Southwest’s groundbreaking feature will allow you to convert vouchers into Rapid Rewards points

Apr 16, 2020

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Southwest is joining the bandwagon of major airlines extending elite status due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over the course of the past two weeks, we’ve seen Alaska, American, Delta and United all extend status, so it was a matter of time before we heard from America’s largest domestic air carrier.

And it’s got great news for those with A-List status or a Companion Pass. But buried in the press release is a potentially exciting feature that we’ve never seen before — the ability to convert travel funds into Rapid Rewards points.

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Southwest is the only major airline that doesn’t have any change or cancellation fees, so it didn’t need to issue any change fee waivers like the rest of the industry. Instead, anytime you voluntarily cancel a Southwest Wanna Get Away fare (the cheapest), the value of your ticket will be kept in a travel fund that typically expires one year from the date the ticket was issued.

Related: Southwest extends Companion Pass, elite status benefits into 2021

As part of today’s announcement, funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and Sep. 7, 2020, will have an expiration date of Sep. 7, 2022. That’s great for those who need some more flexibility and are uncertain of what the future holds.

Southwest check-in counter in Maui, HI (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

But aside from the expiration policy, there’s long been another annoyance about travel funds: they can only be used by the originally-ticketed traveler. That means that even if you purchased a ticket for a friend or family member, they’ll get to use the value of the ticket for future travel.

In order to mollify those concerns, Southwest’s newest option will allow customers to convert select travel funds into Rapid Rewards points. On the surface, that’s great news for customers, since points never expire, never have change or cancellation fees and you can redeem them for anyone you choose.

Related: Complete guide to coronavirus and airline elite status

But there are some things that remain to be seen to determine whether this will actually be a good deal. For one, this option will only be available to those passengers who have travel funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and Sep. 7, 2020. It’s unclear whether the applicable period will be extended further. If the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders continue to get extended across the country, I’d bet that it will.

But the real kicker will come down to the conversion ratio. According to the press release, it’ll be the “same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today.” Well, here’s the thing: Southwest points are a variable currency, with different values depending on the type of fare you purchase and other factors. Our TPG valuation is at 1.5 cents per point, and the value you get varies slightly based on whether you redeem for Business Select, Anytime or Wanna Get Away fares. Once we know more about the conversion ratio, we’ll update this post with our analysis.

Southwest Boeing 737 interior. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

Additionally, it’ll be interesting to see if Southwest takes into account the fact that you don’t earn Rapid Rewards points on award tickets, but you do with tickets booked with travel funds. Furthermore, you don’t earn tier-qualifying points (TQPs) or Companion Pass qualifying points (CPQPs) for award travel.

Related: All about the Southwest Companion Pass

As such, it remains to be seen if the these Rapid Rewards will count as TQPs or CPQPs when processing the conversion. I’d bet not, but we’ve reached out to Southwest to clarify.

Ever since I’ve taken over the change/cancellation beat for TPG, I’ve received countless reader emails and Instagram messages with stories about airlines trying to convince passengers to take vouchers with bonuses instead of refunds. Normally, I’d say that it makes sense to collect a refund, unless you’re certain you’re going to travel again with the airline.

Southwest’s new conversion offer has the possibility to tip the scale in favor of collecting points instead of a refund. It’ll come down to the ratio that’s applied, but hopefully it’ll be generous.

And for all the other airlines trying to convince passengers to accept vouchers instead of refunds, it may be time to borrow from Southwest’s playbook and allow customers to convert credits to points.

Featured photo courtesy of Denver International Airport.

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