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I generally use frequent flyer miles for international and business/first class flights. I use my hotel points for hotel stays that would have otherwise cost me an arm and a leg. To me- that’s the magic of miles and points. However, I’m 100% aware that not everyone can or wants to fly around the globe in first class. Traditional domestic travel can be a huge burden on your budget, especially for families.
Enter Southwest. They’re a no-nonsense airline that has a pretty extensive route network in the US and now in some international markets thanks to their 2010 acquisition of AirTran. While they don’t have a first class cabin or routes to Europe or Asia, their frequent flyer program and consumer-friendly policies can be extremely valuable. Here are 10 reasons why Southwest may make sense for you.
1. Wanna Get Away Fare Redemptions: Although I often talk of the value of transferable points thanks to the flexibility they give you to top up accounts and book premium international tickets on a whim, Rapid Rewards represents the flip side of award tickets where you know you are getting a great (semi) fixed value on award tickets of about 1.8-2 cents each on Wanna Get Away (leisure) fares and you can redeem them for any open seat on a flight, just as if you were buying it. It makes a lot of sense for people who want to use their miles to fly domestically, those who don’t have much flexibility on their travel dates, or travelers looking to book more than a single ticket at a time.
2. Great for Positioning Flights: Sometimes the hardest part of getting to the jumping-off point for an amazing award itinerary or a mileage run that will help you rack up the miles for elite status (or an award) quickly like the current one from Los Angeles to Singapore (LAX-SIN) is getting to the actual gateway you have to fly out of. That’s where Southwest Rapid Rewards can come in very handy since Southwest has a very prolific domestic route map, and any seat that’s open you can book with Rapid Rewards since it’s a fixed-value points program. It makes getting that short domestic hop that much easier so you can reap the benefits of those long-hauls.
3. Companion Pass: The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable frequent flyer benefits out there since it allows you to bring a companion with you for free on every trip, space permitting. To earn it, you have to hit the 110,000-point threshold in a calendar year, and your pass is good not only for the rest of the calendar year, but also for the following one, meaning if you scored those points right now, you could have a companion pass for a year and a half rather than just a single year. Even better, the sign-up bonuses on the Chase Southwest cards count towards your Companion Pass qualification. The other great thing about the companion pass is that it allows your companion to fly for free (only pay taxes) whether you pay for yours with cash or points, giving flyers extra flexibility.
4. Bags Fly Free: Southwest is the only US airline that gives everyone two free checked bags of up to 50 pounds each per passenger on all their flights. For travelers without elite status on other airlines or a co-branded credit card, this can save you a bunch of money since checking two bags roundtrip could cost $120 per person. Southwest allows two free bags up to 50 pounds to be checked.
5. No Change or Cancellation Fees: Most airlines now charge a whopping $200 fee per ticket to change or cancel your itinerary – which can be more than the cost of the ticket itself! However, Southwest doesn’t charge any change or cancellation fees – though you won’t get your money back, you’ll have to use it on a future flight, and if you are changing your ticket you will have to pay the fare difference. Still, that’s a far cry from paying a $200 fee and a fare difference, and can make a lot of sense if your plans are up in the air.
6. Ability to Redeem on AirTran Flights: Though the merger of Southwest with AirTran is still underway, there are more and more codeshares and the ability to use Rapid Rewards points to fly on AirTran’s international route network including to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean that Southwest does not service. Several of AirTran’s flights can be booked through Southwest such as the example above. If it’s not able to be booked through Southwest, you can also transfer Rapid Rewards points to AirTran A+Rewards by logging into your account and choosing the option “Transfer Between A+ Rewards and Rapid Rewards” button on the left side of the page under the My Rapid Rewards section.
7. Instant Transferability From Chase Ultimate Rewards: If you carry one of Chase’s premium cards like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest instantly and top up your account (or fund it completely) for the award you want. It makes getting the award you want when you want it that much easier.
8. Friendly Crews: I’ve flown Southwest a number of times, and every time I’ve been on them, they generally have friendly crews. I can’t say the same about flying American or United. I think part of the reason is with the friendly and laid back culture at Southwest. Flight attendants are allowed to wear tennis shoes and shorts. The airline doesn’t operate any red-eye flights and from the flight attendants that I’ve talked to, they generally enjoy working for the company.
9. Complimentary WiFi for A-List Preferred Members: As you know, I am a huge fan of in-flight WiFi, and now loyal Southwest fliers who reach the higher elite level can get that added benefit for free when available on enabled flights, allowing you to surf the Internet or send e-mails without the usual charge of $8 by simply inputting your Rapid Rewards username or account number and password in the A-List Preferred popup window. To qualify for A-list Preferred, you will need to fly 50 Southwest Airlines one-way qualifying flights or earn 70,000 Tier Qualifying points per calendar year. Tier Qualifying points are earned from revenue flights or through the Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase. Southwest currently offers satellite-enabled WiFi in-flight on its 737-800 aircraft and most of their 737-700 fleet.
10. Lucrative Credit Card Offers: Especially with sporadic limited-time offers of 50,000 points for spending $2,000 in 3 months per card, and that there are 4 possible cards to get, the Chase Southwest Visa cards are some of the best and most lucrative offers on the market. Not only that, but though they come with annual fees of $69 (for the Plus cards) to $99 (for the Premier cards), the annual fee is negated by the sign-up bonuses, which are each worth $900 in Wanna Get Away fares, as well as anniversary bonuses. The Premier cards earn a 6,000-point anniversary bonus (worth about $108 in Wanna Get Away fares) and the Plus cards earn a 3,000-point anniversary bonus (worth about $59 in Wanna Get Away fares). Plus, the cards come with Visa Signature’s complete roster of benefits and no foreign transaction fees – a boon to any international traveler. With four options out there totaling 200,000 points from sign-up bonuses – that’s almost enough to earn two Companion Passes so you can take the whole family along for half-price for years to come if you play your cards right.
Know before you go.
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