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.
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
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.
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 checkin, may be 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 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. Every one on the itinerary will have to pay for Early Bird.
Our friend Seth (@ASImhoff919) suggests an alternative:
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 recent electricity bill.
Rocketmiles search works a little differently than other hotel searches because you have the added filter of the travel rewards program. When you do a 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 directly 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.
Boom. That's cash money.
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
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)
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 really 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.
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.
Actually, 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!