!
In 2019 we used the pass to travel to Key West, Big Bend National Park, Washington DC (twice), Hot Springs, Denver, Tampa and Chicago (three times). This was a slow year – in 2016 and 2017 we’d tossed in a couple of international trips, along with our reoccurring visits to California, New Mexico, Florida, Illinois, DC and Oregon.
It must have been around September of this year when it really sank in that the year of free flights was coming to an end. With job changes, and diminished travel, we’d be unlikely to earn the pass in the upcoming years.
What pressure! We felt the need to use the Companion Pass for as many flights as possible, before the incredible perk ran out! And we did, except for our big vacation for 2019. Instead of flying Southwest we had a trip to East Africa planned for October – thanks Weezer, for the 2018 remake of Toto’s 1982 hit song ‘Africa’! What were we thinking? Southwest doesn’t fly to Africa!
As I boarded Air France, KLM and Delta flights I felt a bit like an ungrateful traitor to Southwest, after they had been so good to me. We could have saved the Africa trip for another year, one when we didn’t have the Southwest Companion Pass. What’s wrong with Hawaii, Jamaica, Aruba, Belize or the Bahamas, where Southwest offers frequent flights? Thanks (again) Weezer!
Take a deep breath – it’s okay. East Africa was amazing, a trip of a lifetime, never to be forgotten, complete with safari tours, mountain bikes, zebras and rhinos. We captured it all, with our smart phones, as well as the cumbersome Canon and Nikon digital SLRs and numerous video cameras. (Did you get one of our Africa holiday cards? If not, shoot me an address – we might have a few left.)
It’s truly okay. One of the trips to DC, courtesy of Southwest, was to obtain our 3-country East Africa Travel Visa, which made the international trip possible. The other DC trip was to attend the AAA travel show, where we met Andrew McCarthy, actor turned travel writer, and filled our heads with future travel possibilities.
I feel blessed, for having the Companion Pass, and for being the chosen companion for all of the adventures Southwest has made possible.
With the year winding down there was a trip to Tampa, in December, to visit Busch Gardens and soak up the sun. We were blown away by the Salvador Dali museum, in St. Petersburg, and by the robot concierge at the West Wing Hotel that brought Diet Dr. Pepper and ramen noodles right to our door. I’m telling you – adventures to remember!
Finally, there was the last Southwest trip for the year, to “Sweet Home Chicago.” I couldn’t think of a better end to 2019 than one final trip to Chicagoland, to visit my family for Christmas. It was a short visit, but there was time to share stories, establish new traditions and see extended family that I hadn’t had quality time with in years.
The best part? The Family Tree my niece couldn’t wait to give me. I’m so happy I was there to receive it.
As it turns out, I received an unexpected Christmas present – a chance to fly (and land) a Boeing 737 airliner at Take Flight Ohio, a flight simulator experience. It was harder than it looks, and a bit of a bumpy landing, so I think I’ll leave it to the professionals!
Thanks Southwest, for the Companion Pass! Thanks Craig, for choosing me as your companion!
Join me on my 2020 Adventures,
Southwest Airlines: https://www.southwest.com/
Take Flight Ohio: https://takeflightohio.com/