Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
Lyn writes about Southwest at GotoTravelGal.com and flies the airline regularly with her family, so I’ve asked her to share tips on what you should know before booking and boarding a Southwest flight.
Lyn: I’m a big fan of Southwest and I’ll share with you why in this post.
Because Southwest is often described as a discount airline, it often gets overlooked and pegged with some of the problems other low-cost airlines face like poor customer service, a la carte fees, and stripped down amenities.
I’ll help put to bed some of these concerns, explain why I love Southwest, and show you everything to know to make your next Southwest flight a great one.
1. Seat Selection and Space
Southwest gets a bad rap when it comes to seat selection, and admittedly, this is the most challenging part of flying on Southwest. However, with some planning and knowledge about how the system works, you can help ensure you’ll find a decent seat.
There are Southwest check-in procedures like checking-in online 24 hours prior to departure that will increase your chances of sitting in your preferred spot, whether it be toward the front of the plane, in a window or aisle seat, or with a child or companion.
In addition, you can purchase a Business Select fare to board earlier and increase your seat selection, or you can purchase the less-expensive Early Bird Check-In to board after Business Select but before everyone else.
We have found Southwest to offer reasonable legroom and space, more so than other discount airlines. My husband is 6’ 3” and does fine in a window or aisle seat. If you are able to board early, you can head for the exit row if you are an adult or look for the first row, which offers more legroom but no underseat storage.
2. Two Free Checked Bags
One of my favorite things about Southwest is the ability to check 2 FREE BAGS per person. This is incredibly helpful for families who may need to bring a larger amount of items when traveling.
We will often pack a bag with non-perishable breakfast items and snacks to save on dining, especially at places like Walt Disney World, and if we will not be renting a car to get to a grocery store. Even with this allowance, we still usually only need to check 1 item per person.
Southwest is also generous with carry-ons, permitting each person to bring 1 carry-on no bigger than 10 x 16 x 24 inches and 1 small personal item, such as a purse, briefcase or laptop with case, at no charge.
3. No Blackout Dates
I have focused almost entirely on Southwest for my family’s flights, because it is so simple to both earn points and redeem them. No master’s mathematics degree required! Many airlines get very complicated, requiring higher miles and searching for “award fares.” I like to keep things simple and Southwest allows me to do this.
Southwest lets you book any flight at any time using your Southwest points, as long as there’s a seat for sale. It doesn’t get any easier than this! While there will be times when the points are very high to fly to a destination, you still can redeem your points for the flight if you really need or want to.
4. No Cancellation or Change Fees
Similarly, Southwest does not charge a fee if you cancel or change your flight, and they will either refund your points or issue you a credit if you paid with cash, which can be used toward future travel for Wanna Get Away fares. You must change or cancel 10 minutes prior to departure. Anytime and Business Select fares are fully refundable.
If you purchase a flight with points, though, the points are instantly credited back to your Southwest account for use on a different flight — another perk of booking with points.
While Southwest flights can be pricey just like any airline, if you wait and buy during a sale, which they seem to have every other week, you can usually score a good deal.
I almost always purchase my flights using points, and I wait until there is a sale so that I use the least amount of points. The points price is tied to the fare price, so the lower the fare, the lower the points required to book the flight.
I also like that Southwest does not charge you for everything you want to add like checked baggage, meals, and seat selection. You CAN purchase Early Bird seating and Wi-Fi for email and texting, but you can have an enjoyable flight without either.
6. Free In-Flight Entertainment
Our family also enjoys the free in-flight entertainment, which allows you to watch TV shows on your own device. Here is the full list of supported devices.
While you will have to pay extra to watch a movie ($5) or surf the Internet ($8 for Web, $2 for texting), the fees are nominal and work across multiple flights in 1 day. Keep in mind that not all planes have Wi-Fi, but Southwest is increasing the number of Wi-Fi-enabled planes and plans to have all equipped by the end of 2017.
You can check to see if your upcoming flight will have Wi-Fi by going to Southwest.com/WiFi, typing in your confirmation number, and first and last name. If your plane has Wi-Fi, you will see a green checkmark to the right of the flight.
7. Snacks and Drinks
Peanuts and pretzels are always free on Southwest Airlines and we’ve had various other snacks offered as well. If you’re lucky, you might even snag a bag of their yummy honey-roasted peanuts on your next flight, which are offered for limited times!
All passengers also get a free non-alcoholic drink of their choice, including sodas, juices, hot chocolate, coffee, and ginger ale, or you can choose to purchase an alcoholic drink, including wine, sparkling wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails for $5 each or with a free drink coupon. The flight attendants are also usually happy to refill your free drink.
8. Customer Service
My favorite reason to fly Southwest is the customer service. Southwest is not perfect — their flight systems go down, flights are delayed and luggage is lost — but they handle it the right way.
I have flown discount and full-service airlines where I was treated rudely many times over. I will never fly them again, no matter how great the price. Southwest is truly one of the best companies for customer service and has been named to Fortune’s 10 Most Admired Companies list for more than 20 years in a row.
When their computer systems went down last year, it impacted many people, but most emerged feeling like Southwest communicated with them properly and provided suitable reimbursement.
Southwest flight attendants are also one-of-a-kind and will usually bend over backwards to help you. I once bought a salad to eat on the plane, but forgot to pick up a fork. While they did not have any forks on the plane, the flight attendant kindly got me a stir stick, explaining I was not the first to forget a fork and showing me how I could use it to stab my lettuce :). It worked!
Flying Southwest can be a great experience if you know what to expect and plan ahead. Remember:
- You can improve your seat selection by knowing how and when to check in
- Everyone can check 2 free bags and bring 1 carry-on and personal item free
- There are no blackout dates for award bookings
- There are no fees to cancel or change a flight
- Get the most competitive pricing during a sale
- Enjoy free in-flight entertainment on your own device
- Everyone gets a snack and a non-alcoholic drink
- Customer service doesn’t get much better than with Southwest!
Why do you like to fly Southwest?