Southwest Offers Unique Option to Travelers Amid Coronavirus

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Written by Erin Hurd
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Note: This article is out of date, as some of these options and policies are no longer active. Check out our complete guide to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program for up-to-date information.

Southwest Airlines is a company that prides itself on being customer-friendly and customer-obsessed. Southwest travelers have been eagerly awaiting updates about elite status and loyalty perks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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While it took a little longer for Southwest to announce changes than others like American, Delta and United, it finally came through with positive news.

In addition to extending elite status, extending the life of many Companion Passes and extending the dates for travel vouchers, Southwest also announced a unique option for Rapid Rewards members: You now have the option to convert travel funds into Rapid Rewards points.

Travel funds are credits attached to your Southwest account that function much like a gift card toward the cash price of a flight. You'll earn travel funds in your account if you cancel a flight and get credit instead of a cash refund. Or, if the price of your flight drops and you rebook at the lower price, you'll get travel fund credit in return.

Rigid travel funds can become flexible Rapid Rewards

Southwest previously announced that if you have unused travel funds that would have expired between March 1 and June 30, 2020, those would be extended through June 30, 2021. Now, those windows are being expanded. Funds that are set to expire through Sept. 7, 2020, will now be good through Sept. 7, 2022.

In addition to the extension on expiration dates, you'll also be able to change travel funds into Rapid Rewards points.

The exchange rate at which you will be able to convert travel funds into Rapid Rewards points is now 1.28 cents per point.

There’s a few reasons why this option could be attractive to travelers:

  • Points won’t expire: Unlike travel funds with a 12-month expiration date, Southwest Rapid Rewards points will never expire as long as your account is open. Even if you don’t have any account activity for many months (or years), your points will never expire.

  • Points are easier to use: If you cancel a Southwest flight, or if the price drops and you rebook for the cheaper flight, you end up with travel funds in odd amounts. Sometimes, very small amounts.

When you book a flight on Southwest, you can use only up to three forms of payment per transaction, one of which must be a credit card or PayPal account.

That means you can use only a maximum of two travel fund credits per booking. If you have a long list of travel credits in small amounts, you’ll have to book several new flights in order to use them up. But if these funds are converted to points you’ll be able to use them more easily.

  • Points can be used to book flights for anyone: Travel funds can be used only to book new flights for the original passenger. However, you can use your Rapid Rewards points to book a flight for your spouse, child or friend. This gives customers more flexible options for booking future flights.

Southwest has now launched this functionality and you can access it by logging into your Rapid Rewards account and navigating to the Travel Funds section.

Elite status extension and new requirements

If you hold Southwest A-List or A-List Preferred status through Dec. 31, 2020, that status will now be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

For anyone who enrolled in a status match promotion, the deadline has been extended until Oct. 30, 2020, to meet the requirements.

These extension periods are on par with what the other airlines are offering, so there’s nothing to complain about here.

In order to make earning elite status more attainable, Southwest is boosting all Rapid Rewards accounts. It's automatically adding 15,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs) and 10 qualifying one-way segments to everyone’s balance.

To earn A-List status, you’ll now need to earn only 20,000 TQPs or 15 one-way flights, instead of the full 35,000 TQPs or 25 segments (thanks to your boost). In order to hit A-List Preferred Status, you’ll need to earn 55,000 TQPs or 40 one-way segments, rather than 70,000 TQPs or 50 one-ways.

Better yet, for the first time ever, Southwest is giving Rapid Rewards credit card holders the option to spend their way to status. Use your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card or Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, and you’ll earn an extra 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TQP) per $10,000 spent on the card. This promotion period runs between the first day of your billing cycle in May and the last day of your billing cycle in December.

The bottom line

Southwest came through with extensions and changes that should make most loyal fliers relatively happy in these uncertain times. Those who already earned the Companion Pass this year may be disappointed that their pass won’t be extended, but there’s always the possibility for more revisions and extensions as the COVID-19 crisis wears on.

The new option to convert travel funds to Rapid Rewards points is interesting and unique. This is a great way to extend the life of your travel funds indefinitely.

Frequently asked questions

Southwest blocked middle seats through Nov. 30, 2020, to promote more social distancing between passengers. As far as boarding goes, Southwest reduced boarding groups to 10 people at a time to allow for physical distancing. The airline also installed Plexiglas at ticketing and gate counters and in baggage service offices.

As of March 4, 2020, Southwest implemented a process of deep cleaning each plane for nearly 6-7 hours every night, including use of an electrostatic disinfectant and an anti-microbial spray. Further, Sani-Cide EX3, a broad-spectrum disinfectant, is used to clean onboard lavatories and tray tables before every flight. Lastly, Southwest planes have a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter system onboard, which is similar to technology found in hospitals. It’s able to remove an estimated 99.97% of airborne particles.

To use Southwest Travel Funds to pay for airfare, check out as usual, but before entering your credit card and billing information, click on the box titled “Apply Travel Funds, LUV Vouchers and gift cards.”

To pay with travel funds, you’ll have to enter your confirmation number and passenger name. Click Apply Funds and the credit will be applied to your airfare.

To use a Southwest voucher to cover your airfare, check out as usual. Before entering your credit card and billing information, click on the box titled “Apply Travel Funds, LUV Vouchers and gift cards.” To pay with a voucher, enter your voucher number and security code, then click “Apply Vouchers.”

Note that Southwest LUV vouchers will not be applied as payment toward government-imposed charges and fees.

Southwest does not charge change fees. If you need to change a flight itinerary, you’ll just pay for any fare difference.

If your new flight costs less, you’ll receive a refund for the difference to the original form of payment, depending on your ticket type. Otherwise, the difference will be held for future use in the form of a reusable travel fund for the originally ticketed passenger. There are no limits to the number of times you can change your flight, and you can change or cancel your flight up until 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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