So you worked through the steps to earn Southwest Airline (SWA) Companion pass and now you are wondering Where to go with a Southwest Airline Companion Pass?
It’s easy to earn southwest companion pass thanks to Chase Southwest Airline Credit card sign on bonuses. If you plan it right you can have a companion fly free with you for almost 2 years. In addition to that you have over 135,000 Rapid Reward points to cover your flights which can often cover 4 or even 5 round trip flights. Once you’ve spent the reward points that you’ve earned from bonuses you can always earn more through spending or if you have Chase credit cards that earn ultimate reward points you can transfer points that way. Of course you can always pay cash for your flight and add your companion on for free which still gives you half price flights for 2.
We have had Southwest Companion pass for several times. Living in New York we have our favorite places that we always go to but we also have other destinations on our Southwest Airline Bucket list that we continue to check off as years go by.
Getting in as much travel as possible
In order to take advantage of Southwest Companion pass, we try to get in as many flights as possible in the 2 years that we have companion pass. Since My husband and I both earn a companion pass at the same time, both our kids fly free as companions. Here’s some way so help travel more:
- Take some long weekend trips
- Avoid Holiday Times when flights require more points
- Watch for price drops and get your fare adjusted when it does
When deciding where to go with a Southwest Airline Companion Pass, We consider destinations that are close enough flights that we will go for 3-5 days and further ones we want to travel for at least a week. Living in NY Florida and the Caribbean are often 3-5 day trips where as Hawaii, California and Costa Rica are longer trips. If you are on the west coast, it’s likely the opposite.
We love Atlantis Bahamas. There is so much to do for families. We love the aquarium and the water park. What we love the most is that we can stay for essentially free at Atlantis Bahamas, just pay resort fee and taxes. If you time the Atlantis Caesar deal , you can potentially go twice with the same deal.
We usually go in January and then the following fall to get the deal twice. We pay about $50 a night in fees and then the fees for our flights to Bahamas. Food is expensive there so we bring a lot of food in our suitcase to off set the cost and keep the cost of the trip usually under $1500. 2 Trips to Atlantis is always a must for us when we have Southwest Airline Companion pass.
We usually visit Orlando at least twice while we have SWA companion pass. Orlando is one of the few destinations that Southwest Airline flights direct from our home airport. So if we plan it right we can fly out after work on a Thursday or Friday and Home last afternoon Sunday or Monday and get 3-5 days in with little to no time off from work. Orlando has so much to offer and there’s so many amazing water park hotels there’s pretty much something for everyone. There’s of course Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World/Aquatica/ Discover Cove.
Orlando is a nice place to spend that holidays. There are several hotels including the Gaylord Palms that offer holiday events. It’s often warm enough to swim and some hotels offer heated pools if it isn’t.
When we are planning a budget trip to Universal Studios, We usually buy Universal Studio’s season pass. It’s the lowest price pass at under $450 per person. We plan 2 trips within the 12 months the pass is good for making it just over $200 per person for each trip for our entertainment. Combined with our Free flights thanks to southwest airline companion pass and hotel covered by points it’s a very affordable vacation. If you don’t plan to visit twice there are often buy 2 day get 2 day free deals and a Harry Potter Day at Universal is a must for any Harry Potter fan.
We were a Disney Family for years especially when our kids were younger. It was an annual trip and we have created wonderful memories. As the price has increased we have cut back on our visits. Our last visit we did 4 parks in a 17hr day with a 1 day hopper pass we had received due to issues we had on a previous trip. We also have done shortened trips where we just add a Holiday Party onto our Universal trip. A full vacation to Walt Disney World is a wonderful but expensive trip and southwest companion pass can make it a little cheaper with free flights.
Discover Cove, Sea World and Aquatica
Sea World is one of the most affordable annual passes available. That being said, my favorite deal is the Discovery cove 50% off deal. You can purchase tickets that provide an inclusive day at Discover Cove including Dolphin encounter. The pass included up to 14 days at SeaWorld and Aquatica waterpark too, which means you have your entertainment covered for up to 14 days. Combine southwest companion pass with free hotels on points or affordable hotel options and it can be a very cheap trip. We have done this for under $1500 including food.
The Caribbean has so many amazing islands. Several that Southwest Airline flies to, which means with SWA companion pass and points you can fly for free. For us it’s under 4 hour flights so we often fly for 3-5 night trips, atleast once a year. Sometimes this includes the Bahamas but usually it’s in addition to the 2 trips to the bahamas
Jamaica is such a fun island to visit. It has a great vibe, delicious food and gorgeous beaches. It’s one of 2 cheap Caribbean destinations that SWA flies too. It also is home to our favorite budget friend all-inclusive resort. The resort offers some kids activities and is the perfect balance of fun and relaxation and we have booked stays for $250/nt total so for a 4 nights stay our trip is under $1500 including SWA companion pass, points and airport fees. We usually try to make this trip annually while we have SWA companion pass.
Dominican Republic is the other budget friendly Caribbean destination that SWA flies to. If you have Chase Ultimate Reward points there’s several Dream’s all-inclusives you can book on points making it a super frugal trip. We have made 1 trip to the Dominican Republic to visit the Nickelodeon Resort. While we had a wonderful time, we prefer the Bahamas and Jamaica more.
Aruba is one of the most beautiful Caribbean islands. It’s safe and clean. It’s location outside the hurricane belt makes the perfect summer and fall destination. Aruba has all-inclusive options as well as chain hotels that you can stay at using points. We have stayed at Rui all-inclusive which is a reliable moderate priced resort. As well as the Hyatt and Hilton Resorts in Aruba.
We loved the Hyatt Regency Aruba. We had Globalist status at the time and could enjoy the club lounge for complementary breakfast, day time drinks and snacks and evening reception which covered our dinner. There were beach shacks near by that we could hit up for fairly affordable lunches. The resort had a nice pool layout and water slide, easy access to the most beautiful white sand beach. The Hilton was located only a few hotels down and was also very nice.
Puerto Rico is the one destination in the Caribbean that is the cheapest to fly with SWA companion pass and points. Since it’s part of the USA the airport fees are only around $11 per person when most other Caribbean destinations are $80-$120 pp in fees. There aren’t all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Rico but there are resorts right on the beach that you can stay at on points.
You can sometimes find really great cruise deals for San Juan and because your already in the Caribbean you visit more islands that most cruises of comparable length. Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico was a popular option for free night certificates but it has since increased to a cat 5. The resort also has a club lounge which means breakfast and appetizers (light dinner) included if you are a Globalist or book a club level room.
Grand Cayman/ Turks and Caicos
Grand Cayman and Turks and Caicos are 2 popular Caribbean destinations that are fairly expensive to visit. Beaches Resort in Turks and Caicos continuously ranks as a top family resort but comes at a high price tag. I have heard if you book over a year in advance you can often snag a better deal. I wasn’t really aware of this resort when my kids were younger. We probably would have had it on our bucket list. While our kids haven’t quite aged out I feel the bigger benefits of the resort are experienced at a younger age.
Grand Cayman is still on our bucket list. We have visited only for a day while on a cruise and visited sting rays and the beautiful beaches of 7 mile beach. It’s a generally safe island but expensive and not a lot of chain options to stay on points.
Hawaii is one of my favorite destinations in the world. I love that there is such a variety of things you can do from hiking to beach. Of course the wonderful food especially fresh poke is a factor as well. When SWA started to fly to Hawaii it was huge for the travel industry. Not only was there an affordable option to get to Hawaii but also between islands. If we lived on the West Coast we would likely be traveling to Hawaii twice a year. Sadly from New York its a hike so we try to make it to Hawaii every 2 years. Now that SWA flies to Hawaii we will try to make it there twice during the 2 years we have companion pass though that’s a challenge with balancing other trips.
The Big Island is my favorite Island. There’s is much diversity. Volcanoes National Park is a great place to explore. There’s several black sand beaches and a green sand beach worth visiting. Kona is a fun town to chill in and check out the Kona Brewery. One of my favorite places to snorkel is on the Big Island. While we didnt have the most successful Manta Ray snorkel experience due to heavy rains that occurred prior to our arrival, it’s definitely a bucket list experience we will be back to try again (with a complementary pass due to not seeing enough Mantas).
The only downside to the Big Island is that there aren’t really any beach side resorts. The cost is very rocky with limited beaches that don’t have resorts right there. We did enjoy our stay at Hilton Waikoloa Village especially with our paddleboards and being able to snorkel with fish whenever we wanted to. But we do prefer resorts that are right on the beach. That being said there’s so much to explore on the big island that you really should have a rental car and you are pretty busy driving to the various destinations that it’s better to stay somewhere you don’t mind leaving. The Big Island is really an adventurous trip and not really a beach vacation.
Maui is often viewed at the nicest Hawaiian Island. There are many really nice resorts that are right on the beach. The Road to Hana is a popular drive filled with hiking spots and scenic views and lots of waterfalls. Maui is actually our least favorite island but we haven’t done the Road to Hana and we do tend to be a budget travel. It’s the one island our kids have yet to visit so we do have it on our list to visit with them for a short stay likely a combo and plenty of time to do the Road to Hana and enjoy the beaches there.
Oahu is like the Orlando or Florida of Hawaii. There’s a ton of things to do there and it’s generally the cheapest island to travel too. We have been to Oahu a handful of times for this reason. Oahu is also home to our favorite Family Resort Disney’s Aulani Resort. There’s also numerous resorts on Waikiki some that are extremely affordable or can be covered by points such as Hyatt Regency Waikiki and Hilton Waikiki or Hilton Hawaii Village. When we wanted a budget accommodation to combine with a stay at Aulani, we chose Hilton Waikiki because with only Gold status we received access to the club lounge for breakfast and evening appetizers (aka dinner). This allowed us to visit food trucks and plate lunch places for affordable local food while covering our other meals and saving money. If you need a cheap trip to Hawaii Combining a stay at the Hilton Waikiki (with status and points earned from the Hilton Business cc) combined with SWA companion pass and points would be a cheap trip.
Kauai is known a the Garden Island and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Having a rental car is kind of a must as most excursions do not pick you up at your hotel. Accommodations range for affordable Air BnBs to the luxurious Hyatt Regency that you can stay at with points. The Hyatt Regency has a club lounge if you are a Hyatt Globalist it’s worth it but not really worth a paid upgrade. There is plenty for a filling breakfast and light dinner which gives us the opportunity to enjoy local food for lunch. The resort has an amazing pool complex but the beach is rocky and really only for experienced surfers. you can take a walk to a beach close by or drive to a beach. Taking a catamaran ride along the Napoli coast or a Island Helicopter tour are the highlight of a trip to Kauai that are splurges worth taking especially if your hotel is covered with points and flights are covered with SWA companion pass and points.
Costa Rica has been on my bucket list ever since we made a stop on a cruise years ago. Then we had kids and we wanted to wait until they were old enough to zipline with us among other things. It continues to get bumped down the list but we plan to make the trip this coming year. Costa Rica is a great place for adventure and relaxation. Hike on an active volcano, zipline through lush forests and relax in hot springs. When you have had enough adventure head to the beach. Costa Rica offers a variety of hotel options from affordable to luxurious. The most expensive part of the trip often being the rental car.
Belize is one of the top destinations for divers. It’s good for snorkeling too. This has been on my bucket list as well but it’s also not a budget friendly destination and I haven’t spent the time to plan out how to make this trip ideal for our family so it keeps getting bumped down the line.
Southwest Airlines Flies to many of the continental states from NY to LA and in-between. Many of these destinations can be a long weekend getaway especially when you are flying for free with SWA Companion pass and points. Check out a few of my favorite points trips:
Las Vegas is a great place to find a cheap hotel. Even strip hotels will often offer great deals especially mid week. If you do the Atlantis Caesar deal than you will likely be able to book one of the Caesar brand hotels for under $30/nt or possibly free. While Las Vegas isn’t the ideal family getaway there’s still plenty of family fun including shows and red rock canyon near by.
It’s also the jumping off point for visiting Utah’s might 5 National Parks. Our Las Vegas and the Utah Mighty 5 Itinerary includes stays at Hyatt Place’s where you can stay on points making this a very affordable family travel option. Renting a car is necessary and since you will spend time hiking you will likely want to stop at a grocery store so you can pack some lunches. Hyatt Place offers complementary breakfast so it’s easy to only eat 1 meal out a day on this trip, saving you even more.
Growing up in New York, a trip to New England is a weekend trip or even just a day trip. In fact, we have done both for a visit to Boston. For those flying in there’s no need to rent a car. We have stayed at several Hyatt’s on points in Boston and the Hyatt Centric Faneuil Hall was our favorite location. Boston Whale Watch, Boston Aquarium, and the Boston Freedom Trail as just a few of the highlights.
St Louis is actually a great city to visit for a long weekend. It really wasn’t on my radar until we were doing a road trip. There’s plenty to do right in the city for a long weekend. The Gateway Arch National Park Museum is one of our favorite National Park Museums and of course visiting the Arch itself is the top experience of the city. Several amazing BBQ options are available walking distance. The Hyatt Regency St Louis Arch has rooms with a view, and can be booked on points for a very affordable family trip.
Southwest flies into Phoenix but if I had my choice I would drive over to Flagstaff and stay there. Flagstaff and Sedona are the perfect location for visiting many of the National Park sites in Arizona. Sedona is a bit more expensive to stay and traffic can be congested around dinner times as people head back from hiking. Sedona is more affordable. If you are staying long enough a split stay with a nice Phoenix or Scottsdale resort such as the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa At Gainey Ranch would be a good balance of adventure and relaxation.
Travel Hacking your Way to Cheap Trips
One of the first deals I advice those who are starting to Travel Hack is to grab the SWA Companion Pass deal. This is because with only 2 credit cards per person you can earn many flights over a 2 year period. When your flights are covered it’s easy to focus on earning the points you need for your hotel stays in the SWA destinations you choose.
For example, you can get up to 2 free 5 night stays at Atlantis with Just 1 Wyndham Credit card. The best part is those are totally covered through a status match and you still earn the Wyndham points you can use toward another free trip maybe to the Caribbean or Hawaii.
Next You can Grab one of the 2 Chase Sapphire Credit cards which often have a sign on bonus of 80,000 points which is enough for 3-4 nights at the nigh end Hyatt’s in Aruba Kauai or Maui. If your spouse gets one too now you have 6-8 nights covered and if you get enough stays in (20 nights) prior to your big Hawaii trip you could potentially earn a free club upgrade away so you breakfast and light dinner are covered.
Continue to earn varies Ultimate Reward (UR) points through Chase credit card sign on bonuses to cover more and often most of the hotel stays required for these trips. The Chase Ultimate reward points can also be transferred to SWA Rapid Rewards account to cover more flights too. Transferring Chase UR points to Hyatt provides the best value but if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card you can book travel at 1.5x in their portal. This is a great way to cover hotel stays in areas that don’t have Hyatt’s or other chain hotels. We love using the Chase portal to book Lowe’s Royal Pacific Hotel which usually costs over $500/night and includes express passes during our stay. Family Travel Hacking makes is an essential part of our affordable family travel and allows us to travel so much more.
Where to go with a Southwest Airline Companion Pass?
My suggestion on where to go with a Southwest Airline Companion Pass is to pick 1-2 of the larger destinations to visit each year that you have companion pass, plus 2-3 long weekend destinations for each year. Obviously the more you use it the better value it is but we are happy if we can get 3-4 flights each year covered.
For us our typical schedule looks like this:
- Hawaii: Big Island and Kauai
- Jamaica (Holiday Inn Jamaica Budget AI)
- Orlando (Universal Studios Season Pass or Discover Cove @50% off)
- Continental USA Destination or Caribbean
- Atlantis Bahamas (Caesar’s Free Stay)-January (before status resets 1/31)
- Jamaica (Holiday Inn Jamaica Budget AI)
- Orlando (Universal Studios Season Pass)
- Atlantis Bahamas (Caesar’s Free Stay)-Fall
- Hawaii Maui and Oahu (depending on if we are taking other big trips in the year)
While we love exploring the continental US we have visited all 50 states via road trips. With limited vacation time, we prefer to visit our favorite destinations and new places which is why we rarely use our SWA companion pass and points to fly to continental US destinations other than Florida. If you haven’t been to all 50 States, SWA companion pass and points is a great way to explore a new state.