Flying tips

Southwest has a unique boarding method

You do not select or get assigned a specific seat for Southwest flights. Instead, you check-in at exactly 24 hours before the flight and then you are assigned to a number in either Group A, B, or C. Starting with Group A, each group will board the plane in order based on the number each passenger received at check-in. It’s a surprisingly efficient process but does cause some people worry that they can’t select their seat when they purchase their ticket. You can read more about the boarding process here.

Saving seats on Southwest

There’s long running debates about whether or not you should be allowed to save seats on Southwest. Although I think it’s acceptable to save seats within reason, it’s something you typically want to avoid if you can. However, if you need to save seats for several passengers, people are much more understanding if your saved seats are near the back of the plane. Trying to save a row of seats up front is practically begging for confrontation.

You get free drinks and snacks

On Southwest flights you’ll be given free snacks like pretzels and peanuts (on longer flights you might get Nabisco crackers/cookies). You’ll also be given free non-alcoholic drinks on your flight. While these snacks are convenient, you probably want to bring a sandwich or something with you on board if you think you’ll get hungry on a longer flight.

Flying with kids under 2?

Southwest allows kids under 2 to fly for free. However, they do require you to bring a brith certificate with you to verify the age. A medical release for travel is required for any infant under 14 days old.

  • Read more about flying with infants and children.

Kids 6 or under?

If you’re traveling with kids 6 or under, you’ll be able to board during Family Boarding which is right after Group A and before Group B. If that’s the case, you really won’t need EarlyBird.

You probably don’t need EarlyBird

EarlyBird will automatically check you in 24 hours before the flight, allowing you to more easily secure a good seat — usually a high A or low B boarding pass. Unless you’re going to be away from a computer or mobile device at exactly 24 hours before your flight, you usually don’t need Southwest EarlyBird. Just setting an alarm to remind you to check-in is usually all you need.

  • You can read more about whether or not it’s worth it to purchase EarlyBird here.

How to know when to use Rapid Rewards

To determine if using Rapid Rewards is a good idea, you should:

  • Find the cash price of the ticket
  • Subtract the award fees from that price (usually $5.60)
  • Divide that number by the required amount of Rapid Rewards
  • Multiple that number 100
  • If that figure is below 1.3, you may not want to use your points. To get an even more accurate figure, you can also subtract the value of the Rapid Rewards you would have earned on your flight for Step 2. For example, if you found a $100 cash fare for a one-way ticket you’d subtract $5.60 + however much you value the Rapid Rewards you’d earn. Southwest has a shopping portal and a dining portal. Both of these allow you to earn extra Southwest points when you shop at certain stores or visit certain establishments. Read more about how to maximize earnings with the shopping portal here. You can also earn Southwest Rapid Rewards when you stay at certain hotel partners, book rental cars,  and sign-up for utility plans in certain states.

The value of Rapid Rewards is tied to the cost of the flight

Unlike points from airlines like United and American and many other airlines, the value of Rapid Rewards are directly tied to the cost of the current price of the that airline ticket. So a flight that costs $400 will require about 2X the amount of Rapid Rewards as a flight that costs $200. I say “about” because there are some fluctuations. Typically, your Southwest points will be worth between 1.4 to 1.6 cents per point but sometimes the value can fluctuate even more.

Earning Southwest Rapid Rewards

You earn Rapid Rewards based on the type of fare your purchased. You’ll 6X the points per dollar for Wanna Get Away fares, 10X for Anytime, and 12X for Business Select. As you climb into A-List and A-List Preferred your earning rates go up. Here are the earnings for an A-List and A-List Preferred member.

Hawaii and the “Southwest effect

Studies have shown that when Southwest begins flying to a destination, prices usually lower (this is called the Southwest Effect). This is great news because Southwest is getting ready to start flying to Hawaii! So you might seeing some more reasonable prices to Hawaii pretty soon. Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

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