Here I’ll discuss, how to get bumped, how to get a good seat, how to lower your price after booking, and how to book routes Southwest doesn’t fly. Then I’ll show you how to hack the prices of Southwest tickets both by booking tickets to random cities and by booking flights to your connection city separately.
The art of getting bumped on a Southwest Flight
Southwest overbooks flights just as much as the next airline. It’s very often I’m boarding a Southwest flight and I hear the call, “the flight is oversold by two seats, and if anyone can take the next 3:25 flight you would get a Southwest voucher the price of your ticket plus $300.”
If you recall from my how to get free flights from getting bumped, Southwest has many of the same bump policies as other airlines. For example, airlines generally like people without checked bags. But I wanted to give some Southwest specific bump policies.
- Arrive < 2 hours within scheduled arrival = $100 + price of flight
- Arrive > 2 hours within scheduled arrival = $300 + price of flight
So if you had a $200 flight and if you landed more than two hours behind the flight you booked, you would get a $500 voucher ($200 ticket + $300 compensation). Thats per person.
It’s also a first come first serve system. You board and if they need you as a bump they pull you off. So go ahead and check with the counter early and tell them you’re flexible and didn’t check a bag.
And if you’re thinking, “but I always book the most undesirable flights because I always book the cheapest flights”. Well, book early (more than a month) and the prices are often all the same. Then you could choose the most desirable route. Also, you can often choose to connect through multiple different cities for the same price, since they seem to price by city pairs. Perhaps this will increase your chances of getting bumped.
Although perhaps the most desirable route isn’t obvious, but you can search flights going out this week to get a feel for desirable times/routes for your flight.
Take away: Get to your gate early just to add your name to the list, then go to the lounge.
How to get a good seat with Southwest
One of the most fundamental things to know about Southwest is that their boarding process is very different. Instead of being assigned a seat, you’re assigned a boarding position, then you pick your seat, much like you pick your bus seat as a kid.
The problem for us with this process is that getting a low boarding possition often means that we 1) may not find seats together, and 2) may not be able to find overhead space for our luggage (we never check bags). So the question becomes…
How do you get a good boarding position?
Much like their first come first serve seating process, their boarding positions are given based on when you check in. I often don’t think about my flight until I get to the airport which is why we’re often at the back of the bus (or rather; boeing).
However, you can checkin online 24 hours before your flight.
My trick for remembering to checkin 24 hours ahead of time
I put all my flights in my google calendar. Just a simple time and airport codes (i.e. “8:30 am ATL-CUN) on the proper dates. Go in to the calendar event and “edit” it to give an alert. Select email, and 1 day before. This will throw out an email saying that your flight is tomorrow at 8:30 am. Which could be helpful if you forgot the time, or which airport (like me in Warsaw). However, with Southwest, you will then know that it is now 24 hours before your flight and that you should log in and and just “check in”.
You can still print your boarding pass off at the airport after checking in online (we always use the kiosks). Checking in really just means that you’re still planning to show up to the flight. It only takes a few seconds and this method should work for you. Unless you’re like me and your email inbox is akin to a tidal wave.
Take away: Checkin online 24 hours before departure of your flight and get a great boarding group/seat with Southwest. Perhaps set an email alert in Google calendar.
How to lower your price after booking
Southwest is so awesome in that they don’t have cancelation or change fees. And they have an amazing policy and website for very easily refunding points/cash if your ticket lowers in price.
Now if it’s a cash cancelation or partial refunding, it will likely be a Southwest credit that is applied automatically to your account. Next time you go to pay for a ticket or even just go to cover taxes, it will deduct any cash payments from this credit.
But when refunding points, it instantly puts the points back into your account. And again, doing it is super easy.
Here’s how I look for better prices:
- Log into Southwest.com
- Open a tab to look at “upcoming flights”. This will show what are the flight times for my route.
- Open a new tab showing account activity. This will show how much you paid for each route.
- Search for the flight route/date you already booked.
- Compare current prices with the price you paid to see if it’s lowered.
You don’t have to only compare the exact same flights, but any flights. Different flights on the same day, or if you’re really flexible compare to flights on the other days. But in general I probably picked the flight I did because it’s the cheapest already and because it’s what I need. However, Southwest has lots of sales and it is very often that I find a lower price that I can match.
Once you find a lower price here’s what you do:
- Go to “my account”
- Upcoming Trips → “View All” (in the top right)
- For the flight you want to change, click “Change Reservation” in the top right
- Go through the booking process
It’s just like booking a flight the first time except you’re actually changing the ticket. If it’s a lower price then it will just refund the difference. If you decide to go with a more expensive flight, it will just charge the difference.
This user friendly experience is remarkable and Southwest deserves a lot of credit for not having insane change fees… or any at all.
Take away: Periodically check back in on the prices of your flight. If you see a lower price, find the original booking and “Change Reservation” and rebook to the lower price.
Routes Southwest Doesn’t Sell, but they do fly?
It’s interesting because if you look at Southwest’s route map, it will show blue lines to nearly every single location. Red lines are direct flights, which out of all the lines, direct flights are a small percent of the lines usually. But these blue lines show up regardless.
All the blue line means is that you are simply able to to book from one city to another. Well can’t you connect and go to every single city period?
For example, Southwest hasn’t started their flight from Chicago to Cancun yet. But they have started their flight from Atlanta to Cancun.
You would assume that you could type in Chicago to Cancun and it will connect for you in Atlanta, right? But no. My assumption is that Southwest doesn’t like to give people overnight layovers and since the Atlanta flight to Cancun is really early in the morning, they just don’t offer Chicago to Cancun.
Of course, you can go ahead and book a flight from Chicago to Atlanta, and then another flight the next morning from Atlanta to Cancun, but Southwest, for whatever reason doesn’t want to do that for you.
Perhaps the idea is that Southwest doesn’t feel it’s currently competing in the Chicago to Cancun market if it can’t serve you better, and that an overnight in Atlanta really isn’t better. And perhaps they will start flights that do better at reaching Cancun without annoying connections.
Take away: Southwest basically allows every city to fly to any other Southwest city, with a few exceptions. And of those few exceptions you can still book the connection yourself.
Southwest is the oddest pricing system. In many ways it’s more logical than most airlines, and yet in many ways it leaves some hacks wide open.
The thing to know, which I’ve said, is that Southwest prices solely by city pairs. What this means is that when you look for a certain ticket, say Denver to Little Rock, it will be one price regardless of the routing. Of course the pricing system has other variables, mainly how full the flight is.
But all things being equal, Southwest will price a flight from Denver to Little Rock the same if it’s direct, if it’s through Houston, or if it’s through Chicago. The main calculation for price is based off the starting city and the ending city, and not the route.
This is a really funny effect, when Southwest has a sale from Denver to Little Rock and the tickets are suddenly cheaper than tickets from Denver to Chicago and cheaper than tickets from Denver to Houston. So in these cases, if I needed a ticket from Denver to Chicago or Houston, I could get off the plane and skip the last segment to Little Rock.
Now understand that when you skip a segment, the rest of the flight will likely be canceled. But if I booked a oneway, and it was the last segment I wanted anyways, it makes no difference.
That’s hack 5a. Got it?
Take away: if you’re flying to or from a hub, check for sales to cities with lower prices, that may route you through your desired city to get there.
5b is simply that it works both ways. Sometimes the city pair prices are higher than connecting through a city.
For example, I found that Southwest will let you book tickets from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Prices were 13,300 points for a oneway that routed through Orlando. However, I then looked up each segment in oneways, and guess what I found?
- San Juan – Orlando = 6,230
- Orlando – Montego Bay = 3,290
In other words, the price of the ticket from San Juan to Montego Bay would be cheaper if both segments of the flight were booked separately. In this example you would save 3,780 points by booking these flights separately.
Take away: Southwest prices are city-pair based. In some cases, checking prices to/from the connection city separately will save you money/points.
Southwest is an awesome program. I can’t emphasize that enough. If you haven’t read How to Maximize the Southwest Companion Pass, you should. We are going to milk so many flights out of this Companion Pass. And that post breaks down all the fees of Caribbean destinations as well as points hotels in the Caribbean destinations. It is a resource.
Although the Companion Pass gets well deserved discussion, much of the other details of Southwest get overlooked. Yet, I have a feeling a lot of people are looking for an airline just like Southwest. So I hope you found at least one gem in this post. If you have any other details for Southwest, or tips that I should be using or investigating, please let me know.