The Southwest Companion Pass is one of my favorite ways to travel free up in the air. After earning the pass, a companion can fly with you for free, an unlimited number of times for the life of the pass. I personally have had the pass for 11 years and just determined how I was going to secure the pass for years 12 and 13… or at least I thought.
Since 2011, you could earn the pass by accruing 110,000 qualifying points. However, that is about to change starting Jan. 1, 2020. In the new year, Southwest is going to require a member to earn 125,000 qualifying points to earn the exact same pass. That is a 15,000 point increase which is quite significant in my opinion. On the bright side, everything else about the pass will stay the same, but to earn it will be much more challenging for many.
I personally am quite disappointed by this change. While I know it will be 9 years since they made any changes to the number of points needed, the timing is definitely not best. Just yesterday, Southwest was offering the last day to apply for their limited time credit card offers on all five of their co-branded cards. These credit card offers advertise that the bonus points count towards the companion pass and it is a huge reason while many Southwest fliers apply for the card.
One of the advantages of applying for the card(s) in October is that you have three months to meet the minimum spend — apply for the card then and meet the minimum spend in January. This means that the bonus points for the card will count towards the 2020 qualification year of earning the pass. Earning it then, instead of now, means the companion pass will not expire until Dec. 31, 2021 — giving you almost two years of free flying.
While the bonus offer will still count towards the pass, you are now required to earn even more points than you originally thought you were going to need when you applied for the card. For me, it doesn’t sit well that they’d offer such a great credit card offer and then the next day after the offer expires completely change how you earn the pass. I am not a fan when loyalty programs do a quick bait and switch to their members.
I am still going to earn the pass…
Despite my negative thoughts on this change, I am still going to earn the pass for 2020 and 2021. I applied for the 80,000 point offer for the Southwest business credit card last week and I am still planning on not meeting the minimum spend until Jan. 1, 2020. Once the points post and I meet the $5,000 minimum spend required, that will put me at 85,000 points. Originally, when I applied, I assumed I was only going to need another 25,000 points. This wouldn’t be challenging to earn with regular credit card spend, using Plastiq for some big bills and using their online shopping portal.
Now, I am on the hook to earn another 40,000 points. For me, this is still do-able, but will definitely take more effort to achieve. It also might not allow me to earn the pass as quickly into the year as I originally was hoping for.
Fortunately, I will then have almost two years to figure out how to earn the pass again — if it even makes sense. It could mean the end of an era of earning the pass, but fortunately I do not have to think about it for awhile.
You can still earn the pass by flying…
The big change here is only for those that earn the pass simply by earning qualifying points. If you are a frequent Southwest flier, you can still earn the pass the way you normally do — no changes taking place on that front. If you fly 100 one-way flights within the year, the pass is still yours.
Unfortunately though, there is no way to combine qualifying points with qualifying flights to earn the pass.
While I understand that Southwest is due to make a change, especially since it has been close to a decade, I am not okay with the timing of this announcement. If they let their members know even just a month ago, that would have been much better as it would have allowed people to plan accordingly with their Companion Pass plans. Of course, it might have meant less credit card sign ups, and unfortunately companies think about dollars first over their community.
With all that being said, the Companion Pass is still an awesome benefit in the travel world and it truly has saved my family thousands of dollars. Despite the change in earning the pass, it is still an extremely flexible and easy to use pass. And the fact that Southwest allows me to change or cancel a flight at no cost is pretty clutch for my family.
What are your thoughts on this change?