On Sunday, Southwest stealthily changed their program rules without advance warning, removing hotel point transfers as a method to earn Southwest Companion Pass.
They timed that change exactly to the day when many people were waiting to transfer their hotel points in order to earn 2 full years of companion pass status.
Today they made matters worse by sending out emails congratulating people who didn’t get Companion Pass status for earning Companion Pass. That’s a whole new level of trolling.
I filed an official complaint about Southwest’s unannounced program rules change with the DoT and recommended that readers who felt that Southwest was being deceptive should do the same.
Many others took offense that I suggested taking that course of action. Some people felt so strongly that they even posted expletive filled messages.
Apparently sticking up for your rights and exercising free speech is now a bad thing. Would they feel the same if Southwest cut the value of their points in half without warning?
Others agreed with my approach and some even cancelled their Southwest credit cards due to their behavior.
I’ve had good luck with the DoT in the past. They helped me get a full refund and compensation for my cancelled American Airlines trip to London when they stranded us in JFK overnight.
The DoT responded to me as follows,
“This responds to your communication regarding Southwest Airlines. The U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly. Complaints from consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with our rules and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.
We will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to us. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. We will review the airline’s response. If you need to contact me, please include your name and case number (see above). I will make every effort to reply to your message within one business day.
If our review of your complaint and the response from the company discloses a potential violation of our rules, we may pursue enforcement action. Generally, we pursue enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints which may indicate a pattern or practice of violating our rules. Your complaint may be among those considered and may lead to appropriate enforcement action including the assessment of civil penalties. However, we have no authority to order compensation for individual complainants.”
Zach Honig reports that Southwest has decided to relent rather than fight. Here is the statement they sent him,
“As we began the New Year on January 1, we took the opportunity to close a loophole in our Rapid Rewards Companion Pass terms and conditions related to transferred points from our Partners. This was an effort intended to clarify qualification requirements for Companion Pass, one of the best benefits in travel, as well as to protect the integrity and value of the Rapid Rewards program.
In doing so, we updated our terms and conditions which now clearly state that points transferred from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club will no longer count toward qualification for a Companion Pass. Members will continue to earn toward Companion Pass benefits through paid flights flown on Southwest, Points earned through spend with Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards, and base points earned through transactions with Rapid Rewards partners.
Many of you have reached out to us since then, and we greatly appreciate your honest and candid feedback. Because we are a Company that values our Customers and believes in doing the right thing, we are offering a limited window for Customers to earn toward Companion Pass by transferring their loyalty points from these Partners.
To that end, points converted from the above mentioned programs will count towards a Companion Pass until March 31, 2017. This is a hard deadline and we will not be able to make any exceptions beyond March 31. If you have points with these Partners that you wanted to transfer, please do not wait. Make the transfer before the deadline.
We appreciate all of our Customers and look forward to seeing you onboard very soon!”
Sure it was a great opportunity, but personally I fail to see why this was a loophole. Regardless Southwest is well within their rights to change their program terms, provided they give advance notice. I applaud them for coming clean and making their customers whole.
I definitely think that the noise on social media as well as the DoT complaints helped the cause.
So there you have it. If you earn 110K points by 12/31/17 you will be able to take a companion with you for free whenever you fly on Southwest until 12/31/18. Until 3/31/17 it will count hotel point transfers towards companion pass status. After 3/31/17 only points from the Southwest credit cards, from flying on Southwest, and base points earned through transactions with Rapid Rewards partners will count. The companion pass works on paid tickets, Southwest award tickets, and tickets booked with AMEX or Chase points, though you need to call AMEX or Chase to actually book travel on Southwest.
The best hotel transfer options are:
-Hyatt, where 50K points will earn 30K Southwest points. You can transfer Chase points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.
-Starwood, where 90K points can transfer into 270K points Marriott points which will earn 120K Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott hotel. I’ve written about that option in the pass and will write more about that option shortly.