My Southwest Airlines experience … the joke is on us!

It is helpful in marketing, or in being victimized by marketing, to understand that anything that is “free” is essentially worthless. The word has no intrinsic meaning. We just concluded a trip to Belize and used Southwest Airlines for the journey. More about that later.

Two years ago we went to Long Island for a family get-together, and we had accumulated over the years a pile of airline miles, something given us for “free” for using certain credit cards and flying on certain airlines. By use of a Capital One credit card, we had over (a long period of) time accumulated over 100,000 miles, so I thought it a good time to cash them in and save a few bucks.

When it was over, I felt like I had walked out of a casino having been outwitted by a poker machine. Yes, Capital One was willing to get us there, but would not give us a decent flight back. They had us flying and two and three in the morning with one or more layovers even as direct flights to Denver abound. So I set out to work my way around them. I would book only one way passage, and then separately book one-way passage home. They saw me coming. Not only was one-way passage home blocked by the same lousy flights, but the price  had doubled from 25,000 to 50,000 miles both ways. There was a conscious effort on the Capital One side of the deal to prevent us from using those miles.

In the end I simply cashed in the miles, and we got a check for $500 … the true value of 100,000 miles, and the reason why Capital One worked so tirelessly to prevent us from using them to attain something of real value, two non-stop round trip tickets.

But wait! $500 is something! We did indeed get something for free. Right? I suppose so, but only in the sense that moving money from right pocket to left and dropping some in the process is “free.” Credit cards do not pay benefits. Those come from merchant fees. The greater the benefit, the higher the fee. Merchants only allow this practice if they are getting it back in higher prices. In essence the whole of credit card “benefits” is an illusion. Convenient? Yes. But consumers pay for everything down to the embedded magnetic code in the stripe.

Nothing is free, there is no comparative benefit to any consumer decision that is not reflected in the price. A few years back we were booking a trip to Costa Rica with friends, and the price per ticket initially came up $700 using United Airlines. I told my wife that no matter where she turned, some how, some way, the price would be $700. She and our friend invested time and energy to prove me wrong (usually not that hard), and ended up booking with Spirit Airlines, the most despised in the business. But the savings were substantial … they thought …  until they learned that there were two layovers, and for each one Spirit charged a baggage fee, and in the end the price of a ticket was … $700.  Having booked and feeling scammed, they demanded and got a refund and we flew United, having only one layover.

It’s a game! Sociopaths love gaming! Behind every marketplace venture, whether we are aware or not, we are gaming with sociopaths. They snicker and chuckle and laugh at us as we imagine we are dealing with authentic people. They love springing the trap.

That brings me to Southwest Airlines, a different kind of company, one that has gone to great lengths using ad agencies and public relations to convince us that their sociopaths are kinder, gentler than the others’. Southwest has several policies that on the surface seem different. For one, upon boarding and deboarding, they do stand-up comedy. For real. Some if it is even funny, as when arriving in Denver yesterday we are told “OK, we got you here. Now get off our plane.” But some of it is dog eared, as saying that to deflate a life vest, Tom Brady would assist.

Southwest does not assign seats. When we first flew on their airline last summer, we did not know this and so were assigned to the dreaded “C” group. We ended up at the back of the plane, but at least got two seats together, and wizened, knew that next time we would get in the lottery and get better seats. So flying down to Belize we did as instructed. Twenty-four hours in advance we checked in and were assigned to the … C group. When we got on the plane, a 737-700, all the way to the very back the aisle and window seats were already taken.  Middle seats abounded. We ended up again in the very back of the plane, but at least sat together. Checking in a day ahead conferred no advantage.

However, and this was interesting … for our connecting flight in Houston we were assigned A group, and were able to get an aisle and middle seat reasonably close to the exit … here is why: We checked in 28 hours in advance for that flight, not by design, but out of necessity. Southwest usually doesn’t do connecting flights, so we had (accidentally) end-gamed them and gotten good seats.

For our return flight yesterday we stayed in our hotel room an extra hour (to be sure we had a good Internet connection) the day before just to be on top if check-in. My finger hovered over the button, and right at precisely 2:10, exactly twenty-four hours before flight time, I hit it. We were assigned  A53 and 54, and I thought we would be assured a decent seat.

As we boarded in Belize City, we filed out to the tarmac and a flight attendant checked our tickets to make sure we were not cheating. They were boarding us on the back of the plane, and as I looked behind, I saw that the B group was boarding on the front! It was a free-for-all once on board, and we ended up towards the back of the plane, but at least got a window seat. I sat in the middle. (We take turns.)

What’s up with that? Southwest doesn’t even follow its own rules.

In reality, to get a good seat on a Southwest flight, we have to pay extra, flying business class, or checking in two days early and paying an additional $15 per seat. Since almost everyone does that except us newbies, even “early bird” does not guarantee a good seat. Only business class will do that, just like every other airline.

But there is a difference! Southwest tells jokes. There are only so many decent seats on an airliner, and they have premium pricing. For the rest of us, it is a sardine can. Southwest hired marketing experts to sell us on the idea that they somehow had a better plan, and that their snickering sociopaths are nice people too. But just as with Capital One, who would get us there but not back, they are gaming us.

At least, with Southwest Airlines, we are all laughing together.

36 thoughts on “My Southwest Airlines experience … the joke is on us!

  1. Seems anything is a justification to charge like wounded bulls. Next you’ll be paying for toilet proximity and how many squares of toilet paper you use!

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    1. Mark thank you for sharing your experience. I used to share stories like this with friends and family. Until I realized they only waited for me to finish so they could say something non-productive like Zoedogg66 or tell me what I should or shouldn’t have done instead of just saying “Man that sucks”. I myself have instinctly and privately always been in search of the perfect day or perfect experience. Where everything goes right with no negative caveats or surprises. “Good luck with that” I can hear echoing in my head from someone from my past that’s for certain. Whatever. I assume you had a good time on your trip which is what my mom would say is most important, and a defense mechanism against being burned or tricked. To not acknowledge as you have these outer surface aspects of your trip would be to live in denial. Which you most certainly don’t. Hearing about the standup comedy makes me think to myself “Wow that takes guts” since they’re in such a closed environment. You have more than guts and if only those in the flight industry knew who they had on their plane. If they did you would have been flown first class. You’re more of a celebrity than anyone could ever hope to be on a plane. Hopefully you told a few people who you are especially the staff so they can read about how you’re outting their bosses for who they really are. And for free.

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      1. I guess I wasn’t thinking in terms of a self-centered universe when I wrote this … getting to and returning from Belize was a small part of the trip. My point, poorly made I guess, is that we are surrounded by a haze called “marketing” and behind it lurk sociopaths whose only joy in life comes from gaming and springing traps on us. They construct elaborate misdirection, which is all Southwest has done with its marketing plan to separate itself from the rest of the airlines. In the end it came down to a few overpriced comfortable seats in a sardine can, just like the others. SWA has a tactic of playing stand-up comedy on takeoff and landing only as a means of creating separation. It is just a marketing ploy. They are just like the other airlines except that they spend less effort assigning seats. They leave that task to the passenger. It must save them a fortune.

        Here is another experience: DISH network at one time advertised that it had a recording tool called the “HOPPER” that would allow users to avoid advertising while watching TV shows. We bit, I confess, as I hate advertising in all forms. Here is how it worked: If we recorded all of the shows of only one network for an entire evening, say NBC, then we could watch all of that programming without ads. Who does that? It was the only alternative, it was false advertising, and it was a trap as the HOPPER was only leased to us on a one-year deal. We had to buy our way out if the deal to get rid of DISH. It was a trap no doubt sprung with delight.

        Here’s another: I walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods under a sign on the doorway syaing that if I found its pricing to exceed competitors, they would match it. That is an old, old strategy with one purpose, to get the customer to relax on the assurance that he is getting the best deal possible. Dick’s can safely abandon the strategy now, as competition is sparse, only a few vendors left, all comfortably charging the same prices as happens in a near-monopoly environment.

        Marketing and advertising are nothing more than professional lying, a field that easily attracts sociopaths, bored as they are without their games. Their job is to change our behavior, but they cannot openly attempt to do so, as it does not work lime that. So they have to be clever and subtle. Behaviorial psychology rests at the heart of all ad agencies.

        That is all I was going for with this post. I am not the center of the universe. I do love spotting the game behind the fog.

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        1. Any economics majors in the house?
          TPTB got this down to a science so there must be a formula. How did all this b.s. even start? Why am I even asking the question since it doesn’t matter. This b.s. will never end. And the energy it takes to fight back sometimes is exhausting albeit fun. Do I cut my losses or start blowing up executives phones spamming their voicemails for a week straight leaving 45 minute long ‘you haven’t heard the last from me’ messages with a quiz at the end. Which is what they want. Like MMC says they want to see if we’re paying attention & they like the challenge of us bringing a knife to a gunfight. I do do my Sunday best to carve them up real nice by not paying my credit card bills and not paying for Comcast even after they cancel. It’s still easy to get credit cards but I don’t bother. My second mortgage of over $40,000 was written off after the 1st wasn’t paid for over a year. The 1st was later modified. Just make 3 trial mod payments no application required. Done. I guess crazy respects crazy who knows. If I’m part of the problem so be it. Doing things by the book TPTB also wrote never got it done. I ask for free stuff all the time. And usually get it. I once asked for free movie channel as a reward (and got it) just for paying my Comcast bill which was 3 months late (before I finally stopped paying). I ask McDonald’s to make sure I get a lot of fries saying last time I hardly got any (Lie). Works everytime. Instant Monster Fries. Come to think of it I get almost everything I ask for. Good bad or indifferent. Regardless of my issues you wrote another excellent and relevant piece Mark. My female tenant enjoyed your sense of humor in between your telling of TPTB grifting. What are your theory’s on TPTB having formulas in place?

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          1. If they have a formula in place, I for sure am falling for it. It is all about power, and I hate being powerless. You seem to do the same thing, so kudos.

            Reminds me of a joke I once heard from a comedian, who said his bank called him and said that they had not received his last car payment. “Yes you have,” he said.

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        2. A couple words in defense of Southwest policies, if I may, although I’m not a regular contributor (nor an airline employee). A) Their change fee is zero, whereas others range from $100 to $200. B) They allow two bags to be checked free, whereas others charge $25-50 per. Also I find their reservations website the easiest to use, displaying different days of flights and prices with a single click.

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  2. That sporting good’s store could have chosen the name Richard, but no it just had to be called ‘Dicks’. Another in your face (bad timing?) clue for the few that are paying attention. Wonder if any lesbians work there? Seeing how they avoid the real McCoy at all cost’s.

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        1. When Scotland changed their kit manufacturer to Macron a few years ago, nobody had heard of them, and now we have the French President with the same name. {Maçon is French for mason, MacRon is just one extra letter. Is that coincidental too?}
          Possibly the families like to promote a different surname every now and again so no-one notices that they are all related? In the UK, first we had Jo Brand, next Katy Brand, and then Russell Brand, all in the last decade, none of them are particularly talented, just irritating and obnoxious.

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        2. Mark, I didn’t know they fired Vance Joseph. I was just reading about it. if you look up…”Denver Broncos fire head coach Vance Joseph”, you can watch the interview with John Elway. it’s so obvious by the look on Elway’s face that he’s lying to himself. I loved him as a quarterback,But I can’t respect him as a man. He keeps repeating himself about looking at the “MAN IN THE MIRROR”, to justify his behavior. He reflects on his decisions and reflects on the man in the glass, to give himself a pass, But it just doesn’t fly… “YOU CAN FOOL THE WHOLE WORLD DOWN THE PATHWAY OF YEARS, AND GET PATS ON THE BACK AS YOU PASS, BUT YOUR FINAL REWARD WILL BE HEARTACHE AND TEARS, IF YOU’VE CHEATED THE MAN IN THE GLASS”… Author, Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr.

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          1. I agree…And the only time he had a head,if he ever had a head, was back in the day when he put the “Ball in the air”. On another note, for any music lovers out there and fans of the of”The Allman Brothers Band” …”The off-spring” of the original members have formed a new band called The Allman Betts Band”. Featuring,Greggs son,”Devon Allman”. Dickey Betts son, “Duane Betts”,and Bass player Berry Oakley’s son, Berry Oakley Jr. They will be on tour this spring. They’ll be here at the Cabot Theater in Beverly,Mass. on April 13th. They Just finished recording their debut album at the Legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio,in Alabama. For a taste of their music, look up “Royal Southern Brotherhood, Gimme Shelter”. Recorded live at the “Rockpalast” in Germany. Devon Allman is the man on the left with the white T-Shirt playing uncle Duane’s guitar.

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    1. I suppose they could change the name of “Dick’s sporting goods” to something else, But the women probably wouldn’t like it…So needless to say, Dick knows how to keep the Ball(s) rolling.

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      1. The stadium where the Broncos played was Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, but Sports Authority went under and many of its stores were bought out by Dick’s, so I naturally assumed it would become Dick’s Field. Not so. It is now Broncos Stadium or something like that.

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        1. Yeah, Bronco stadium at mile high. The old Invesco field at mile high. I’m a sideline Bronco’s fan whenever the pats aren’t in the game. 8 AFC- Championships and 3- superbowls. loved john Elway and Tony Dorsett. My best friend lives in Vail, Eagle county. I’ll be flying that way in the spring.

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          1. John Elway demonstrates the “peter principal”, or that “each man rises to his own level of inability.” He was a great quarterback, so they made him a general manager, and he is in over his head. Since he is a legacy they cannot easily fire him, so Bronco fans endure his bad decisions one after another. He is confused. It shows. The radio stations dance around it. One bad decision after another, some even impulsive (like hiring Vance joseph), his legacy a 2016 Superbowl victory that was rigged, though few realize it.

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          2. Sad, but true. Makes no difference “who” you are…it’s “What” you are that counts. Funny thing how “Money” can make one sell-out to compromise their value for what it’s worth.

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  3. Or the goal (pun city) of DB’s is to make the goy Elway a fall guy. Those ‘owners’ are as wise as serpents & would not fumble in real time. Suppose the next Dick’s sporting good store will be in Denver? Right next to Hooters.

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      1. I vaguely remember that! Here in Denver we have Twin Peaks, no imagination needed. But me, naive as can be, thought it was a restaurant that might serve good food, so I went in one day and a baseball game was on that I was interested in, so I sat down. And then the waitress sat down next to me. She asked how I was, I said fine. She took my order. Then she came back and sat down again. I said “Are you required to sit with me?” She said yes. I said “You’re off the hook. I just want to watch baseball.” She was very pretty, the food was lousy, and I don’t remember anything about the game.

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      2. Mark, I apologize for the over-kill…Guilty as charged. I used your blog as a launch platform to promote this up and coming act. some may laugh, but as they say ,He who laughs last, “laughs best”. For every person who reads your scroll and it sparks some interest…it gets passed on…and on..and on, And it’s still getting passed on as this message gets passed on . And for that, you deserve some Royalty. Much Thanks.

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        1. The Band on Devon Allman’s right arm is not an indication that he’s a heroin addict like his old Man…it’s just to keep the “Sweat” from rolling down onto the guitar.

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          1. We’re going “full out”. Going all the way back to 2010. Gregg Allman’s son, Michael Allman. Look up the song, “if dreams were Money”…..Michael Allman.

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      1. I’m a music lover. I can listen to anything from, Rock N’ Roll, to jazz,to full symphony orchestra,to country, or Blues. But the one thing I can’t tolerate is that fucking “Rap- Bullshit”. They can’t write music on their own. These so-called “Rappers” call it sampling. They take a sample from an original song and try to weave it into their own, “Gobble-de-goop”. They call this sampling…I call it “STEALING”. But there is a waiting Audience “for everyone”….Hell, even “B. Muller”must have something to soothe the savage beast. You have to give credit where credit is due. She does stand by her conviction,and that alone, says something about her character, whether you like it or not…So, it’s just a shot away…”Muller-B-Muller”…I dedicate this song to you…Royal Southern Brotherhood…”Gimme Shelter”….straight out of the “Rockpalast” in Germany.

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  4. As for the searching for better prices for your ticket- you Have to clear the cookies & your browser history before searching for a better price. Or search from a different computer (like at work vs home). The cookies track what you’ve searched and you will not get a cheaper ticket. Clear those cookies, voila- much cheaper!

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  5. MT, check out the latest feature out at DIA. Hint it’s a talking creature. Greeting the weary traveler. Disinformation or another in the face boot print?

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