Southwest Airlines just announced the 40%-off Big Winter Sale today, so I’d like to take this opportunity to go over a few reasons why I LUV Southwest (as promised) and how you could start to do so as well. To thank you for your loyalty and continued support, TravelWhimsy and I also would like to give away 8 Southwest drink coupons (beer, wine, cocktail). Check out the giveaway details at the end of this post.
A bit of background before I start. We are both fairly new to Southwest. Prior to our South America trip, we had only flown Southwest once or twice (many many years ago). We don’t travel for business, but will both have achieved United Airlines’ Premier Platinum status at the end of the year with over 75,000 actual miles flown on United just for leisure weekend travel (more on this in a separate post – another promise). I’m afraid that my loyalty to United (started on August 13, 1998) is waning…
Some of you might have already read a post or two of TravelWhimsy’s new “Wacky Whirlwind Weekend” series to document our fall weekend trips, most of which are booked on Southwest. I will use some of the booking details from those trips to tell you why Southwest is worth my LUV.
Reason #1: Companion Pass (Up to 2 Full Years)
The Southwest Companion Pass lets you and your designated companion (changeable up to 3 times during the validity period) travel together for the price of one (cash or points). Companion tickets are only subject to a security fee of up to $5 per one-way itinerary.
You can fly 100 paid one-way flights (not segments) or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year to earn the Companion Pass (valid for the remainder of the year + the following year).
*How We Got It: We transferred 366,000 Choice points (purchased in 2011 and 2012 via Daily Getaways) into 109,800 Southwest points at a net cost of 1.267 cents per Southwest point. Each Southwest point has an approximate value of 1.7 cents (or 3.4 when you use the Companion Pass), so we essentially prepaid for our Southwest travel at a 25% (or 63%) discount.
*How You Could Get It: I am assuming that you don’t want to pay for 100 one-way flights, so here are some ideas to get to the 110,000 points you need.
(1) Apply for two Southwest credit cards on the same day to score 100,000 bonus points (read MillionMileSecrets’ post for application links and other extremely helpful information). The 50,000 sign-up bonus offer comes and goes a few times a year. The annual fee is $69 per card, and you need to spend $2,000 on each card in 3 months to get the bonus points. [Important: Watch for your statement closing dates to make sure your 104,000 points post in January 2013. In other words, save your spending for December 2012 for the last statement cycle, so that you’ll maximize the validity period of your Companion Pass.]
(2) Spend another $6,000 in early 2013 on your new Southwest cards.
(3) If you and your family members have scored multiple blocks of the 16,000 bonus Wyndham Rewards points and still have them, you can transfer those points to Southwest. Every 8,000 Wyndham points can be converted to 2,400 Southwest points. [Names don’t have to match on Wyndham and Southwest accounts.]
(4) Similarly, if you have purchased lots of Choice points like us, every 6,000 Choice points = 1,800 Southwest points. Just make sure you transfer fewer than 60,000 Southwest points per day; otherwise the transfer will be rejected. [Names DO have to match on Choice and Southwest accounts.]
(5) Credit short car rentals or hotel stays to Southwest (600 points per rental or stay).
(6) Going through Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal.
(7) Rapid Rewards Dining.
*Word of Caution: Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points can be transferred to Southwest, but the transferred points are NOT qualifying points for the Companion Pass. Once you obtain your Companion Pass and need more points to book Southwest travel, transferring UR points to Southwest can be lucrative (~3.4 cents/point).
Reason #2: Flexibility (Cancel/Change Anytime with No Penalty)
If cancelled, non-refundable tickets booked with cash receive full credit valid one year from the ticketing date (the original record locator holds the credit).
Tickets booked with points get full point reversal when cancelled. Security fees paid with a credit card can be refunded (fees paid with a gift card can be used for future award booking and the original record locator holds the fee credit).
When we first booked our Seattle trip, we redeemed 14,521 points (Saturday morning to Monday morning). Two weeks later, we re-booked the same itinerary for 12,840 points. Another two weeks later, we re-booked with a slightly better itinerary (Friday night to Monday morning) for 9,240 points. At our cost of 1.267/point, this means $117 for two people (+$5/person security fees, so it really is $63.5 per person). I could also argue that those tickets were $5/person because we already had 50,000+ credit-card-sign-up bonus points in the account before obtaining the Companion Pass.
Similarly, our Denver trip initially cost 9,600 points, and was re-booked four weeks later for 8,100 points. That means $56 per person including fees.
Coincidentally, all the price drops were discovered on Fridays, but I also have seen similar lower fares on Saturdays/Sundays.
*Fare Watcher: You can save a trip you have booked or want to book under your account. When logged in, you can then click on “My Travel” and view all your saved trips. Every saved trip has a “Check Price” button you can click to quickly see if the price has dropped.
Reason #3: Efficient Service (Feels like a Greyhound Bus in a Good Way!)
In the past year and a half, we have been on many United/Delta/American flights (with many complimentary upgrades to first class), but I have to say that Southwest is run in a more efficient way and the employees seem genuinely happier. The Southwest flying experience reminds me of taking buses in college from Vermont to Boston/New York/Philadelphia. Here are some of my observations.
(1) No seat assignment ironically makes boarding faster and passengers less stressed.
(2) Airplane doors close and open much faster because there is always a gate agent assigned to each gate to take care of the high turnover of flights.
(3) Most flights have interim stops and transit passengers are allowed to remain on board.
Reason #4: Free Checked Bags (Great for Outdoor Activity Lovers)
Every passenger can check two 50-pound bags for free. We normally only travel with our Camelbaks and at most share one small carry-on, but for those of you who want to pack up your camping gear for a trip to a national park this could be a great money-saving benefit.
Reason #5: Putting a Lid on Fares (and Competition in Check)
We are lucky to live in one of Southwest’s biggest hubs. The benefits are two-fold. Not only do we get to take advantage of Southwest’s fare sale to cities with non-stop service from Las Vegas, we also get to enjoy other major US airlines’ retaliation fare sale. Almost all our cross-country trips in the last 18 months on United/Delta were results of Southwest-attacking fares – $140-150 all-inclusive. Before midnight on Thursday, October 11, 2012, you might be able to find great fares on United/USAirways/Delta/American, too.
Southwest Drink Coupons Giveaway
We have 8 Southwest drink coupons (beer, wine, cocktail on board) to give away to 4 readers. If you are flying Southwest before the end of year, leave a comment below to tell us what you think of Southwest or simply state that you would like to have the coupons. If we have more than 4 interested readers, winners will be randomly selected at noon PST on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.