Anyone who has flown with kids knows it’s not all puppies and rainbows. Kids can definitely bring some fun to the table, but they can add to the stress — and cost — of your travels, too.
It’s no wonder many families can’t afford to get away. Even if they can score a stellar deal on a hotel or resort, the costs of reaching a far-flung destination can be prohibitive. (See Also: 6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel with Credit Cards)
Southwest Airlines Makes Family Travel Affordable
Fortunately, at least one airline has answered the call of travel-hungry families. Through its award-winning loyalty program, Southwest Rapid Rewards, families of all sizes can score discounted and free flights across the United States and to the Caribbean. Better yet, the airline offers a slew of benefits that make travel cheaper across the board.
Airline Policies That Are Great For Families
Southwest’s family-friendly policies start with how you buy your ticket and end with the fact Southwest doesn’t impose any “hidden” charges. Here are a few of the most important benefits Southwest offers:
- No checked bag fees. Whether you pay with cash or frequent flyer miles, you get two free checked bags per person when you book a flight with Southwest. Since most airlines charge $25 per checked bag on domestic routes, this saves the average family of four $100 per trip.
- No change fees or cancellation fees. The fact that Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge any change fees or cancellation fees really sets it apart. If your travel plans change for any reason, you can switch your flight on Southwest regardless of how the price has changed.
If it’s gone up, you’ll need to pay the difference. If your fare has gone down, on the other hand, you’ll get a refund in the form of a flight credit. And if you need to cancel your flight altogether, you’ll get a flight credit to use toward future travel. But unlike other airlines that charge hundreds of dollars in change fees, you won’t pay anything extra just for altering your plans. That’s a huge peace of mind for parents.
- Unique seating and boarding arrangement. Southwest Airlines does not have assigned seating. Instead, prior to boarding passengers are put in groups A through C, and lined up within those groups on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once you’re on the plane, you choose your seats from whatever is available. If you want the best choice of seats, or for your entire family to sit together, you’ll need to get in the A group. You can accomplish this feat by checking in online for your flight exactly 24 hours before you depart. If you get in group A, there’s a good chance you’ll get prime seating options for your family without having to pay extra.
It’s worth noting that some people hate not having assigned seats. Because your boarding place relies on your promptness during the check-in process, you may have to board last if you don’t check in early enough. On a full flight, that usually means getting stuck in a middle seat in the back — and away from your family or friends. Southwest does off the chance to upgrade your boarding place at the gate. Pay $30–$40 per seat, and you’re guaranteed an A1–A15 boarding position.
- Family boarding. Southwest Airlines offers special boarding for families with kids under the age of 6. If you’re traveling with children in tow, you can board the plane immediately after group A, whether you checked in early or not.
Earning Points Through Travel
What makes Southwest affordable to families is all the ways you can earn free travel through the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. Once you sign up, there are several ways to earn Rapid Rewards points, the most obvious being by flying on Southwest. Depending on which type of fare you choose — Wanna Get Away fares, Anytime fares, or Business Select — you’ll earn 6-12 points for each dollar you spend on a Southwest ticket.
If you’re a business flyer who travels with Southwest often, earning 6-12 points per dollar can mean racking up points fast.
Boost Your Earning Power With Credit Cards
Thankfully, you can easily add to your points balance every day using Southwest’s co-branded airline credit cards, as well as the Southwest shopping portal and dining program. Both the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus credit cards allow you to earn additional points on Southwest flights, Rapid Rewards partner hotels and car rentals, and other purchases. (See also: Best Sign-Up Bonuses for Airline Miles Credit Cards)
Earn Even More With Chase Sapphire Preferred®
If your goal is earning free flights and you aren’t satisfied with just using a co-branded Southwest credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is another option to consider. With this card, you’ll earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points on dining and travel, and 1x point for all other purchases. As an added bonus, you’ll score 50,000 bonus points after you use your card for $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. The annual fee is $95, waived the first year.
While Chase points can be used to book all kinds of travel, they are especially lucrative for people who fly Southwest. Why? Because Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest Airlines at a 1:1 ratio.
If you want to rack up points fast, consider getting both the Southwest Plus Card and the Sapphire Preferred. With both cards in your wallet – and both signup bonuses, you’ll have enough points to book up to five round-trip domestic flights. (See also: 5 Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)
You may also be able to earn a one-year free companion pass, another amazing Southwest benefit. It allows you to bring someone with you for free whenever you buy or redeem points for a flight. You get the pass after you’ve earned 110,000 points in one year. (See also: Best Credit Cards With Airline Companion Tickets)
Icing on the Cake: Rewards Shopping and Dining Programs
You don’t have to get either credit card to take advantage of Rapid Rewards shopping bonuses, though. Simply by being a Rapid Rewards member, you can earn extra points for online purchases of all kinds of merchandise when you go through the Southwest shopping portal. You’ll earn anywhere from 1 – 20 points per dollar spent at hundreds of popular retailers available in the online mall. If you do use a Southwest credit card, you can stack your rewards, earning an extra 1 point/dollar on top of whatever the retailer is offering.
In addition, you can sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program using any credit card. Once you do, you’ll earn up to 3 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Write a review of your experience for extra points.
Don’t Go Into Debt for Points
With so many great ways to earn points, it’s easy to see why Southwest and its rewards program are great for families.
A word of caution, though. As with any credit card rewards program, it doesn’t make sense to charge things you can’t afford to pay off right away, just to rack up more points. Your interest charges will be larger than the value of the rewards points.
If you need to carry a balance for a while, you’re better off skipping the rewards and using a 0% interest credit card for purchases, or focusing on paying down debt with a balance transfer credit card. Once you get to a place where you’re debt-free and can clear your balance every month, then you can consider getting into the rewards game.