Southwest Airlines is generally, still the best airline to fly if you’re looking for reasonably priced and convenient domestic flights, but since they upgraded their reservation system in May, it is more difficult to find deals and those that you do find, may be for flights with bad connections or at odd times. Low fares can disappear quickly, in a matter of days, or even hours. This is a bummer, but Southwest is the ONLY airline, that doesn’t charge additional fees to change or cancel a flight. Domestic flight prices are higher across the board but being able to change or cancel your flight without penalty, allows you to book the best fares, even if you’re not certain of your schedule in the future.
In addition, Southwest allows two bags per person to fly free. This can make a Southwest flight less expensive overall, than a lower priced base fare at a competitor that charges baggage fees. AND, you can cancel a Southwest flight, and re-book on that carrier, if the competitor’s price goes down, inclusive of baggage fees, at the last minute.
The trick to getting the best fares is to know what the average fare is for the route you are flying and continually check for price drops. Note that when Southwest Airlines announces a new airfare sale, that does not necessarily mean that you’re going to see lower fares for your route OR that the prices aren’t going to fluctuate within that sale period. But, if you do see a low fare at a convenient time, book it immediately because that fare could increase the next day.
Constantly checking prices can be time consuming, but Southwest has yet to allow a service to do this for you, so it’s best to get into a routine of price checking. As you monitor prices more frequently, you will begin to see patterns that may be helpful for future bookings.
The quickest way to find the general availability and price of flights is by using the low fare calendar for the cities you are interested in flying to. You’ve got to know roughly what the range of a steep or a low price is and what the high traffic times are, if you want to find a discount.
When Southwest first releases their flight schedule (from 6 months to 9 months ahead of time) the prices tend to be high and uniform. I’m always looking for flights to Las Vegas from Philadelphia in the summer and right now, the schedule is available up until August 6. Almost all the lowest fares in June and July are $230—each way—for a round trip price of $460, which is ridiculous. Some fares have two connections!
I follow the Philadelphia to Las Vegas fares, so I know that anything above $400 is a high round trip fare and anything below $250 is a low fare. I have gotten fares below $150 and I’ve also paid above $400 (which did not make me happy).
The low fares are found by constantly checking the prices and possible days of flight. Weekdays are generally less expensive than the weekends and non-stop flights fill up more quickly than flights with connections. With the Low Fare Calendar, you can keep checking if less expensive or more convenient fares become available on the dates or range of dates you want to fly. If you find something good, but not perfect, you can lock that in and hope that a better price or flight becomes available, but if nothing does, you have that flight to fall back on.
Wanna Get Away fares are Southwest’s lowest fares but the catch is that the fares are non-refundable, in that you cannot cancel or re-book and get your money back, but instead, you get Reusable Funds.
Reusable Funds1If you cancel your flight, 100% of your ticket value can be applied to future travel for up to 12 months. New reservations inherit the earliest expiration date from any funds applied from the old ticket. Therefore, the expiration date of our new reservation and all associated funds may be less than 12 months.
So, if it’s likely that you will cancel or change your flight, you’ve got to make sure you can fly on Southwest Airlines, somewhere, within 12 months from when you’re considering making your reservation, to make booking and paying for your flight, financially worthwhile. But, if you’re like me, you can always find somewhere else to go! Also, if you re-book the same flight at a lower price and get a credit for say $30, that also has to be used within 12 months, so you’ve got to be available to travel somewhere else to make re-ticketing worth it. (Alternately, you could just re-book at the same price to a more convenient flight).
If you’re lucky enough to be booking travel with Southwest Airlines Rapid Reward points, the points from a canceled or changed flight, go right back into your account with no 12 month expiration (as long as you earn points at least once, every 24 months). If you have a Southwest Airlines credit card, the September 11th Security Fee on a flight booked with reward points, get refunded back to your Southwest Airlines credit card. Otherwise the fee goes into your account as Reusable Funds.
Document and Keep Track of your Confirmation Numbers
One important thing you need to do is to keep documentation of all your Southwest Confirmation Numbers. You will refer to Confirmation Numbers to apply credit in your account to a new flight reservation. There is no limit to the amount of times you can change a flight within a 12 month window, but this will sometimes generate new Confirmation Numbers and it can get confusing if you don’t note each change.