Many of you are planning to earn your Southwest Companion Pass at the beginning of 2016 to take advantage of two years of free flights with a companion. Brooke and I have enjoyed our free trips on Southwest this year, and we have learned a few things in the process. Follow along for our Top Ten Southwest Airline Tips.
- Book as Soon as Possible
One of my absolute favorite features of Southwest is their no-questions-asked cancellation policy. While most other airlines charge HEFTY fees to change/cancel flights, Southwest will allow you to cancel up to TEN MINUTES before departure. Any money paid for the flight, including the $5.60 TSA fee will be held on your account for use in a future booking.
As soon as you think you may want to take a trip on Southwest, go ahead and book your ticket. If you change your mind, the price drops, or your cat gets sick, you will be able to cancel with no sweat!
- Book 1-Way Tickets
When you plan a trip on Southwest, we recommend booking it as separate one-way tickets. This way, if you notice that the price drops on a portion of your trip, you can cancel that leg and re-book at a lower price!
If you booked the full round trip, you will have to cancel and re-book everything to take advantage of a price drop. This opens you up to a bit of risk, because the another leg of the trip may have gone up in price or sold out.
- Check the Round Trip Price
This may sound contradictory to tip #2, but occasionally Southwest prices their tickets strangely. Recently, I checked 1-way prices for a trip from Kansas City to Atlanta and back. The lowest 1-way fare for the return flight was 7,120 miles. However, when I checked the round trip price, the same return flight dropped to 5,200 miles! Same itinerary, but we saved 1,980 miles! This is uncommon, but worth checking before you book.
- Make Sure to Add Your Companion
If you have earned your companion pass, you should add your companion to the itinerary as soon as you book your ticket. Simply locate your itinerary in the “My Trips” section of your account and click “Add Companion.” You will need to pay their TSA fee, and they will be issued a separate confirmation number.
Do not delay and risk the flight selling out. It would be a bit awkward to have to break the news to your husband/wife that you will be flying to Puerto Rico without them, because you forgot to book their ticket with yours!
- Watch for Sales
Southwest is famous for its flight sales. Often, they offer tickets as low as $49 or around 3,000 miles. If you booked your flight early (tip #1), make sure to check back during a sale to see if the price dropped. You can cancel your original flight and re-book at the lower price! We have saved thousands of miles using this method!
- Track Tickets and Cancellations
As I mentioned above, you can cancel flights up until ten minutes prior to departure. If you cancel a flight, any money you paid for the flight will be held as a credit for one year before it expires. Funds can only be used to pay for future flights for the original passenger. To use the funds on a future flight, you will need the original confirmation number and the passenger’s first/last name. I use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of our “cancelled flight cash” in order of expiration. It can be difficult to locate this information within your account, so having the spreadsheet is very helpful.
To apply these funds to a new booking, select “Apply Travel Funds” on the checkout page. Enter the required information, and confirm. You will see the total price reduced by the amount of the credit.
- Check-in 24 Hours Before Your Flight
Southwest uses an open boarding process. This means that there are no assigned seats, and all seats are first-come, first-serve! With this in mind, you will want to be as close to the front of the boarding line as possible. If you do not have A-list Preferred Status, you can pay for early check-in, but I do not think this is worth the price.
You will be able to check in for your flight online exactly 24-hours before departure. For the best boarding position, set a reminder to check in at exactly this time. Be very quick, because this is a popular strategy! Unfortunately, I have not found any way to automate this process. One website offered a service like this, but Southwest slapped them with a cease & desist back in 2013. If anybody knows of an automated check in tool, please let me know!
- Best Seat Selection
So, you checked in at exactly 24 hour prior to departure, and you snagged one of the prime “A” boarding positions. Now, which seats should you pick?? The absolute best seat on any Southwest flight is the one right next to the emergency exit door. The exit row generally has only two seats, so the window seat on the next row back will have leg room for days! This seat is very popular, so it will likely go to an A-list passenger. After that, most seats will be pretty generic with two exceptions:
- Row 9 seats often are the first to get their drinks! (YMMV) This is a random observation, but the flight attendant in the front portion of the plane usually starts taking drink orders at Row 9 and works toward the front of the plane.
- Bulkhead seats (first row) have significant extra legroom, and you get to deplane first. However, all of your carry on baggage must go in the overhead bin for take off and landing.
- Free In-Flight Entertainment
Southwest offers free in-flight entertainment, including live TV, episodes from popular TV series, and streaming music. You can access these on a laptop computer, phone, or tablet! Make sure to charge your electronics prior to departure. Who wouldn’t want to watch House Hunters at 30,000 feet?!
- Pack an Extra Duffle Bag
Bags fly free on Southwest, up to two bags per passenger. If you are planning to shop for souvenirs at your destination, toss a foldable duffle bag into your main bag. This will give you an additional bag to stuff your purchases into for the return flight, and it will still be FREE!
We also have used the second checked bag to bring a box of beer/wine home. Wrap the bottles in bubble wrap or use special wineskin bags. Request that the baggage agent marks your bag/box as fragile if you are carrying bottles.
Bonus Tip in Kansas City
If you are flying Southwest out of the Kansas City Airport (our home airport), you can save a bit of time with this little bonus tip. Park in the economy B lot between B1 and B13. This will allow you to catch the bus at B13, the last stop before heading to the terminal. When you return, you can get off at B1, the first stop in the lot. I am constantly running late to the airport, so saving a few minutes always helps!
I hope these tips are helpful for your upcoming flights on Southwest! Do you have anything additional to add to our list?