Southwest Airlines – the big little airline that many frequent travelers love to ignore. It’s abbreviated WN, which makes perfect sense unless you think about it. The airline that pops up on the big blogs when the affiliate links jump up to 50K points and then disappears in favor of pictures of champagne, toilets, rubber ducks, and caviar. Our family luvs WN, all the time! Of course it helps that they are often the only airline with flights out of or into San Antonio. If your home airport is a hub for multiple legacy airlines, you may not have this issue at all until you want to visit a smaller U.S. city like mine.
Reasons to consider Southwest if you haven’t already:
Huge #1: Award seats are available. Not only 331 days out, not only at the last minute, not only two seats, not only Tuesday redeye flights, not only half of the trip. The award prices will vary, but even at their highest they are usually less than they would be on legacy carriers between saver and standard levels.
#2: The companion pass rocks. Add $10K spending to two credit cards when the bonus is at 50K, click last page and look for 50K referral offers if there are no working 50K links – or 110K miles earned any number of ways, and you get two seats for the price of one. No questions asked. Use anyone’s points to book the flight of the pass holder, including the companion’s points. Or cash or Arrival points or AirTran awards. With two companion passes, the total cost for the 4 of us roundtrip from San Antonio to Charlotte for Milemadness was 31K Southwest points and $40. At no point after Milemadness was announced could we have even gotten 4 roundtrip saver level seats on any other carrier. And even if we could have, it would have required 100K miles, 60K Avios or 88K ANA miles.
#3: The cancellation policy is even better. Cancel an award seat at any time for any reason for a full refund of points and taxes paid. Like we did when nonstop flights home from Charlotte opened up at the last minute and gave us a better schedule for spending some extra Avios. When Matt announced that the #westcoastDO was being scheduled for October 8th in Phoenix but said “don’t buy your flights” until everything is confirmed, I said – Forget all that nonsense, fly Southwest and book your tickets with points! You can always cancel later and book with another airline if you prefer. This cancellation policy also comes in handy if there is a price reduction after you book – you can cancel and rebook at the new lower price. If you have the Barclays Arrival card, you have an included subscription to TripIt Pro which will alert you if the price drops and you can get a refund! H/T to Travel Summary for the TripIt tip.
#4: Or just don’t show up for your domestic trip, you still get a full refund(!) of your points and the taxes can be used on any southwest ticket purchase for the same passenger for 1 year. This no-show refund policy is especially awesome if you’re stuck positioning home from an international award ticket. Just book 2 or 3 different flights and take the first one that’s convenient! And go ahead and cancel any future flights while you’re waiting at the gate, just to be nice. Note the comment below, and the fact that Wanna Get Away fares booked with cash must be cancelled by 10 minutes before departure to avoid forfeiting the funds paid. Whenever possible, book any flight you’re unsure of with points and only book one-way positioning flights(s).
#5: Free checked bags, which is great whether you check bags or not, since people who are checking bags go ahead and check more of their bags, and there is actually space in the overhead bins!
#6: The Caribbean, plus a companion pass – this is too good to be true. Now if they would just add Alaska and Hawaii.
Southwest to the Caribbean
Total for 2 passengers roundtrip STL-AUA: 22,540 Southwest points with a companion pass. Or, around the same dates, 90K AA miles, or 110K UA miles with an overnight layover.
Total for 5 passengers roundtrip STL-AUA: 112,700 Southwest points without any companion passes. Or 275K AA or UA miles. Or 375K Delta miles, just in case you were curious.
Of course these aren’t ideal redemption values for AA and UA miles, you might be better off using Arrival points or other penny points. But these are the kind of schedules and trips that actually work for families. By all means take that bucket list trip to the Maldives or wherever, but there’s a lot of amazing stuff on our half of the globe too.
#7: Their employees have fun, like no other airline. With apologies for posting a vertical video, this is just one recent youtube-worthy Southwest safety announcement:
What some people don’t like about Southwest:
- No assigned seating means that if you’re unable to check in 24 hours before your flight you may be stuck splitting up. But they allow families with small children to board between A and B groups, at which point you’ll have no problem getting seats together. We have never had a problem getting seats together on our initial flight. For all practical purposes, this problem only comes into play during a short layover or after a delay, when you wind up being the last ones on the plane.
- They don’t fly everywhere. But except for the hole in the map north of Denver, there is Southwest service within a reasonable drive of most of the country, including Newark and La Guardia. The lack of access to DFW, IAH, JFK and MIA does make positioning to the East coast for Oneworld travel onto Europe difficult, but if you were booking an all AA itinerary you’d likely be getting from EWR or LGA to JFK on your own dime anyway.
- Elite status doesn’t get you the kind of upgrades that it can on other airlines.
- A few other air travel complaints that apply to everyone else too. Irregular operations don’t always go as they should, flights are delayed, people make mistakes like landing at the wrong airport, basically all the reasons we’d rather drive if we just had a car that would go 400 MPH. And friendly banks that would pay for that car and its gas.
- Travel on Sunday after Thanksgiving and a few of other peak dates is expensive because every airplane capable of flying will be full. So there are a couple of dates you’ll want to avoid booking with Southwest points, but those are the same dates that getting any saver-level seats is unlikely.
Disclosure: This post contains links to credit card links. If you carry a balance on a credit card, please do not click those links. If you don’t have any credit card debt, please do not use those links unless the offers are 50,000 miles. Either way, I get nothing.
Are you sure about the statements “or just don’t show up” or “cancel (just) to be nice”? I thought WN changed their policy and now you have to cancel at least ten minutes before the flight to get your points back?
Thanks! They did change their policy so you have to cancel 10 minutes before departure on paid wanna get away fares, or you lose the amount paid. I updated the post to clarify that. Wanna get away fares booked with points still get refunded.
I love southwest too! My first experience in the points game was trying to get the companion pass. I am not much of an international traveler so this is perfect for me and my wife.
I’ll add two more things I like about Southwest (I write about them a lot too)…
First, not only are their employees fun, but they also don’t give you the stink eye when you board with little kids. Families fly Southwest, so the flight attendants are used to seeing kids on board. And they are nice to them!
Second, I love that you can often snag an empty seat for a lap child for free because of how the boarding process works. Bring the car seat to your gate and find out from the gate agent if there are open seats. He/she can then clear you to bring and use the seat on board for free. No empty seat? No problem – just gate check the car seat.
Great points, thanks!
Southwest is great and I have been loving the CP for the last year… My only “complaint” is that they do not have any direct coast-to-coast flight.
Unless you count BWI-most of the West coast, or MCO-SAN. But you’re right, there is no NY area to the West coast nonstop.