It started with me recommending Southwest Companion Pass strategies to friends (that mostly traveled domestically and shouldn’t pursue status) but noting it wasn’t for me. Then I tiptoed in a bit when a shopping deal came up that brought me about half way there and was just too good a deal to pass up, regardless of the companion pass (CP) or not. Finally last week, when the shopping points posted, I finally moved ahead to finish it off. The Marriott transfer was incredibly fast so all I’m waiting on now are the Choice points to make it there.
Now I find my and my wife with 17+ and 2 Airtran credits and 110k+ and ~5k Southwest points respectively. And me holding the CP (likely very soon). Used optimally, this is worth somewhere around 300k miles.
As you may recall, I’ve been mostly reluctant about giving up the benefits of my diamond level status on Delta (upgrades, accelerated security, easy lounge access, etc).
Here’s what I didn’t consider fully… Every time I burn miles in a legacy program, even Delta Skymiles, on a domestic ticket I feel a pang of regret. They can usually be used so much more effectively when constructing international premium cabin awards. Running down my accounts may make it harder to book large tickets in the future. I feel even worse about it when it’s a ticket where I don’t need change privileges but I’m forced to book out of my high status account when all my other low/no status accounts are empty. So, I try really, really hard to never book out of my large diamond status account unless I need the special privileges that go with it. Meanwhile, my earnings rate there is anticipated to be slower for a while.
My Southwest miles combined with the companion pass are almost the complete opposite for me.
- They can’t be used internationally effectively. I’m a stickler for completeness so I will note that you can by transferring to Airtran but the options are limited and my CP wouldn’t be useful there. So why not use them domestically?!?
- They have a fixed value. I’ll never get $.02+/mile since the points go up as the ticket’s face value rises, thus there’s no worrying about not optimizing my award.
- It opens some interesting options for me as non-stops. I didn’t realize we had a route to Milwaukee which will be very useful since we make it there a few times a year. Denver’s an occasional quick trip for us as well. Phoenix and LAX are interesting options too as is Fort Lauderdale. In most cases, I could get there on another carrier but I wouldn’t have elite benefits and would pay a higher quantity of higher value miles.
- In fact, the only non-stop route to/from New Orleans that overlaps with Delta is the LAX-MSY route. Faced with picking elite benefits on an award ticket with a connection versus a non-stop weekend award flight where maximizing time on the ground is critical, I’m pretty willing to fly Southwest. After all, neither helps me maintains status.
- My Companion Pass has an expiration and, for now, I’ll assume that I won’t get it again. An expiration is a definite incentive for me to act.
- The Friday night and Sunday night schedule between Houston (Hobby) and New Orleans work pretty well for weekend getaways where a connection is required. We can avoid any time off work.
- Base pricing’s pretty reasonable based on my limited searching, so long as I book 3+ weeks out. I haven’t spent time doing a truly last-minute booking but we haven’t ruled those out.
- Reasonable base pricing + a free companion on an award = phenomenal pricing. There are very few ways to get round-trips at 15k miles or less but this will be common with the CP. BA short distance, Citi/AA reduced mileage awards, some United 20k round-trip awards are limited alternatives.
- One-way’s + companion! Wahoo. If Southwest only makes sense one-way, I can combined with AA, BA, or UA. Or perhaps some creativity with Delta stopovers.
- Lastly, there’s Southwest credit vs. points pricing arbitrage where a high cost Southwest ticket (over 9,600 points one-way) may be more effectively booked via conversion to credits (double-check “standard award” availability by calling SW first).
Example 1 – New Orleans to Denver
New Orleans to Denver nonstop, Fri 6:20pm-8:00pm. Returning Sunday nonstop, 2:55pm-6:25pm.
Cost for primary passenger: 14,640 points + $5. Add another $5 (but no points) for my wife on the companion pass. That’s a 7.3k/person trip to visit friends there.
There’s also a later return through Houston Hobby if we so chose. My other direct option is United but I’d spend 25k/person round-trip there and wouldn’t have any benefits from status either. Easy choice.
Example 2 – New Orleans to San Francisco
New Orleans to San Francsico, Fri 5:30pm-9:20pm with a stop (but no plane change). Returning 1:55pm-10:15pm via Las Vegas (1:20h layover).
Cost for primary passenger: 22,920 points + $7.50. Add another $7.50 (but no points) for my wife on the CP. That’s 11,460/person.
Again, there’s a united option there but the nonstop to New Orleans departs just 5 minutes after the Southwest option though it gets us home 2 hours earlier. I’m not really losing any time in SF itself but I would be spending 13,540 very valuable United miles per person for those 2 hours at home. I’ll take Southwest.