I’ve always enjoyed flying Southwest, but since I’ve signed up for their rapid rewards credit cards, I fly with them almost exclusively. Although Southwest is far from luxurious, they get the job done efficiently and at a fraction of the cost of other carriers. I work in the aerospace industry so I understand how difficult it can be for airlines to turn a profit. But I like supporting Southwest because they have good customer service and some very lenient policies when it comes to purchasing and canceling flights.
Most of my flights are relatively short(3 hours or less) so I don’t care where I sit, what type of meal is served, etc. I fly Southwest because they have competitive prices and their policies just make sense. Unlike other airlines, they won’t charge you baggage fees or a fee to switch your flight(as long as the flight you want to switch to is the same price).
I once booked a flight on Delta(for $200), but had to change the time of the first leg and they wanted to charge me $150 to change the flight, so I bought a one way on Southwest for $100. When I tried to check-in on Delta for the return trip, I discovered that my reservation had been canceled since I didn’t make the first leg. Things like that really make me mad, so I choose to support Southwest instead.
One of the best things about Southwest though is their cancellation policy. A lot of businesses offer price protection services where if the price for a TV or similar item goes down, you can bring the receipt in and you’ll receive a refund of the difference(some credit cards even offer this service). Southwest doesn’t offer this service, but with a little work you can create your own price protection.
Buying Flights With Cash
I generally book ‘Wanna Get Away’ fares because they’re the cheapest and my schedule is usually fixed. But if you’re unsure of your return time, you can book an ‘Anytime’ fare and as long as there is an opening on any flight, you can switch to any flight(regardless of the price) for no charge. I’ve purchased this option a couple times when I’m coaching volleyball tournaments and our return day depends on our finish. With the ‘Anytime’ fare, you can even cancel your flight and receive a full refund to your original form of payment.
What other airline will allow you to cancel a reservation and receive a full refund? The only caveat is that you will generally pay a large premium for an ‘Anytime’ fare. They tend to be two times(or more) the price of a Wanna Get Away fare so I think they only make sense in certain situations.
Finding the Lowest Fare
In order to get the lowest fare, you’ll need to book a ‘Wanna Get Away’ fare. Now here’s where it gets interesting: although this fare isn’t refundable, if you need to cancel your trip, 100% of your ticket value can still be applied to future travel for up to 12 months. I fly Southwest pretty often so this 12 month hurdle is not that big of a deal.
Southwest has a ton of sales, some better than others, but here’s where I create my own price protection(and you can too!). As soon as I have the dates for a trip I’m going to take, I’ll book my flight. If a sale comes up between the day I buy the tickets and the day of my flight, I cancel my old flight and book a new one with the credit from the old flight(make sure there are still seats available though). I now have 12 months to use the money I saved.
Here’s an example of how it works:
August 1st: Book a trip for the end of August from San Diego to Las Vegas for $200.
August 15th: Southwest has a fall sale where all flights are 20% off. Cancel my original flight and now I have a $200 credit. Re-book the trip for $160 and I now have a $40 credit that has to be used in the next 12 months.
August 30th: Go to Vegas!
To the best of my knowledge, Southwest is the only airline where this strategy will work. As long as this policy remains in effect, you should be able to save some money for you and your family for years to come.
Buying Flights With Points
If you signed up for the Southwest Chase card, you can take this strategy one step further. I signed up for two cards in order to get companion status, so I have over 100,000 points sitting in my account. I love this card because there is a 50k sign up bonus and although there is a $69 annual fee, you receive a 3,000 point bonus every year which effectively cancels out the fee(there is also a 3k bonus right now if you call and threaten to cancel). With these points, I can book over $2,000 worth of Wanna Get Away Fares.
The great thing about the points is that you can book a flight in your name or anyone else’s name. You can cancel the flight at any time and the points will instantly go back to your account. In fact, you can just not show up for the flight if you want, and your points will be returned to your account within a few days. Points don’t expire as long as you have flight or partner earning activity every 24 months(a $1 purchase on your credit card will suffice).
Generally, if I have a destination in mind, I’ll book a couple different weekends with my points when there’s a sale. If I don’t end up going, I can just cancel the flights and get a full refund. The points give you added flexibility and still allow you to purchase flights at the lowest price.
Readers, have you ever canceled a flight on Southwest or do you prefer flying on other airlines? I know some people don’t like Southwest, but I still don’t understand why? I’m 6′ 3″ and I can fit comfortably in a Southwest plane for 3 hours or less in any seat;)
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-Harry @ PF Pro