Strange, but true: New Southwest points are worth more BEFORE you get the Companion Pass

Southwest Companion Pass MeterArgument Overview

In this post, I argue the following:

  1. The redemption value of Southwest Rapid Rewards points, relative to cash, is the same with or without the Companion Pass.  This point hinges on the fact that the Companion Pass allows you to add a companion for free regardless of whether you pay with points or cash.
  2. When working towards a Companion Pass, it can be worth “paying” more for qualifying points than you should pay otherwise because those points get you closer to earning a Companion Pass.

Background

A few days ago I published “Six ways to secure a Southwest Companion Pass without flying.” In that post, I listed a number of ways one can earn the required 110,000 Southwest points needed for a Companion Pass.  That pass, once acquired is good for an unlimited number of flights for the rest of that calendar year and all of the next.

Rapid Rewards points are usually worth about 1.5 cents each towards Wanna Get Away fares (see: The new true value of Southwest points).  With the Companion Pass in-hand, you can add a companion to your award flight for free (not counting TSA fees).  Therefore, points should be worth 3 cents each when you have a companion pass, right?  Wrong.

Example

I looked up a random flight: Baltimore/Washington to Las Vegas, nonstop, and found a nonstop fare of $242:

Companion Pass SWA BWI LAS cash price

The same flight costs 16,110 in points:

Companion Pass SWA BWI LAS point price

In this example, points are worth approximately 1.5 cents each ($242 / 16,110).  Now suppose we had a Companion Pass and added a companion to the flight.  If you paid cash for the flight, the total cost of the airfare would still be $242 (since you can add a companion for free to either a paid or award flight).  And if you paid with points, the total cost would still be 16,110 points.  In other words, points are still worth about 1.5 cents each when you have a Companion Pass.

The per point value is the same with or without a Companion Pass.  Yes, with the Companion Pass you can get twice as much flight value, but that’s true regardless of whether you pay with points or with cash.

Why this matters

If you have an opportunity to acquire Southwest points, but there’s a cost (either a direct cost or an opportunity cost), you shouldn’t assume that it makes sense to pay more than 1.5 cents per point.  Here’s a simple example: suppose you plan to buy something online and can choose between earning 5 Southwest points per dollar or 10% cash back through various portals.  If you choose the 5X Southwest points, then you have essentially chosen to buy those points for 2 cents each (see: Buying points, unwittingly).  Is it worth it?  It can be, if you need extra points for a specific award, but in general you’re better off with the cash – even if you have a Companion Pass.

Why new points are more valuable before you get the pass

Points already in your account are worth the same regardless of whether you have a Companion Pass or not.  However, most newly acquired points count towards your Companion Pass eligibility.  Those points are more valuable because they help you get that valuable Companion Pass.  How much more valuable are those points?  That depends upon how much money and points you end up saving as a result of getting that pass.  The more money and points you end up saving due to the Companion Pass, the more valuable were those 110,000 qualifying points.

Suppose, for example, you have an opportunity to acquire points for 1.5 cents each in a way that would result in Companion Pass eligible points.  Once you have the Companion Pass, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to do the deal since you wouldn’t gain anything.  The points you acquire would be worth about the amount paid, so why bother?  On the other hand, if you haven’t yet earned enough points for your Companion Pass, then it makes a lot of sense.  For 1.5 cents per point, you would get points that can be redeemed for about 1.5 cents per point value and you would get closer to obtaining your Companion Pass .

Last updated on August 13th, 2016

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Jen
Guest

Just remember that using points in a flight provides you with way more flexibility if you need to cancel. While I wouldn’t recommend purchase points for more than they are worth, it is just something to keep in mind. There is also the opportunity cost of using points vs paying for the flight with cash as you then won’t earn points when using points.

Jo
Guest
Jo

best perk IMO.

Matt C
Guest
Matt C

I think this post would be better titled “Southwest Points worth less AFTER you lose your Companion Pass”. Yohr math is fuzzy, at best on this one. The benefit of the pass is TWO traveling together; if I want to buy two tickets in your scenario, it would cost $484, so I am getting double value for my points.

ws
Guest
ws

Concur. Greg, this ultra convoluted post is off the charts major headache, and it just doesn’t pass the laugh or common sense tests. If you already HAVE the companion pass, and you’re starting to run low on southwest points, then earning more points (via Chase UR) will be worth twice as much as if you didn’t have the companion pass.

Ah, but you’re in the business at the moment (apparently) of anticipating card churners will soon no longer be earning the companion pass via the “old fashioned way” — and so, off to the races with mangled statistical manipulation to turn sour grapes sweet.

Not buying it. You really do need that vacation. When you come back, try re-writing this post in plain, direct english.

Jivepicnic
Guest
Jivepicnic

Remember that the Companion Pass also applies if you pay cash for your tickets. If you have the Companion Pass, the cost of two tickets in FM’s example would only be $242 if you paid cash or 16,110 points. Thus, points are still worth 1.5 cents each. I’m pretty sure this is what FM is trying to illustrate.

Nico
Guest
Nico

I had actually heard people say what this post is saying before and I didn’t “get” it until now. I thought this post broke it down in a way that helped me wrap my mind around it.

Let’s look at an example that’s a bit extreme, but makes the point. Let’s say you can make a purchase through a shopping portal that either earns 10% cash back or 5x Southwest points. Let’s pretend that the purchase is $2,420.

If you go through the 10% CB portal, you get $242 back. If you go through Southwest, you earn 12,100 points.

If you already have the companion pass, the $242 is more valuable than the 12,100 points as $242 will buy you those two airline tickets, whereas 12,100 points isn’t enough to buy the $242 ticket. The cash is more valuable than the points.

I’ve historically looked at it the way you did — the points bought me $484 in airfare — but that’s not really accurate as it would only cost me $242 if I were paying in cash since I have the companion pass.

This post changes my strategy — if you earn the CP early in the year, it makes a lot more sense to focus on cash back. In an example like the above example, not only does the 10% earn you more in airfare, you also earn points from the flight itself.

I say all this as someone who, until right now, was also working under the flawed presumption that my points were double value. I guess in the one sense you can say that they are double value — but so is your cash. Every 1 cent of your cash money is also double value — so that 10% cash back becomes more like 20%. Maybe that’s a better way to look at it — the points are only worth double if you also imagine your cash worth double — so they essentially aren’t worth any more with the CP.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

no further math is really needed with the given data “what is better 5 point for every dollar spent and assuming each point is worth 1.5 or 10% cash back”

in the example 5 pt x 1.5 cents/pt < 10% cash back

J
Guest
J

Agreed. This title is misleading and click bait.

Brad
Guest
Brad

I agree, this post is confusing. When you speak of points bring worth less, I immediately think “they were devalued!” Which, in this case, is clearly not true. Maybe something like this:

“When considering the Cents Per Point value of SW RR, the chart is like this:
0 -> 110K = 1.5 CPP (You’ve earned the CP! )
110k+ = 3 CPP (every reward is BOGO)

When considering the costs of buying points, through MS or other means, the chart is like this:
0 -> 110K = 3 CPP (assuming you are for sure getting the CPP )
110k+ = 1.5 CPP

The value of churning for points decreases because you hit the magic CPP threshold. At that point, your card/churn is no better than a 2% card, because your card/churn is no longer working towards a CPP.”

I think you could have explained that is a bit of an inverse relationship more clearly.

SDO
Guest
SDO

I concur with this analysis. Also, let’s not forget the need to continue earning SW points for future CP status after Dec. 31st of the year in which the CP was earned.

JL100
Guest
JL100

Guys – points are definitely not worth double when you have the companion pass. If one buys a flight for $x, the companion still flies free. One does not need points to use the companion pass at all. People like to think they’re worth double, but they’re not. The companion pass itself has a value and the points have a value. Now before having the pass, the getting points could be worth more only if those points make the difference in whether you get the pass or not for the next year, like if you’re at 100k and are making a big portal purchase. I think that is what Greg is trying to say.

Jags4186
Guest
Jags4186

Greg is great. This post isn’t.

Reading this post makes it sound as if you should save to use your Southwest points for when you don’t have the Companion Pass as they’re worth more then.

I don’t try to maximize the value of my points. I use points to go on vacation. I don’t have the opportunity to take 8 vacations a year and therefore have no need to maximize my point value. To fret over whether I got 1.5cpp or 2cpp on this or that redemption to me defeats the purpose of the hobby.

projectx
Guest
projectx

I get what you are saying but sheesh… this is going way overboard. I’m all for getting the most value possible but this is simply paralysis by analysis. If you’re worrying about sawing pennies in half in this game you’re doing it wrong.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Don’t be so sure about that. Points are worth pennies and sawing pennies in half is what this is all about. Half a penny is a 50% decrease in the value. Maybe that’s not significant when you only have one penny, but it is a different story when you have hundred of thousands of pennies (points).

Nico
Guest
Nico

I really don’t get the negative backlash towards this post. I think it was very clear. The title says “New Southwest Points are worth more before you get the Companion Pass”. They are. Note that he’s not saying Southwest points in general — he’s not saying, “Don’t use your points for airfare because they aren’t worth as much as they are without the CP!” He’s saying, “the value of each new point you earn after the CP is less than the value of the points you earn before you have the CP”. This distinction really matters for me — and I suspect others reading this post.

I don’t know what I’d say the “cash value” of having a companion pass is, but there is clearly a value. What would you pay me if you could buy my companion pass? $100? $500? $2000? I can’t say the exact value — but there is some value.

So when you’re starting at zero, every point is worth about 1.5 cents PLUS a fraction of whatever the value of the companion pass is (because each point gets you an inch closer to the pass).

Once you have the companion pass, each point is only worth 1.5 cents. (<–I use this number because it's the one Greg used. I regularly redeem for values in excess of 1.7 points, but I'm sticking with his number here).

Most people (myself included before today) assume that each point increases in value when you have the CP. It doesn't. It still buys the same 1.5 cents of airfare. If you want to say, "But it buys double airfare!" — fine. So does your cash. Each penny of your cash also buys double airfare — so if you want to say your points are worth 3 cents each with the CP, then you also have to consider that each of your cash pennies is worth 2 cents.

It might be more productive to look at the companion pass as a coupon for a 50% discount when traveling with your companion. That is a coupon that would obviously sell for some money on eBay if it existed in coupon form — so we can agree that it has some value. It also eliminates the idea of your cash or points being worth more — you're essentially just getting a discount on the airfare either way. I don't know if this makes it any easier — but I could see how this analogy might help some people wrap their minds around it.

A commenter above me here said, "If you’re worrying about sawing pennies in half in this game you’re doing it wrong." I couldn't disagree more. As someone who makes millions of miles a year, this post is extremely relevant. I earned the companion pass in 2 days of portal use. I have been leaving *a lot* of cash on the table in situations like the 10% vs 5x noted above. Sure, if you're spending a hundred bucks through the portal once in a while, it probably doesn't matter. As someone who spends many thousands of dollars each month through portals, the difference here is huge. In the example I referenced above (a $2,420 purchase that I can choose to make through a portal that earns 10% cash back or 5x rapid rewards points per dollar), I'd earn $60.50 LESS by choosing 5 southwest points per dollar than using the 10% cash back. I make more than one or two purchases like that every month. Before now, I'd have valued those 5x southwest points more than the 10% figuring that I'd have no trouble getting more than 2 cents a point in value with the CP. Now that I see the light, I'll take the 10% CB. Honestly, the $60.50 difference is even a little light — that doesn't take into account the value of two other parts. First, I earn points when paying with cash — so not only does that $242 I got in cash back buy the same airfare as the 16,000 points, but it also earns some points. Second, earning cash back gives me the added flexibility of using that cash for something else if I prefer, whereas the points lock me into Southwest. Boo-ya. Cash back would be the no-brainer in the 10% vs 5x debate. In fact, even if the ratio were close to even (like 6.6 southwest points vs 10% cash back), it would make more sense to take the CB when taking into account these two additional pieces.

Again, this only applies after you have the CP — if you don't, the points are worth something more than the 1.5 cents for sure (and I'd take the 5x over 10% when working on earning the CP).

For people who earn a CP in January of one year and have it through December of the following year, this post could mean thousands of dollars more in your pocket by correctly choosing CB over points. I can't even begin to say how grateful I am for this explanation. Game. Changer.

Thanks, Greg. This post was terrific for me.

dfsasdf
Guest
dfsasdf

useless mental masturbation…

get the pass and fly if it makes sense for your situation..

and the points bookings are refundable so use points when you want flexibility.

brteacher
Guest
brteacher

In short, 2% is better than a Southwest mile. People say to me, “When I have the Companion Pass, the value of every SW mile is doubled, every mile is worth 3%, and now it’s better to accumulate SW miles than cash back.”

They are wrong. First of all, a Companion Pass doesn’t double the value of Southwest miles for most people in real life. That would assume you never, ever travel alone. Or what about a family of three?

Secondly, since the Companion Pass works on cash tickets as well as points, the Companion Pass doubles the value of your cash when buying Southwest tickets. So, if you earn 2% cash back and apply it to two Southwest tickets, the buying power of that cash back was 4%, which is better than the 3% you’d get using miles.

Conclusion: after getting your Southwest Companion Pass, you are better off spending on a 2% card than on a Chase Southwest card.

kenny
Guest
kenny

Have to agree with most others. While I get the point, it could have been done in 2-3 sentences.

Helmholtz
Guest
Helmholtz

The point here is that Companion Pass doesn’t increase the value of SW points relative to cash; it increases the value of SW travel in general relative to all other domestic flights.

If you have the CP, other miles are worth half as much as they used to be. That’s simple enough and obvious enough.

Incidentally, the confusion in the comments section here means that this post was, in fact, warranted, precisely because of the commenters above who say it wasn’t.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I think this post is right on. The hobbyists will have to be explained this somewhat simple idea and the rest of us don’t need to be told this. I always convert the points from different rewards programs to the same currency (dollars) in order to fairly compare their true value (cashback monitor is a good source for this). Sure it is true that the value can change from person to person and their opportunities to use their points can be different, but that is where a person must decide for themselves what a point in a particular program is worth to them. For instance, I know that Chase UR points are worth more than 2 cents per point for a lot of people, yet, I have never received that value despite having accumulated several hundred thousand of them over the years. It was not lack of knowing how to best use them, but it was simply the opportunity cost of using them that guided my decision. If I was traveling 100 days of the year, I probably would have chose to maximize the value of those points. But, since I am limited to when and how I travel, I chose to use those points in a different manner.

Everyone needs to figure out for themselves and their circumstance what the “expected value” is from their spending with different programs. If you have the companion pass and value the southwest points at double the value of 1.5 cents (3 cents) that means you are earning 3% cash back on your purchase. Obviously using a different card that earns 5% cash back is going to buy you more airfare (in dollars) on that airline.

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

Points are worth even LESS if you factor in redeemable miles earned by paying cash instead. Especially if both you and your companion earn miles on the flight. Is that the case?

BB
Guest
BB

FM, your article is completely incongruous with the concept of RDP/RDM and EQP/EQM in FF land. In the case of WN in this article, comparing EQP to RDP is comparing apples to oranges. Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) are completely subjective to the individual FF. Reedemable Points’ (RDP) value lies in how they are used. They are not worth less before getting the companion pass.

You’d be better off saying you should use cash to get your EQPs to 100k or 100 flights for the CP FIRST AND THEN redeeming points.

BB
Guest
BB

I’d also add that the value of the RDM could spike up to close to 3c if the CP was earned NOT via BIS cash flights. Reason: If you earned 110k points in a year via CC bonuses and spend, you would not have spent any cash in the build up to CC. The value of the points IS then worth 3c because both people are flying on one set of points, when the alternative would be paying cash for TWO tickets.

bltn95
Guest
bltn95

I don’t fly SW, but I think here’s the summary:

After getting CP, one should consider earning other points/miles that are worth more than 1.5cents each. If one chooses to continue to earn SW points, then one will miss out on more valuable points/miles.

Scott
Guest
Scott

I completely agree. SW points are worth the same before and after the companion pass, unless you want to account for the value of earning the pass which is between 0 and ??

Anyway, what I really think is interesting would be to figure out what a point is worth. 1.5 cents is close, until you add in

1) Points are very flexible on cancellation

and subtract

1) The rebate points you’d earn flying a paid flight
2) The credit card points paying for the flight
3) Any points/discount/promotion you get paying for the flight with a gift card (this is potentially 20% or more)
4) Portal bonuses for transactions

I’m afraid the way I’ve been hitting the last 3, I’ve been, at times, able to get the discounts up into the 30% range, which would make the SW points worth significantly less than 1.5 cents. I wouldn’t pay more than a penny for them.

Frank
Guest
Frank

Scott, why do you say points are very flexible on cancellation? So is cash.

If you buy a ticket for cash and then cancel, you’d just get a voucher for the cash amount, wouldn’t you?

Alex
Guest

I am completely confused, even after reading people’s comments. Does it matter what your points are worth with or without the CP? Of course they would be worth the same, the difference is that now 2 people travel for the same price instead of 1. I don’t think anyone ever believed that points would be worth more after you acquire the CP, just that now 2 people can travel for the same amount, whether cash or points. If this is the case, this article makes absolutely no sense.

Kristy
Guest
Kristy

I think that this post was needlessly confusing, and then some of the comments only served to make it more convoluted. The bottom line is this: There is no reason to “buy” points at more than 1.5 cents value because you can essentially “buy” them at that rate when you book your flight if you care to look at it that way. So in FM’s example, if you were willing to “buy” points at 3 cents each because you figured that 2 people would be flying and they should be worth double, you would end up “paying” (either with actual money, or opportunity cost) $483.30 for 16,110 points. Instead, you could just pay $242 for the flight and your companion would still fly free. I think where so many people are getting confused (including myself initially) is that we instinctively think that if 2 people are flying that our points are worth double, which at the point of redemption is true because we are only paying 16,110 instead of 32,220 for 2 tickets, but if you were willing to pay 3 cents each for those points then you essentially paid $483.30 for those 2 tickets, in which case you might as well have just paid cash for 2 tickets ($484) and not even bothered with earning the companion pass.

Matt
Guest
Matt

The points are worth more BEFORE you get the companion pass because they are essentially “buying” a portion of that companion pass. However, once you have reached the 110,000 points needed, they no longer are buying you anything more than cash. In fact, you may be losing value if you are earning SW points at a rate that is less than their comparable value in dollars from a cash back earning card. Right?? Isn’t this clear or is this totally the wrong interpretation?

Nick
Guest
Nick

Simple explanation that could have been used in the article:

Don’t use a SW CC to earn SW points instead of using a 2% CB card after earning CP.

Some people are doing the math wrong after earning CP:

If 1.5 cpp SW points are worth double (3 cpp) after earning CP, then 2% CB card is worth worth double (4%) as well.

Instead of saying 3 cpp > 2% CB, we should be saying 3 cpp < 4% CB

Of course, there are clearly more factors than a general cpp that go into the value of SW points vs. cash back as well:

1. SW cancellation flexibility
2. using portals to gain points 3. opportunity cost of acquiring SW points through CCs vs. putting spend on other cards
4. additional points earned on flights when using cash
5. flexibility of cash in general vs. having SW points

Even if you'd argue that the "tiebreakers" favor using a SW CC after earning CP (I'd argue in the other direction), there's no way they're making up for the 1% gap in value.

TL;DR: Once you have earned the SW CP, you'll get more value out of a 2% CB card than a SW CC.

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