How we haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest Airlines since 2015.

You read the title correctly. We haven’t paid anything for a trip on Southwest Airlines, except for taxes and fees, since June of 2015. That’s 22 flight segments and 18,170 miles of travel. I’ve traveled with my dad, and Sharon’s gone on a trip with a friend, and we didn’t pay for their flights either.

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Image from Great Circle Mapper

I bet you’re wondering how we managed that. It really wasn’t that difficult…I’ve just used several tips that I picked up over the years to make it happen.

The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Cards

This was my main way to accumulate Southwest Rapid Rewards miles. I signed up for the Premier version of the card and received 50,000 miles as a sign up bonus. I then picked up the Plus version of the card about 6 months later for another 50,000 points. The bonuses on these cards fluctuate but right now they are offering the 50,000 bonuses on both of these cards after meeting the minimum spending requirement. If you are interested in signing up for the Premier card, send a message to let me know and I’ll send you one of my referral links. Besides getting the bonuses for both cards, there was a good reason I signed up for both of them so close to one another: the Southwest Companion Pass.

The Southwest Companion Pass

In all of my reading posts on miles and points, one thing kept coming up as the most valuable item you could acquire: the Southwest Companion Pass. This card has magical properties that gives your miles a 2X boost. You earn one of these passes when you fly over 100 flight segments, or earn 110,000 miles in a year on Southwest and the companion pass is good for the current and all of the following year. This pass lets you bring a guest with you on any Southwest flight for free (all they need to pay is the taxes on the ticket). You do have to pick your companion and you only get a limited number of times you can change who that is.

Miles and points junkies have found out that the sign up bonuses from the Chase Southwest cards (Premier, Plus and Business versions) count towards that 110,000 mile threshold. So if you sign up for two of the cards in a year with the 50,000 mile bonus and then earn another 10,000 miles, you’ll earn a companion pass. So I went on my journey to get the elusive companion pass. At first I tried signing up for the Premier and Business versions of the credit card and Chase approved the Premier card but rejected my business card application. With that, I figured that my chance at getting a Companion Pass was over, but later in the year I saw that the Plus version of the card was offering the higher bonus, so I applied and was approved! After earning the second 50,000 mile bonus,  I only needed to charge enough to earn the extra 10,000 miles. I did finally meet the threshold towards the end of the year and I was able to get the Companion Pass for the entire following year.

It turned out that for our travels, the pass only had limited usage because several of the places we wanted to go weren’t easily accessible by Southwest. We still tried to get the most out of the pass by planning some trips where Southwest does travel to, but then we had to postpone them. Fortunately, Southwest does not charge any fees to cancel a trip and will refund your miles. If you travel with the same travel companion on multiple trips places that Southwest flies, the pass can provide thousands of dollars in value. For regular travelers who go on 1-2 trips a year, it’s not worth going crazy over trying to get one.

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I’ve learned to love this view flying for free on Southwest.

Southwest Revenue Based Award Pricing

Southwest bases the cost of an award ticket on the actual price of the ticket instead of using a set value. Some people dislike this revenue based method because it eliminates the chance for getting an oversized value. While this is true, it also makes shopping for flights with your miles easier to understand. The cheaper flights cost you less miles. Simple. You make the choice if the less convenient flight times are worth the savings, just like you would if you were paying in cash. You also don’t have to worry about buying a ticket if you see a good price. If the trip doesn’t work out, you can always refund the miles back to your account. This revenue based system for paying with miles also lets you take advantage of another thing I like about Southwest.

Southwest Fare Sales

One way I was able to stretch out the value of my Southwest miles was to keep an eye out for fare sales. Remember, Southwest does not charge any fees to change or cancel your ticket. This means that if your trip goes down in price, you can rebook it and get back the difference. I’ve used this trick several times to get back thousands of points.

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We used Southwest miles to fly to El Paso and then drove out to Carlsbad Caverns. I love visiting our National Parks. They are truly amazing.

Anniversary Bonus for having Southwest credit card

The Chase Southwest credit cards provide an Anniversary bonus after the first year of having the card. This is currently 6,000 miles for the Premier and Business versions and 3,000 miles for the Plus card. These miles somewhat offset the annual fee of $99 (or $69 for the Plus card).While I’ve since cancelled my Plus card, I still keep the Premier. The 6,000 miles I’m getting a year almost makes up for the $99 annual fee I have to pay.

No fees for checked baggage or seat assignments

While other airlines promote that you can get a free checked bag if you have their co-branded credit card, Southwest does not charge anything for your first two checked bags (within weight and size limits). Southwest also doesn’t charge extra for special seats. I’d guess that’s because they don’t have any seat assignments. You pick any available seat when you board, so your boarding place in line is very important. That leads me to the one thing I do pay for when flying Southwest.

Southwest Early Bird Check In

Southwest lets you check in for your plane 24 hours ahead of time. The trick is to check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, because your boarding number is based on the order of checking in. The earlier/lower your number, the better the seat you get to choose. If you forget or are busy at the check in time, you’re at the back of the plane in a middle seat and have plenty of time to regret your mistake.

I was really good at checking in on time. Then one flight I checked in at 24 hours out and still was in the middle of the line. What happened?  Early Bird check in happened.  For $15, Southwest will now automatically check you in 36 hours ahead of time – that’s a full 12 hours before you can check in without it. This is now a $15 I am happy to spend.

So I guess I really don’t fly for free on Southwest. There is a $5.60 fee for each flight due for taxes. I also pay the $15 for Early Bird check in. Still, that’s a small price to pay. For our travels, Southwest is often the best choice for us. We’ve learned to live with the process and we even end up with a row to ourselves a lot of the time. I’m not ready to share that trick…..yet.

 

 

 

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