Southwest Airlines Extends Companion Pass and Elite Status, Makes Earning Both Easier in 2020

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Southwest has announced that it's extending elite status and Companion Pass validity in response to COVID-19. It's also making it easier to earn both in 2020 by giving Rapid Rewards members a boast in their qualifying metrics. Finally, you'll soon be able to convert Southwest Travel Funds to points, although the details on that are still sparse.

Companion Pass Extension

The Southwest Companion Pass is a unique “elite status” in the airline loyalty world, allowing Rapid Rewards members who have earned it to bring a companion with them on any flight for just the cost of the flight's taxes. For most flights inside the U.S., those taxes are just $5.60 one-way. Depending on your travel habits, it can provide a ton of value. So naturally, Southwest doesn't make it easy to get.

In Thursday's announcement, Southwest stated that anyone who earned a Companion Pass in 2019—with an original expiration date of December 31, 2020—will receive a six-month extension. The new expiration date will automatically update to June 30, 2021.

This does not appear to apply to anyone who earned the Companion Pass earlier this year, with a current expiration date of December 31, 2021. Considering most people in this situation earned the Companion Pass through the use of credit card bonuses, this decision isn't particularly surprising. It's possible Southwest may change that between now and the end of the year, depending on how circumstances develop.

A-List and A-List Preferred Extension

Southwest has also extended the expiration date for its A-List and A-List Preferred members until December 31, 2021.

“For A-List and A-List Preferred Members who earned A-List or A-List Preferred status through December 31, 2020 and not through any type of promotion, we are extending your current earned status through December 31, 2021.”

While Southwest elite status doesn't boast perks like first-class upgrades or lounge access, it can provide a host of other valuable benefits for Southwest frequent fliers like:

  • Priority check-in, security screening, and boarding
  • Same-day standby
  • Mileage earning bonuses
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

Southwest's elite members can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their status is extended for another year without needing to fly again this year.

Promotional Status Extension

There are a few more terms to mention for folks who obtained Southwest status through a promotion—such a status match challenge. Southwest makes it clear that if you hold elite status as a result of a promotion, you will only receive the extension if you met your flight requirements by the promotion end date.

If you did complete your requirements on time, then your status expiration will also automatically be updated to December 31, 2021.

If you are currently enrolled in one of these promotions and have not completed your flight requirements, you will now have until October 30, 2020 to do so.

Travel Funds

One of the quirks of Southwest's change and cancellation policy is that if you cancel a ‘Wanna-Get-Away' fare—Southwest's most economical fare option—you don't receive a refund. Instead, you receive reusable Travel Funds good for up to 12-months after your original booking date.

Travel Funds Extension

Since a lot of people have been canceling flights lately, Southwest has decided to extend the expiration date for all newly-created and soon-to-be-expired Travel Funds for at least two years.

“Funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020, will have an expiration date of September 7, 2022.”

This extension should relieve some of the uncertainty surrounding people's decision to cancel bookings if they're uncomfortable traveling now or in the near future.

One important thing to note: If you use any of these Travel Funds—with a September 7, 2022 expiration date—and then cancel that flight, the Travel Funds created from that second cancellation will follow Southwest's standard ticketing rules.

That means they won't keep a September 7, 2022 expiration date, but instead will expire 12-months from the date of purchase. If this is confusing, check out Southwest's page dedicated to the updated policy. It gives a clear example of how this would work in practice.

Convert Travel Funds to Points

One of the downsides to Travel Funds is that Southwest typically limits them to the traveler on the original bookings. To solve this, Southwest is giving Rapid Rewards members even more flexibility by creating the ability to convert Travel Funds to Rapid Rewards Points!

“Those Members who have travel funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020 will have the option to convert those travel funds into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today.”

This seems like an attractive opportunity since points never expire, never incur change or cancellation fees, and points can be used to book flights for anyone.

We're still short on details about how this will work, specifically relating to the conversion rate. The announcement is notably vague about this. Southwest Rapid Rewards Points redemption value ranges between 76-78 per dollar, so this would be the most-logical exchange rate for these travel funds.

Easier Elite Status in 2020

To help loyalty members who would typically be flying earn elite status, Southwest is going to give all of their frequent fliers a boost in 2020. Instead of lowering the requirements—as American and United have—Southwest is gifting all Rapid Rewards Members:

  • 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs)
  • 10 Tier Qualifying Flights (TQFs)
  • 25,000 Companion Pass Qualifying Points (CPQPs)
  • 25 Companion Pass Qualifying Flights (CPQFs)

In the coming weeks, everybody who applied for Rapid Rewards Membership on or before April 1, 2020 will see these items added to their account. Note that you won't be receiving any redeemable points, only Tier and Companion Pass Qualifying Points.

Screenshot showing Southwest status boost for all members

This boost gets you 43% of the TQPs normally required to get A-List Status, 21% of the TQPs usually required for A-List Preferred, and 20% of the CPQPs required for Companion Pass.

In addition to being almost halfway to A-List status, the Companion Pass is also easily attainable. This is thanks to the fact that sign-up bonuses from Southwest co-branded credit cards count towards qualification. With the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card (review), it's possible to earn the Companion Pass with one sign-up bonus—even without the boost!

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
Annual Fee$199
Welcome Bonus Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first 6 months
The latest card to join the Southwest lineup of rewards cards, the Southwest Performance Business Card offers the highest Rapid Rewards signup bonus, earns more points than it's Southwest counterparts, receives a massive 9,000 point anniversary bonus, plus offers plenty of perks and benefits for Southwest fans. One of the best co-brand business cards on the market.
  • 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

Final Thoughts

Before you check your Southwest account, be aware that all of these updates are going to take some time for Southwest to implement. We most likely won't see any of these updates reflected in our accounts for at least a couple of weeks.

With this announcement, Southwest is the last of the ‘big five' U.S. airlines to announce status extensions. Considering the focus on customer service, I never doubted that Southwest would follow suit here—especially with how valuable the Companion Pass is to its loyalty members.

Overall, I think these program updates are solid. Even though the new 2020 elite qualifications aren't overly generous, Southwest's co-branded credit cardholders can make out great here. With extended Companion Passes, travel funds that are good for two years, and the new ability to convert them to points, there's a lot to like.

What do you make of these updates?

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Comments

  • Marty kelly says:

    What about those of us that got the companion pass early this year, which expires 12/31/21? Ive already had to cancel 2 trips we were planning and have lost time as well. Will SWA add 6 months onto mine too? Seems like the fair thing to do.

  • Will they let you convert old travel funds to points as well?

  • These Southwest announcements sound positive, so thank you for alerting us to the changes. I was watching the approaching expiration date on some travel funds, so I’m relieved that Southwest extended them more than two years. This is the first I’ve seen the option of converting those dollars to points. Are the points gained pretty equivalent to the dollars? Has that exchange rate been confirmed?

  • Southwest does have a good product. And they are one of the most consumer friendly airlines.

  • Es increíble. Me pregunto cuando todo esto pasará.

  • Sourhwest es la mejor aerolínea, tiene muy buena atención.

  • Kayla Whiting says:

    Southwest has awesome customer service. I miss flying with them right now. I hope they chose to extend the offer that will allow us to convert travel vouchers to travel funds beyond 9/7/20. Thanks for this blog post, very informative and I appreciate it.

  • Guess this is part of the reason why Southwest became the largest airline in the world for the time being!

  • > it’s possible to earn the Companion Pass with one sign-up bonus

    It’s made much less possible with the dramatically increased difficulty in getting approved for a Chase business card in the last week!

  • I like the conversion of Travel Funds to Points, I just wish the conversion rate was better defined. I’ve tracked the cost of my points and they range from 51 to 68 points per dollar. I hope I don’t get screwed in the conversion.

  • I am so thankful for the extension of the travel funds due to the concerns of traveling during the pandemic. We are still anxiously waiting to hear about conversion of funds to points since we still don’t know when it will be safe to travel. Hopefully Southwest will be fair about this and we’ll get details soon.

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