i meant to write this post ages ago, when the flights were fresh in my mind, but i remember them both well - mostly because they were so good!
for those of you flying any time soon, you really should consider southwest. they're a great company to work for (i hear), they're super-nice with their customers (love their twitter feed @SouthwestAir) and they have cool deals like their new early-bird check-in service. in the past year, southwest started early-bird check-in. between when you buy your ticket and 25 hours in advance, you pay $10 per way for a boarding pass that allows you on the plane right after the frequent southwest flyers and business select ticket holders. the sooner you pay $10, the better position you'll get. i purchased the early-bird check-in for my flight to phoenix and back home about three weeks prior to my trip. in southwest days of yore, every passenger can check in and print their boarding passes starting 24 hours in advance - with the idea that the sooner you checked in, the better chances you have for a group A pass, and thus a better seat on the plane. with the early-bird check-in, your spot is automatically assigned 36 hours in advance - and you can print your pass starting at 24 hours to go. gone are the three groups; instead, southwest gives everyone a place in the a, b or c group, plus a number. you check in based on that number. if you're a person like me who likes to have a certain seat (my preference - window, as far front as possible), getting on the plane asap is critical. on my flight to phoenix, i was in a window seat in the fourth row. on my flight home, i was in the third row - another window seat. totally, completely worth it.
now if you don't care where you sit, it's probably a waste of $20 (roundtrip). but if you're hesitant to pay and checking a bag in, consider this - southwest lets you take two bags for free. on some other airlines that's $40-75 you'd have to pay. after being on some flights where my seat fate was not in my hands, having the luxury of picking it - and getting a good one! - is priceless to me.