Southwest Airlines New Elite Benefit: Priority Boarding For Companions

Brand new starting today Southwest will let other passengers on the same reservation as an elite member board with the elite. Travelers on the same booking will be assigned boarding numbers at the same time as the elite.

Priority boarding matters a lot more with Southwest than on other airlines.

  • With most airlines it’s about getting overhead bin space. That is becoming less of a challenge as airlines like American and Alaska put in bigger bins, and is less of a challenge on Southwest because of free checked bags.

  • On Southwest boarding order determines which seats on the plane you have access to.

In practice elites board separately from their travel companions now, and save seats which is not against Southwest’s rules. But that puts passengers in the position of awkwardly protecting seats. They’ve finally gotten the IT changes done to make this simpler for everyone.

A new elite benefit is a rare bit of good travel news this week. In order for the new benefit to apply the passengers must be on the same booking with the elite member’s Rapid Rewards number in the booking 36 hours prior to travel. It won’t carry through on last minute bookings or changes.

Update: Since this is the most popular question and issue in the comments, let me clarify that the new boarding benefit is tied to a specific reservation. When a Companion Pass holder adds a companion to their booking, a new reservation is created for the companion — so this process does not give that traveler priority boarding.

I still expect Southwest to roll out this benefit to Companion Pass companion travelers, however that takes a separate IT update to make happen. The airline chose not to wait to get that done to flip the switch on the benefit. Remember there are more A-List members than there are Companion Pass holders, so I applaud their pushing out the benefit they had ready now. Unclear how long it’ll take to get the final piece done.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That is good news. My wife is A-list and I’m her CP person (As long as I’m nice) and this will help get rid of the game of saving seats.

  2. The word “Companion” has a very specific meaning with WN.

    Your Companion Pass “Companion” heretofore has been on a different PNR. I assume that remains the same. So are they checked in simultaneously now, or only people on the same single PNR?

    Can you clarify?

  3. @toomanybooks, that was precisely my concern too. The T&Cs don’t use the term “companion” which is the concerning piece. Instead, it states:

    “…Member and all Passengers included on a reservation…”

    That makes me think CP doesn’t qualify. Definitely need to hear from WN on this.

  4. Doubt it checks in companion on the companion pass as the he terms state the folllowing: “For A-List and A-List Preferred Members who have also qualified for a Companion Pass, A-List and A-List Preferred benefits are not available to the Companion unless the Companion is also an A-List or A-List Preferred Member.”

    So it seems this post is somewhat misleading and wouldnt the passenger and not companion be better to describe this?

  5. I wonder for close-in changes (or for Companion Pass holders on different PNRs), if you can board after the A group.

  6. “Companions on the same reservation” is NOT the same as Companion Pass holders on a different PNR. That’s pretty clear.

  7. In addition to the companion pass problem (probably fixable), this is bad for my family when we travel together.

    Whenever we travel I always use points for my family and pay cash (sometimes with my Amex Platinum…) for me, leading to separate PNRs. Often I’m using travel vouchers etc. and again I want to use those to earn points for me (towards status, and also extra elite points) rather than waste them on my infrequently-flying family.

    Looking back over the last 5 years there has only been one case where I would have benefited for this, so I consider this benefit actually a negative as it will push my family further back down the boarding order.

  8. From Southwest’s web site’s fine print:

    For A-List and A-List Preferred Members who have also qualified for a Companion Pass, reserved boarding privileges will not be provided to the Companion unless the Companion is also an A-List or A-List Preferred Member.

  9. Yep, Joe is right. I’m at the airport right now with my husband who is A List Preferred. I am his free companion. They will not let me board with him as you MUST have the same confirmation number which is impossible when you make a companion reservation.

  10. Not allowing a companion to board with the A-Lister is ridiculous. They have to have a way to detect this in their system as you can’t cancel the A-Lister’s ticket without canceling the companion ticket first. Come on Southwest you’re better than this!

  11. I’ve added an update to the post.

    “Since this is the most popular question and issue in the comments, let me clarify that the new boarding benefit is tied to a specific reservation. When a Companion Pass holder adds a companion to their booking, a new reservation is created for the companion — so this process does not give that traveler priority boarding.

    I still expect Southwest to roll out this benefit to Companion Pass companion travelers, however that takes a separate IT update to make happen. The airline chose not to wait to get that done to flip the switch on the benefit. Remember there are more A-List members than there are Companion Pass holders, so I applaud their pushing out the benefit they had ready now. Unclear how long it’ll take to get the final piece done.”

  12. Gary, won’t this mean that my companion pass holder will be forced to the back of the boarding process? Why not just allow my companion pass holder to walk on with me regardless of a software update?

  13. @Ray Kelly – they are already, the companion isn’t disadvantaged, as with today just board early yourself and save a seat.

    As for why not all companion pass holder to walk on regardless of software update, you mean by showing the physical card? Not a bad idea though of course the card may not indicate who is your current companion.

  14. Just tried to board with my wife who is using my companion pass. She was somewhat rudely sent to the back of the line. Why SWA hasn’t fixed this for their most loyal customers is beyond me.

  15. My understanding is if she’s not on your same reservation she doesn’t get to board with you. I had read somewhere that SW hasn’t figured out how to connect companion pass Travelers so that their system at boarding knows who can board with you. That explanation has never made sense to me as I understanding SW has a way to stop a companion pass traveler from boarding if the main traveler is not boarding the flight.

  16. I agree, this is messed up wording and it causes major frustration. The person traveling with you the most would be your significant other. If you are A+ Preferred you have most likely earned a CP. They need to fix this sooner NOT later before they upset more loyal customers.

  17. I would hope that now that there is a lack of people flying due to covid I would think that they would let a companion board with an A or A+ member so that they sit together and stay safe ! Any companion should just be able to show their companion card to be able to board with the member. I have had a companion card for over 15 years and this has always been a problem and it is not a matter of getting the free seat sometime it is more about it being a reward that is earned and should be a privilege ! WE will be traveling this December and they need to have this fixed ! I have read the new policy and I would think that it can’t be that hard to combine the resv. they do when you need to change a flight time or cancel so I know they are linked !!!!! Get it together SWA ! Please

  18. One of the most BAIT & SWITCH policies by any airline! Ridiculous. I’ve been an A-List member for 15 yrs & A-List preferred for couple yrs with a companion pass for my kid for the last 4 yrs. I read this as simple English & then the Southwest gate handlers at Phoenix Airport gate D-7 embarrassed me by first feigning ignorance about the policy & then clarifying that “the companion needs to be on the same reservation #” which they know is impossible!! Wow! Funny thing is, I fly all over the US & only few Southwest Gate handers like at Orlando & Phoenix enforce this & are happy to rub it in your face. I’ve flown & had my kid board along with me, in so many other Airports like San Diego, Austin, Raleigh-Durham, San Jose, LAX, Ontario-LA, Orange County etc & they never make any fuss of an 8-year old boarding with me. And now Southwest rubs it in my face again! Not nice at all.

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