Good news for Southwest Rapid Rewards members — and especially those who earned a Companion Pass in 2019 — was released today: A Companion Pass extension is now in effect. Plus, Southwest announced new ways that Rapid Rewards members can earn status as an A-List, A-List Preferred and/or Companion Pass holder for 2021 and 2022.
Here are the major takeaways of Southwest's announcements.
Southwest's 2021 loyalty program changes
Extensions for some current Companion Pass holders
If you earned a Southwest Companion Pass in 2019, its benefits initially would have expired at the end of 2020. In light of COVID-19, Southwest announced in mid-2020 that it would extend those Companion Pass benefits through June 30, 2021.
Now, Southwest is extending those benefits once again, allowing Companion Pass holders to take advantage of what’s essentially a buy-one-get-one-free seat deal (just pay taxes and fees) for another six months, through Dec. 31, 2021. That means people who earned the Companion Pass in, say, January 2019, have potentially three years to take advantage of the deal.
That said, there’s bad news if you earned a Companion Pass in 2020: There will be no additional extension to people who earned the pass in 2020. Southwest said that because they made it easier to earn Companion Passes in 2020 through boosts and flight credits, it would not extend passes earned in 2020 beyond their normal expiration date of Dec. 31, 2021.
Considering travel was mostly halted in 2020, people who earned Companion Passes in 2020 likely never got much opportunity to use theirs last year. And — depending on when travel picks back up in 2021 — it’s unclear how much opportunity there truly will be to use those passes at all.
Southwest also said its Companion Pass extension does not apply to members who earned a promotional Companion Pass or who did not previously receive an extension through June 30, 2021.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
A-List and Companion Pass status boosts for all members
If you had a Rapid Rewards account as of Dec. 31, 2020, Southwest is giving you a boost toward both A-List elite status and earning the Companion Pass.
15,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs) toward A-List and A-List Preferred status.
25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points.
10 qualifying flight credits toward A-List and A-List Preferred.
25 qualifying flights toward Companion Pass.
Given the complimentary boost all Rapid Rewards members will receive, here’s how much additional work you’ll have to put in to achieve either A-List status or a Companion Pass:
TQPs or flight requirements to reach status tier
New 2021 boost
Remaining TQPs and flights needed for 2021 qualification
35,000 TQPs or 25 one-way qualifying flights
15,000 TQPs and 10 flights
20,000 TQPs or 15 flights
A-List Preferred Status
70,000 TQPs or 50 one-way qualifying flights
15,000 TQPs and 10 flights
55,000 TQPs or 40 flights
125,000 TQPs or 100 one-way qualifying flights
25,000 TQPs and 25 flights
100,000 TQPs or 75 flights
Southwest said those adjustments should post to accounts within a week.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
The ability to earn status through Southwest credit card spending
If you have a Southwest credit card, you can use it to spend your way toward status. For 2021, cardmembers will have uncapped spending toward A-List and A-List Preferred status. That’s a shift from previous limitations, where you could earn up to 1,500 TQPs for each $10,000 spent, up to 15,000 TQPs per year.
Now, you’ll earn the same 1,500 TQPs toward A-List or A-List Preferred for every $10,000 spent using a Southwest credit card (from the first day of the January 2021 billing cycle through the last statement of 2021), but without the cap on how many TQPs you can earn. That means you can earn A-List or A-List Preferred purely by using a Southwest credit card.
Still, that’s a lot of money to reach status. Even with the new boost all members receive in 2021, you’d have to charge more than $360,000 if you wanted to reach A-List Preferred status through credit card spending alone. Removing the annual cap will only affect people who would be spending more than $110,000 annually on their card.
» Learn more: Why I love Southwest Airlines
The bottom line
After announcing changes to their loyalty rewards programs in 2020 to support members who largely couldn’t use their benefits due to travel restrictions, many hotels and airlines are once again announcing similar status extensions for 2021 as Southwest has done here.
It’s hard to complain about freebie boosts and Companion Pass extensions. Especially if you earned a Companion Pass in 2019, the additional six months to use your pass is pretty generous. And if you’ve always wanted A-List Status, you’ll now just need to take 15 qualifying one-way flights, rather than the usual 25.
Still, if your travel has been significantly reduced this year, 15 flights still might be a hefty number just to get benefits like priority check-in and a points earning bonus. And if you’re opting out of travel indefinitely, priority check-in for flights you’re not taking anyway doesn’t mean a whole lot.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card