Pros and cons of flying SouthWest

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Now that Drew and I are in the States for a few months and now that we have the Companion Pass, we are going to be taking a significant amount of SouthWest flights.

Some introductory details about SouthWest…

SouthWest is a discount airline with a revenue based rewards system called “Rapid Rewards.”

While it doesn’t really have classes, the fares come in 3 types with varying perks: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away.

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In the above chart you can see the various perks and the variation in earnings.  (Again, it’s a revenue-based program.)  When you’re searching for flights, you can hover your mouse over the price you’re interested in and the earnings will show up.

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As for redeeming, below is an example of the dollar prices as they compare to the

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The “Wanna Get Away” price in points is roughly 60 times the dollar price.  The “Anytime” price in points is roughly 80 times the dollar price and the “Business Select” price in points is roughly 100 times the dollar price.

So now that we know the basics of the program, what are the pros and cons of flying SouthWest and the Rapid Rewards program?

Pros

1.) Companion pass

The companion pass is obviously an enormous perk of the program.  Select your companion and anytime you fly, they can fly for free, even on rewards flights.  For a couple, this is phenomenal.  Cuts your flight costs literally in half.

If you earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year, then you’ll be rewarded the companion pass for the rest of that year and the entire next year too.  AND, points earned from credit card bonuses count.  Drew’s got a great post that offers more details on maximizing the SouthWest Companion Pass so be sure and read that.

Actually using the companion pass is as easy as clicking an “Add Companion” button at the time of booking.

2.) Some really cheap rates!

SouthWest has some great prices both for paid tickets and reward tickets.  Cleveland to Orlando for example can be as low as $125 for a one-way, ~6,707 points.  Chicago to Boston one way can be as low as $79 or ~4,167 points.

3.) No such thing as black out dates

If a ticket is available with cash, it’s available with points too.  That’s one of the perks of a revenue based system.

4.)  You can update your rate if the price goes down.

If you book a flight and the price decreases, no worries.  You can just go online and change your flight.

5.)  An interest in sustainability and fuel efficiency

According to this Dallas News article,  SouthWest is making a move to buy 3 million gallons of biofuel a year from Red Rock Biofuels.  Coincidentally, I visited Red Rocks two days ago.  That’s a sidenote, but the Colorado based company apparently makes jet fuel out of “forest residues.”   I surely don’t understand any of it on a scientific level, but check out the article for more details on that.  Apparently this will only cover a minuscule amount of SouthWest’s fuel needs, but hey.  Every little bit counts, right?

 

Cons

1.)  No assigned seats

You have to be organized enough to check in 24 hours ahead of time for a good boarding group assignment.  Boarding is split between A 1-30, A 30-60, B 1-30, B 30-60, etc etc.  Though you are actually given a specific number and in a grade-school, honor system sort of way you just line up in your designated spot.

This doesn’t matter much if you are a solo traveler with small bags.  But if your carry-ons are large and you’re traveling in a group or pair, you should really try to remember to check in online 24 hours ahead of time so you can board first and sit with your partner and have plenty of space for your bags.

1.b)  Luggage issues if you don’t get a good boarding group

Pretty much just an extension of the first point, the last folks to board usually have a heck of a time finding random spaces for their luggage.

1.c.) People fill from the front to the back, so it’s a mess

ALSO just an extension of the first point, but another issue caused by this lack of seat assignment is that people take the seats at the front of the plane first.  This is the least-organized way to board.

 

Overall, I can deal with those minor boarding and baggage in conveniences if the price is right.  And it almost always is.

Again, for the best use of your SouthWest Rapid Rewards points, make sure you know about the Companion Pass and how to get and maximize it.

11 Comments on “Pros and cons of flying SouthWest

  1. A clarification for pro #4. As I understand it, you’ll need to make a new booking and cancel your old in order to get a lower price. They want to charge some sort of change fee if you “change” versus cancel and rebook a flight. Also when you cancel, make sure to have the credit sent back to your card, otherwise it is an unecessary pain to keep track of the travel credit with name and confirmation number.

    Keep the great posts coming!

    • I guess technically it will refund and then recharge, but the process is as simple as hitting the “change flight” button at SouthWest’s website and they have a no change fee policy. Good for us mind-changers!
      (http://www.southwest.com/html/air/nochangefee.html)
      Though I think it does function basically like a refund/recharge.

      • Thanks for the response. I don’t know where I thought I saw a change fee, my mistake. I just “changed” several tickets to a lower fare. Much easier.

  2. I tried to use the “Ding” link (from Drew’s post), and my MacBook Pro, running the most current version of Mavericks, rejected it. I sent Southwest an email asking if there is more current version (hope there is) that will work for me. I’d never heard of “Ding”; it sounds great. I would love to have that on my iPhone and MacBook!

    • Ya it’s definitely great. Hope they point you towards a version that can work for your computer!

  3. When I am a solo traveler, I actually prefer the Southwest method of boarding, and try to board in the middle of the Bs (low Bs if a through flight). I can still find an available aisle or window seat and I get to pick my seatmate, i.e. someone who is fairly small and won’t take up a lot of room. Good looks are a plus. 😉

    • Ya there definitely are some situations in which choosing your own seat might be nice!

  4. Just found your blog and loving the info. Southwest does offer the option of paying for Earlybird check in for $12.50, the Anytime flyers get top billing for their place in line. Just FYI if there is a time you need priority for a flight.

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