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Work Toward the Southwest Companion Pass by Transferring Hotel Points

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Now that we’re well into 2016, it’s time to really start planning out your earning and redemption strategy for the year. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen discusses one strategy for earning the most valuable benefit from Southwest: the Companion Pass.

For many points and miles enthusiasts, the Southwest Companion Pass is the most coveted travel benefit. When you earn one, it’s valid for the rest of the year as well as the entire next year, so if you can hit the 110,000 qualifying point threshold early in 2016, you can get almost two years of use out of it. Today, I want to focus on one way to earn (or get closer to) Companion Pass qualification: transferring points from hotel programs.

It's hard to imagine a better pool view than that of the J.W. Marriott in Venice.
The JW Marriott in Venice is one great option for a seven-night award stay through Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages.

Marriott Hotel + Air Package

The first (and easiest) way to earn your way to a Companion Pass is through Marriott Rewards and the program’s Hotel + Air packages. These awards give you a seven-night stay at a Marriott property, along with a stash of airline points or miles to use for travel. The idea is that you’d use the miles to book award flights to reach the property in question, but you certainly aren’t required to do so, especially if your end goal is the Companion Pass.

I analyzed the Hotel + Air packages in great depth in November (including a trusty Excel spreadsheet). Note that the number of Marriott Rewards points varies depending on the category/tier of the hotel award and the number of points/miles you want. As the spreadsheet indicates, for the most part, you’re best off staying away from the lower categories and tiers. You’ll also notice that United appears to offer the best “value” among the 41 participating airlines as a result of the RewardsPlus partnership. However, this analysis may go out the window when you factor in the Companion Pass.

Here’s what the Hotel + Air Package 3 looks like:

Marriott Southwest Hotel + Air Package 3

As you can see, you can spend as little as 200,000 Marriott Rewards points for a seven-night stay in a Category 1 property and 50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. You could also use as many as 540,000 points for a seven-night stay at a Tier 5 Ritz-Carlton property plus 120,000 Rapid Rewards points. However, regardless of which package you select, the Southwest points you receive do count as Companion Pass-qualifying points.

If you stay in the rightmost column, you can enjoy a seven-night stay at a Marriott resort of your choosing and have 120,000 points deposited into your Rapid Rewards account (worth $1,560 based on TPG’s most recent valuations). This will automatically earn you a Companion Pass, which is exactly what TPG did for his dad. Even if your Marriott account balance isn’t high enough for those redemptions, you can still get within striking distance with the other packages that’ll award you anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Rapid Rewards points.

Again, the timing of all of this is critical. In TPG’s case, he booked the package last month, so the Companion Pass is good through the end of 2017:

DAD-COMPANION-666x600

Of course, you also have the option to just transfer Marriott points to Rapid Rewards, though the value proposition drops significantly. Here are the standard transfer rates for converting Marriott Rewards points to Rapid Rewards points:

  • 10,000 Marriott Rewards points = 2,000 Rapid Rewards points (5:1 ratio)
  • 20,000 Marriott Rewards points = 5,000 Rapid Rewards points (4:1 ratio)
  • 30,000 Marriott Rewards points = 10,000 Rapid Rewards points (3:1 ratio)
  • 70,000 Marriott Rewards points = 25,000 Rapid Rewards points (2.8:1 ratio)
  • 140,000 Marriott Rewards points = 50,000 Rapid Rewards points (2.8:1 ratio)

A 2.8:1 transfer ratio isn’t anything to write home about, especially when you contrast it to booking one of the Hotel + Air packages. Let’s say you replicated TPG’s seven-night redemption at the JW Marriott Cannes, but did it as a straight-up hotel award (45,000 points per night now that the hotel has gone up to Category 9). In this case, you’d need to redeem 270,000 Marriott Rewards points (note that this factors in the fifth night free on all Marriott redemptions).

However, spending the additional Marriott Rewards points for any of the package options above drops your effective transfer rate to a 1:1 ratio:

  • Column 1: 50,000 additional Marriott Rewards points = 50,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • Column 2: 70,000 additional Marriott Rewards points = 70,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • Column 3: 100,000 additional Marriott Rewards points = 100,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • Column 4: 120,000 additional Marriott Rewards points = 120,000 Rapid Rewards points

As you can see, it’s clearly much better to book these packages rather than just transferring Marriott points to Southwest!

Marriott hotel front doors
Boosting your Marriott Rewards account is easy with a couple of credit card options.

If you’re short on Marriott Rewards points, there are several ways to boost your account balance. For starters, you could open the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in your first three months. You can also enjoy additional perks during your seven-night stay through the card’s 15 elite night credits (enough for Silver status). The card also gives you 5 points for every dollar spent at Marriott locations and 2 points for airfare purchased directly through an airline, car rentals and dining purchases.

You could also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott to put these packages within striking distance. While transfers to Marriott may not typically equate to maximum-value redemptions for points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Plus Business Card, if you can transfer enough points to result in a Companion Pass on Southwest, I’d say that’s a terrific value proposition. Just remember that transfers from Ultimate Rewards directly to Southwest do not count toward qualification for the Companion Pass.

The Grand Hyatt Bali is one terrific Category 3 redemption.
Transferring Gold Passport points to Southwest may make sense for the Companion Pass, but be sure to factor in the Hyatt redemptions you’d be foregoing!

Other Hotel Transfer Options

Of course, not everyone has hundreds of thousands of Marriott Rewards points sitting in their accounts. However, if you’re just shy of the points needed for the Companion Pass or only have enough Marriott Rewards points in your account to get part or most of the way there, you do have five additional chains (not including Marriott) that allow you to transfer points to Southwest. Here’s a breakdown of each one and the transfer rates you’ll receive:

  • Best Western: 5,000 Best Western Rewards points = 1,200 Rapid Rewards points (~4.2:1)
  • Carlson Rezidor: 2,000 Club Carlson points = 200 Rapid Rewards points (10:1); 50,000 Club Carlson points = 5,000 Rapid Rewards points (10:1); 100,000 Club Carlson points = 10,000 Rapid Rewards points (10:1)
  • Choice Hotels: 6,000 Choice Privileges points = 1,800 Rapid Rewards points (~2.8:1)
  • Hyatt: 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points = 2,400 Rapid Rewards points (~2.1:1). Ratio remains constant as you convert in increments of 1,250 Hyatt points to 600 Southwest points. Any transfers of 50,000 points or more will earn you a bonus of 6,000 Rapid Rewards points (so transferring 50,000 Hyatt points = 30,000 Southwest points, a ratio of ~1.7:1)
  • La Quinta: 6,000 La Quinta Returns points = 1,200 Rapid Rewards points (5:1)

As you can see, none of these come close to the 1:1 effective transfer ratio you’d get with Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages. However, if you have a small balance in one (or more) of these programs and won’t have any other use for those points, transferring them to Southwest with the Companion Pass in mind may become a much more intriguing value proposition.

The pool at the Kaui Marriott Resort
If you’re going to utilize these options (and give up points that could be used at hotels like the Kauai Marriott Resort), you want to be sure they’ll count.

Do these points really count toward Companion Pass qualification?

For starters, it’s important to note the terms and conditions of the Rapid Rewards program, which specifically addresses the Companion Pass and includes the following language (emphasis mine):

“Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners. Points purchased for personal use or as a gift, transferred points, points earned from program enrollment, Tier bonus points, flight bonus points, and Partner bonus points (with the exception of the Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase) do not qualify as Companion Pass Qualifying Points.

In the past, the “transferred points” language has typically included points transferred from another Rapid Rewards members and points transferred from Ultimate Rewards. However, a strict reading of this language could lead you to the conclusion that transfers from hotel programs don’t count.

Some Southwest customer service reps only add to the confusion. TPG reader Kris was just shy of his Companion Pass last year and was considering transferring some Marriott points. When he e-mailed to ask about these transfers counting toward the Companion Pass, he received the following:

“Please understand that purchase points, bonus points, transferred/gifted, or points earned via a promotion (unless otherwise noted) are not considered Tier Qualifying Points and will not count toward A-List, A-List Preferred, or Companion Pass qualification.”

Fortunately, it appears that these transfers do still count toward the Companion Pass. I tested this by transferring 10,000 Marriott Rewards points on December 22, and they posted less than 24 hours later. Here’s a screenshot of my account before the transfer posted:

SW account before Marriott transfer

And here’s my account after:

SW account after Marriott transfer

As you can see, the 2,000 points I transferred did count as Companion Pass qualifying points. However, just like with any airline and hotel loyalty program, this could change at any time, so just be aware of that when you’re planning these transfers.

Bottom Line

The Companion Pass is an incredibly rewarding benefit and a TPG reader favorite. Since it’s valid for the rest of the year in which it’s earned plus the entire following year, you should definitely try to earn it as early as you can in a given calendar year. Keep in mind that you don’t need to redeem the points from your account for the actual pass; you just need to have 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying points post to your Rapid Rewards account in a calendar year to earn one.

Remember too that you can also take a “shortcut” to the Companion Pass by opening the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering a bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Like these hotel transfers, this sign-up bonus does count toward the Companion Pass, as do all points you earn through everyday spending on the card.

For more information on the Companion Pass, be sure to check out the following posts:

Are any of you planning to utilize one (or more) of these options to earn the Southwest Companion Pass in early 2016?

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