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The last time we flew Southwest as a family my now second-grader was a one-year-old toddler on her way to Disney World for the very first time. It was so long ago that I hadn’t even yet started this blog. I think we selected Southwest for that trip because I earned some Southwest credits from flying around Texas from my job with the state that we needed to use before they expired. This was way back when 16 Southwest credits = one free round trip, but they expired if you didn’t hit the mark in time, so we used them while we could. When we lived in Austin we flew Southwest pretty regularly not just for work but also for fun. We stopped flying them almost seven years ago after that trip to Orlando primarily because once we moved to the Houston area, the airport they served in the area, Hobby, was simply not at all convenient for us.
We live north of Houston and can get to Bush Intercontinental within 30 – 35 minutes or so if traffic isn’t bad. However, to get to Hobby you basically have to walk through the fires of Mordor, AKA get all the way through the traffic pit of Houston. That can take hours, is very stressful, and is not at all the way we like to start and end a trip.
So for close to seven years, we have not really ever even considered flying Southwest…until today. Last summer Josh and I had a fantastic trip to the Andaz Costa Rica, and after falling in love with not only the property, but also the on-site kid’s club and the ladies that watch the little ones there, we decided to return for a family trip next summer. At just 15,000 Hyatt points per night with an included kid’s club, it was a no-brainer decision.
I’ve had the hotel award nights booked on points since shortly after our last trip, but I’ve been watching and waiting for United to make some saver awards available from Houston to Liberia as the schedule for next summer opened up, but it simply hasn’t happened. Paid flights on United or any other similar airline are $500 – $1,000 each, and prices are often towards the higher end of that range for the nonstop flights we would want.
Because the airfare pieces weren’t coming together, I had all but scratched this destination from next year’s list when I decided to check Southwest. I knew they started a Houston – Liberia route a year or two ago and their international prices are often quite fair even when others have clearly gone nuts.
While their booking window currently only extends until the first week of June 2018, that was enough for me to determine that they are going to be the clear winner in this contest. In fact, they will be what saves this trip to Costa Rica because I’m not giving United thousands of dollars for a three-hour round-trip journey or connecting in Canada to secure a saver award, which are United’s only real options. I know other options may present themselves as we get closer to next summer, but I strongly prefer to book our “big” family trips well in advance and last summer United wasn’t stellar about saver availability on this route even close-in.
Instead of the $800 – $900 or 70,000 miles per round trip that United currently wants to travel from Houston to Costa Rica next summer, Southwest is only charging 8,856 points each way + taxes. For a round trip that comes to 17,712 Rapid Reward points + $75.02 in taxes and fees. Keep in mind that even if United had saver awards available, they would be 17,500 miles each way and the same taxes and fees as booking through Southwest.
For the four of us, that would come to a grand total of 70,848 Rapid Reward points + $300.08 in taxes and fees. That is still a decent chunk of points and change, but a manageable one. You can transfer Rapid Reward points from Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1 if you are running low. Since only standard awards are available for our preferred dates, booking via United for the same exact dates and routes (albeit from the closer Houston airport) would cost 300,000 United miles + $300.08 in taxes and fees. I don’t know about you, but that price differential is more than enough to get me to drive through Houston this one time for our flights.
With Southwest, we will also have access to $8 per day per device satellite-based WiFi (on enabled aircraft) which I’m sure Josh will use, free live and on-demand television which I’m sure the kids will use, free checked bags that I hope we don’t use, and the time-honored tradition of fun and exciting open seating. Honestly, that part really makes Josh raise an eyebrow, so I won’t be shocked if he wants us to do the $15 Early-Bird Check-In to help secure a higher boarding group position by having the computer check us in at T-36, but we’ll see. Since we have a kiddo six or under travel with us, the worst we would do is boarding after the A group during the family boarding time even if we forgot to check ourselves in at T – 24.
I recently flew on Southwest with a friend on a short hop from Austin to Houston, so I have personally flown them once in the past seven years and it was a totally fine short flight. However, returning to the Southwest travel experience with my family will be a change of pace for us, but one that I actually welcome. I mean, worst case scenario they serve sparkling wine, and we have beautiful Costa Rica waiting for us on the other end of the journey.
Best case scenario is we don’t mind the drive through Mordor to Hobby as much as we used to now that the kids will be 3 and 8, we have a great flight, and the Companion Pass comes into real discussion as a travel tool our family can use to save a ton…especially if the heavily rumored Southwest Hawaii flights become a reality in the near future!
If Southwest is a good fit for your family, remember the 60,000 point credit card offers are said to only be running for a few more days until October 4, 2017, and if you time it right those bonuses can help you earn almost two years of a Companion Pass.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.