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Ah, good old Southwest Airlines—travelers either love it or hate it. I’m a big fan of the airline for shorter-haul flights and think the airline has a treasure trove of undervalued benefits. While there’s no first-class, Southwest Airlines offers attractive pricing and perks for travelers looking to save on air travel.
Southwest Perks: Booking
While it might seem annoying that Southwest doesn’t let third-party booking sites (sorry, Google Flights) list its fares, this actually benefits the traveler in that you know you are getting the lowest price by booking directly with the carrier. Southwest also has a Low Fare Calendar feature that will show you the cheapest time of the month to book your flights.
On top of offering low fares, Southwest also charges no change fees and allows up to two free checked bags per customer. In addition to the no change fees, you can get credited or refunded for a lower fare, meaning that not only will you not have to pay a change fee, you’ll also be credited or refunded if you book a cheaper fare. Plus you can easily search for price changes and see the increase or decrease in dollars or points in comparison to the fare you originally booked. Note that as of “January 1, 2021, ‘free same-day standby’ will change to ‘same-day standby free of airline charges’, and any A-List or A-List Preferred Member who changes their itinerary using same-day standby will be responsible for paying any additional government taxes and fees that may result,” according to the airline.
Another underrated perk of Southwest is the number of nonstop routes it flies. Southwest flies nonstop from some U.S. hubs to the following bucket-list destinations that many of its competitors don’t: Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, West Palm Beach, Puerto Vallarta, Aruba, Belize City, Grand Cayman, Havana, Turks and Caicos, and Liberia (Costa Rica).
Southwest Perks: Rapid Rewards Program
When booking as a member of Southwest’s reward program, Rapid Rewards, you earn points that don’t expire. Even better, there are no blackout dates for booking. Southwest will also do a status match with your current elite status on another airline. And as a rewards member, if you’re really a frequent flyer (i.e. 100 qualifying one-way flights in a year or 125,000 Companion Pass qualifying points), you can earn a companion pass that allows you to choose one person to fly with you for free for an entire year.
Southwest A-List Perks
As a Southwest A-List (25 one-way flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points) member, you get the following perks:
- Priority boarding
- Priority check-in and security lane access
- Dedicated member phone line
- 25 percent earning bonus
- Free same-day standby
And if you are an A-List Preferred (50 one-way flights or 70,000 tier qualifying points) member, you get all of the above, plus a 100 percent earning bonus and free inflight Wi-Fi.
Southwest Perks: Inflight Experience
You never have to worry about overbooking with Southwest, as the airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, has stated that the airline does not overbook flights. Also confirmed is that the airline has no plans to offer basic economy, so you won’t lose any of your benefits as a coach passenger.
One of Southwest’s most controversial policies is that there are no assigned seats. Instead, you are assigned a boarding group at the time of check-in, meaning the earlier you check-in, the better boarding position you get. And while I see both sides of an open-seat policy, I tend to prefer choosing my own seat. If you don’t like the policy, there’s a way around it: You can purchase EarlyBird check-in (price ranges from $15 to $25 one-way per passenger), which gives you a position in the first boarding group.
While in the air, Southwest perks continue with amenities such as gate-to-gate Wi-Fi connectivity and free drinks on holidays (and Southwest’s birthday). Here are the annual free drink days:
- New Year’s Day
- Valentine’s Day
- Patrick’s Day
- June 18th (Southwest’s birthday)
- Independence Day
- Halloween and more
Additionally, as a Rapid Rewards member, you earn four drink coupons for every 10 one-way paid flights that you take.
Inflight Wi-Fi is offered for a fee, but you can access the inflight entertainment portal for free on your device, which offers movies, live and on-demand TV, and games and messaging.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards Perks
If you are a frequent Southwest flyer, it’s probably worth investing in the rewards program credit card. (Get details about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority visa on our sister site Airfarewatchdog, which reviews and maintains an extensive list of traveler-friendly credit cards.) There are three levels, plus, premier, and priority. At this highest level (priority), here’s what you get:
- 7,500-anniversary points each year
- Up to four upgraded boardings
- $75 annual travel credit
- 20 percent back on inflight purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn two points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases; earn two points for every $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotels and car rental partners (includes SPG, Marriot, and Hyatt); earn one point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
- 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points towards A-List and A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 spent
- Annual fee of $149
All cardholders gain access to special events like exclusive concerts and experiences from wine tastings to an international golf getaway. For cardmembers, points are redeemable for gift cards, merchandise, international flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and experiences.
Business cardholders also can receive more perks, like Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit.
Southwest Perks: Community
Southwest gets a lot of fanfare from its loyal travelers. I recommend checking out the airline’s official community board and also the Reddit channel (not associated with the company) r/SouthwestAirlines. Both are full of Southwest-lovers who offer up advice, tips, and answer airline-specific questions.
Southwest Perks: Customer Service
Southwest has one of the wittiest social media accounts in the travel industry. You can follow Southwest on Twitter for customer service questions and also for sale alerts.
For Rapid Rewards members, there is also a Live Chat FAQ option on the mobile app (it’s even accessible via inflight Wi-Fi).
Southwest was also the first airline to have its own app, and the app is useful for airport information, booking a rideshare (Lyft is integrated into the app), and changing your flight on the go.
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