8 things to know to safely fly Southwest

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MMS is Southwest’s biggest fan. Because of the carrier’s status as a discount airline, it’s overlooked for its world-class features and categorized with some of the industry’s worst airlines, like Spirit and Ryanair.

Southwest does not suffer from poor customer service, a la carte fees, or lack of amenities. Frequent flyers of Southwest are loyal because the airline really does care for them.

However, many are understandably apprehensive about flying again before COVID-19 is a thing of the past. I’ll explain what you can do to stay safe while flying Southwest.

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, if you’ve mastered the art of checking-in on Southwest, you can nearly guarantee that you’ll find a decent seat. There are actually strategic places to sit on the plane if you’ve got coronavirus concerns. Check out our post about social distancing on an airplane for more info.

Checking-in online EXACTLY 24 hours before departure will increase your chances of sitting in your preferred spot, whether it be toward the front of the plane, in a window or on the aisle, in a middle seat (ya weirdo), or with a child or companion.

In addition, you can:

  • Purchase a Business Select fare to board earlier and increase your seat selection
  • Purchase the less-expensive Early Bird Check-In to board after Business Select but before everyone else

Side note: Southwest is also blocking middle seats through November 30 to ensure distance between passengers. And considering Southwest offers considerably more legroom than any other discount airline, those a bit squeamish about flyiing may find Southwest one of their best options. Those boarding early can head for the exit row or the first row (which offers more legroom but no under-seat storage).

2.   Two free checked bags

One of my favorite things about flying with Southwest is the ability to check two free bags per person. This is incredibly helpful for families who may need to bring a larger amount of items when traveling. If you want to minimize the touchpoints along your journey, you can check a big bag and then just check your carry-on, too. That way, you won’t have to mess with overhead bins. When your plane lands, you can head straight for baggage claim and wait to pick up your luggage after the area has cleared out a bit.

3.   No blackout dates

Southwest’s award chart is far less complicated than most other airlines. You can book any flight at any time using Southwest points, as long as there’s a seat for sale. It seriously doesn’t get any easier. 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 want.

4.   No cancellation or change fees

Southwest does not charge a fee if you cancel or change your flight. They’ll either refund your points or issue a credit if you paid with cash, which can be used toward future travel for Wanna Get Away fares. As long as you change or cancel 10 minutes prior to departure, you’re eligible.

Anytime and Business Select fares are actually refundable — if you pay in cash, your card will be refunded. 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.

There are many data points of people changing their flights when they learn that they’re booked on an exceptionally full flight. If this is you, Southwest’s change and cancellation policies are a big deal.

I’m not aware of a way to view how many passengers are on your Southwest flight. But something you can do to gauge the capacity is to search your flight on the Southwest website and select eight passengers. If your flight still appears, it probably won’t be filled to the brim. Of course, some travelers may jump on as standby.

5.   Pricing

While Southwest flights can be pricey (just like any airline), if you wait to buy during a sale, you can usually score a good deal.

I almost always purchase my flights using points, and I wait until there is a sale. The points price is tied to the fare price, so the lower the fare, the fewer points required to book the flight.

6.   Free inflight entertainment

Southwest gives you the option to view inflight entertainment on your personal device (here’s the full list of supported devices). They’ve got free movies, but you’ll have to pay $8 for internet.

Using your personal device means that you won’t be touching dirty screens on the back of the seat to cure your boredom.

7.   Snacks and drinks

Snacks are always free on Southwest. All passengers also get a free non-alcoholic drink of their choice, including sodas, juices, hot chocolate, coffee, and ginger ale. You can also choose to purchase an alcoholic drink, including wine, sparkling wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails for $5 each — OR with a free drink coupon.

Southwest serves beverages and snacks on flights over 250 miles. But due to coronavirus, they’ve stopped their service on shorter flights. Straws are available upon request.

8.   Customer service

My favorite reason to fly Southwest is because of the customer service. Southwest isn’t perfect — their flight systems go down, flights are delayed and luggage is lost — but they handle it the right way. Southwest is truly one of the best companies for customer service and has been named among the top companies in Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list for decades.

Southwest flight attendants are one-of-a-kind and will usually bend over backward to help you. One MMS writer 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 fetched a stir stick, explaining an efficient way to use it with lettuce. Haha!

How to earn Southwest points

It’s easy to rack up Southwest points with any of these Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card – Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card – Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card – Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card – Earn 60,000 Southwest points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card – Earn 80,000 Southwest points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

To learn more about each of these deals (and other ways to rack up points!), check out our guide to earning Southwest points.

Bottom line

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 two free bags and bring one carry-on and personal item
  • 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

Until coronavirus is in the rearview, Southwest may be one of the most accommodating airlines in the industry — especially with its pledge to block middle seats through November, and the ability to change your flight if you perceive it’ll be too full for your liking.

Let us know why you love flying with Southwest! And subscribe to our newsletter for more posts like this delivered to your inbox once per day.

Featured image by VIAVAL/Shutterstock.

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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