The pleasure of changing or cancelling a flight with Southwest Airlines

I’ve written before about how much we’ve traveled on Southwest recently and even how we haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest Airlines since 2015.  Well, the time eventually came when I had to book a ticket on Southwest with cash instead of miles. I just didn’t have enough Southwest miles left to cover the cost of the flight for both of us on this trip.

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Photo By Brian from Toronto, Canada – Southwest 737, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2271529

17761038_1121957987914685_4477871181367452954_oWe are flying to Chicago for a weekend to see Hamilton  (Again. Don’t hate us.) and I know I cleared these dates with Sharon before I booked the airline tickets. But sometimes life happens and plans change. This time we needed to change our travel dates because Sharon was cast in the choir of Encore!  for their upcoming production of Hairspray at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando (shameless plug – tickets are on sale here).  This did cause a bit of a dilemma as Sharon now has a rehearsal scheduled for the day we were going to be flying to Chicago, and that just wasn’t going to work.

When we realized this, I immediately was relieved because I knew I had booked the flights on Southwest and they have one of the most generous policies for changing and cancelling tickets of any airline. They do not charge any fees to change flights and will only charge (or refund) the difference between the original and the new ticket price.  If you need to cancel your ticket, Southwest will give you a full refund of your whole purchase price as a credit which would need to be used within one year from when you bought the ticket. If you used points to purchase your ticket, the points will be returned to your account and the taxes would be refunded to your credit card. Any extras purchased, such as EarlyBird seat assignment fees, are non-refundable and would be lost if you cancel the ticket. You may be able to transfer these extras to your new flights if you are rescheduling, but make to sure to call to make the changes. You will not be able to keep the extras if you make the changes online.

Not only is Southwest’s policy helpful if your plans change, but it can also save you money if the price of your flight goes down. If the prices drop on your Southwest flight, you can rebook the ticket at the lower price and get back the difference in points or cash (as a credit for future use). Here is a great post from Deals We Like that describes the entire process of repricing a Southwest ticket if the price goes down.

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We will still be going to Chicago, just for a day shorter than originally planned.                         Photo BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104651

Having to change our flights did make me look at prices again and it turned out that for Friday morning, Southwest’s current price was $10 more per person than what I had paid for the tickets for Thursday. However, United was also offering a flight on Friday morning that was $60 less per person. Taking into consideration the $15 in EarlyBird fees that we would be losing, it was still worthwhile to cancel the Southwest flight to Chicago and rebook on United. I wanted to make sure the return flight stayed as it was so I called Southwest to cancel the flight instead of cancelling online, just to make sure. On a side note, our flight into Chicago on United is to Chicago O’Hare and the flight home is from Chicago Midway. We are using public transport and Uber/Lyft/taxis for this trip and are not renting a car. However if we were renting a car, I would have needed to find out if there were any additional charges for using different airports when deciding if it was worthwhile to cancel the flight on Southwest and book on United.

Considering that other airlines charge from $75-$200 to change or cancel a ticket, we were lucky we had these flights booked on Southwest. If you have a ticket booked on a different airline and have a true conflict or emergency, it doesn’t hurt to try and call the airline and explain your situation. If you hit it just right, the customer service representative might be compassionate and work with you to change your reservation.  Then again, you might end up with someone who says “Too bad, so sad. Sorry, can’t help you.” Your Mileage May Vary in getting this trick to work.

Have you ever need to change travel plans after paying for your ticket? Did the airline or hotel help you out or keep your money? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

#TBT: A Big Mid-Air Problem With My Flight & The Airline Was WONDERFUL About It!

Watching the latest “Forcibly Remove A Seated Passenger From A Plane So A Staff Member Could Have The Seat” situation with United Airlines, on top of the previous “#Leggingsgate” situation with United Airlines made me think back to a time, not really all that long ago, when passengers weren’t made to feel like profitable cattle with no rights, and when, if something happened that was out of the ordinary and potentially inconveniencing, the airline did everything they could to keep you comfortable and, even if you were not truly happy, at least you knew they had tried their best.

ContinentalPlaneIn April 1998, I was still living in Staten Island, NY and was going down to Walt Disney World about 6 times per year – usually for long weekends, but occasionally for a whole week at a time. Newark Airport was my airport of choice to fly down to Orlando and I would usually fly via Continental Airlines or Delta. The week before Easter of 1998, I took a long weekend trip and Continental was my carrier.

I usually would love to stay at Disney for longer than however long my trip at the time was, but in this case, I had some other things going on:

  • I had what was later diagnosed as a massive sinus infection and besides not being able to smell or taste a thing, I also was experiencing some of the fatigue that happens when you have an infection.
  • My 93-year-old great-uncle, who had been something of a surrogate grandfather to me after his brother (my grandfather) had passed away when I was 6, had been hospitalized and I was concerned about him.
  • My father had been diagnosed with cancer 4 years earlier, and the cancer had since spread. He was scheduled to get an MRI the next day and I was very worried about the results.

So on that particular day, all I wanted to do was go home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Our plane to Newark took off without a hitch but thanks to my then-undiagnosed sinus infection, after flying a few minutes, I started experiencing some massive pain in both of my ears – almost enough to make me cry. Once we got high enough and the pressure equalized, the pain improved a little bit but then all of a sudden we started descending again. What the heck? More ear pain and more near tears. Anyway, we arrived back at Orlando Int’l Airport, where the pilot told us our plane’s landing gear would not retract while we were in the air, so we had to make an emergency landing back in Orlando so it could be fixed.

Awesomesauce.

That was around 1pm or so. The flight crew said they hoped it could be fixed quickly, so they would keep us on the plane. At 2pm, they allowed us off the plane because whatever quick fix they hoped would happen, wasn’t happening. So now they were trying to get us another plane. On a Sunday. During the week before Easter.

Good luck.

This whole time, our designated main contact was a Continental customer service employee whose sole focus was to keep us informed and, I think, to keep us in good spirits. I don’t remember his name, but I’ll call him Chris. Chris was wonderful. He was knowledgeable, he empathized with us, he had a good sense of humor, and he even knew how to de-escalate the passengers who appeared to be REALLY unhappy about this unfortunate turn of events. Whether it was a passenger who was forcibly removed from his seat to make space for United staff, or non-revenue passengers who were wearing leggings, can you imagine how much better United’s PR would be right now if they had had someone like Chris working on their team?

Anyway, at 3pm, Chris told us that he had some good news and some bad news and then some more good news. The good news was that they were going to have a new plane for us! YAY! The bad news was that it wasn’t going to be available until around 9pm that evening. Ugh. But the more good news was that each party would be issued a free hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (it was inside the main terminal building of MCO) until 8pm AND each person would receive a $25 voucher to eat dinner anywhere we wanted at the airport. They unloaded our checked luggage so we could collect it (it was going to have to be loaded onto another plane anyway and that way if we wanted anything from our checked luggage, we would have access to it), told us our new flight number and which gate to go to later on that evening, and off we went to the Hyatt.

My fellow passengers’ emotions appeared to run the gamut from resigned to angry to everything in between. Personally, I was calm – just sad and anxious because I didn’t feel well and just wanted to go home to my ailing family members – but it was nothing that a good cry wouldn’t fix. And when I got to my assigned room at the Hyatt, cry I did. Hard. And then I took the best nap ever, followed by the best shower ever, followed by a meal at the Chili’s in the airport (which was only OK but that was my fault for eating at Chili’s).

The rest of the trip home went as planned. We all got to our new plane at 8:30pm and were in the air right around 9pm, as promised. I didn’t step foot into my house until just past midnight, but I didn’t care – I was home.

So yeah…with a bazillion opportunities to potentially drop the ball, Continental totally ROCKED that whole situation. So much so that I wrote to their then-CEO, Gordon Bethune, told him so, and sung the praises of Chris. And do you know what? Within 2 weeks, Mr. Bethune’s office wrote me back and thanked me. Again, more awesome customer service. All I have to say is that it was a sad day when Continental merged with and was eaten up by, of all airlines, United.

I realize that times have changed. Post-9/11 flying is nothing like pre-9/11 flying, people have changed in general, and it seems as if good customer service, including respect, understanding, empathizing, de-escalating, and making customers (regardless of how/if they paid for the service) feel like they matter, has become an expendable commodity for some companies. There are so, SO many things that United could have done differently so they wouldn’t be in these most recent predicaments. As Gordon Bethune said of the United incidents, “I’m sure there will be reconciliation … some effort to show they care about passengers,” and “I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion [at United] about how to handle this in the future.” And as United CEO Oscar Munoz has now FINALLY said, in his third apology in as many days, “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment.  I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  I promise you we will do better.”

We can only hope.

How about you? Did you ever have a time when the airline you were using was actively the good guy? When was it? What happened? We’d love to hear about it!

What we’ve learned about leggings, non-revenue passengers and customer service

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United Airlines stepped into a social media firestorm yesterday when a story about passengers were denied boarding on a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings hit the internet.

The story started to blow up on Twitter when a passenger on another flight saw this happening at the gate and send these tweets to @United.

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As this was playing out in real time on Twitter, people jumped to conclusions and had opinions before all the details were in, including United’s Twitter team.

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As it turns out, the passengers in question were flying on non-revenue (non-rev) tickets. These are available to family members and friends of airline employees and do have more restrictions and guidelines than regular tickets. The passengers were not following the dress code and asked to change by the agent at the gate. This was the original action that prompted the Tweets in the first place.

Now that it’s a day since the events and we have most of the important details, lets see what we’ve learned from this experience.

What’s a non-revenue (non-rev) passenger?

Essentially, it’s someone flying for free or at an extremely reduced price. It is a perk given to employees of the airline that lets family and friends fly, usually on a space available basis. Since, when traveling on these tickets, you are representing the airline there are guidelines that you are supposed to follow, including a quite detailed dress code. Here is the dress code for United:

  • Pass riders’ overall appearance should be well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste.
  • Attire should be respectful of fellow revenue passengers, employees and pass riders.
  • Pass riders may wear denim attire (such as jeans), shorts that are no more than three inches above the knee and athletic shoes when traveling in Coach or Business cabin.

The following attire is unacceptable in any cabin but is not limited to:

  • Any attire that reveals a midriff.
  • Attire that reveals any type of undergarments.
  • Attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear, or swim attire.
  • Mini Skirts
  • Shorts that do not meet 3 inches above the knee when in a standing position.
  • Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.
  • Attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics.
  • Attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears.
  • Any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing, or see-through clothing.
  • Bare feet
  • Beach-type, rubber flip-flops

I have a relative who works for an airline and I’ve flown as a non-revenue passenger, albeit many years ago. It’s not a glamorous way to travel because you really are at the mercy of the airline for your trip. We were informed by my relative ahead of time about the dress code and what to expect when traveling. We had to wait until the whole plane was loaded to see if there seats. We had no choice of seat assignments. Even if we were on the plane, they could come and tell us to get off because a paying passenger needed the seat, right up to when the door was closed. We were never to complain about anything because the employee who gave you the passes could get in trouble if their guests act inappropriately. As it turned out, we had to wait for 3 planes to find one with open seats and spent the whole day at the airport. For the return trip, we had to drive 4 hours to another airport to get a flight home. We never flew that way again.

It wasn’t wrong to make them change clothes

As many people who have flown as non-rev passengers pointed out to me, it was not wrong to force these passengers to change clothes. Everyone who uses these type of tickets knows, or should know, the rules. By showing up inappropriately dressed, they were breaking the rules. If some people can follow the rules, then everyone should have to.

I totally agree. Rules are rules. Now I don’t know what actually happened at the airport. Was the gate agent polite about reminding them about the dress code or were they snooty about it?

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We all know that in situations like this, it is the approach that you take and not the message you are delivering that makes all the difference in how the interaction goes. I’m not going to start to form opinions on this one because it wasn’t even the passengers who were writing United, but people observing the situation. However, you figure if it was enough of a scene for others to notice, then it must have been more than a polite request to change clothing and the passengers being totally accommodating. I’ll leave it at that.

How thoughtless customer service makes things worse

Here’s one of the big takeaways from this whole event. The initial response by the United Twitter team was one of the reasons why this story went viral. The knee-jerk response that the gate agent was correct and had the right to deny boarding to anyone based on the legal Contract of Carriage. You know, the contract that no one reads that says the passenger has no rights and the airlines can do whatever they want was the basis they used on Twitter to justify making passengers change or cover up their leggings because they were”not properly clothed.”

As the story developed and more details came to light, United tried to walk back and point out, correctly, about how these passengers were non-rev and therefore have specific dress guidelines. United has even gone as far as to post on their website.

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You know you’ve messed up when you need to write this headline.

This doesn’t keep me from feeling that the first response was to stick up for the employee. While this may be a gut instinct for most people, it is not prudent for those on the front lines of customer service. Your job is to collect information, listen and then act appropriately but apparently, this is not United’s first response to customer comments. Instead they seem to feel the customer is always wrong unless you can prove otherwise. In hindsight, a comment like “Thanks for your observation. We will be notifying airport staff and get details of this interaction. We will follow up when we know more.” (I checked, it’s less than 140 characters).

Are United’s guidelines outdated?

I’ve read comments on Twitter and the internet accusing United’s non-rev dress code as being sexist. While many of the guidelines are unisex, they are more guidelines telling women how to dress. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

One Mile at a Time wrote an article today about the different non-rev dress codes and if, in comparison, United’s looks sexist. It is interesting to read how different the airlines policies are for the same issue.

Final Takeaway

I found this an interesting story to follow with so many moving parts. From the initial story and the conclusions people were making before the whole story was available. Then the initial response from United and the subsequent attempts to correct the damage. The response of those who followed the rules and how they felt about those who didn’t. How people who wear leggings were mad about being told how to dress. How people that don’t wear leggings feel they are not appropriate in certain situations. Finally, how bringing the guidelines to the open is now questioning if they are still relevant to today.

I’d like to thank the websites View from the Wing, One Mile at a Time and Points Guy for the updates yesterday on this story.

How do you feel about the whole thing?

Are you giving away your personal information?

It seems that almost everyone has a story about their email being hacked, credit card number being stolen or even worse, their identity being used.

Remember this the next time you want to post a picture like this to your Instagram.

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Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? This was from a trip back in 2014 when I was all too happy to show off about flying from Melbourne to Bangkok to anyone who could see my Facebook. I was just reading “6 Shocking Reasons NOT to Post Pictures of Your Boarding Pass” by Million Mile Secrets about how by posting your boarding pass barcode you are giving a whole bunch of info to anyone who can use an online barcode reader (I didn’t even know you could do that until I read this article).  I found this picture and uploaded it here. What do you know, there was my info (I’ve since blurred the barcode on the picture). With that simple information someone could go and cancel your flights, change your seats or even get into your frequent flyer account and steal your points.

Just one more thing to remember before you overshare on social media sites. Don’t make it easier than it already is for someone to get your personal information.

 

What’s the difference between earning flexible points, fixed value points, airline miles, hotel points or cash?

Before you start earning miles and points from your credit cards, it’s really important to know what type of points you are earning. There are several types of reward miles/points that banks offer and they can be most easily be divided into four categories:

  • Transferrable (Flexible) Points
  • Airline Miles and Hotel Points
  • Fixed Value Points
  • Cash Back

I’ll go over some of the basics for each of these points below:

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Transferrable (Flexible) Points

There are three banks that give these type of points:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thank You Points

These points are the most desirable ones to collect for miles and points enthusiasts because of their flexibility. You earn them in your account and can hold them until you have a use for them. You can then transfer them to the program which is most beneficial to you at the time.

With each type of point, you have a number of different transfer partners specific to each program. This is to your advantage because if you have points in each program, you have a multitude of options open to you when you need to book travel. More options means you are likely to be able to book the trip that you want, when you want, for the lowest price. These are the big three of points redemptions (Where, When and How Much).  Therefore, collecting each of these points is best if you do not have a set redemption in mind because this way you are not locked into a single airline’s or hotel’s points program.

The downside of these type of points is that in order to transfer points, you usually have to hold a premium card with an annual fee. You also need to keep your account open (and pay the annual fee) to keep your points. If you decide close your account and still have your points sitting there, you will lose them. Losing points is one of the big no-no’s of collecting miles and points. You can stop this from happening (transferring them before closing the account is one way) but you always need to keep that in mind.

Airline Miles and Hotel Points

The way these type of cards work is usually easier to understand. When you earn points or miles with airline or hotel credit cards, they are deposited directly into your account with that program (not with the bank). Some of the most common programs with credit cards are:

  • American Aadvantage Miles
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United Mileage Plus
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

There are many other programs with offers for their own credit card that earns points or miles. If you tend to fly a specific airline, having their co-branded card can have its advantages. Besides earning miles/points in the respective programs, these credit cards often provide additional benefits such as free checked bags or preferred boarding on airlines or free internet or upgraded room at hotels.

The benefit of earning miles/points with credit cards with these programs is that if you cancel the credit card, you do not lose the points as they are already deposited in your program account. You only need to keep your account active with the airline or hotel (each program has its own specific requirements to do so) to keep from losing your miles.

The disadvantage is that your points/miles are locked into that program. So if that airline/hotel has no availability where you want to go, too bad.

The one hotel program which has additional benefits is Starwood Preferred Guest. With their program, you are allowed to transfer your hotel points from your account to several airline programs (some of which have no other transfer partners). When you transfer points into airline miles, you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This perk makes Starwood points extremely valuable. Many miles/points websites consider Starpoints a flexible point currency instead of hotel points.

Fixed Value Points

By far, these are the easiest points for people to understand. You earn points which are worth a fixed value. Usually  1-2 cents a point. So if you want to book an airline ticket worth $200 and your points are worth 1 cent each, you’ll need 20,000 points. The credit cards that work like this include but are not limited to:

  • Capital One Venture (The one Jennifer Garner does commercials for)
  • Bank of America Worldpoints
  • Wells Fargo Rewards
  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles
  • US Bank Flexperks

These points are easy to use because if there is a ticket available, you can most likely use your points to pay for it. You either have to book tickets through the program’s travel portal or book the ticket/room yourself and apply your balance to cover the payment on your statement, depending on the program. Check with the particular program to make sure how it works before making any reservations.

You believe Jennifer Garner, don’t you? With the ease of redeeming these points, it would seem that they would be the most preferable ones to collect. That may be true if you are only looking to book low cost domestic airfare. It is true that availability with airline miles can be difficult to find for flights within the US. But with fixed value points, if there is a seat available, you can use your points to pay for it. This can serve a purpose in a diversified portfolio of points, it has limitations.

The disadvantage is that you can only get a fixed value for your redemption. Most travelers don’t get into collecting miles and points to redeem them for inexpensive domestic flights. The value in points/miles is using them for something you usually couldn’t pay cash for. Something like that business class ticket to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. If that ticket cost $2500 cash, you’d need 250,000 fixed value points to get it. As of today, using Delta Skymiles would only cost you 140,000 miles (if you can find availability).

Fixed Value travel cards aren’t very popular because of a similar credit card product which is available and has more advantages.

Cash Back Cards

Cash is still king. When earning Flexible points, Airline miles, Hotel points or Fixed Value points, you always need to remember than you could have been earning cash back instead.

It is very easy to understand a cash back card. Some of the most popular cards are

  • Citi Double Cash
  • Fidelity Rewards
  • Discover It Cash
  • American Express Blue Cash
  • Capital One Quicksilver (the one Samuel L. Jackson sells)
  • Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Citi Double Cash card and the Fidelity Rewards card both earn 2% cash back on all purchases. Citi pays 1% when you make the charge and 1% when you pay the bill. Fidelity pays the 2% back as a deposit into your Fidelity account (so it helps if you already do some banking or investing with them). The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% back on all purchases.

The Discover It, American Express Blue Cash and Chase Freedom all earn back 1% on most purchases. They also have bonus categories where you can earn additional money back in certain categories like restaurants, gas and groceries. Both the Chase Freedom cards also have the advantage of that if you have an another Chase Ultimate Rewards card that earns flexible points, you can transfer your Freedom points to that account. When you do that, the cash back points transform into flexible points.

Comparing a cash back card to a fixed value card, you see that since you can earn at least 2% on any purchase, only earning 1% back on a fixed value card just doesn’t make sense.

Conclusion

So which points should you collect? That does depend on what travel goals you have. I personally have a combination of all of these cards except for a fixed value card. Most of my spending goes onto cards with flexible points (including Starwood points). I do have a cash back card which I use to maximize bonus categories as I value 5% cash back more than any point I could earn. Your Mileage May Vary on which card or combination of cards works the best for you. Understanding the difference between the types of points or miles you can earn with credit cards allows you make an informed choice when deciding which ones to apply for …and now you know.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Airport lounges are worth more than just all you can eat snack mix.

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Sipping champagne at the Amex Centurion Lounge, LaGuardia Airport, February 2016

I remember the first time I went into an airport lounge and went through those doors that had been forbidden to me for so long. It must have been with one of my first business class award tickets. Checking in at the desk, being welcomed to a quiet oasis in the airport. This was a magical place which only special people got to visit.

I’ll admit that I’ve become jaded and airport lounges doesn’t do much for me anymore. Unless it’s a particularly good lounge, I’m not going to waste time, effort or money to go into one. Now, I fully realize this makes me make sound like a pretentious jerk but, well, it’s the truth ;-).

All that being said, a series of events on my most recent trip caused me to change my usual plans and showed me how lounges, and in particular the lounge staff, can still be very helpful.

This was all part of my trip from Orlando to New York (Newark) to see a screening of Mystery Science 3000 with my dad. We had a late flight on United that was due to leave Orlando at 8:05 PM and arrive at 10:39 PM. Because I notoriously run late (it drives Sharon, who is habitually early, absolutely crazy), I had my dad get to my house earlier than needed so we could get to the airport and relax before the flight. I had some passes to the United Club I received because Sharon has the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card. We usually don’t fly United so I figured I could treat my dad and would use them if I had the chance.

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My one-time use passes for entry to the United Club

After we made it through TSA Pre✓® with a minor delay (my dad was not used to traveling with only a carry on and had to be reminded by the friendly TSA Agent that even though your toothpaste tube, mouthwash and shampoo are almost empty, you are still not allowed to bring them if the original size is over the limit). We headed towards the gate area and even with this slowdown we were there by 6PM. I stopped to grab a PB&J sandwich and since it was still almost 2 hours until our flight, decided to treat dad to the wonderful United Club at Orlando Airport.

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United Club at Orlando International Airport (MCO)

We checked in to the lounge with the passes and I asked the gate agents if there were any updates to our flight. I noticed when arriving at the airport that the two flights leaving to Newark before us were really delayed (see photos below).  Important tip: I’ve found that the more you know, the more the employees will go out of their way to help you. This was a case where having a little knowledge went a long way. Just mentioning that I noticed the delays to earlier flights set the wheels in motion.

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The two lounge agents mentioned that there was an issue with high winds in the Newark area and it was really messing up the air traffic patterns. Flights were delayed all evening. They asked if we had checked bags (we hadn’t), and if we wanted to be moved onto one of the delayed flights that was still at the gate. We said sure and both agents worked on getting us changed onto the flight which was getting ready to leave. They also assigned us seats in the exit row. They printed our new boarding passes and told us we’d be best to leave now because the boarding was almost finished.

Then the agent who scanned in my passes started to apologize to me that he already scanned us into the club and he didn’t have any comp passes to give back to me. He felt really bad that I had “wasted” the free pass and even said that the next time I was flying I could stop by and remind him of what happened and he’d try to get me in to make up for it. I assured him that getting me on a flight that was not 2 hours delayed was more than worth the passes.

Just a reminder, they did not have to do what they did. United usually charges a $75 fee for a same day change onto a different flight. The seats in United Economy Plus (exit row or extra legroom seats) usually go for $50 to $100 for the MCO-EWR flight. So for each of my passes we received at least $125 in value. That’s worth a whole lot more than some free snack mix and cheap liquor.

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My best guess is that this is Philadelphia on our approach to Newark.

Oh, in the long run we really didn’t save that much time. Turns out the flight we were moved to was delayed to take off on a ground stop for 45 minutes and we arrived at 10:30 PM. Our original flight left pretty much on time and arrived at 10:45 PM. However, we didn’t know that at the time. The peace of mind of being on a plane you knew was going to leave was well worth it. Not to mention the exit row seating, which was totally empty so I was able to move from the middle seat of my assigned row and get a whole row of 3 seats to myself.

So although I no longer think that all airport lounges are magical refuges, they certainly still have a place to be helpful in certain situations.