Money Saving Monday: Air Travel

By Stew

I set out to write a post about how to get the best deal on air travel. My list consisted of the following:

  • Book travel as far in advance as possible.
  • Use an air travel aggregator site.
  • Get an airline “miles” credit card.
  • Look for airlines that feature child fares.

That is a pretty good list, not too much wrong with it, but most of you knew all of that already.

Mrs. Stew and I are veteran flyers. I fly five to ten times a year for business. Mrs. Stew flew four to six times a year while she was in college and we have continued to fly throughout our marriage, both before and after our children were born. Our seven year old has flown over a dozen times in her life and I think our five year old flew four times before she was two. In recent years, we have flown less as a family since it usually costs less to drive five people a thousand miles than to pay for five round trips, but we still have reason to fly fairly often – always to see family. This last fall, Mrs. Stew flew to see her parents with all three of our children in tow.

If you see us in the airport, we are family with three children each pulling a roller backpack through the terminal. We are also the family whose two year old understands how to get through security and knows to whom he needs to hand his boarding pass. Our kids do not scream on flights, they enjoy talking to the flight attendants and ordering their in-flight beverage.

That said, years ago we quit using flight aggregator websites to get the best price. We used to hunker down in front of the computer, checking multiple websites and different airports, trying to get the best possible price. We quickly learned where to get the best fares: Southwest Airlines.

I know, I know, you think I am being paid to say this, but the fact is, neither I nor Mike will get a dime from Southwest for this post – that is one way they keep costs low – I think. Southwest is not on the usual aggregator sites, you have to book directly through their site. But here is how Southwest is beating the competition in my estimation:

  • Fares: the bottom line is the bottom line. I recently flew on Southwest for $112 round trip. I keep tabs on the other airlines, but they never beat Southwest.
  • Free bags: Southwest is the only airline who does not charge extra for checked bags – both bags! There are still weight requirements, but your first two bags are free. This is a $50 savings over most airlines right off the top – that is if you are only checking one bag.
  • Venues: When we first started flying Southwest, venue was a problem, the nearest airport that carried Southwest was a three hour drive from our house. Even then it was a better deal to drive and park than to fly other airlines. Since then Southwest has added a huge number of places and serves the whole country. I have flown everywhere from Philadelphia to Portland to San Diego to Charlotte to Miami to Denver to Phoenix to Las Vegas to Minneapolis and more on Southwest.
  • Flight credits: I have earned a number of free flights through Southwest. The best trip we ever took as a family was when both of our daughters were under two years old. I had earned a free flight for my wife and both of my children were free. I booked a flight for myself and our entire family of four flew 2,000 miles round trip for $179.
  • Children under two are free. They are considered a “lap child”. Be sure to bring a birth certificate and make sure your child has an aptitude for contentment while being held . . .
  • Friendliness: Customer service is really important to me, but I will rarely pay extra for it . . . at Southwest, we get frugal value and great customer service. I can sincerely say that after ten years of flying Southwest, I have yet to have a bad experience with anyone connected with the company.
  • Changes to itineraries: If you miss your flight or have to cancel, it takes some talking, but Southwest has almost always let me used my money toward a flight that works better for me. There are fees to change an itinerary, but I almost always get those fees reduced one way or another. One time, I missed my flight because of traffic in Chicago. Southwest booked me on the next available flight without charging me another penny.
  • On time: I have never been on a Southwest flight that was late – even in terrible weather. In fact, most of the time, I find that I am ten to twenty minutes early.

There might be things that you don’t like about Southwest – no first class, only 737′s, no assigned seats, limited meal service – but if you are only looking at the bottom line, SA is the way to go.

Article by Stew

Photo by doortoriver


7 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Money Saving Monday: Air Travel”

  1. Laura Says:

    I have been a huge southwest fan for years! I agree with all your points! The only problem I ever have it more layovers than necessary. I
    also wanted to point out that when you fly alone the cattle call, pick your own sear is really nice! I scope people out beforehand and have actually met some really interesting people on the plane! Happy holiday travel!

  2. dramon Says:

    Well, I typically really like Southwest as well, but it does depend on where you are flying. For example, to Chicago, they may have the cheapest air fairs, but if I have to pay $50 more to get a shuttle to where I need to go, it is not always the cheapest.

    I really like they don’t charge you for bags (even though I rarely check bags) and are very pleasant, they seem to enjoy their jobs. They are also great for the three point travels versus a straight round trip.

  3. Craig Says:

    I have had a lot of success with kayak.com. In Europe they have some good cheap airlines as well.

  4. LIssa Says:

    Our family is also a Southwest fan. Since our families live in SoCal (we’re in NorCal), we don’t fly with anyone else. We haven’t had any trouble when we fly with them. The free baggages definitely help as well. This Christmas is the first time we’re paying for our son’s seat (he’s more than 2 years old now) but I still think that his airfare is relatively cheap.

  5. High Interest Savings Account Says:

    Just came across your blog today and I really like the design. Is this movable type or wordpress?

  6. Reise Laender Says:

    Well, Southwest has several vacation package deals especially if you’re traveling with your family. And they have cheaper rates during holiday seasons.

  7. Nicotine : Says:

    vacation packages that are both cheap and have good itinerary is the thing that i always seek *

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