8 secrets to Southwest Airlines: Only pros know them all
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Southwest Rapid Rewards is a favorite airline program for many MMS readers. It’s hyper-customer-friendly, offering all passengers two free checked bags. It’s also got astonishingly generous change and cancelation policies (we’ll get into that in a second), which are great for anyone whose plans change frequently.
However, there are a handful of lesser-known Southwest tricks you might not know, including onboard scavenger hunts (kind of), discounted children’s fares, and even earning the Southwest Companion Pass by spending just $5,000 in the first three months of card membership on personal Southwest credit cards!
Let’s see how many you know.
8 Southwest secrets to help you travel better
1) You can get a lower price for your ticket, even if it’s already booked
Again, you probably know about Southwest’s fantastic change policies. You can cancel or change your ticket up to 10 minutes before boarding — and no fees apply. That’s by far the most generous policy among airlines, even with their adjusted (and much improved) change policies spurred by the coronavirus.
However, the real trick here is to monitor deals for price drops. Southwest seemingly publishes sales weekly. If you purchase a ticket, it’s a good idea to search that exact itinerary several times before your trip. If the price has dropped, simply cancel at no charge, receive your cash (or points) back into your Southwest account, and rebook your flight! You could easily save $100+ on your flights if you’re booking tickets for more than just yourself.
2) Useful discounts are hidden onboard
Southwest’s inflight magazine, aptly named “Southwest: The Magazine,” is uniquely valuable — not for its riveting articles or inspirational photos, but because between those pages you can often find coupons for restaurants and even non-airport parking between the pages. Try to restrain yourself from vandalizing multiple magazines if you find any discounts you love.
3) Change your flight dates for free — even if the new ticket costs more
This is a deal that pops up every now and again. It’s not always available, but it’s so good that it deserves a mention in this post.
When you change a flight with Southwest, you’ll have to pay the difference in fare. If Southwest is having a sale, you might pay less (as described above), or if you’re changing your plans last minute, you’ll probably pay more.
However, Southwest occasionally allows you to change your flights and keep the exact same price. This comes in ridiculously handy if you want to fly peak travel dates (Christmas, spring break, summer vacation, etc.). For example, if you wanted to travel for Thanksgiving, you could:
- Buy cheap Southwest flights in early November or early December (dates are irrelevant, just book the cheapest flights you can find) — you’ll want to purchase a flight that departs within 30 days of the actual flight you want to take
- Immediately change your flight dates to the days around Thanksgiving you’d like to travel
- Southwest won’t charge you the difference in fare, even if they’re hundreds of dollars more expensive
Basically, you can sharply discount your Southwest fares (or save loads of points) by booking flights you don’t intend to use, and swapping them to flights you will use. You can read this post for full instructions. And subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when this promo pops up again!
4) You can get the Companion Pass from credit cards alone
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the absolute best deals in travel. It lets a friend or family member travel with you for free every single time you travel on Southwest, whether you booked with points or paid with cash. They’ll only have to pay taxes and fees (usually ~$6 one-way for domestic flights). The pass is good for the rest of the year you earn it, as well as the entire following year. If you were to earn it this year, it would expire on Jan. 1, 2023.
So how do you get it? Well, you could complete 100 one-way flights in a calendar year. That’s a ton of flying, and not within the realm of possibility for most of us.
You could also earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points within a calendar year. That sounds like a lot (and it is), but it’s child’s play considering that points earned from spending on a Southwest credit card, including the welcome bonuses that you earn when opening a card, count towards this number. Currently, ALL Southwest personal cards come earns up to 100,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $12,000 on purchases in the first year of account opening. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months from account opening and 50,000 after you spend $12,000 in the first 12 months from account opening.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
You can only have one Southwest personal card at a time. However, you can also apply for a Southwest business card. Earning one personal and one small business welcome bonus will immediately qualify you for the Southwest Companion Pass:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card – 60,000 Southwest points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card – 80,000 Southwest points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
5) Buy airfare at a discount via gift cards
Websites like Raise sell Southwest gift cards at a discount. Not enormous discounts — at time of writing, you can buy a $150 Southwest gift card for ~$141 (a 5.8% discount). You can use up to three gift cards when buying your ticket on the Southwest website, so if you scoop up a few gift cards, you should never have a problem completely draining them.
Think about it: Purchasing your ticket by using gift cards through Raise can save you enough money for a few mixed drinks at the airport.
6) You can use Southwest points to get TSA PreCheck (but DON’T do it)
Southwest has a portal called “More Rewards,” in which you can redeem Southwest points for things like rental cars, hotels, cruises, travel insurance, etc. One uniquely fun and useful redemption, however, is towards TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that expedites your airport security experience. As a member, you can leave your belt and shoes on, and you don’t even need to remove your laptop or liquids from your bag! You even get a dedicated security lane that’s usually much shorter than the line for general travelers.
TSA PreCheck costs $85. But you’ll need to redeem 9,000 Southwest points for a membership. We estimate Southwest points value to be about 1.4 to 1.5 cents each. That means you’ll spend at least $126 worth of Southwest points for an $85 membership! Considering there are many credit cards that waive your TSA PreCheck fee, we don’t advise you to go this route unless you have so many Southwest points that you don’t know what to do with them.
7) The sooner you check-in, the better your seat
Southwest’s boarding process is altogether unique among domestic airlines — it’s first come, first served. You can pick whatever seat you want once you’re onboard. Southwest bases your position in line on the time in which you check-in for your flight. If you are fifth person to check-in for your flight, you will be fifth in line to board the plane.
Check-in begins exactly 24 hours before departure, so set your alarm a couple minutes beforehand and pre-load the Southwest check-in page! I once forgot to check-into my Southwest flight until I was at the airport, and after all boarding groups were called, the gate agent announced “Joseph.” I had my own boarding group because everyone else checked in before me.
Note that you can also purchase business class tickets, as well as EarlyBird Check-in (starting at $15 each way), and you won’t have to worry about checking-in first. You’ll board before those passengers feverishly refreshing the check-in page as it goes live.
8) Any children under 11 can purchase a child fare
Full disclosure, I’ve never purchased one of these so I’m not certain how much you’ll save.
If your child is between ages two and 11, they are eligible for a discounted child fare. They have to be flying with an adult, so unaccompanied minors don’t qualify for the rate. But data points show that these fares are a significant discount over Southwest’s flexible fares.
This seems only helpful when Wanna Get Away fares (the cheapest ones) are sold out. To reserve a children’s discount, call 800-435-9792.
So, how many of these “secrets” did you know? Let us know in the comments — and tell me if you’ve got a Southwest secret that deserves to be on this list!
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