Big Changes to Southwest Rapid Rewards: Tougher Companion Pass, No Points Expiration

Southwest Airlines has changed its terms and conditions and is eliminating expiration of points, raising the requirements for the Companion Pass, and announcing that starting in 2021 they’ll collect any changes in TSA fees and airport facilities charges when elites use free standby.

  • Effective January 1, 2020 the points required for Companion Pass will rise from 110,000 to 125,000. That’s a 14% increase, and follows a change three years ago where points transfers from hotel and rental car programs no longer count.

    I just applied for a Southwest credit card with plans to earn the initial bonus at the start of 2020. That plan still works – I’ll just need to earn 15,000 more points than I had expected.

  • Effective today Southwest Rapid Rewards points no longer expire. They had previously had a 24 month expiration policy. This change follows United’s move from the end of August to join Delta and JetBlue in not expiring miles.

  • Effective January 1, 2021 when elites stand by for an earlier flight they’ll be charged any difference in taxes and airport fees. If TSA screening fees go up between the time of ticket purchase and date of travel, those increases will be passed on to the passenger changing their flight. If airport ‘passenger facility charges’ go up, those will be passed on as well.

    These are edge cases, but there are moves for both to go up and some elites could be asked to pay a few dollars when they stand by.

While elimination of expiring months is actually a negative for engaged members of SkyMiles and MileagePlus (more competition for saver award seats) that’s really not an issue for Southwest with its straight revenue-based redemptions. Ending points expiration is unambiguously positive. This is a costly move for Southwest to make since it means no longer being able to recognize revenue from breakage and reduce their points liability.

Passing on PFC and security tax increases to elites using their ‘free standby’ benefit seems petty but could add up across all customers making changes, if airports successfully lobby to be able to increase the maximum charges allowable and security screening taxes are somewhere Congress goes for revenue.

In some measure then, these two changes taken together represent elite frequent flyers partially funding the new no-expiration benefit for general members.

The Companion Pass change though is the biggest news and most disappointing, though Companion Pass will remain one of the best deals in travel even with the 125,000 point per year requirement. The value of the Companion Pass is head and shoulders above what competitors offer, and in some ways I’ve been surprised that it’s persisted at all, so even if disappointing changes here are hardly surprising.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And if the fees drop (not uncommon with PFCs) Southwest will reimburse elites who are standing by for a different flight?

    When it comes to fees it should be a two way street IMHO.

  2. The two fee (possible) changes are a wash. WN does not make money, or save money. They are only passing through real costs coming from airports or feds. Why should WN pay for these if they come up?

  3. Less that a week ago, this blog had touted the 80K bonus towards a 2020 companion pass as the “deal of the year”. This is a painful change for anyone who acted on that advice. And “just need to earn 15,000 more points” isn’t so easy for many.

    Not blaming you, this was Southwest’s change. But where is the usual criticism for programs that make changes with so little notice?

  4. spot on SWAG….. Gary here once again is going easy on the big guys who butter his bread. Even the slightest hint of this being a horrendous surprise change, done the second the 80k card promo ended, gets wrapped as “no big deal” — and “it’s still a good deal.” Integrity, VFTW, has little.

  5. WN is no longer the saint of the airline industry. Short notices on their strongest program benefit coupled with the 15% devaluation of points two years ago. Another me too trying to squeeze customers and to pad profits. Can’t wait for the bag fees and cancelation/rebooking fees to implement next.
    The best domestic airline FF program just can’t handle their success.

  6. But where is the usual criticism for programs that make changes with so little notice?

    Um, isn’t Southwest in actual fact giving notice here? These changes are for NEXT year.

  7. lol @paul.

    dude, the companion pass is so far and above any other FF program benefit, that they could raise it to 200k miles and it’d STILL be a value compared to anything any competing program offers.

    Anyone who’s paid attention should have considered that WN was going to do *something* with the companion pass considering they’ve been pumping the WN cards and increased the bonuses. Just about everyone expected that WN would restrict CP flights to Hawaii, and they didn’t do that. So get a companion pass, and use it for flights to Hawaii every week so they’re not padding their profits too much for ya.

  8. Ascot, you can’t blame VFTW for what Southwest does. And I agree with Gary – the Companion Pass is still the greatest deal in local flying, just harder to get.

  9. for the likes of swag and escot this is a hobby not a birth right to anything. airlines, credit card and bloggers are not here to provide you with benefits. you read, you decide, you blame no one but yourself.

  10. I’d like some clarification on why you say ” these two changes taken together represent elite frequent flyers partially funding the new no-expiration benefit for general members.” It would seem to me that this is simply a set of changes announced at the same time, and I don’t see how one is linked organically to another. I’m thinking that WN considered each change on its own merits as they see it, and that one does not fund another.

    If, for example, I lower the price on my widgets on the same day I raise the price on my doo dads, I would not say that doo dad buyers are funding the widget bargains, but that in each case I decided to make a change in the interest of my business.

  11. Compared to the “the beatings will continue until morale improves” mentality of AA and UA, WN still gets my business hands-down. IMHV, they are the best airline flying within the US. The fact that they don’t have business class seating seems to bother some folks, but not the rest of us who don’t mind being treated like a customer instead of a herd of sheep.

  12. Wife and daughter just got home from Hawaii using the companion pass. While a good deal they still had to overnight at an OAK airport hotel due to the no red-eye flights. But still crazy good deal to get two of them to Hawaii…19500 RR points per ticket. That made it reasonable to spend only 2.5 days in the islands.

    The 125k requirement will weed out the casual flyer, even with credit card signups. And before I knew of the change I was already wondering if I put more spend on those cards anyway…A-list would be wonderful. We bought early bird checkin on ^^ flights and still were ~A50.

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