Southwest: You are now free from airline stupidity
In the cut-throat world of commercial airline travel, the concept of ‘reward miles’ has come to be used as a powerful tool for keeping frequent travelers coming back to the same airline, time and time again. More recently, as discount airlines entered the fray, we saw the beginnnings of a new variant on the classic ‘miles’ theme: rewards points. Airlines such as AirTran and Southwest started giving away coupons or points based on each one-way flight a customer took, regardless of the length of the flight or how many stopovers it entailed. Once you accumlate a set number of points through one of these programs, you’re entitled to a free roundtrip flight, usually anywhere in the continental U.S.
Southwest is one of the discount airlines offering such a program. With Southwest’s Rapid Rewards, you earn one point for each one-way flight (two for a roundtrip, for the math-impaired). After you’ve accumulated 16 points (that’s 8 round trips), you earn a certificate good for roundtrip air travel anywhere in the U.S.
Now, up ’til now, it sounds like a pretty generic program. And that’s what I figured it would be when I signed up and started collecting points. But recently, I hit the magical 16-point mark, and decided to cash in my certificate for a flight from Manchester to Philly and back. I decided I wanted to go about 3 weeks in the future, and first off, I checked to see what the flight would cost if I paid cash for it–$380. In other words, only the expensive seats were left (Southwest uses a system with about 5 price tiers–this flight normally costs between $85 and $450 RT). Nevertheless, I had no problem booking rewards travel through the website, without ever having to pick up the phone or wrestle with complicated blackout dates.
I admit I was pretty impressed with how smoothly the booking went, but it’s what happened next that I couldn’t believe. I was on vacation in Orlando, FL, and decided I’d like to leave a little early. I called up Southwest on a Tuesday night, explained that I’d already booked a trip from Manchester-Philly, but that I’d like to change it to a one-way from Orlando back to Manchester. When the customer service rep. on the other end asked me when I wanted to fly, and I said ‘tomorrow,’ I figured she’d immediately start laughing at me, or at least announce there’d be a huge fee for changing my reservation. Instead, she put me on a flight the next evening, and told me there was no charge for the change. I’ll repeat that.
Southwest doesn’t charge a fee to change a Rapid Rewards reservation, even at the last minute.
The story gets better. The next morning it turned out I didn’t need the flight back, so I sheepishly called Southwest back and told them I needed to cancel the one-way from Orlando to Manchester, and I’d like to re-book the original flight to Philly. Without even a hesitation, the agent put me back on the same flights I had been on just two days before, and politely wished me a good day. Once again, no fee, no admonition from the person on the other end of the phone, and no whining about blackout dates.
The American Airlines Snack Box, or, What the Heck is a Lorna Doone?
In this day and age, it seems like most airlines believe that cutting their prices and services will help them attract customers while keeping them in the black. On the flight I ended up taking back from Florida, on American Airlines, I was told that I needed to pay $4 for a snack-pack consisting of crackers and peanuts.
Southwest Peanuts: Dry and boring like the Snack Pack, but priced to move
It wasn’t so much that I was being asked to pay for food (I understand that not everyone eats the free food, so it’s a huge waste for the airline, so several have begun offering items such as Bennigan’s sandwiches on an a la carte menu), but rather that my only option was to buy the same junk I used to get for free.
When I expressed surprise to the flight attendant, she said, “How long has it been since you’ve flown…oh wait, you were on Southwest, right?”
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