(Try to) Book Holiday Flights – Southwest Schedule Open Through 1/5/14

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Unlike some of the legacy airlines, Southwest doesn’t have a schedule that is constantly open for roughly 11 months out.  Instead, they open it up in phases for 8-9 months out at a time.  Just yesterday they opened their schedule through January 5, 2014.  This means you can now use points, credits, or cash to book holiday flights on Southwest.  This is great news for families that want to make plans to be together for the holidays…but there is a catch.

The catch is that the “Wanna Get Away” availability for high travel dates is either barely there, or isn’t there at all.  Southwest has a reputation for “no blackout dates”, and being able to use your points on any flight that there are tickets for sale, so what’s the problem?  Well, technically you can use your Rapid Rewards points on any of these flights where seats are for sale.  However, the number of points required can be quite high on expensive flights, and even higher when there are no Wanna Get Away fares available (which is happening on some routes on peak holiday travel days).  Since the number of Rapid Reward points required is tied directly to the fare, some Southwest flyers like to circumvent that issue on more expensive tickets by using the Rapid Rewards Credits to book more expensive tickets since they are not tied to the price of the fare.  This was the system Southwest used exclusively until a year or two ago.

The process to get these credits is easy enough if you have Southwest points (which can also be transferred in from Ultimate Rewards via cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Plus® Business Card) by transferring those fixed value Southwest points to AirTran credits, and then AirTran credits back to Southwest Credits using the following conversions.

1,200 Rapid Rewards Points = 1 A+ Rewards Credit

1 Rapid Rewards Credit = 1 A+ Rewards Credit

1 Standard Award = 16 A+ Rewards Credits

1 Freedom Award = 32 A+ Rewards Credits

It costs 16 credits for a round trip standard award.  This is the equivalent of 19,200 Southwest points that have a fixed value of about $319 (1.66 cents each toward Wanna Get Away Fares).  So, if the ticket you want to book costs more than that, it can pay to go through this process to book via an award based on credits, not points.  There is a very good Southwest site devoted to walking you through this process.  The trick is even though you can book any Southwest ticket for sale using the fixed value points, you play by different rules using credits.

With credits, there has to be standard award availability to book with just 16 credits – and this is capacity controlled.  There is no way to check this for a given flight yourself if you don’t already have 16 credits in your account.  You can call Southwest, or beg a Flyertalker to help you, but if there is no Wanna Get Away tickets for sale, I highly doubt there would be any standard awards available.  Though the presence of Wanna Get Away fares doesn’t necessarily ensure there is standard award availability either.

What does this all mean if you want to fly Southwest for the holidays?  It means do your homework.  Check the routes/dates you want to fly and see the going price in dollars or points then compare those rates to other airlines.  If you like the price, book.  You can always get a credit or points refund if the price drops later.  If the price is more than $319 round trip you can consider converting Southwest points to AirTran credits and then to Southwest credits to book a standard award, but check availability first since it is far from guaranteed around the holidays.

Do your holiday travel plans involve Southwest?  If, so where are you in the booking process?

 

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Comments

  1. I noticed that the fares were up yesterday. However, my 52K points are showing on my credit card statement, but haven’t posted to my Southwest account. I am paying my bill early in hopes that will speed the process along. Any thoughts as to how long it takes the points to post?

  2. if you decide to transfer to credits, remember that in the event that you don’t end up using them immediately, you will not be able to convert the credits back to points, which means you will eventually need to do a credit redemption.

  3. I have a few old-style Standard Rewards for which I’m actually having a somewhat tough time finding a great redemption. Luckily, so long as Southwest allows transfers to AirTran and back again, it means it’s possible to reset the expiration date on those Standard Rewards. (I did this once about six months ago, and then did it again last month, so the expiration date for them is now April 2014!) I had hoped to use the Standard Rewards for a Thanksgiving trip once the booking window opened, but even though I started looking around 9am EST (which was only a few hours after it opened), there was nothing available for the last three weeks of November for me.

    Similarly, when trying to use points, I found that Wanna Get Away was non-existent for Sunday December 1, even when looking at every combination of my three local SWA airports and the four LAX-area SWA airports. Luckily, though, Monday Dec 2 availability was pretty good and relatively cheap, and with our dual Companion Pass status, our roundtrip coast-to-coast for a family of four was only 50,000 points (which transferred instantly to SWA from my 50k Chase Ink signup bonus) 🙂 Overall, I love the idea that a single credit card signup was enough for our family to fly during one of the busiest times of the year!

  4. So a “Standard Award” is any “Wanna Get Away” Fare? So instead of using 35,760 points, I could transfer 19200 out and back to get the flight?

  5. I was able to book from TPA to MDW on Dec 21 returning Dec 25th on the Cheap “Wanna Get Away” Web only Fares! Thanks for the heads up!

  6. I always appreciate the heads up for Southwest’s schedule changes. I was in the middle of helping my Dad try to book a relatively complicated itinerary for the holidays, and now the total price is better with Southwest added into the mix.

    Thanks.

  7. @NickO, in my experience, the inventory lately for Standard Award availability is significantly smaller than Wanna Get Away. As time goes by and fewer and fewer people have Standard Awards to use, it wouldn’t surprise me if Southwest is setting aside fewer and fewer seats for those Awards. Since it’s a one-way street (once converted from points to credits/awards, they can never go back to being points), there is some slight risk there.
    For example, searching on BOS to LAX flight availability for Standard Awards, I see:
    – June: 1 day out, nothing back
    – July: nothing
    – August: 5 days out, 4 days back
    – Sept: Good availability every day
    – Oct: 13 days out, 7 days back
    – Nov: 14 days out, 11 days back (nothing after 11/21)
    – Dec: Solid availability for the first two weeks, zero availability for the last two weeks (nothing after 12/17)
    Whereas, for those same flights and months, Wanna Get Away fares are nearly always available (every day I checked, up until 12/1, the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend).

  8. So glad this was helpful to some of you!
    Nick, don’t transfer the points without first checking for award availability as it may or may not be there via the old credits system. When it is there it is great for the expensive fares, but as Keith points out, availability can be hit or miss and even tougher around the holidays. So, it is a very useful trick…but only if the flights you want are available via the credits system.

  9. Thanks Keith and M.P.
    Ok. How do I search standard availability? Is that what I need to post for help on FlyerTalk?

  10. @NickO, to search for Standard Award availability, you either need to have such an award already in your account, or know someone who does. It looks like people on the FT thread are pretty quick to respond to such requests.

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