Southwest Airlines- A Rapid Rewards Junkie Confesses

Southwest is my airline of choice in the United States because it rewards those who game the system.  Every seat is first class, so they’ll tell you, but really there is only one per plane located next to the over-wing exits. The row ahead has no seat ahead of you.

If you hit Companion Pass, their top tier, you get to choose someone to fly with you for free, even if you’re on a free ticket. It takes 110,000 points in a calendar year to hit this, so if you fly Business Select, which earns 12 points per dollar, you need to spend just under $10,000 to hit this level. If you fly a lot of one-way, last-minute flights, this isn’t hard.

Never buy round-trip tickets. Better to buy a series of one-way flights. If you need to change something, you don’t have to cancel the whole reservation. Sometimes, Southwest will have 40% and 50% off deals on roundtrip tickets– that’s the only exception.

If you don’t know when you’ll be flying back, book two or three of the options. Maybe one of your meetings is unconfirmed or you just need that flexibility for some reason. Cancel the ones you don’t fly on. I believe they will automatically cancel if you forget but do it anyway. You save money by booking in advance, of course, and there’s no downside to canceling the unused segments.

Use miles for your friends and colleagues, not yourself. You may find yourself close to A-List or A-List Preferred at the end of the year, wishing that you had used real dollars on your flight segments, instead of real dollars on a colleague and points for yourself.

If the flight is less than 70% full, board last. Yes, when you have status, you get priority boarding. But would you rather choose your seat or choose who sits next to you? I’ve been victim to some 450-pound monsters that sit in the middle seat next to me– so big they spill over into you and need the wretched seat belt extender.

Don’t drink 20 minutes prior to landing. Descending will make that last drink hit you like a full six-pack. “Macho” guys will pass out deboarding after just a couple of beers. Don’t believe me? Ask a flight attendant. And at altitude, things taste different. People who hate tomato juice will often enjoy it when high (Harrison– not that kind of high), since your taste buds are dulled.

Wifi is free for A-List Preferred. But you can also give it out to friends on the flight. I’ve not seen a limit.

Choose related cities to save money and time. Oakland is often cheaper than San Francisco or SJC– plus faster if you’re non-stop into OAK. Same for Newark over LGA or BWI over DCA and IAD. Southwest has been consolidating Airtran’s routes, which will increase prices, but also improve availability. Indianapolis, a 2-hour bus ride, is far cheaper than SDF. If you’re really on a budget, Buffalo is cheaper than Toronto, but you have a 90 min shuttle ride, which can be up to 3 hours with customs delays.

If your flight is canceled or you need to make changes while you’re in the airport, call instead of waiting in line with everyone else. You’ll get a faster response. Sometimes a few minutes is the difference between getting that last seat or being stranded.

Southwest is usually, but not always cheaper. Certainly will be if you book in advance or are hitting popular routes. If you factor in the rewards, no bag fees, no change fees– it’s the best business bargain. I use the service to search for alternate flights in some situations. Southwest doesn’t do red-eye flights, so if you need to go coast-to-coast on a tight schedule, often JetBlue or Virgin will get you there in style for less. Their snacks are better– no question. But I like to save money.

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