Sometimes I forget that not everyone is as obsessed with travel, miles and points as I am (and like many of you who read this blog regularly, admit it!). From time to time, my friends and family ask me which credit card they should get to travel with their family for free.
If their goal is to travel within the USA or to the Caribbean, my #1 answer is always a credit card that allows them to fly using Southwest Rapid Rewards points. However, I’m surprised at how many people don’t want to fly Southwest and ask for a different recommendation. (If you’re my friend reading this and you think I’m talking about you, it’s not just you—at least a dozen people I know don’t want to fly on Southwest Airlines with kids).
Not having an assigned seat and getting separated from your kids is a big fear. I get it! But, flying Southwest Airlines with kids is not as tough as you may think. Let me explain why I recommend Southwest Airlines for family travel in the first place
- The points needed for flights are usually lower than American, Delta and United. Unlike some major airlines where a round-trip flight within the U.S. costs a fixed 25,000 miles round-trip, the points cost on Southwest depends on the price of the cash ticket. When Southwest has a fare sale (which is every week), you can get some great value from Southwest Rapid Rewards. I’ve flown for as little as ~1400 points one-way. Such a bargain!
- Bags fly free. Even if your family just uses one suitcase, that’s a $50 savings round-trip.
- You can change or cancel flights on points very easily. When you book a flight using Rapid Rewards points, you can easily change your flight online if the price drops, and you will receive a refund of your points. You can also cancel your flight and receive all of your points back, and get a credit of the $5.60 9/11 fee for later use. Other airlines have hefty fees ($150-$200) for redepositing miles.
- You can earn a companion pass that allows one person to always fly free. If you earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year, you earn a companion pass that gets one person free flights on both paid and award flights. Most people accomplish this by signing up for two Chase Southwest credit cards and charging expenses for a few months to meet the 110k requirement. I’ve earned a companion pass twice, and it saved us a ton of money!
You may be thinking that’s fine all and dandy, but not enough to overcome the cattle call at boarding time and the possibility of being seated separately from your kids. But by using these tips, you are almost guaranteed to sit with your kids on Southwest Airlines.
Use Family Boarding
Southwest Airlines offers family boarding for families with children ages 6 and under. It used to be ages 4 and under, but Southwest increased the age this past year after feedback and surveys.
Family boarding happens between the A and B groups. My family uses it every time, and we have never had to sit apart. Never, and we have flown on dozens of Southwest flights. We head to the back of the plane where rows of empty seats are usually available.
Last fall, I emailed Southwest to ask about how to sit with a child that is over the official age required for family boarding. A representative called me at home and we chatted. One thing she said was that Southwest does not card the kids using the family boarding! A Southwest employee will not verify that your kids are 6 or under.
I regularly see families in the family boarding line with kids that appear to be well over 6 years old. Nobody bats an eye. Just sayin’.
Buy Earlybird Check-In
For an extra $15 per person, you can buy Earlybird Check-In, which automatically checks you in 36 hours prior to the flight. Many times, this will get you in the A boarding group before family boarding, although that is not guaranteed.
If you buy Earlybird Check-In when you reserve your ticket (on points or cash), you will get a lower boarding number than if you wait until a few days before your flight.
Spending this extra money might still be less expensive than using points on another airline, and it could be worth it for the peace of mind to sit by your kids.
Ask an Employee for Help
If you or your kids have a disability (physical or cognitive) that requires early boarding, talk to a Southwest employee. You can request a preboarding document from the gate agent.
If for some reason you find that there are not enough open seats to sit next to your kid(s), ask a flight attendant for help. Flight attendants often ask other passengers to move to accommodate families on many flights. They even try to accommodate teenagers sitting close to parents.
The truth is, nobody wants to sit by your kids if they are young enough to need assistance. It’s in everyone’s best interest to seat families together!
And when you ask for help, remember the expression “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
Edited to add: See article in comments posted by reader Hilary. This law isn’t in effect yet, but will hopefully make it even easier to sit next to your kids in mid-2017!
If this hasn’t put your mind at ease about flying Southwest Airlines with kids, then don’t do it. Seriously. If it’s going to create undue stress for your vacation, don’t do it! Vacations should be enjoyed.
On the other hand, if you’re ready to use miles to fly Southwest with your family, here are some ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points:
Chase Sapphire Preferred
I’m listing this card first because the annual fee is waived the first year, which is attractive to many people who are new to the miles and points hobby. This card has a bonus of 50k Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4k in the first three months. Adding an authorized user is worth another 5k points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio. After completing minimum spending on this card combined with adding an authorized user, you would have 59k points. Depending on the price, that could net a lot of flights on Southwest!
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Update: This offer is no longer available. See Hot Deals for current info.
This card is like the card above on steroids. The bonus is 100k Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4k in the first three months. However, the $450 annual fee is not waived. Ouch.
But, the card has a $300 per calendar year travel credit. You can get that credit for buying airline or hotel gift cards directly from travel sites, putting money down on a cruise, or paying directly for a hotel or airline ticket. Since it’s the end of the year, you could get a $300 credit in December and another $300 in January. So, the $600 in travel credits effectively wipe out the annual fee.
You can spend UR points through the CSR portal for travel at 1.5 cents per point, which is a slightly better value than converting to Southwest points. However, I still recommend converting to Southwest points to book flights because you have more flexibility than if you booked through the CSR portal. If you cancel or change your award flights, points are refunded into your account for later use. However, if you book through the CSR portal and cancel, you can only use your flight credit for up to a year from your purchase date.
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards
Update: This offer has changed. See Hot Deals for current info.
Right now, the public sign-up bonus is 40,000 points. However, existing card members have referrals for a version with 50,000 bonus points. Here is Leana’s referral link for the Premier version of the card with a $99 annual fee. Get the 50k bonus points after spending $2000 in the first three months.
There is a Plus version of the card with a $69 annual fee. If you are trying to get a companion pass, search for a current cardmember for a referral for the 50k version of this card. Read more about the companion pass here
If you have opened more than 4 new credit cards in the past 2 years, please read up on Chase’s 5/24 rule.
Readers, what are your thoughts on flying Southwest Airlines with kids? Easy peasy, or stressful?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.