Mixed Feelings About Southwest CP Turning to Excitement

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).
Considering the number of domestic trips we do and an emphasis on quick weekend trips due to holding our limited vacation time back for larger intl trips and holidays, this is a really nice complement to our portfolio… Much, much more so than I expected! And I’m basically out of (paid) companion tickets for the next 6 months or so. Lastly, I’m actually trying NOT to fly Delta on paid flights any more than needed at the moment for reasons beyond this post.
A couple examples to illustrate.

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.

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5 comments

  1. I just followed your advice and transferred our Airtran credits to Southwest. I have 51,012 mile with SW. I have yet to get it straight if I need to try for the CP or not.

    1. @Kevin, the Airtran credits themselves won’t help you achieve the companion pass but the companion pass, once achieved, may effectively make those Airtran credits worth double what they were before. With regard to your 51,012 Southwest points, be aware that not all points are companion pass qualifying points (CPQP). To find how many CPQP you have, log in to Southwest, click the “My Account” link on the right, then “My Rapid Rewards” in the middle upper part of the screen. On the left side, down a bit, you’ll see a Companion Pass progress bar showing how many you’ve earned and how many you have to go. Once you know that, you can start thinking about how to get there. Happy to chat more about this directly if you like, including brainstorming a few ideas about how you might get the remaining distance.

      Oh… thanks thanks for my first genuine comment. 🙂

  2. The 51,012 came from the Southwest personal card. So I believe it is OK. I could get the Business card and then charge the balance to total 110,000 miles. I just have alot of other CC I am working on. Fro last year when all the CC companies were offering the moon. I took them up on it. I signed myself & wife up for almost everything out there. We ended up with 2 million miles/points and have gone to Europe, Two Alaska cruises and just came back from Alaska last week flying into 4 ports and the Oregon for 5 days. Thanks for your advice!!

    1. We had a pretty crazy run ourselves in 2011. I’ve got a few trip reports in the works tying together the big trips and some of the lessons learned. As much as people say that things have slowed down, I think they’re just changing and there’s plenty of opportunity. I also think every time the rules change, new opportunities emerge. The points/mile game is just so complicated with so many players that unintended consequences are almost inevitable.

      Anyway, assuming you needed 60k Southwest and got 25k from the current card offer, you could charge $35k for the remainder but that’s a pretty big spend. I’d probably credit my car rentals and non-bonused hotels to Southwest as those count, pick up a few shopping or dining bonuses, and cross my fingers for a return of the 50k southwest card. Also pay attention to the Frequent Miler for shopping deals… If the SW mall runs the right promo, you could be there pretty quickly at not much cost.

      One of these times we’ll get to the pacific northwest and Europe again (it’s been a few years).

  3. […] I’ve been talking about my own path to the Southwest Companion Pass so much lately and how excited I am about it (and our first trip is booked!). That said, my path used no Southwest Credit cards, […]

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