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Update 1/15/2021: Southwest further extended any Southwest Companion Pass earned in 2019. Southwest is also giving all Rapid Rewards members a boost toward earning elite status in 2021.
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.
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.
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!
- 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
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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