The travel blogosphere lost its collective mind earlier this week when Southwest peremptorily made it more difficult to earn what might be that airline’s most coveted frequent-flyer award.
Until the no-notice change, members of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program could earn a Companion Pass, allowing members’ companions to accompany them for free, by transferring points from hotel and rental-car programs into their Rapid Rewards accounts, as well as by traveling on Southwest. That made it easy to earn a potentially high-value award. Too easy, according to Southwest.
On January 1, Southwest summarily changed the policy, cutting off the ability to qualify for a Companion Pass from such points transfers.
But, apparently in response to the ensuing blowback from travel bloggers and from customer complaints on travel sites like FlyerTalk, Southwest subsequently reversed itself, at least temporarily. This is from the company’s statement (emphasis added):
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…
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.
So, Southwest will be disallowing points transferred from hotel and car programs to count toward earning Companion Pass, but from April 1 instead of January 1. Rapid Rewards members have been put on notice.
Changing a key term of a loyalty program with no advance notice is a dumb move in any marketer’s playbook. And it’s especially uncharacteristic of a company like Southwest, which prides itself on its customer-friendly policies and procedures. On the other hand, Southwest recognized its mistake within a couple of days, and gave its customers a few months to adjust to the change. That’s the correct response to an incorrect move.
If you’re a Rapid Rewards member, with points to transfer and an eye to earning a Companion Pass, you have until March 31 to do so.
Reader Reality Check
Is this policy change a deal-breaker for you?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.