Southwest Airlines made four announcements about the Rapid Rewards program today. The best change is announcing something that’s been in effect for two years – priority boarding for Companion Pass companions. The worst change is more points required to earn a Companion Pass, but that won’t apply to the airline’s credit card holders. On net these are good updates to know, but not ones to be concerned about.
Increased Companion Pass Requirements – That Shouldn’t Concern Most Of You
Southwest only just announced an increase in the requirements for Companion Pass at the end of 2019, to go into effect in 2021, from 110,000 to 125,000 points in a year. Now they’re moving the requirement to 135,000.
However I’m not excised over it, since co-brand cardholders get a 10,000 point head start towards Companion Pass each year with this change. In other words it only effects those who are making Companion Pass via flying (where fares are up anyway, so this somewhat compensates for inflation) and via other activities like booking hotels through Southwest (and rates are high!).
Since most readers who go for Companion Pass do so with a co-brand credit card, this change isn’t especially material. And it’s one more reason to get the co-brand, and frankly the key reason to spend on a Southwest co-brand is to earn Companion Pass or else you’d earn more and more valuable currencies with other card products.
Higher Priority Boarding For Companion Pass Companions
This isn’t actually new – it was implemented in fall 2020 – but never officially announced as far as I can recall: Companion Pass holders give their board priority to their companions (unless the Companion Pass holder purchased a Business Select fare, purchased Upgraded Boarding, or added the Companion after they had been assigned a boarding position).
In March 2020 Southwest Airlines began offering priority boarding to companions of elite members flying on the same reservation. Travelers on the same booking are now assigned boarding numbers at the same time as the elite.
Since the new boarding benefit was tied to a specific reservation, and when a Companion Pass holder adds a companion to their booking, a new reservation is created for the companion the companion would not receive priority boarding. However they fixed this a few months later.
When a Companion Pass holder buys a Business Select fare, the companion doesn’t get an A1-15 boarding position with them. But the companion does get one of the first available boarding slots starting with A16. (The same applies if the Companion Pass member buys upgraded boarding at the gate, the companion doesn’t get A1-15 that way either.)
Priority boarding matters a lot more with Southwest than on other airlines.
- On Southwest boarding order determines which seats on the plane you have access to.
- And it can help with overhead bin space. That is becoming less of a challenge as airlines like American and Alaska put in bigger bins, and is less of a challenge on Southwest because of free checked bags.
In practice up until now companion pass holders would board separately from their travel companions and save seats for their companion which is not against Southwest’s rules. But that puts passengers in the position of awkwardly protecting seats. They’ve gotten the IT changes done to make this simpler for everyone.
Cancel Award Tickets Prior To Travel If You Want A Refund
Most of you probably did this already – and probably thought you had to do so – but starting at some point in summer 2023 if you want to cancel a Rapid Rewards redemption ticket and get your points back you’ll need to do so at least 10 minutes prior to the flight’s originally-scheduled departure (if you do not do so, you forfeit the points).
This does not apply to redemptions for Anytime or Business Select fares, and seems more than fair.
New Redemption Options For Co-Brand Cardmembers
Southwest credit card customers used to get higher value non-travel cash out options like gift cards worth a penny apiece. Rapid Rewards is non-specifically promising new cardmember-only redemptions of some kind at some point soon:
Southwest® Rapid Rewards Credit Cardmembers are getting even more ways to redeem and enjoy the points they’ve earned.