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We’ve talked before about Southwest Airlines and their Rapid Rewards programs, and why they can be an attractive airline for family travel.  Especially now that they’ve recently extended their bookable dates through August, I thought it would be nice to talk about a few other things about Southwest.

Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is probably the single best thing in travel.  It takes 110,000 Southwest points in a year to earn, and most importantly, transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count.  There are some other transfer partners that do count (such as Wyndham and other hotels), and bonuses earned from Southwest credit cards do count.  Of course, miles earned from actually FLYING Southwest as well as miles earned by shopping through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal also count.

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You know bags fly free – but did you know that your SPOUSE can fly free, too?!?

What do you get with the Companion Pass?  Very simply, any time you fly, whether it’s on a paid or on a miles-redeemed ticket, someone of your choice (the “companion”) gets to fly free.  No blackouts, no restrictions.  If the ticket is available for purchase, you can use it with your companion pass.  There are a few qualification.  First of all, you do have to specify upfront who your companion is (so you can’t just use it on whoever you want).  You’re allowed to change it up to 3 times during the life of the companion pass.  So for example, you could start off with it on your spouse, then switch it to a friend or child, and then back to your wife.

The other nice thing about the companion pass is that it’s good for the entire year that you earn it AS WELL AS ALL OF THE NEXT YEAR!  As an example, let me share with you my plan to earn this.

I signed up for and was approved for the Southwest personal credit card in October.  It offered 50,000 Rapid Rewards points if you spent $2000 in the first 3 months.  Because I was targeting getting the companion pass in 2014, I held off on putting any spending on it until January 2014.  Remember, you need to earn 110,000 points in ONE calendar year.  So any points earned in 2013 would not have counted towards earning the companion pass in 2014.

Unfortunately for me, I had to spend $2000 between January 1st and January 7th, and while that wasn’t a problem, due to some of the tricks I’ve learned to “manufacture” spending, I cut the deadline a bit closer than I would like (my final transaction was done on January 7th but didn’t “post” until January 8th), so I’m waiting to make sure that my points post.

I also applied back in October for the business version of the Southwest card but was not approved, with Chase citing that they wanted to see more usage from me on my existing cards.  From what I hear this scenario (approved for personal but not for business) was fairly common.  I plan to re-apply for that early this year in the hopes of still getting my companion pass this year, which will make it good through December of 2015.

Free TV

Southwest also has free TV onboard their flights.  Hat tip to Million Mile Secrets for pointing this out.  There are 13 channels offered, though none of them are particularly kid-friendly.  They also offer episodes of  75 different TV shows for “on-demand” viewing.  I tweeted @SouthwestAir to try and find which shows they are – they specifically mentioned Pound Puppies and My Little Pony, but I wasn’t able to find out exactly which shows.  Still, that’s hopeful that they have a few kid-friendly ones.

International Destinations

How's Aruba sound about now?

How’s Aruba sound about now?

Southwest and AirTran are in the process of merging.  As with many mergers, it takes some time and is quite the process.  As of this writing, most of the former AirTran routes had been converted over, but it was just within the past week that some of the former AirTran international destinations had been converted into Southwest Routes.

According to the press release this week, Southwest will now fly from Atlanta, Baltimore and Orlando to Aruba, Nassau and Montego Bay.

Modifying Southwest reservations

Southwest is unique among most airlines in that you can change or cancel your reservation without penalty.  Deals We Like has a good post detailing the different scenarios, but basically if you pay with a credit card, you’ll get a refund, and if you pay with points, your points will be refunded.  So there’s really no downside to purchasing a ticket – if the price goes down, you can cancel your existing reservation and make a new one at the new level.

Early Boarding

The big knock against Southwest is that there aren’t really any “assigned” seats.  There are different boarding “zones” but within those zones, it’s kind of a free-for-all as far as getting seats.  This isn’t generally a problem if you’re flying alone, or with other adults, but with kids (especially several kids), this can be a real issue.

Southwest does offer EarlyBird check-in, which costs $12.50 / person one-way and lets you board earlier.  The details are that if you have EarlyBird, then your boarding pass is created 36 hours before flight, which is 12 hours earlier than boarding passes are available to the general public.  It doesn’t GUARANTEE you an “A” boarding pass, but your odds are much higher.southwestearlybird

So as we look to take a family of 8 on Southwest this summer, I am thinking about springing for this, but maybe not for everyone.  We COULD sign all 8 of us up for this ($100 each way), but I think that it would work out if maybe 3-4 out of the 8 of us bought the EarlyBird.  Then say, Carolyn and 3 of the kids check on first and strategically place themselves towards the back of the plane in middle seats.  The rest of us camp out on the computer at the 24 hour mark and try to get our passes as soon as we can.

My guess is that the passengers that would board before us would not particularly want to sit next to kids, especially if we were able to explain that the rest of us are boarding.  I think that we could get most of us sitting next to each other.  Plus, we still have the option to switch seats between the 8 of us to make sure we’re configured optimally.  For some of my older kids it wouldn’t be as big a deal to sit by themselves, but the younger kids probably need parents.

What do you think?  Has anyone flown Southwest as a family?  How did it work for you?

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