In my last installment I started going into detail about my suggestion to get a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card every two years, to take advantage of the introductory bonus and to fill in the alternate years with another credit card that earns travel rewards.
The last credit card I alternated with the Southwest credit card was the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. Spend $3000 in the first 90 days and get 40,000 bonus miles (worth $400) and the $89 fee is waived the first year. It’s a chip card that does not add foreign transaction fees and you receive 2x miles on all purchases. This is a general travel card, not tied to any one airline. You redeem your miles for statement credit against travel purchases. I got 10% miles back when I redeemed miles for travel statement credit but they have since lowered that to 5% miles back. I could redeem in $25 increments. Now you must redeem in $100 increments. Consider alternating a Southwest credit card with a flat rate travel reward card, such as the Barclaycard, unless there is a specific airline in addition to Southwest that you will be using in a credit card charging year. With a general travel card you can continue to earn miles for charging Southwest purchases. Just remember to apply for a card about six weeks before you’re going to start using it.
The yearly fee free card I use for any charging gaps is a Hilton HHonors Card from American Express, which I’ve had for 14 years. At one time I alternated that with an airline card, but the rewards were downgraded a while ago and I don’t stay in non-casino hotels that frequently anymore. I would earn points staying at Hilton Hotels for business, but then redeem rewards at Hampton Inns for leisure. If you find a credit card that doesn’t have a yearly fee but gives you decent rewards, be it for travel or anything else, consider signing up for it. I use this card to pay some of my bills automatically, keeping the card active and so I don’t have to keep switching automatic billing from credit cards I only keep for one year.
The ideal situation is to get the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card that gives you the 50,000 bonus, in a year where you have a lot of domestic flying to do and charge all of those flights and all your other expenses on that card. You might even want to charge flights for the following year, keeping in mind that you have one year from the date of purchase to re-book using a credit.
Whether or not you are working a Southwest credit card, the best savings from Southwest comes from scoring the lowest fares, so you have to keep on top of prices.
You can do this by searching the low fare calendar by month for the cities you are interested in flying to. After a while, you’ll have a general idea of what the prices are at different times of the year and when a sale comes out, you’ll be able to calculate how much of a discount they are actually offering. The beauty of no change fees is that if you really want to fly at a particular time, book the dates you want and keep checking back to see if the price goes down. Of course, if you are more flexible, you can keep checking until the price is in line with what you want to pay and then book it.
Some of the best fares require you to fly on certain days of the week, but not always. If you get notification that Southwest is having a sale, look on the low fare calendar to see how available the lowest fares are. Occasionally, most of the month will have the low sale fares but don’t assume that those fares are going to be around for long. Book when you see an incredibly priced fare. Life might change in six months and you’ll have to cancel, but it may not and you’ll have secured a great deal. Southwest is the only airline where you can do this at a basic tier level and with their lowest fares.
Non-stop flights are not necessarily more expensive and many times they are less expensive than flights with connections. Non-stops tend to be sold out near the date of the flight though, so book when you see a deal.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points vary in value, in relation to cash prices for fares. (You can easily switch between cash prices and point prices while booking online.) The lower the cash price, the less points are needed to purchase that same flight. I was looking at fares from Philadelphia (PHL) to Chicago Midway (MDW) in January. The highest one way fare was over Martin Luther King weekend. On January 15th you would pay $222 or 14697 Rapid Reward points. That works out to about $.015 per point. On January 30th, the fare was $41 or 1750 points. The points are then worth $.023 each! If you always book low fares the difference is not that great, but this works in our favor when we’re using points to pay for flights. The more the points are worth, the more value we are getting overall!
Southwest is about as good as it gets for the budget traveler. Their seating method is a little odd, but if you can’t bear the thought of a middle seat, you can pay for Early Bird Check In and be assured you won’t get one ($12.50 each way). It is relatively comfortable on their all coach flights and Southwest prides itself on its fun culture and strong customer service. They really do have Transfarency, as their recent ad campaign claims. There are no hidden fees or charges. If you are willing to do a little research and be flexible with your dates, you can fly very inexpensively a lot of the time.