Ever since its conception on the back of a cocktail napkin in 1967 (true story!), Southwest Airlines has attracted fliers of all budgets and backgrounds from across America and beyond. The airline consistently wins awards, and accolades for its “warrior spirit, servant’s heart, and fun-LUVing attitude.”
But beyond its iconic branding, Southwest is a great airline for many other reasons. Below is a list of the ones that encourage me to remain loyal to the airline nearly every time I travel.
#1 Low Fares
Obviously, who with an average middle-class budget wants to pay an arm and a leg every summer or holiday season just to visit a relative, a friend, or an anthropomorphic mouse?
Um... yeah. You know what? Uh-uh. Nobody.
Although it may no longer offer the classic $20 fares of the early ‘70s, Southwest still offers some of the best darn tootin’ bargains in America. The best cross-country deals include fares between Florida and California for as low as $120 one-way—and on occasion, even less.
Now some of you might say that Spirit, Frontier, or (sometimes) JetBlue offer better deals than Southwest, and at times you’re probably right. But bear in mind, that’s the benefit of living in a competitive market, and also note that low fares aren’t the only reason why I fly Southwest.
#2 Big Sales
If you find a deal on another airline’s website that is cheaper than the average deals on Southwest’s, give it a few days or weeks (if you can) and you’ll likely find some amazing sales for less on SWA. Based on my observations, Southwest will run a series of sales both big and small over the course of a calendar year. The basic structure is this: two big sales per year (one in summer, one in winter); smaller seasonal sales every quarter; and then flash three-day sales scattered throughout the year.
Many cities and routes are included in each sale; however, I’ve noticed that SWA no longer includes John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana, CA – SNA) in most of their sales, much to the chagrin of SoCal passengers. Despite the predictable social media outcry, Southwest doesn’t hate SNA. Local laws and sound abatement ordinances have prompted tightened restrictions on air travel through several SoCal alternate airports for all airlines, not just SWA.
Fares to and from non-SWA hubs do not generally fluctuate much either. These cities include Charlotte, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, to name a few. Also, remote stations tend to be more immune to sales, as well, though I suspect that is simply due to less competition, less demand, fewer connection options, etc.
Regardless of sale inclusivity, however, offering great deals is a huge deal for Southwest. That’s why many people still jump whenever a new sale is announced, because you never know when you’ll see another deal that great again.
#3 Sale Credits
Let’s pretend I really want to book a weekend getaway to Miami. The closest Southwest destination is Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and I just found a good deal from my home city for $160 round trip. With a swipe of my card, I book the trip—but then a week later, I see a three-day flash sale from Southwest and the price for the very same round trip tickets I purchased just days before are now only $130.
With most airlines, I would have no recourse. They’d say, “You spent $160, sorry.” But with Southwest, au contraire. Southwest will credit the difference in fare in the form of a travel credit which can in turn be used toward another Southwest flight up to a year after your initial booking. And if you booked a trip with points, they will credit back the proportionate amount of points back to your account.
Happy, happy me! I have a $30 spending spree.
#4 no change fees
I can accomplish reason number 3 with absolutely no penalty or fee. Also, if I choose to change the dates/times of travel, I don’t need to pay a fee either. All I need to concern myself with is the difference in ticket price. That’s it! Or as Southwest says, “That’s Transfarency®.”
#5 no Bag fees
At least not for the first two bags. If I want to check more, I would have to pay a fee, but even then it’s nowhere near the exorbitance of other airlines’s fees for a third bag ($150+). Now I don't need to worry about shoving everything into a carry-on, or wearing all my clothes on board.
#6 Comfortable Flight Schedule
With a handful of exceptions, Southwest’s flight schedule is decent. At larger stations, its amazing. Whereas most airlines offer the cheapest, most affordable deals in the early morning or late evening hours, Southwest attempts to scatter great deals all throughout the day. Granted, the cheapest fares are still generally offered on red-eyes and early mornings; however, I’ve found plenty of mid-morning, mid-day, and mid-afternoon fare deals to be had, and on a vast number of routes.
#7 Open Seating for Everyone
This to me is a God-send. Whereas most airlines require me to either pony up a sizeable chunk of money to claim the seat that I want in advance (if it’s available), or to wait until check-in time at the airport to try to negotiate a seat adjustment with the ticket or gate agent, Southwest Airlines let’s me choose any seat I want for free when I board. The catch is that I can only choose a seat that doesn’t already have a person in it—which really isn’t much of a catch. I mean, we can’t override the laws of physics.
Every Southwest passenger is assigned a boarding position from A1 – A60, B1 – B60, or C1– C60. If you manage to check-in right at 24 hours before departure, you should be able to get a decent boarding position in the B group, or maybe even a coveted A group position depending on flight load.
On other airlines where passengers are pre-assigned seats, boarding positions really have little inherent value. In my opinion, the only reason they’re even used is to passive-aggressively remind those without first-class, business-class, or priority-class tickets—and/or those who do not hold a qualifying loyalty club membership—that they are not as special as those who do. Southwest gladly besmirches that mantra by embracing a generally more egalitarian approach. If you are a Southwest frequent flyer, though, you can receive priority boarding, provided you meet the qualifications and are a verified A-List or A-List Preferred passenger.
#8 You Can Buck the System
You do have the option to buy your way to the front (if you choose) with the purchase of a comparatively pricey Business Select ticket. For the casual traveler, however, I find the lowest priced Wanna Get Away fare really is an awesome deal on its own.
If you're a bit anxious about your boarding position, but don’t want to shell out mucho dinero for Business Select tickets, Southwest offers an EarlyBird Check-In program that lets passengers pay a fee to be automatically checked in 12 hours ahead of everyone else and thus be given higher boarding positions than those who check in less than 24 hours ahead.
Though many bloggers lament Early Bird Check-In as merely a (slightly overpriced) money-making sucker punch for unwary travelers, I gladly throw my money for that peace of mind. Granted, the program is generally only effective if you purchase it well in advance, but if you know you're going somewhere in a few months, and you've already purchased your tickets, go ahead and pay for EBCI. In my opinion, it is worth the extra dollars.
#9 No Blackout Dates for reward flights
Southwest’s loyalty program (Rapid Rewards®) is arguably one of the best frequent flier programs of any domestic airline. One of the features that make the program stand out is that members can use their reward points on any flight, any time, any day of the year. And better yet, members are able to book on the main booking website as revenue passengers. No complicated, confusing reward website necessary!
#10 Companion Pass
Southwest is the only major airline in America to offer this deal. After flying enough one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards® points, passengers are awarded a companion pass usable by one other person for the remainder of the current calendar year plus the entirety of the following calendar year.
The only catch is that the companion must pay taxes and fees, which on any domestic flight is $5.60 per one-way route as of this publication. For example, if I flew myself and a companion from Orlando to St. Louis and back for a vacation, I would simply pay $11.20 for my companion's total roundtrip airfare. Wowza!
Editorial Note: All opinions in this article are strictly my own. I am not an employee of Southwest Airlines. I am not a paid advertiser or promotor for Southwest Airlines. I do not receive any form of financial or in-kind compensation for writing this article. This review is based solely upon positive personal experience.
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