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Southwest isn’t your average US-based airline. This carrier stands out thanks to customer-friendly policies like no change or cancellation fees and great benefits such as the Companion Pass. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele shares tips and tricks for getting the most out of the Rapid Rewards program.
I enjoy flying in first class as much as the next person, but the more I’ve learned the ins and outs of Southwest — which only offers an economy cabin — the more I’ve grown to love the experience. In today’s post, I want to share ten tips I’ve learned over the years to help you get the most out of this unique carrier.
1. Book Award Flights Early and Often
One of the best aspects of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is that there are never any change or cancellation fees. When you book a revenue ticket (with dollars), you can cancel your flight without a fee, but the funds are returned to you in the form of an electronic voucher that can only be used in your name. That’s nice compared to most airlines’ ridiculous cancellation fees, but it gets better.
Book an award flight with your Rapid Rewards points, and you’ll get all of your points back in the event that you need to cancel a flight (although the taxes come back as an electronic voucher). And since the price of award flights tends to increase each month as you approach the date of travel, it makes sense to make your reservations as early as possible, even if you’re not sure you’ll go. This is especially true when it comes to the holidays and other peak travel periods.
2. Rebook Tickets to Save Points
One of my favorite tricks for saving Rapid Rewards points is to rebook tickets when they go on sale. Since there are no change fees, you actually get a refund of the difference that goes back into your rewards balance. This trick also works with revenue bookings, but the difference is returned in the form of a travel voucher that can only be used in the same name of the original reservation.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Call in
Most experienced travelers will do nearly anything to avoid calling the airline, as they can encounter long hold times to speak with staff who are often poorly trained and unhelpful. Luckily, I’ve learned that Southwest is different. For example, when you have a Companion Pass, it’s a very time-consuming process to change a flight online (you have to un-link your companion ticket first), but when you call Southwest, an agent can accomplish this instantly.
In addition, I’ve found Southwest’s telephone representatives to be knowledgeable, courteous and even willing to bend the rules for you in a pinch. For instance, I’ve received full refunds in dollars when I’ve just missed the 24-hour cutoff, and had points refunded after the flight has departed — both due to unusual circumstances.
4. Use Hidden Cities
A hidden-city ticket is one where you book a ticket to one destination but then get off the plane at an intermediate stop. Travelers do this because airlines will sometimes price a ticket to a farther destination for less than the intermediate one. Most airlines forbid this practice, even though many manage to get away with it. But once again, Southwest is different in that it allows passengers to book hidden-city tickets.
When you do so, you can even check your bags to the stopover point. When you reach your destination, it’s courteous to inform the crew that you will not be returning to the aircraft so they can clear standbys and not waste time paging you when you fail to show up for the next leg of the flight.
5. Request a Status Challenge
Southwest will sometimes grant A-List status to customers who have elite status with another domestic airline, but it does so in the form of a challenge. If you qualify, you can receive A-List status for six months when you complete three revenue round-trips or earn 8,000 Tier-Qualifying Points within 90 days.
6. Your Baby Usually Travels for Free
Southwest’s open seating policy is a boon for parents traveling with infants less than two years old. In effect, infants can occupy their own seat for free so long as the flight is not 100% full. Infants can even receive free airfare on international flights, while most other airlines charge 10% of the adult fare for lap children. Just be sure to provide proof of age for your infant the first time he or she flies, as Southwest requires it for all lap children. You can use your child’s birth certificate or immunization records. For more information about traveling with a lap child, read my post, How to Plan Award Travel With An Infant Or Lap Child.
7. Book One-Way Flights
The Rapid Rewards program makes it much easier to deal with one-way flights rather than round-trips. In the event that you need to change a flight or rebook it to recover some points or dollars, you’ll only have a single leg repriced if you book your trip as two one-way tickets. The only downside is that it will take you slightly longer to book your flights, and you’ll have to keep track of multiple confirmation numbers.
8. Get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is currently offering 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 within three months of account opening. This sign-up bonus has always counted toward the 110,000 points you have to earn in a calendar year to receive the Companion Pass, and you also can get A-List faster by earning 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year. There’s a 6,000-point bonus after your cardmember anniversary, a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
9. Earn the Companion Pass
Flying Southwest, using the Rapid Rewards Credit Card and transferring points from hotel programs are three of the ways you can earn points toward the Companion Pass, which may be the most valuable airline perk in the world, as it lets a designated companion travel with you for free minus taxes and fees. For more information, see Nick Ewen’s post on how to earn this benefit for almost two years and my post, Family Travel Tips for the Southwest Companion Pass.
10. Look for the Carrier’s New -800 Aircraft
Southwest only flies Boeing 737 aircraft, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all the same. The vast majority of its fleet is the 737-700 variety that seats 143 passengers, however, the airline currently has more than 100 of the 737-800 aircraft with 175 seats. I’ve found the -800 model to be superior to the -700 model, as it offers more legroom and features Boeing’s attractive new “Sky Interior.” On the other hand, you should try to avoid the older 737-300 and 737-500 models, which can have a dated interior and lack Southwest’s Wi-Fi-based entertainment system.
What are your favorite tips for maximizing travel with Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program?
With the Southwest Premier credit card you'll earn 6,000 points each year after your cardmember anniversary. Southwest also offers one of the most lucrative airline perks - the Companion Pass. Once you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, you can add a companion to your flight for the cost of the taxes and fees for the remainder of the first year you earn the pass and the entire following year.
- Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 within your first year.
- 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
- 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
- No foreign transaction fees
- No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
- Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more