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Everything to Know About Flying Standby on Southwest

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Everything to Know About Flying Standby on Southwest

Go to Travel GalEverything to Know About Flying Standby on SouthwestMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Lyn writes about Southwest Airlines on her blog and has written a free guide on how to earn the Southwest Companion Pass that Emily and I believe is the best deal in travel.  Lyn shared that Southwest made some changes regarding their standby procedures.  I’ve asked her to share the specifics to help you understand the details of how to fly standby on Southwest.

Lyn:   If you ever need to fly standby, meaning you can catch an earlier or later flight to the same destination on the same day if there is an open seat, Southwest has made some positive changes to their policies.  Especially for Southwest elite status members and those who purchase premium fares.

How To Fly Standby On Southwest
If You Missed Your Original Flight – or Want to Fly Earlier Than Planned – Here’s Everything You Need to Know About How to Fly Standby on Southwest

I’ll share the changes.  And how you can fly standby should you ever need to!

How to Fly Standby on Southwest

If you want to fly standby, you must make your request at the airport ticket counter.  Or if you’ve already checked in, at the gate.  According to Southwest, you cannot make the request online or by calling.

If you want to try to change your ticket to a different flight and reserve a seat, you can do that:

  • On
  • At a Southwest kiosk
  • With a Customer Service Agent at the airport
  • By calling a Southwest at 800-I-FLY-SWA

If it’s within 1 hour of your original flight’s departure time, you will no longer be able to make changes online.

If you don’t make it on a flight and you’ve missed your original flight, you can still change your reservation and pay only the fare difference so long as you alerted Southwest at least 10 minutes before your scheduled flight of your cancellation.  You can try to rebook yourself online or speak with a Customer Service Agent.  And if you are unable, then arrive at the airport within 2 hours of your original flight and request to get on a standby list, hoping a seat opens up on a later flight!

Who Can Fly Standby on Southwest?

Let’s say you missed your flight or scheduled your flight later in the day than you would have liked and want to see if you can catch an earlier flight.  Depending on the type of fare you purchased and your elite status with Southwest, you may be able to fly standby.

Additionally, if you missed your flight, you will need to have let Southwest know at least 10 minutes ahead of the flight that you will not make it or need to change your reservation, otherwise you will be considered a “no show” and will be out the full price of your ticket.

Your Fare Type Determines the Standby Rules

When you fly standby, you are hoping to fly either an earlier or later flight than your original but on the same day.  It all hinges on if the flight you want to take has an open seat!

If you purchased a Wanna Get Away or Senior fare, Southwest’s lowest cost fares, you can only fly standby by paying the change in the fare price between the 2 flights.

The cost will not be charged to your credit card until you are cleared from the standby list and receive a boarding pass.  If you choose to upgrade to an Anytime fare, Southwest’s middle-of-the-road fare that earns you more points but is not Business Class, you can fly standby for an earlier flight without paying the difference in fare price.

Those who have Anytime or Business Select Southwest tickets are allowed to fly standby with no change in fare between the same cities on the same day IF there is an open seat on an earlier flight.  These fare types also receive A zone boarding privileges.

That means they are the first zone to board the plane and the first passengers to select their seats, but they may forfeit A zone boarding when flying standby.

You may also need to pay taxes and fees for the new flight with Anytime and Business Select fares.

In addition to flying standby, you can always cancel and rebook anytime on Southwest with no change fees, though you will have to pay the difference in price if you hold a Wanna Get Away ticket or if you end up on a flight on a different day with any type of fare or elite status.

How To Fly Standby On Southwest
Flying Standby Can Be Nerve Wracking But Here Is Your Best Chance at Scoring a New Flight

Remember, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest to make up the different in fare price when you have any of the following cards:

For same-day flight changes for Business Select and Anytime fares, the passenger will not have to pay any difference in fare so long as the flight is on the same day of travel, is PRIOR to their originally-scheduled flight, and is between the same cities.  You may also change from non-stop to multi-stop flights or vice versa with no penalty.

If the new flight is AFTER the originally scheduled flight and you alerted Southwest at least 10 minutes prior to the flight that you would need to change or cancel, you will pay the difference in fare price, if there is one.

Elite Status Gets You More Flexibility

A key perk of holding elite status with Southwest, which includes A-List and A-List Preferred, is the ability to fly standby for an EARLIER flight on the SAME day as your original flight with no change in fare price.

The airline gives A-List and A-List Preferred status to Southwest Rapid Rewards members with 35,000 to 70,000 qualifying Southwest points or 25 to 50 one-way flights.

Southwest began allowing elite members to fly standby free within 2 hours of their original flight time in the fall of 2016.  And in 2017, the airline extended the free standby time from 2 hours to 24 hours ahead of the originally scheduled flight so long as the standby flight is prior to the original flight and on the same day.

How To Fly Standby On Southwest
Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred Members Can Fly Standby FREE up to 24 Hours Ahead of Their Original Flight on the Same Day

For flights that don’t meet requirements for free standby, A-List and A-List Preferred Members receive priority standby and will need to pay the difference in fare if there is an available seat.  A-List Preferred Members receive priority over A-List Members.

Additionally, A-List Preferred and A-List members receive priority boarding, which means Southwest checks them in before everyone else 36 hours ahead of the departure time.  When flying standby, however, elite members lose the privilege of priority boarding.

What About Companions?

If you hold the Southwest Companion Pass, which lets one person fly free with you for up to 2 years, or you’re traveling with a companion, there are a few things to consider regarding standby.

If you are an A-List or A-List Preferred member, they are NOT afforded your same benefits unless they also hold elite status.

However, James S., a Go to Travel Gal reader, said he was told by a Southwest supervisor on the Customer Service phone line that if he was cleared for an earlier flight as an elite status member, he could call reservations to get his Companion (from his Southwest Companion Pass) also moved to the new flight.  So it may be on a case-by-case basis, depending on who you get on the phone or in person.  He said they did indicate that they will NOT do it at the gate.

If you are flying standby based on the fare you purchased, the person traveling with you will also be able to fly standby according to their fare.

Bottom Line

Flying standby is not a simple procedure on Southwest and probably best avoided.

But if you find yourself needing to catch an earlier or later flight, try to rebook yourself online or by calling Southwest Customer Service, especially if you have elite status or hold premium fares and thus won’t mean a change in price.

If that fails, head to the airport within 2 hours of the originally-scheduled flight to get on a standby list and try not to wring your hands waiting to see if you get a seat!

Looking for More Travel Tips?  Check Out These Other Popular Million Mile Secrets Articles

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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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As long as there is actual room on the flight, standby to an earlier flight is an easy and cost-free process for A-list members. I have had the chance to move my flight earlier a few times this past year when I was done early (or arrived to a hub early). On one occasion, I had a late flight but was done early. I was able to get standby on one of two earlier flights – the best option only had 1 seat and that went to someone else. I still was able to get into the second flight, that got me home 2 hours earlier. Another time, I flew into chicago super early from Raleigh, and had a connecting flight to st. louis 4 hours later. At chicago, I noticed two flights leaving to St. Louis within the hour. I only had a carryon, and hustled over to a gate agent and asked to be standby on flight 1 (in 30 min). I assume they just checked that I was an A-list member (although on a very cheap, wanna get away fare), and put me on standby. There were no seats on flight 1, so I asked the gate agent to put me on standby for the second flight in another 30 min. They quickly did so, and actually gave me a seat as A group was boarding. The gate agent called me out so that I could board at the end of A group, instead of waiting to the very end, as you usually have to do for standby!

Thanks for the great write-up. I’ve done this personally and found it to be very easy. Here is what happened. I am an A-List member who was flying on a Business Select ticket from Kansas City to Pittsburgh. My origional flight left later, went to Midway, and then to Pittsburgh. I found an earlier flight that went to St. Louis then Pittsburgh. I approached the agent in the boarding area and asked to get on earlier. After a few keystrokes I was on the flight to St. Louis then Pittsburgh–getting into PIT two hours earlier.

Of note, there were no “business select” seats available on my new route. However, I believe I was moved to an “anytime” far and accrueed those miles. Also, because I have A-List status, I was able to board after the “A” boarding group. So I didn’t get my first pick of seats, but there are still plenty of seats available following the A group.

Overall I found it to be a great experience.