Southwest to Offer Unique Option to Travelers Amid Coronavirus

Erin HurdJuly 27, 2020

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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: Soon, you’ll 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 will reportedly be the same rate as you would currently be able to use Rapid Rewards points to purchase tickets. Since Southwest Rapid Rewards points don’t have a fixed value, customers will be in a wait-and-see mode until an exchange rate announcement is made.

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.

Here’s an example of how travel funds can look in a Rapid Rewards account:

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.

Be aware that this capability isn’t quite ready yet. Southwest will notify customers once its technology team has built this conversion capability.

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.

Companion Pass extension and new requirements

The Companion Pass is a highly coveted benefit for those who love Southwest Airlines. Once you earn the pass, it’s valid for the rest of that calendar year, plus the entire following year. For those who have earned Companion Pass benefits through Dec. 31, 2020, they will now be extended through June 30, 2021.

While that extension period seems fair for now, it doesn’t help people who have already met the requirements to earn the Companion Pass this year. Passes issued this year won’t expire until the end of 2021, but most travelers are still missing out on months of travel due to coronavirus. The longer the crisis lasts, the more months of missed opportunities for Companion Pass travel.

For those who haven’t yet earned the Companion Pass, Southwest is making it easier to obtain too. All Rapid Rewards accounts are getting a boost of 25,000 Companion Pass Qualifying Points (CPQPs) and 25 one-way flight segments, meaning you need to earn only 100,000 CPQPs or 75 flights on your own.

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. Assuming the conversion rate is as fair as Southwest says it will be, this is a great way to extend the life of your travel funds indefinitely.

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