Southwest Airlines is a favorite airline carrier among loyal fans. As travel agent-advisors, we’d say they tend to rank better than most of the regular airlines in terms of service and flexibility. Southwest Airlines is known for doing things their own way. What do you need to know about flying this unique airline? Here are the things that you need to know:
Standard flights on many airlines like Delta, United, or American are available approximately 11 months in advance of travel. Southwest releases their flights on a rolling schedule where they will release 1-2 months of flights at a time. You have to watch for the release dates for your time of year to be available. They post their next roll out date on their website. This is often much closer to travel dates than other carriers. Holiday flights are usually released late Spring. Spring Break is normally released in the Fall. Summer flights are often released after the New Year. This means you sometimes have to risk other regular flights selling out or going up in price in order to see if the Southwest flight will be a better value. In-demand dates can sell out of the best fares within hours of being open.
Sometimes with standard airlines, you get a better price if you book a round-trip ticket instead of two one-way tickets to a destination. Southwest prices all of their tickets as one-way tickets. So, you never have to check if doing round-trip or one-way is better. It will be the same. Their search engine makes it easy to see different options for each leg of your trip. You have to add both outgoing and return flights prices together to get your total price.
Southwest flights don’t appear on Google flights or Online Travel Agency search engines like Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, or Kayak. So, if you want to compare their fares to other airlines, you will have to check their website.
Southwest planes are boarded by numerical boarding groups that are assigned based on when you do your online check-in 24-hours in advance of your flight time (according to the time zone of your flight departure city). If you are late checking in, you may get a very late boarding position. There are numbered posts outside the gate that help people self-cue into numerical order. You are responsible to verify with the other people in line your number status to get in the appropriate position. Getting in the first group, Group A, for boarding generally means you get to pick your preference of seat position (aisle or window). Mid-B group or later generally starts to get stuck in the middle seats.
Southwest offers an early bird upgrade that you pay per direction of your trip. This assigns you a boarding group in advance of the 24-hour check-in time so that you are farther up in the boarding position. Just how beneficial is the upgrade? Well, that is a hotly debated matter and people fall on both sides of the argument. Many swear that you can sometimes do better doing your own check-in exactly 24 hours advance. It is generally supposed that you get better boarding position based on how soon you buy the early bird, but many argue if this happens in reality. However, everyone agrees that if you are going to be busy or in a location without internet access, early bird is a good way to have the check-in done for you ahead of time.
Don’t be disappointed if you go to check-in for your international flight exactly 24 hours in advance and you are delayed because you have to enter your passport information. Make sure you enter that information into your online booking before you need to check-in.
You are assigned a boarding position at 24 hours in advance of your flight for each direction you are going. Make sure you don’t forget your return flight check-in while you are on vacation (or pay for early bird if you don’t want it).
While you may be able to wait until the last minute to board a regular flight, Southwest flights are first come first serve on selecting seats. There are no assigned seats. This also applies to the overhead bin space. If the bins are full, your bags will be checked, often through to your final destination.
If you end up having to make a tight connection, you may miss you boarding group and your chance to pick your favorite seat.
Group A lines up first and if you aren’t watching, you might miss your group. Sometimes the plane boards very quickly. Don’t leave the gate close to boarding time. Boarding group is often listed on a screen above the numbered posts outside the gate.
This is a major reason die-hard Southwest fans love the airline. Unlike other airlines that charge at least $30 per direction for a checked bag, Southwest includes two checked bags for free.
Southwest is the most flexible airline for changes and cancellations. They allow you to make changes to your flight online up to 10 minutes in advance of your flight without additional change fee charges. You simply pay the fare difference. You can cancel your flight up to 24 hours in advance and receive a full credit for the flight fare that must be traveled within one year of when you booked your flight originally.
If a better price becomes available, you can change to the new ticket price and receive a Southwest credit for the difference.
Southwest has a great frequent flier program with very flexible miles that can be transferred from person to person. They also have a credit card that people use to get extra miles. You will have to pay a tax fee when you redeem miles.
Southwest does not put passengers on another airline if their flights are delayed or cancelled. While this is becoming more common across many airlines, it means that you could get stuck for several days if Southwest is having a major problem in an area. Good trip insurance can be very helpful in this situation in helping to cover the cost of a ticket on a different airline.
Southwest does not have a true business or first class. Their higher fares come with minimal amenities compared to other airline’s first and business class. The business select fare does come with a better boarding position.
Southwest allows two adults with children under 6 to board between the first and second boarding groups regardless of boarding position to help them be able to sit together as a group. Passengers with a disability a that requires more time to board will board just before the families. One attendant is allowed to board with them to help them.
Southwest often flies through a different airport or terminal than the main city’s airport in places especially in Texas. Make sure you check which airport you are using so you don’t drive to the wrong one.
If you don’t like flying with kids, Southwest is probably not for you. Southwest is very popular with families because of their good value and checked bags. If you fly Southwest, expect that there will be children near you on the plane.
Southwest is known for having upbeat, fun, sometimes funny flight attendants. Don’t be surprised if you hear a few jokes cracked over the intercom.
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The Traveling Compass is a full-service luxury travel agency. Our success is built on a foundation of unmatched expertise and outstanding customer service. Our travel agents specialize in international travel, corporate incentive trips, destination weddings & honeymoons, multigenerational travel, luxury leisure, and family travel. We are also Authorized Disney Vacation Planners with experience assisting families that have children with special needs or large families or groups with complicated dining reservations for over 20 guests. Our personalized travel itineraries are designed to help discerning, time-pressed travelers plan the most elaborate vacations, down to the smallest detail. As luxury travel agents, we are dedicated to creating and facilitating travel experiences that expand awareness and give each person a real sense of the country and culture they are visiting. It is our mission to make sure you have the travel experience of a lifetime, every time.