Voyage à Trois

© Icholakov | - Southwest Airlines Jet Airplane Photo

© Icholakov | – Southwest Airlines Jet Airplane Photo

My Love Affair with American and Southwest Airlines

I’ve always been an American Airlines girl. I got my feet wet in their frequent flier program (AAdvantage) and have been fairly faithful to the airline ever since. For years, I only flew another airline when the fare was significantly cheaper, but a lot of my friends were Southwest loyalists. Late last year, I found out why.

Most of my travel has been domestic, although I fantasize about trips to Paris or Buenos Aires. It would only cost about 40,000 AAdvantage miles if I bought my tickets months in advance, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, mainly because I’m the only one of my friends who had enough miles. But I’m also the only one who likes to plan trips more than a few weeks out.

So, before Kaia was born, my travel was typically to two places—Las Vegas and Miami—over and over and over again. For a little while, we were begrudgingly taking advantage of $9 Spirit fares to Miami (Ft. Lauderdale), but if you’ve ever flown Spirit you know that you get what you pay for. Matter of fact, I know it doesn’t sound possible, but you get less—trust me.

For a lot of those trips to Vegas, I was travelling on award tickets. I thought I was awesome if I managed to find a ticket for 25,000 miles roundtrip for weekend travel, especially on holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day. But if I had been flying Southwest, I could have been paying so much less.

Tardy to the Party

Southwest’s mileage program, Rapid Rewards, bases the price of a ticket in miles on the price you’d pay in dollars. So, the cheaper your ticket, the fewer miles you have to spend. For instance, I recently redeemed 14,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket to Orlando. Try finding a ticket that cheap on American. Plus, my fickle travel friends could have changed their minds as many times as they wanted because Southwest doesn’t charge a change or cancel fee even for their reward redemptions.

On American, cancelling a ticket means losing your hard earned miles, or paying cash (currently $150) to keep them. But if you have enough miles, you could literally reserve all the Southwest itineraries you might travel in advance (when the tickets are cheaper) and just cancel the reservations you don’t need. The miles are redeposited in your account virtually instantly.

Another reason to love Southwest is the Companion Pass. How could I have gone so long not knowing about this incredible benefit? All you have to do is earn 110,000 miles in Rapid Rewards within one calendar year and you can take a friend for FREE on all of your Southwest travel for up to two years—even reward tickets.

While that sounds like a lot of miles, the Southwest credit cards offer 50,000 miles for new sign-ups a couple of times a year. Sign up for two of the four card types and meet the requirements for earning your bonus miles and you’re 104,000 miles closer to that companion pass. Just make sure you earn the sign-up bonuses in the same calendar year or you’ll have to sign up for a third card type (or find another way to re-earn those 50,000 miles). Even more importantly, if you’re using credit cards to earn reward miles/points, be sure to pay off your card balance each month so that you don’t get hit with interest and late fees!

It’s Not Cheating if it’s Long Distance

I haven’t given up my dreams of international travel, however, and even post-merger, Southwest doesn’t offer many international destinations. So I will make Southwest my domestic partner and have an affair with another airline for travel overseas. Before Monday, that airline would have been American Airlines. I really wanted to take advantage of the free stopover on an AAdvantage award, but that benefit was eliminated earlier this week.

American isn’t the only player in the international travel market that offered the stopover benefit, however. So while I’ve been loyal to American for a long time, it looks like I might need to find a new partner not only for my domestic travel, but for my international trips, too. Since I already have 50,000 miles on United, I might begin building a closer relationship with their Mileage Plus program.

To be fair, American is just following the trend in devaluing its frequent traveler program. In recent months, Delta, United and even Southwest reduced the value of their miles/points and several hotel programs were gutted as well. If there is one lesson to be learned from this mass devaluation, it’s that miles and points are only worth as much as the airline or hotel operator says they are worth. So you’re better off using them than hoarding them.

There are still ways to make the most of what you have in each program, and I have miles in quite a few. So I guess I better start planning those trips between Hawaii or the Caribbean and Europe, or Argentina, or Brazil or…

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