My Southwest.com Wish List

Southwest.com is a great web site.  I’m on it several times a week and I consider it one of the better ones out there.  However, as someone who has built a web site serving the travel industry, I have some thoughts on how it could be improved.  Why should anyone listen to me?  They shouldn’t, but I do have experience in the implementation of a lot of web sites.  This experience comes specifically around usability design.  As a die-hard Southwest supporter, I would love to help make the experience better for all users.

Home Page

I like the home page because it has all of the links you need while not being terribly “busy”.  It gives me access to most of the information I need and makes it easy to get started booking flights.  From usability studies of travel sites I have been involved in, I know the first thing the user is looking for is the box containing the reservation section.  Southwest does this right.

Southwest.com Home Page

The home page is critical as it is the entry point to the site.  The desktop version of the home page tends to be a bit heavy and you can experience issues on high-latency connections such as LTE or in-flight while you are waiting for scripts to finish loading.  You’ll see these if you try to type in a location too soon.  If the callback doesn’t go and translate your airport code to the name of the full name of the airport, you’ll get an error when you submit your search.

Southwest gets the job done though and it has a bit of personalization through the use of cookies.  You see this right away as it remembers the last flights you search for.  It also has a recent searches pull-down which lets you view other flights you have looked for.

Through the use of cookies, Southwest saves the last flights you searched for.

Through the use of cookies, Southwest saves the last flights you searched for.

We’ll talk about the rest of the reservation process in a bit.  Let’s look at some of the “widgets” on the home page.   In this case, I am referring to the component on the right hand side of the page the provide modular functionality.

Account Log In

The account log in is your key to personalizing the rest of your home page.  It lets you check-in for your upcoming flights as well as see your current Rapid Rewards points.

Southwest.com Login

Southwest.com Login

The Southwest.com login panel features a Remember Me checkbox.  Unfortunately, there is a long history of this working off-and-on over the last four years.  In fact, it has worked so little that it has forced me to remember my Rapid Rewards number.  Right now, I would say this doesn’t work at all.  It did work for most of 2013 though through the use of a cookie.   I’d love to see this fixed.

After logging in

After you log in, the home page shows you some details including your status and number of points.

SouthwestLoggedInStatus

Check In

After you log in, I believe some of the functionality on the home page should change.  For example, the Check In link prompts you for a Confirmation Number, First Name, and Last Name.  Since I am logged in, it should have this information prepopulated with my next flight (especially if I am within 24 hours).

southwestHomeCheckin

Change Flight

Again this is useful on the home page.  However, once I am logged in, it should not prompt me for my details, it should show me a list of all my existing flights and let me continue from there.

Check Flight Status

This is another situation of a widget that should behave differently when you are logged in.  Actually, it should perform this functionality when you are not logged in and it just knows your rapid rewards number.  It should show you all of your upcoming flights and the status without having to click details or take any other action.  I understand that there may be technical hurdles to this.  However, I feel that flight information can be cached every minute and this data can just be queried against the cache.

SouthwestHomeCheckFlightStatus

My Travel

I love this section, it tells me my next flight and my upcoming flight.

SouthwestHomeMyTravel

I also like that this widget, will have a button present when it is time to check in for my flight.  I often find myself refreshing the home page as I am approaching the 24 hour mark to get my check-in as soon as possible.

What’s this widget  missing?  A link to see the rest of my travel (future and past).  I often have more than one flight booked and I would like to see the rest of them.  I should be able to click a “More” link or maybe on “My Travel” to go to another page to see all my flights.  Instead I have to click on My Account (in a totally different widget) and then View all underneath “Upcoming Trips”.  I would love for this widget to show me my flight status and gate number directly from here.  Ideally, this information would just be shown without any additional clicks.

My Rapid Rewards

This section shows you how you are tracking towards getting status.  It gives you a percentage but doesn’t show actual points.

SouthwestHomeRapidRewards

Clicking on the “To A-List” or “To A-List Preferred” link takes you to the details page.  However, once you get to that page, there is no way to see any other details about Rapid Rewards, nor is there a way to check your other statuses such as Companion Pass.

SouthwestRapidRewardsAccount

I’ll cover more on the Rapid Rewards section in just a bit.

Reservations

I like Southwest’s reservation system a lot.  It’s come a long ways.  Anyone remember back when you used to have to select the departure date with a multi-select box?  Southwest kept this long after the JavaScript popup calendar was invented. :)

Let’s talk about the rates screen next.  Southwest.com shows you what you searched for including the dates and cities.

SouthwestReservationsHeader

From a usability stand-point, what I find lacking here is the ability to completely change the date.  You can click on nearby dates to compare fares, but if you need to change it completely, there is no option to start over.

I like that the rates for the outbound and return flight are on the same page.  I also like that they are priced separately.  This means you can fly to different cities on Southwest without a penalty.  I also love that it’s easy to toggle between dollars and points.

SouthwestReservationsRates

I would like to see a number of additional things here though.   First, i would like to see more of the flight details directly on this page.  Specifically I want to know what type of plane it is and whether or not there is WiFi.  Right now if you want that information, you have to click on the flight number to get that information.

SouthwestAircraftFlightDetails

Next, if the plane has a stop, but not a plane change, it’s buried underneath another mouse click.  I’d like to see this information all at once.

Clicking the "stops" link tells you where the plane stops along the way.

Clicking the “stops” link tells you where the plane stops along the way.

On the next page, you get a confirmation of what you selected before you have to start entering personal information.  I like how it tells you if your flight has WiFi here.  It also tells you when there are limited seats left for Business Select.  Other airlines do this too, but it’s on the rates page.  I think I like it better here since it keeps the rates page cleaner

Southwest.com Reservations Confirm

Scrolling down, you have to hunt a bit for the “Continue” button.  I think the “Add a Hotel” and “Add a Car” sections are a bit too prominent and detract from booking the reservation.  That’s just my personal opinion though.  I’ve never used those ever.  It would be nice if the credit card advertisement wasn’t there since I already had the card, but I don’t mind it too much.

Southwest.com Reservations Continue

When you get to the last page, it prompts you for your traveler information.  If you haven’t logged in yet, I don’t think it does a good chance to prompt you to log in.

Southwest.com Reservations Step 3

As a new user reading from left to right, you are prompted to enter your information.  No where here does it say if you log in, it will populate this information for you.  This should probably be present right above the personal information so that the user doesn’t enter the information twice.   A lot of sites will now allow you apply whatever you entered in and join the loyalty program directly from this screen.  I think this would be a good value add and increase membership for people who aren’t familiar with the benefits.

Further down this page, it prompts you for your default contact method.  It gives you a choice of E-mail, Text, or Call.  This should really default to Text I think..  However, I really think you should be able to specify this setting in your profile and have it automatically set.  That would allow this section to be removed from the page entirely.

Southwest.com Contact Method

After this, you can choose to apply travel funds.  I have to say travel funds need a lot of work with Southwest.com.  The only way to apply them here is if you know the previous reservation number they were associated with.  That means if you ever change or cancel a flight and have funds left over, you better keep track of that confirmation number.  It’s really the only way you have a hope of applying them to your flight.  If you don’t know the reservation number, then you need to know the credit card number used when you booked the flight and you have to call.  Anyhow, we’ll cover that more in a post in the future.

Southwest.com Reservations Apply Travel Funds

Rapid Rewards

I find that the Rapid Rewards section has the information you want but a lot of it is quite buried.  Even as an experienced user of the site, I have trouble finding information such as how I am tracking towards companion pass.  Let’s start with the entry point.  If you click Rapid Rewards in the global navigation, you get something like the following (even when logged in).

Southwest.com Rapid Rewards Landing Page

Southwest.com Rapid Rewards Landing Page

This is great information, but I probably already know this if I am a signed-in member.  Instead as a user, I am expecting to see information on my account, recent travel, points earned, tier status, etc.  Instead, there isn’t a single link to any of this information from the Rapid Rewards section.  How do you get the Rapid Rewards information info you need?  Click on the “My Account” link in the right navigation.  That takes you to the Snapshot page.

Southwest.com Rapid Rewards Snapshot

Southwest.com Rapid Rewards Snapshot

This is your entry point into the account information you are looking for, but some of the thing you want are still a bit hard to find.  This page has some information I am looking for, but has a ton of information I don’t need.  A lot of screen real estate is wasted by the huge buttons on the side.

It shows me my next flight which is great.  However, the View All link probably should be in the bottom right.  Next to Upcoming Trips, it would be nice to show the number of flights I have booked.  They recently changed the text to “Set up Flight Status Messaging”.  This is a nice improvement because it used to say “Get Flight Status”.   The latter makes me think I could get the flight status easily from this screen which was not the case.  Instead it took me to the screen allowing me to sign up for an alert.  I would like to see them add a link when your flight was within 24 hours that had the flight status.  Even better, show the flight status directly on this page without me having to click another link.

Other information I am looking for on this page is about points recently acquired.  It’s there in the bottom left of the screen, but it barely makes “the fold” (if you still believe in that old dated design paradigm).

Saved flights are a nice concept but pretty much useless because they are buried.  It’s easier to just type in your cities on the home page again.  If they exposed this information there, they would get more use.  Past flights can be useful from time to time.  However, I have never seen anything on Promotions ever so it probably needs to go.

If you scroll down this page, you will see an icon for “View my Tier Progress”.

View My Tier progress at the bottom of the Rapid Rewards Snapshot

View My Tier progress at the bottom of the Rapid Rewards Snapshot

This link confuses me a bit.  First, it should just show your tier progress which you can see by clicking “My Rapid Rewards” in the navigation.  It takes you to this page in the Rapid Rewards section which shows your status.

Tier status page in Rapid Rewards

Tier status page in Rapid Rewards

However, this isn’t the page you get if you click on “My Rapid Rewards”.  That leads to a bit of confusion to the user.  It turns out most of the pages you need are underneath the My Rapid Rewards menu item, but there is no central navigation between any of the items.

Landing page when clicking My Rapid Rewards

Landing page when clicking My Rapid Rewards.

Clicking on this page yields you absolutely no useful information.  Again, the huge buttons on the left waste a lot of screen real estate.  However, if you happen to scroll down a little bit, some of the most valuable information in the whole section is there in the left.  It’s how you are tracking on all tiers.

Scroll down on the My Rapid Rewards page to find your tier status and recently awarded points

Scroll down on the My Rapid Rewards page to find your tier status and recently awarded points.

Here you can see how you are tracking towards tier status, Companion Pass, and your recent rewards activity.  If you remember from my introductory post, you have two separate qualifying point totals: one for tier status and one for Companion pass.  Here is where you see that information.

Clicking “View My Details” takes you a screen where you can view your point history for Rapid Rewards point, tier status, and Companion Pass status.  I find this information highly valuable, so I feel it should be promoted in the navigation over the current links they have there today.  Ideally, you can get it directly from the snapshot page.

View your rapid rewards activity with a variety of filters.

View your rapid rewards activity with a variety of filters.

Once you find this page, I find that it works pretty well.  It has the right amount of filters and provides enough details to figure out where your points came from.

My Travel

Clicking on My Travel shows you similar information from the snapshot.  Again, I think it should show you more than just one flight.  It should show you all future flights booked (within reason).

My Travel page inside Rapid Rewards section.

My Travel page inside Rapid Rewards section.

If one of your upcoming flights will earn you points, it will show an estimated number of points.  This is the raw base value of the points received based on the fare type you booked.  It would be nice though if it showed you the number of points you get with your bonuses such as A-List (25%) and A-List Preferred (100%).  In reality, this flight should give me around 6,452 points.  I’m sure there are a number of technical complexities to make that happen so if it’s not feasible, maybe state something like (+ tier bonus points).

Estimated points for upcoming flights does not include bonuses.

Estimated points for upcoming flights does not include bonuses.

Flight Status

The flight status page can be a bit frustrating for me.  As I mentioned above, I have to type my flight information in every time, even though the web site knows what my next flight is.  This often leads me to typing in the departure and arrival cities without specifying a flight number (since I rarely remember it).  This gives me a list of all the flights for the day.

The Southwest.com flight status page doesn't show status unless you click on the details link.

The Southwest.com flight status page doesn’t show status unless you click on the view status link.

What’s missing here?  The actual flight status.  To find out the status, you need to click the “View Status” link.

Clicking view status shows you the gate number and flight status.

Clicking view status shows you the gate number and flight status.

That’s great, I have the flight status now.  When I have a flight later in the day, I will check this page throughout the day.  Unfortunately, this page doesn’t refresh automatically.  If I hit the browser refresh button (F5), it will reload the page and then I will have to click the “View Status” page yet again.  I would love for this page to just show the status automatically, but maybe there is a performance issue with the way the data is retrieved.  I fully understand that.

To get to a page that you can actually refresh, click “Details”.  Here you will get a page dedicated to this flight.  Hitting refresh will reload the page and won’t require any additional clicks.  If you happen to know the flight number when you start your search, you will be taken directly to this page as well.  What I would really like is for this page to update itself periodically.  I would also like it to have a time stamp on it on when the status was last updated.  That way when you hit refresh on a slow connection, you can tell if the status actually updated or not.

Session Timeouts

As a Rapid Rewards member, any time I return to the Southwest.com site to book a new flight, I get prompted with the following.

Session timeout received when returning to Southwest.com.

Session timeout received when returning to Southwest.com.

I fully understand why session timeouts occur.  When you are booking a flight, the fares are only good for so long.  It should definitely display this message if you start to book a flight and then get interrupted because you went to a meeting and came back.  However, it shouldn’t show this message when you open a new browser and come back to the site three days later.  It should clear my session automatically and take me to the home page without an error.

Summary

Southwest makes a great web site that serves my needs from booking to checking my tier status.  Why did I take all the time to document this?  Because, I am passionate about Southwest and I am a user of the site several times a week.  I feel that I can share a unique perspective from both an end user and someone that understands UX.  I love the people at Southwest and by no means is this a knock on the hard work from the great people in marketing and IT behind the web site.    I care about the end users of the site.  The better the experience for the user, the more successful the site can be.

I decided not to include the mobile site or the in-flight site as this post is already long enough.  Be on the lookout for future posts on how I think we can improve the user experience for those sites too.  I’ve got lots of ideas for all of these sites, so if anyone at Southwest wants to talk more in detail, I’d be happy to.

Have other ideas for improvements to Southwest.com?  Leave a comment!

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Using TSA PreCheck with Southwest and Egencia

As I have mentioned in the past, I’m not really a fan of aggregators.  Unfortunately, many companies make you book your travel through providers such as Egencia, American Express, or Concur.  I’ve used Egencia for the past several years with my employers.  Since Southwest isn’t aggregator friendly, the experience isn’t always the best but it has improved some.  I’d prefer to be able to book my travel directly through SWABIZ, but I haven’t had a company let me do that yet.

Depending on how your company has set up Egencia, Southwest rates may or may not show up in the general rate search.  If they don’t show up, the trick is to choose them manually in the Airline selector before you request the rate.

Select Southwest in the Airline list on Egencia.

Select Southwest in the Airline list on Egencia.

TSA Precheck

When it comes to TSA Precheck, the first step is to add your TSA Known Traveler Number to My Profile -> TSA Secure Flight.  Unfortunately, this does not work with reservations booked with Southwest right now.  What happens is that this number gets written into your reservation number as a TSA Redress Number instead.  That doesn’t help you.  As a result, when you go to check in and print your boarding pass, TSA Pre will not be on your boarding pass.

So how do you get TSA Precheck to work when this happens?  Unfortunately, you have to call Southwest (1-800-I-FLY-SWA).  Give them a call and ask them to add your TSA Known Traveler number to your reservation.  Many agents will just add it for you.  Some will ask you to provide the number to them.  That sucks I know, but that’s about the only solution right now.  It beats going through the regular line though.

Setting this value in your profile works with other airlines such as American, Delta, and United, etc.  However, as you Southwest flyers know, they just got TSA Precheck a few months ago.   I suspect, it will work eventually through Egencia, but who knows.  I submitted a request through the Contact form, I’ll post updates as I hear them.

Flying with Children on Southwest

If you travel a lot, you may soon realize that you have enough points to fly the whole family somewhere. As great as a vacation sounds with your spouse and kids, getting there via air can be quite the ordeal.   A lot of families fly on Southwest, especially on weekends and holidays and you can too.  These tips can help make the day less stressful and get you there in a better mood.  Do this, and hopefully, you won’t be “that family.”

Set expectations

I’m no expert on parenting, but I think many of you will agree, if you tell your kids what is going on ahead of time, you can avoid a lot of issues.  For example when going through security, if you don’t tell your two year old that they are going to get their blanket back after it goes through the X-ray, you are likely to experience a melt down.  For all they know that monstrous machine is going to swallow it whole and never give it back.

Take the time, to explain to your kids what will happen when you are checking bags, going through security, boarding, and in flight.  Explain what they can and can’t do ahead of time.  The more they know, the less likely there will be an issue when something unexpected happens such as a flight delay.

Arrive earlier than you normally do

As a business traveler, I know I can show up at my airport exactly 52 minutes before my flight and get through security and have a beer before getting in line to board.  That’s not going to fly when you have the kids with you.  Give yourselves double the time that you normally do.  Don’t give yourself too much time though, because idle time kills.  As soon as your child gets bored waiting to board, sure enough, he or she is going to get in trouble.  Whether it is running off or hitting their brother, it’s going to happen.

Bring Entertainment

This one is obvious. I don’t know how people ever traveled with kids before the age of hand-held electronic devices.  Even if your child isn’t in to games, they can always watch a movie on your tablet.  Make sure your devices are fully charged and bring the power adapters.  You never know when your flight is going to get delayed.  Once that entertainment device dies, they will look for other means of entertainment such as punching their little sister.  What’s nice now is that the devices don’t have to be turned off during takeoff and landing.  This makes that time a bit more tolerable.

Bring Credentials

As some of my extended family recently learned, you can’t travel with an infant (less than 2 years old) without a birth certificate.  I assume this is to keep people from stealing babies.  Children between 2 and 12 don’t need any identification unless you are traveling internationally.

Pack lightly

This is hard to do I know, especially with small children. The fewer suitcases you can bring the better.  Keep in mind you are carrying those, your carry-ons, the kids, maybe a stroller and a car-seat.  That’s a lot!  If you can bring one less suit case, it makes a big difference.  Sometimes, rental car companies will let you rent car seat, but it is usually quite cost-prohibitive, so you might as well bring yours.

Inspect your child’s carry-on

The last thing you want do is get pulled out of security because your child packed a toy gun or 16 ounces of liquid soap.  Go through your child’s bag multiple times.  I guarantee you will likely find some kind of contraband.  Check it right before you get in the car too before heading to the airport. You never know what they will slip in there.

Bring snacks

A hungry child is a loud child.  Bring snacks because otherwise you’ll end up buying high priced snacks at the airport.  Once you are on the plane, if you don’t have anything, you’re just screwed until the peanuts and pretzels come around.  My children also tend to become “hungry”, when they get bored.  Sometimes, a quick 100-calorie pack is the perfect distraction.

Take the time to explain the drink and snack service on the plane.  Also warn your children that sometimes, this service doesn’t happen due to turbulence.  This will help avoid any issues should the service get interrupted.

Have a boarding strategy

As a frequent traveler, you may find yourself with status and therefore having a nice A boarding pass.  The problem, your spouse and kids are likely stuck with a B or C.  You should know that there is no way the gate agent is going to let your spouse on with you when they are in a different boarding group.  I can usually get my kid on with me though. Although, lately, I saw a gate agent deny early boarding to the kids.  So you are taking your chances with this technique.

What you absolutely don’t want to do is get on early and then try to save a whole row of seats for your spouse and kids.  That’s a real asshole thing to do and everyone on the plane will hate you.  If you want to sit together, my recommendation is that you just wait and board with the rest of your family.

Of course what I haven’t mentioned yet is Family Boarding.  This allows those traveling with small children (under the age of 5) to board after the A group.  This is your best bet for traveling with small children.  You won’t be sitting up front, but you will be able to easily get a seat together somewhere in the middle of the plane.  Family boarding does not mean you get on before everyone else.

Children under 2 traveling on your lap are free but is it worth it?

Usually not.  For a short flight, it may be no big deal. If you are making a connection and going to be in the air 3+ hours, suck it up and pay for another seat.  On longer flights, your baby might fall asleep. It’s nice to be able to put them in a car seat.  Southwest offer reduces fares for children under 12 but you have to call to get them.  When I am booking reward travel, I have never bothered before and I just pay the whole amount.

Say hi to the pilots, but get out of the way

It’s cool for you to introduce your child to the pilots, but don’t do so at the expense of everyone behind you.  Remember, there are people behind you trying to get on the plane.

Explain what is happening on the plane

If your children are new to travel, take the time to explain takeoff and landing.  When they hear a noise such as the wings moving or the fasten seat belt sign, explain what it is.   Tell your kids about turbulence before it happens.  In my experience, the more information I arm my kids with before-hand, the better.

Hopefully, these tips will help you get you and your family to your next vacation destination.  If everything else fails, you can always ask the fight attendant for a drink.  I’ve had more than one take pity on me when experiencing troubles keeping the kids happy.

Houston Hobby Airport Survival Guide

I called the Houston Hobby (HOU) airport my home for several years before moving on.  I’ve always liked it. It’s a smaller airport, but just big enough to get you just about wherever you want to go on Southwest in one hop.  Here you can fly anywhere from around Texas to New York (LGA).  The airport features 20 gates notably dominated by Southwest.  It’s recently seen a host of improvements including TSA Pre-check, Clear, and a new baggage claim.  It has a small food court in the middle along with local restaurants further into the terminal itself.

Looking towards gates 40 - 49.

Looking towards gates 40 – 49.

Hobby Airport has a T-shaped airline terminal with gates 20 – 29 on the left and gates 40 – 49 on the right.  It hosts a bevy of Texas-based restaurants from the Pappas Bros including Pappas Burger, Pappasitos, and Pappadeaux’s.  You can find free WiFi at any of the Pappas Bros restaurants along with Buffalo Wild Wings.  However, the Internet is often spotty and I find I end up using my own most of the time.  You can find power pretty easily at all of the Southwest gates features AC and USB chargers.

You never know what you will find in the center of the airport.  Right now, it’s a display for the Houston Rodeo.

Houston Rodeo display in the center of Hobby Airport

Houston Rodeo display in the center of Hobby Airport

The Food

If you’re traveling to the east coast, it is not uncommon to pick up a layover here if your home is one of Texas’s other Southwest airports.  If that happens, you need to know where to go.  If you like Cajun or seafood, the best food there is hands-down at Pappadeaux.  Here you can get seasonal fish and all your fried Cajun favorites.  It will cost you a pretty penny with many meals costing more than $20 USD.

Pappadeaux's in Hobby Airport

Pappadeaux’s in Hobby Airport

For other food options, I go with Dunkin Donuts for breakfast located at the end of the terminal by gate 27.  If you want a sit down breakfast and have time to kill, go with Pappas Burger as they have a variety of breakfast taco type options.  They also have power in the booths along the back wall.  In the afternoon, this is also a good place to get a shake.

If you want quick service, Papasitos has some decent tacos. Lastly, Buffalo Wild Wings (gate 24) is always a favorite for dudes.  When I go there, I often wait outside and wait for a seat at the bar to open up.  It gets a bit crowded though.

If you are waiting outside the security check point, there is a Pappas BBQ with a bar. They generally have at least one acceptable beer, but I am not a fan of the BBQ there at all.  I guess I am just spoiled by the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX (FYI, never eat at a Salt Lick in an airport).  That and I don’t think you can properly smoke meat in an airport.

Hobby Airport is one of the few airports where you can walk around with an open container. As a result, you can get a drink anywhere to go.  As a result, it is not uncommon to see beer vendors in the middle of the terminal.  You just need to down it before you get on the plane.  It’s also a good idea to not get to intoxicated at the airport as Southwest has no issue denying boarding to people who aren’t sober.

Security

The security lines can be quite long at Hobby at times.  This is especially the case if you are traveling Monday morning or Thursday evening.  If you have priority, the wait generally isn’t too bad.  They have also recently added TSA Pre and Clear.  If you don’t have expedited screening, plan on waiting a bit longer.

Rental Cars

Hobby Airport has off site rental car locations.  Each location has their own shuttle bus.  Avis and Budget are closer to the airport. Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, and the others are considerably farther away.  Like any airport, expect to wait longer than any other carrier with Dollar and Thrifty. You get what you pay for.

Parking

Parking on-site at Hobby will cost you $17 / day.  It features the same windy spiral ramps that IAH does.  You have no hope of parking on a low level most of the time.  If you’re paying for your own parking, your best bet is Eco-Park or one of the off-site providers.  Eco-Park is around $6 / day but it’s a bit of a walk and it is uncovered.  Sometimes, you can find a shuttle to take you some of the distance but I have walked all the way to the terminal a time or two.  When you do Eco-Park, you will feel like you are walking through a restricted area because you go right through the employee parking lot.  Once you get inside, you walk through some hallways where you also don’t feel like you belong.  The off-site parking options have similar prices.

The Future – International Service

Southwest fought hard to get International service at Hobby Airport.  Ultimately, they won and are footing the bill of the new expansion where they will occupy four out of five gates.  When it finishes at the end of 2015, Hobby Airport will serve as a hub for people going to the Caribbean and Mexico on Southwest.  This conveniently goes along with the absorption of the remaining AirTran International flights this year.  This will make Houston Hobby quite the popular airport in the years to come.

Construction progress of the new Hobby International Terminal viewed from Gate 40.

Construction progress of the new Hobby International Terminal viewed from Gate 40.

More information can be found at their web site.

http://fly2houston.com/hobbyHome

Getting free drinks on Southwest

When I have to fly, it’s a guarantee that I am going to want a beverage or two in-flight (unless it’s 6:00 am and I am on my way to work).  If I have a preference, I’ll pay for as few of those as possible.   More often than not, I don’t have to pay for a single drink.  In fact, I haven’t paid for a single one this year.  I attribute this to a variety of factors and your success will vary, but I wanted to share a few tips with you today.

Remember, whether you order a Fat Tire, chardonnay, or cocktail, the price is always the same.  Take advantage of that.

Business Select

As I have mentioned before, those flying on Business Select, get a free drink ticket with each flight segment.  Use this in flight and you’ve got yourself a free drink.  The ticket is for use only on that flight and has the date of the flight on it.  It’s not uncommon for you to have Business Select on your flight first thing in the morning to see your client though.  Obviously, you don’t want a drink then.  So what do you do with that unused drink ticket?  Use it on your next flight when you don’t have a drink ticket.  I have found that even though they say “valid drink coupons with an expiration date” on them, they will take your old unused drink tickets.  In fact, I have never had them reject an expired coupon ever.  If you printed your boarding pass and drink ticket on your printer at home, do the flight attendant a favor and tear it out before they get to you.

Rapid Rewards

If you are a member of Rapid Rewards, and you should be if you have been following my advice, you also get drink coupons in the mail periodically.  For every five paid round-trips, Southwest will send you four drink coupons in the mail.  These have an expiration date on them as well.  More than likely they will take them even if they are expired.  The reason, they mention expiration dates so much is that under the old Rapid Rewards program, the drink coupons didn’t have an expiration date.  If you still have some of those lying around, there is no chance they will ever take those any more.

Delayed Flights

When you have a flight that is severely delayed, like an hour or more.  I have found that the flight attendants rarely ask you for payment when you order a drink.  They do this as a way to make you a bit happier about your delay.  I don’t know if this is a universal rule, but it’s generally the case.  When your flight is delayed, sure you might be frustrated, but your best route is kindness and concern about your flight crew.  After all, when your flight is delayed, their nine hour day can easily turn into a twelve hour day.  Show some concern for them, and they might just repay the favor with a free drink.

Free drink days

Southwest has a number of days per quarter in which drinks are free for everyone.  The most recent day was Valentine’s day with the next one being Saint Patrick’s day.  You can see when these days are by pulling out the in-flight service brochure in your seat pocket.

Kindness Kills

I’ve reminded you about this in many of my posts so far.  Although, I’ve never actually confirmed it, I believe flight attendants on Southwest have a little bit of leeway when it comes to handing out free drinks.  Show concern about the flight crew, ask them about their day, be kind, switch seats so a family can sit together, or help out another passenger and you might just have a free drink coming your way.

Flying standby with Southwest

Updated: September 12th, 2016

Today, I was in the airport rather early eager to go home.  I started a new job today and my employer booked me on the last flight out.  The problem?  I was already done for the day and so I was there nearly four hours early.  I wanted to get home earlier.  My problem was that I wasn’t on a full fare ticket.   This is one place where Southwest really differs from others.  With the big carriers, you are likely to pay a fee to take an earlier flight, Southwest approaches it differently.    You see with Southwest, you can only fly standby if you are on an Anytime (refundable) fare*.  This means if you are flying a heavily discounted Wanna Get Away fare, taking an earlier flight may cost you some money. You may or may not like it but from a business perspective, I totally get it.

Now, you may have noticed that I appended that statement above with an asterisk. That’s because a few weeks ago, I discovered that you didn’t always have to pay the fare difference to fly home early.  This was one of those many occasions where I ended up to the airport (Dallas Love Field as usual) rather early.  I noticed there was an earlier flight on the board, so in a bold and daring move, I went to the gate agent to ask my standard “beg for standby” leading question “So…you have any room on the 7 o’clock flight?”. The agent took my boarding pass and looked at my original fight and told me your flight is delayed, so we can let you fly earlier with no fare difference.  I smiled, thanked the agent, and gladly took my new boarding pass because that means getting home to my beautiful wife several hours earlier.  The only problem, my shiny A-19 boarding pass was now C-2.  That meant I could be high-centered.  Luckily though, I remembered, that those with A-List can board after the A group boards.  That meant I still got a decent seat.

Unfortunately, for me tonight my flight wasn’t that delayed. It was tonight, when I learned that they could only waive the fare increase, if your original flight was delayed by 15 minutes or more.  Unfortunately, the board at Love Field didn’t show any flight delay, however the gate agent said it was actually delayed by a few minutes.  He recommended coming back a bit later to try my luck again.  After about 45 minutes, I returned and he informed me that they made an “executive decision” to let those of us with later flights get on the earlier one.  I took my new boarding pass and was ecstatic. This time it meant getting home over three hours earlier.

Update as of September 12th, 2016: Southwest now gives A-List and A-List Preferred members free standby upgrades as long as it’s within two hours of the original flight to the same destination.

You’ll hear me say this over and over again in this blog, but kindness kills with Southwest.  Be nice to the gate agents, flight attendants, captains, whomever you meet.  Being nice will get you farther than anything with Southwest.  When you are asking the gate agent to let you on an earlier flight, it’s that smile and kindness that are going to get them to bend the rules a little.  Remember that, when you are trying to get home a bit earlier and it’s sure to get you far.