Big Southwest Airlines flight sales only happen a couple of times a year (with more minor ones in the mix regularly), so it’s really important for travelers to know how to take full advantage of the savings. I write often about how much I love Southwest for family travel, and who doesn’t love saving money flying more generally?
While you are frantically looking for seats for your summer vacations, I thought it would be helpful to take a step back to let readers know how to really make the most of these Southwest flight sales. So even if you are reading this after the current sale madness is over, you can learn how to prepare yourself to fully pounce on the next one.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published when a major summer travel sale was announced on May 15, 2018. These sales come a few times a year so I’ll continue to update this post when the next one comes!
Tips to Maximize Southwest Airlines Sales
1. Book Early
As you can probably imagine, seats are limited in all airline fare sales. The early bird gets the worm! Although these fare sales often extend three and four days long, you will find the most availability on the first day. Southwest almost always announces major fare sales on Tuesday mornings, so be on the lookout and clear your calendar to start the hunt when the prices drop.
Sale fares usually only are available on advance purchase tickets that are advertised as Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” fares. Although these fares are Southwest’s cheapest, do not worry! They are not the disadvantaged “basic economy” fares that some airlines offer. They are a regular advanced purchase economy ticket. You still get free checked bags, a free carry on and a personal item, and a fair shake in Southwest’s unique boarding process to select your seats. I purchase Wanna Get Away Fares almost exclusively myself and can recommend them highly.
2. Claim Fare Drop Credits
So many people groan when they see that their airline of choice is having a fare sale not long after they booked flights. With Southwest, however, there is no need to despair!
Believe it or not, Southwest will give you a credit back on all pre-existing reservations if the price drops later on your booking. So many infrequent travelers don’t know about this option, so I’m definitely making it my mission to spread the word.
That means it always pays to check your Southwest flight reservation regularly, but especially so during major fare sales. I personally have three friends who told me just this morning they saved some substantial money on flights they had already booked using this option.
If this feature is news to you, how does the process work? It’s not automatic so you have to pay attention and take the right steps to claim the credit. One option is to change your booking online by modifying your reservation (you are essentially canceling and rebooking at the lower price). Or you can call Southwest’s phone representatives to have them do it for you if you are worried you will mess it up. Just be sure to use all credits within a year of the date that you booked your original flight before they expire. It is also important to remember that these fare credits are not transferable to other people, so they have to be used by the same person from the original ticket.
3. Go Crazy with Tentative Points Bookings!
While cash is king, I think that fare sales are the best times to use your Rapid Rewards points, especially if you are making more tentative flight bookings. Why? Because points reservations are fully refundable and more flexible than cash bookings. If you book a flight with points during a sale and later cancel it, those points will be redeposited to your account with no restrictions. Plus, the $5.60 per flight airport security fee that you must pay with cash can be refunded directly to your credit card. In short, points reservations don’t have the limitation of having only one year to use a credit if you decide to cancel a reservation.
Of course, if you don’t have points, by all means make those cash bookings – even tentative ones – knowing you can take advantage of Southwest’s price drop fare credit policy.
4. Use the Flexible Dates Fare Calendar
I see regularly on social media that so many travelers plug date after date into Southwest’s booking engine only to become frustrated and say they cannot find the advertised fares for the sale. So I thought I’d publicize a little pro tip so you aren’t one of those people.
There is no need to waste this kind of time! Why? Because Southwest has a tool that lets you easily see the dates where the prices are lowest for any route of your choice. Look for the little box that says “Flexible Dates” and use it as a starting point for a lot of searches very quickly.
For example, I always check my home airport of Oakland down to Orange County for last-minute Disneyland vacations. Here is what the search results look like for me using this tool. Lots and lots of August availability at the $49 sale fare and even more at $69.
5. Always Be Planning for the Next Big Sale
Even if you can’t take advantage of the current fare sale, I want you to be ready for the next one! I always am and want to share my secrets for how you can do that too.
First, always have a healthy stash of Southwest points in your Rapid Rewards account. One easy way to earn points is getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card from Chase. The card regularly has big signup bonuses for new customers and, of course, you earn on all spending you put on the card (2x for Southwest spending!). Apply using my referral link for the Plus version of the card HERE ($69 annual fee, currently offering 40,000 points in signup bonuses for spending $1000 on the card in 3 months time).
Second, always make sure you are earning points for all the travels you are already doing. So many family travelers forget to sign their kids up for frequent flyer accounts. You and everyone in your family – even babies! – can have a Rapid Rewards account.
Third, consider other ways to earn Southwest points. I am personally a fan of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, which transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest points whenever my balance gets a tad low. That way, I always have enough points to be able to take advantage quickly when sales are announced (and I can also use the points for other airlines or hotels as needed).
Finally, make sure you are subscribed to all Southwest Airlines email alerts. I know we all hate getting extra email in our inboxes, but I find the Southwest emails often save me big money. They alert me to these fare sales (there was one in my inbox before I even woke up this morning!), let me know when there are special promotions that help me earn more miles, and keep me aware of new routes that might allow me to fly Southwest to destinations I previously could not.
Did you snag some deals in the current Southwest sale? How are you preparing to take advantage of the next one?
Disclosure: I’m a paid #SouthwestStorytellers ambassador for the airline in 2018.