Riding the Southwest Airlines Roller Coaster

Southwest Airlines has taken me on an emotional roller coaster rising me to high levels of excitement and dropping me to disappointment.  I have been eyeing the southwest companion pass, which is an incredible deal, where the companion pass holder gets a free ticket for his companion on all Southwest flights.  It even works when using award tickets.  Earning the pass requires 110k Rapid Rewards miles earned in one calendar year, and it is valid through the end of the following year.

I have actually never flown Southwest, mostly because it doesn’t fly from the Roanoke Airport. However, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Richmond are within a 3 hour drive, and do have Southwest flights.  I have recently began to consider Southwest as an option, in reaction to the stingy award space on American.  Southwest has great availability, and flight award costs are based on ticket cost, creating some miles bargains.

My Southwest roller coaster ride began with excitement about a huge opportunity.  When Marriott and Starwood merged, they made it possible to transfer points from Starwood to Marriott.  Marriott has the flights and nights program where you use Marriott points to buy a 7 day hotel stay and a chunk of airline miles.  One option is 270k Marriott points purchases a 7 night stay in a category 5 Marriott, 120k Rapid Reward points, and the companion pass.  Between Starwood and Marriott I already had enough points to do the deal, and my excitement grew.

Typically, my Spring Break plans are final more than 4 months ahead of time, but I was waiting until the New Year to take advantage of the companion pass deal.  Getting the companion pass in early 2017 would get me 2 for 1 flights through the end of 2018.  I was all set, but unfortunately that deal died on New Year’s Day.  Southwest released a statement about changing their policy to close a loop hole and the deal was immediately dead.  I fell down the steep hill.

So after a few dark hours filled with cursing, I settled down and accepted the loss of 2 for 1 flights. I regrouped and began planning my Spring Break. I’ll write a future post on my travel plan, but I ended up using 36k SW rapid reward miles for the trip.  I know these are not expensive tickets, but 9k miles each for round trip plane tickets felt like a great deal.  With the companion pass, my wife’s tickets would have been free, and would have saved 9k miles.  I had come to terms, and was just a little bummed out, instead of my initial rage and anger.  I also used 48k Starwood points to book the hotel.  48k Starwood points can transfer into 144k Marriott points, which would have been over half the points needed for the now deceased deal.

On Jan 4, Southwest toyed with many customer emotions with a mistake e-mail titled “Congratulations on your 2017 companion pass.”  Hours later they apologized and announced their mistake.  Fortunately I was not part of that hill on the Southwest roller coaster.

The rest of my Southwest roller coaster ride continued Jan 5, with a new Southwest announcement.  Southwest announced their concern about customers, and were responding to negative feedback and were making it right, by extending the deal through March.

Now I find myself looking at my remaining Marriott balance, and pondering if I still want the deal.  Should I get refunds on my new travel plans, and go for the companion pass? I already told the family, and they are excited about the details of our trip.  I took several hours of work researching and finding the right hotel, with availability and finding nonstop flights. I am kind of tired from the roller coaster ride, and despite the recent Christmas break, feel I need a vacation.  It is too bad I have to wait until Spring Break.

Special thanks to Frequent Miler and Miles to Memories for keeping me informed on the many breaking Southwest Airlines announcements.

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