16+ Money Saving Hacks for Southwest Airline Flyers

I love flying Southwest.

I love the boarding process, I love how I can change and cancel flights without penalty, and I enjoy the free drink vouchers from time to time.

It helps that we live near Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport, a big Southwest hub, and so we can get great prices on flights.

But we’re always looking to save more.

There are the obvious tips – like signing up for the Rapid Rewards program (duh), getting the Southwest credit card to earn points (double duh), or get yourself bumped for vouchers (honest who likes doing this) – but those are boring.

If you don’t have their card and fly Southwest, you want to think about it. Get 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

 

Learn more about this card and others.

We are in search of the hacks that we don’t already know about or have long forgotten.

Let’s get into it…

Join Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

southwest-rapid-rewards-dining

I’m a fool for not joining this sooner but Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining is the easiest way to earn RR points. If you haven’t joined, you should. It’s a set it and forget it type of thing.

Sometimes they run bonuses too, for a limited time you can earn 750 points by spending $25 in your first 30 days.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining gives you points when you dine at select restaurants, of which there are a lot. We found a local bar with one location, one we happen to go to every few weeks because the kids love it. Dining there rewards us with 3 points per dollar spent; we just have to use the card we registered. If you’re into writing reviews, you get 10 points per review.

When you sign up, you register a card (you can register up to 5 cards), and whenever it sees a charge to a participating restaurant, you get points. That’s it, set it and forget it, easy points.

A corollary to this rule (Thanks Erica!) – cashback rewards for shopping, a la Ebates, has been popular for a while and Southwest has their own Rapid Rewards Shopping site. Just make sure you click through from their site before your purchase and earn points on your purchases. Pay with your Southwest credit card and stack the points.

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Know the Boarding Process

This isn’t a huge money saving tip but one that will improve your enjoyment of Southwest!

Southwest has a unique boarding position process. It’s open seating (no assigned seats) but you board in groups, A B and C. Each has 1 – 60 spots, with the first 15 of A saved for Business Select passengers. The Southwest boarding position is assigned based on when you check-in. You can check-in within 24 hours of your flight time.

Even if you check-in immediately, you may find yourself with a later letter because some passengers have automatic check-in, maybe connecting, or you’re just on a super busy flight. Also, family boarding is between the A and B groups.

Usually, if you’re better than B30 you can get an aisle or window seat. Once you get into the later Bs and Cs, you are relegated to middle seats. Boarding position matters!

If you want to board earlier, the key is checking in as soon as it opens – 24 hours ahead of your flight. You can also buy the Early Bird Check-in for $15-25 each way, which is something I do on cross country flights, but it’s usually not necessary. Early Bird Check-in doesn’t guarantee you a boarding position but you’ll usually get a good one.

Early Bird for Big Groups? Split the Itinerary

When you book multiple individuals on one itinerary, getting Early Bird will cost you. Everyone on the itinerary will have to pay for Early Bird.

Our friend Seth (@ASImhoff919) suggests an alternative:
https://twitter.com/ASImhoff919/status/1034414571321286656

If you’re booking a family though, Early Bird may not be worth it. If you are traveling with a child six years and younger, you can board during the Family Boarding phase between A and B groups. You will usually be able to find good seats together without Early Bird.

Switch Electricity Suppliers to EnergyPlus

Energy Plus is an electric supplier available in the Northeast that has a rewards program. Periodically, they run promotions where you get Rapid Rewards points for signing up AND you get points for paying your electricity bill (2 points per dollar, 3 points if you’re a cardholder). Right now they are offering 5,000 Rapid Rewards points for signing up and, if you’re a Southwest Rapid Rewards cardholder, you get an additional 2,500 points. There’s no contract or commitment and no extra fees. Valid for residents of IL, MA, MD, NJ, OH, or PA.

For more information, here’s the partner page for Energy Plus on the Southwest website.

Sign up through this link or call 1-866-964-5672 and tell them offer code SWA-5643-035. You’ll need your Rapid Rewards number and a recent electricity bill.

Just keep your eye on the bill once it gets to a variable rate, you need to call and renegotiate the rate (see how I learned this the hard way) at that point or you may overpay for electricity.

Military Fare Discounts

If you are active military, you qualify for military fares that can be 10-15% cheaper than the listed rates. These aren’t available online though, you have to call 1-800-I-FLY-SWA to book and you’ll have to show ID.

It isn’t always the cheapest, depending on the flight, so check prices online and then call to find out the military fare.

Join RocketMiles

Rocketmiles Logo

RocketMiles is a hotel search engine (acquired by Priceline in 2015) that rewards you in miles when you complete a stay through them. It’s like using Expedia or Kayak, except you can get Southwest Rapid Reward points for your stay instead of getting, well, nothing.

Rocketmiles search works a little differently than other hotel searches because you have the added filter of the travel rewards program. When you search, you pick your rewards program and Rocketmiles only shows you hotels where you’d earn points for a stay.

I did a comparison search between Rocketmiles (with Southwest RR) and Kayak for a 2-night stay near my house in Howard County, Maryland. Kayak had every hotel in the area, Rocketmiles didn’t – they only had the ones in Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The Southwest RR filter took away all the local hotels (they’re available via other travel programs though).

When I compared the prices of the listed hotels, there was a Hampton Inn College Park for $100/nt + 2,000 Rapid Rewards points. The price was the same as a direct booking with the hotel. So you aren’t paying any more than directly. I signed up and will now just do a quick search on Rocketmiles before I book any hotels.

Join with my referral link and get 1,000 bonus points on your first stay.

Check the Promotions Page

Sometimes Southwest will email you when they have a promotion and sometimes they won’t. I don’t know the rhyme or reason but you can always check the active promotions by visiting their Promotions page.

I recently visited it and saw the 1,000 points for spending $25 in the first 30 days for Southwest Dining, unfortunately, I was already a member.

Recheck Your Flight’s Price During Sales

Southwest runs sales all the time, usually on a Tuesday, and they don’t charge you anything extra to cancel or change flights. ZERO CHANGE FEES.

So don’t wait until an announced sale to book – just book it and check prices when a sale happens. If the price goes down, you get a credit for the difference.

To do this, go to your account and go to “change reservation.” Now re-book the legs of your flight and see if it changes the price in the summary. I recently saved $138 on a flight to Las Vegas and discovered that a direct flight, previously unavailable, was now available. So I saved $138 and 2 hours of travel time.

You get the balance of the “non-refundable” fare as a credit, good for a year.

Sell Your Drink Coupons

Did you know those drink coupons are worth cash? Don’t let this drink coupons expire unused!

I like a nice frosty beverage from time to time. Sometimes I get lucky and I fly on one of their free drink holidays (days like New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.) when you get a drink for free! But even if my pocket is full of free drinks, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Maybe you’re the same way… or you just don’t like to imbibe on the plane.

Sell them on eBay for around $10-$15 for a pack of four.

Boom. That’s cash money.

Click to see the full image
Click to see the full image

Promo Hunting on Southwest Car Rentals

Southwest has partnerships with a lot of car rental companies and will often run deals on their Car Rental search page.

The trick (Thanks Erica!) is to search for your rental, find the cheapest price, then come back to the main page and click on the banner to get the added promotional bonus (you still get the miles).

It won’t save you a ton of money, Erica said she recently did it and saved $6 on a three-day rental, but I’d rather keep my own money whenever I can.

Buy Southwest Gift Cards at Discount

southwest-gift-card

There will always be people selling gift cards online – take advantage of their desire to turn their gift cards into cash. My favorite gift card comparison site is Raise and they’re currently showing a small 3.1% discount on Southwest Airline gift cards.

If you’re interested in making the extra trip, you can also buy store gift cards, like Target, and then buy a Southwest gift card at Target. Target gift cards are 6-7% off, so you can get even more savings there. (this is also a good way to turn an otherwise “useless” gift card into something you’ll use)

Buy Southwest Rapid Reward Points

Did you know you can buy Southwest Rapid Reward Points? (you can also transfer and gift them too) It can be a great way to get yourself closer to redemption because the points post within 72 hours of purchase.

There is a minimum purchase of 2,000 points and a combined maximum of 60,000 points, with 1,000 blocks.

Give Feedback

When Southwest first introduced Wi-Fi, I gave it a try.

I found the speed to be slow but worst of all it was cutting in and out. Since it was one of the first flights with the service, they emailed me and wanted feedback. In the survey, I told them about the experience and left my email. About a week later, they emailed me to get more information and followed that up with a voucher and refund of the price. (By the way, their internet works pretty well now)

And, just the other week, I was having trouble (technically, our kids were having trouble) with the TV. It would start and stop. Not a big deal to an adult, world-changing for a child. 🙂

Again, they sent me a survey. I mentioned the technical difficulties and they sent us a voucher! I wouldn’t even classify my response as a complaint, I just mentioned the system was having trouble but since I didn’t pay for it (unlike Internet), it didn’t bother me. They still sent a voucher.

Check Southwest Reservation Window

Your Rapid Rewards points can be used on any flight without any blackout dates, but flights sell out, especially the popular ones.

Get a jump on everyone else by knowing when Southwest releases their schedules and allows booking. It’s always listed at the top of their Travel Tools page.

For Southwest, it’s not a rolling window like with other companies. Dates are released in blocks. Right now, you can make reservations through April 11th, 2016. On October 27th, you’ll be able to make reservations from April 12th – June 3rd.

Keep on top of the rolling windows and move quickly to book those higher demand holiday flights when the window first opens up.

Companion Pass

This one is cheating… because you probably already know about it but GET A COMPANION PASS.

Companion Pass is awesome.

The way we did it was to open a Premier card for myself and a Premier Business card for my business, each netting 50,000 Rapid Reward points after we spent $2,000 (each). That gets you to 104,000 RR points (100,000 by promotion, 4,000 by spending), which is only 6,000 points away from Companion Pass.

I’m currently working on a post explaining what we did and will link that up as soon as it’s ready.

Check the Magazine for Parking Coupons

If you parked near the airport at a non-airport parking lot, the Southwest Magazine might have a coupon in between the ad for America’s Best Plastic Surgeons and the Tilted Quilt.

It won’t be there because frequent fliers know those are always full-page ads. 🙂

Check the Advertiser Directory. Under Travel, there probably will be some parking lot ad with a coupon. The September 2015 issue has one for 10% off The Parking Spot valid until December 2015.

Sit in Rows 1, 9 or 17

They’re usually the first rows to get served drinks. 🙂

Do you have a hack not listed?
Let us know in the comments below – I’d love to include it!

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Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Steve says

    Hey Jim: I’m planning to book 4 nights at the Westin Grand Central Station through the Southwest website. It will earn me 9,000 RR points. Do these points apply towards the 110,000 I need for the Companion Pass?

  2. Lauren Lewis says

    Hi Jim! Great info! Thanks for sharing.

    We always book our tickets as one way tickets instead of round trip because it allows you to capitalize on the ability to rebook you fares for cheaper. We have found scenarios where you book round trip and one leg of the trip may go down, but the other leg goes up and the total amount of money/points spent remains the same. But if you book one way, then you have the ability to rebook when that flight is cheaper.

    A simplified example

    Round trip DEN to SJC total is 10,000 points, 5,000 points for each leg of the trip when you originally book. You check back on the fare and the total remains 10,000 points, but the components have changed to 3,000 points to SJC and 7,000 back to DEN. If you book as one way flights, then you can capitalize on the reduced one way fare: 3,000 pts + 5,000 pt (from the original booking) for a total of 8,000 points.

    We have saved hundreds of dollars and thousands of points this way!

    • Tenley says

      Even with a round trip, you can still choose to change only one leg of your trip. It prompts you to “select flights to change” and can choose one flight (note “flight” of course being the entire one-way trip even if it’s 2 flights). I do this all the time.

      However, booking one way flights comes in handy if you think you might need to cancel only one of your flights. You can do that either way, but if you book a round trip and need to cancel one flight you need to call b/c the website can only cancel an entire reservation.

      Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re booking for multiple people, sometimes there might be only 1 seat left at a price. If you’re searching for fares for 2, it will show and charge you the higher fare for both. If you book separately for the two people, one will get the cheaper rate. (Same of course if you’re booking for 4, might be 3 seats left at one price, etc). If you do book together, and the fare drops later but there’s only 1 seat that price you can call and have them split the reservation so you can rebook one of the reservations.
      Another reason to consider booking different reservations for each person, if you might need to cancel for one person and they’re on the same reservation you have to call. This probably isn’t a situation a lot of people run in to, but my husband travels a lot for work so often we’ll book a trip somewhere, then it will turn out it’s the beginning or end of a business trip so we’ll just meet at the destination, or he’ll leave directly from the destination.

      • Tenley says

        Oh and one more thing- the only downside to booking people traveling together on reservations, when you check-in of course it’s more confirmation numbers to enter. You can’t just enter 1 and select everyone on it… the upside though is you can currently only get mobile boarding passes if there’s one person on a reservation

  3. Tiffany says

    How do you get discounted gift cards at Target? Is this in store only? Online I see the gift cards for regular price only.

  4. Vinny says

    After 13 years of flying SW here’s my hack. Best rows to sit in hopes of no one taking the middle seat is the 5th or 6th. Here’s why. If you take the aisle someone will surely take the window. The 1st row passengers have to store there luggage. The 1st bins are smaller than the rest because there’s an overhang at the entrance. Flight attendants will also take those bins. Now the 1st several rows bins are full. Nobody wants to take middle seats until later in the boarding process but by then there is no more bin space so the passengers keep moving to the back Works 80-90% of the time.

  5. Carter says

    Does SW ever lower the prices for flights within the week or “last minute”?
    When do fares generally go up. I checked a fare this morning for a flight next week and it doubled this evening. Any advise?

    • Jim Wang says

      Within the last week, the Wanna Get Away fares are unavailable. Before then, if a Wanna Get Away fare is unavailable, it’s because the allotment has been sold. It can come back if someone cancels, but I rarely see it happen. Wanna Get Away is the cheapest flight, and you earn the fewest Rapid Rewards points, so you will rarely see the other classes become cheaper. One week is the latest I’d wait.

      • Tenley says

        Wanna get away fares are still avail within the last week (I just checked for a flight today). Chances of the price dropping that close to the flight is rare, but I guess anything is possible, especially if a bunch of people cancel their flight last minute (unlikely, but possible)

  6. Kara Phadael says

    So in the fare dropping thing, people keep mentioning different flights. If the fare drops on my original flight will they refund me that money?

    • Jim Wang says

      It’s not automatic, you have to reschedule the flight back to the same time and they will give you the difference as a credit.

  7. David says

    If you purchase SW gift cards at Target and pay with the Target RedCard, you’ll get a 5% discount. Ditto for gift card purchases from Walgreen’s or grocery stores if they’re part of the quarterly 5% bonus for the Chase Freedom card.

  8. Lori says

    Hi Jim, I was wondering if I purchased 2- $200 SW gift cards now during 5xs points, if I would then get 2,000 points that could be used towards a cp?

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