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I’m a fan of two key elements of the Southwest program:
- no change or redeposit fees on awards
- a Southwest companion pass after earning 110,000 points in a year
Sadly without notice Southwest changed the rules so that transfers to Southwest from other programs wouldn’t count towards the points you need to earn for a companion pass. This caught many people by surprise who were in the midst of planning their strategies to earn one.
But Southwest realized doing it without notice was a bad idea and they’ve reversed course. They are delaying the new rules to April 1, giving members three more months to transfer points into Rapid Rewards to earn a Companion Pass.
As we began the New Year on January 1, we took the opportunity to close a loophole in our Rapid Rewards Companion Pass terms and conditions related to transferred points from our Partners. This was an effort intended to clarify qualification requirements for Companion Pass, one of the best benefits in travel, as well as to protect the integrity and value of the Rapid Rewards program.
In doing so, we updated our terms and conditions which now clearly state that points transferred from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club will no longer count toward qualification for a Companion Pass. Members will continue to earn toward Companion Pass benefits through paid flights flown on Southwest, Points earned through spend with Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards, and base points earned through transactions with Rapid Rewards partners.
Many of you have reached out to us since then, and we greatly appreciate your honest and candid feedback. Because we are a Company that values our Customers and believes in doing the right thing, we are offering a limited window for Customers to earn toward Companion Pass by transferring their loyalty points from these Partners.
To that end, points converted from the above mentioned programs will count towards a Companion Pass until March 31, 2017. This is a hard deadline and we will not be able to make any exceptions beyond March 31. If you have points with these Partners that you wanted to transfer, please do not wait. Make the transfer before the deadline.
We appreciate all of our Customers and look forward to seeing you onboard very soon!
This gives us a window to still use these strategies:
Marriott Travel Packages
Marriott Rewards offers hotel and miles package redemptions that are probably the highest value use of their points.
They advertise 7 night hotel packages that can also get you the annual points you need for a companion pass. And you can top off a Marriott account by transferring in Starwood points at 1 Starpoint to 3 Marriott points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt or Marriott to Southwest
If you have, for instance, a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card you can transfer points directly from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account to Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards. However those points don’t count towards companion pass.
The workaround is that hotel points transfers to Southwest do count. That means you can transfer your points over to Marriott Rewards so you have enough points for a travel package. (You don’t want to just transfer Marriott Rewards straight to Southwest, it’s not the best ratio.)
If you aren’t going the travel package route, you can also transfer Chase points to Hyatt and from Hyatt to Southwest.
5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points transfers to 2,400 Southwest Airlines points. Convert 50,000 Hyatt points to 24,000 Southwest points and you get a 6000 point bonus (making the ratio 5:3). Transfer 200,000 Hyatt points, then, into Southwest and you receive 120,000 Southwest points. Or convert 192,500 Hyatt points for just over the 110,000 you need:
The great thing here is that Chase points can be earned so quickly. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
You can earn another 5,000 bonus points when you add your first authorized user to the account and make a purchase in the same 3 months from account opening.
The card earns 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. It has an introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95.
Buying Choice Hotels points
You can convert 6,000 Choice points to 1800 Southwest points. You can use a trick to buy Choice points for as little as 3/4ths of a cent apiece. (HT: Frequent Miler) They’ve also been on sale regularly each year through Daily Getaways.
You’re unlikely to do this from scratch (buying 372,000 Choice points) — since you can earn points each year from a variety of different sources, this is a reasonable method of topping off an account, unless you’re going to use that companion pass more than once a month it’s probably not worth doing this from scratch.
How Does the Southwest Companion Pass Work?
A Southwest Companion Pass lets a companion fly with you free when you travel on Southwest — even when you are flying on a Rapid Rewards award ticket.
You choose the person you want as your companion. When you book your tickets, you have the option to also use the Southwest companion pass for your designated person. (You can also book companion pass travel by phone.) You pay for your ticket, the companion flies for just the cost of security taxes. That’s it.
You can use the Southwest companion pass as many times as you’d like, and you can change your designated companion three times during its validity.
You can earn this by taking 100 flights on Southwest, but who wants to do that? You also receive a Southwest companion pass when you earn 110,000 points in a year.
(HT: Zach Honig)