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We've seen a flurry of loyalty program updates over the last several weeks as airlines and hotels try to realign incentives to the 2021 travel climate. Up next is Southwest, who just announced a series of changes that Rapid Rewards fans should find familiar.
For 2021, Southwest will re-extend the validity of already extended Companion Passes (those earned in 2019). Moreover, the airline will give all members a boost towards earning 2021 A-List and A-List Preferred Status.
These updates mirror the alterations Southwest introduced last year. But with a new year and more perspective, does the “if it ain't broke…” notion really apply?
Extending Companion Pass (Again)
If you've read about points and miles for any time at all, you're sure to have heard about the Southwest Companion Pass. That's because, under normal (read: non-COVID) circumstances, it can provide a ton of value to those who earn one. Basically, when a Companion Pass holder books a Southwest flight, they can bring their designated companion for just the taxes. So, if you often fly Southwest with a partner, you can see how the value adds up quickly.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into the works of everyone's 2020 travel plans. In response, Southwest extended the expiration date of Companion Passes earned in 2019 for six months—from its typical December 31, 2020 expiration date to June 30, 2021.
Since travel still hasn't adequately recovered, the airline is again extending those same Companion Passes another six months:
- Southwest Companion Passes earned in 2019 are now valid through December 31, 2021.
- This does NOT apply to promotional Companion Passes or those that didn't previously receive an extension.
If this applies to you, you should see the updated expiration date reflected in your Rapid Rewards account shortly.
2021 Status Boost
Just like last year, Southwest has chosen not to lower its qualifications for elite status. Instead, it's giving all members a boost—accomplishing basically the same thing. (Note that to receive the boost, you must have opened your Rapid Rewards account before December 31, 2020.)
Within the next week, members will see the following added to their account:
- 15,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs)
- 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points (CPQPs)
- 10 qualifying one-way flight segments towards tier status
- 25 qualifying one-way flights towards Companion Pass
This boost makes it a bit easier to qualify for Southwest A-List elite status and the Companion Pass. This is particularly true for A-List. The boost essentially lowers the thresholds by over 40%.
Spend Your Way to A-List
To make it even easier for co-branded cardholders to earn A-List, Southwest has also removed the cap on how many TQPs you can earn via credit card spend.
Southwest currently offers five co-branded credit cards available to new applicants. Four of these have the ability to earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 in purchases per year:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (review)
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card (review)
Normally, Southwest limits cardholders to a max of 15,000 TQPs from $100,000 in purchases. However, Southwest is removing this limit for 2021. Just note that Southwest bases this on the billing cycle, not the calendar year (first day of January 2021 billing cycle through December 2021 statement date).
- Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first 6 months.
- 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
- 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases.
- 2 points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available
- Inflight WiFi Credits
- Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® Fee Credit
- Employee cards at no additional cost, earn points on employee spending.
- 3X points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases
- 2X points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable and phone services
- 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases
I liked these developments last year, and I still like them now. However, I have a couple of thoughts.
Early 2020 Companion Pass Holders
Companion Passes are typically valid for the remainder of the year in which they're earned PLUS the entire next year. For example, members who earned a Companion Pass in mid-2019 were originally supposed to have use of it for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020. Well, as far as travel goes, 2020 didn't happen. So Southwest has essentially given 2019 Companion Pass holders a do-over.
But where's the ‘LUV' for early 2020 Companion Pass holders?
Knowing that Southwest's policy works this way, we often advise Companion Pass seekers on how to earn it early in the year—enabling almost two full years of benefits. This is what many people did in early 2020. In terms of the Companion Pass, they have potentially lost almost the same amount of use. Don't they also deserve an extension? Considering travel in 2020 was just as non-existent for them as it was for 2019 Companion Pass holders, I think they do.
Spend Your Way to A-List AND Companion Pass
There's another cool quirk to note about removing the Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) cap for credit card spending.
Right now, the Southwest consumer cards offer 30,000 points-point sign-up bonuses. Moreover, the Southwest Performance Business Card currently offers new applicants up to 100,000 bonus points.
All of these points are Companion Pass Qualifying Points. And you need just 100,000 points to earn the Companion Pass after the boost. Combined with Southwest's 2021 boost, some high-spenders, and small business owners, can easily spend their way to the Companion Pass in 2021. And, if you're a particularly high spender, you can also spend your way to A-List status as well thanks to the lack of TQP cap.
Southwest apparently liked the results from last year's program updates, as it's implementing them again for 2021. Members who earned a Companion Pass in 2019 can use it through the end of 2021. Plus, all Rapid Rewards members get a boost towards earning A-List status and Companion Pass in 2021.
Lastly, if you hold the Southwest Premier Card, Southwest Priority Card, Southwest Premier Business Card, or Southwest Performance Business Card, you no longer have a cap on the amount of TQPs you can earn via spend.
While these program updates are great, I hope 2021 is the last year we'll see them.
How do you feel about Southwest mirroring the updates from 2020? Do you think 2020 Companion Passes should be extended too?
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