Southwest is one of the best value airlines in the country thanks to its generous baggage policy and customer friendly approach to flight changes. It’s also the largest airline in the U.S. in terms of domestic passenger traffic, so chances are you’ll want to consider Southwest for your next flight. Flying Southwest is a little different from legacy carriers, so check out these tips to know how to take advantage of Southwest’s best perks and enjoy a comfortable flight.
Know the Booking Schedule
Unlike legacy carriers that release flights on a daily basis around 330 days in advance of the departure date, Southwest has a different approach. Southwest allows bookings through a specific date, which it extends once every few months. This date is usually four to seven months in the future and the airline publishes when it will open its schedule for future bookings on its website.
If you’re looking to book a flight for a specific date during peak seasons (holidays, school breaks, etc.), it’s a good idea to keep track of this date and set a reminder to look for flights when schedules open. You can then secure a flight at a certain fare with the option to make changes in the future with no fees.
Use Low Fare Calendar on Southwest.com to Book
Southwest does not publish its fares anywhere other than Southwest.com. While some third-party search engines and online travel agencies load Southwest’s flight schedules into their systems, most do not offer any pricing data and will simply send you to Southwest.com to check. If you ever notice a price listed for Southwest on a third-party site, it will be inaccurate and often much more expensive than what you’ll find on Southwest.com.
When searching on Southwest.com, make sure to use the low fare calendar to view fares on a monthly calendar, which can help you decide if you’d like to fly on surrounding dates for a better price.
Change Plans for Free
Don’t worry about changing plans in the future. While a fare difference may apply, all Southwest fares can be changed without any extra fees. If you see a really good price on a flight but are unsure of travel dates, feel confident that you can book the flight and make any changes or cancel your trip up to 10 minutes prior to departure. The amount you paid will be retained for a credit on a future booking and is valid for one full year from the original date of purchase.
Receive a Credit if the Fare Drops
Likewise, if you’ve secured a flight and notice that the price drops for the same flight or a different itinerary, you can make the change for free and receive a credit for the difference in price. This guarantees that you can always get the best possible price for your flight if you continually check for a cheaper fare and rebook when something better comes along.
Set an Alarm to Check-in Exactly 24 Hours in Advance
Southwest does not have any seat assignments, which means you’ll choose your seat on a first-come, first-serve basis while boarding. While you can pay extra for early boarding, it isn’t exactly necessary if all you want is a window or aisle seat anywhere on the plane.
Southwest determines its general boarding order by the check-in time of the passenger. You’ll be given a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a number (1-60) for your place in the boarding line. Therefore, it’s very important to check-in exactly 24 hours before departure to ensure you board as early as possible. I always find it’s best to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to check-in online.
Free Early Boarding for Kids
If you’re traveling with children under six years old, don’t worry about not finding seats together. After Southwest boards Group A, which includes A-list elite passengers and passengers who paid for EarlyBird check-in, families traveling with small children get first dibs at seats before Group B boarding begins, regardless of the boarding position listed on their boarding passes.
Fly on “No Plane Change” Flights
Southwest prides itself on flying nonstop in several markets rather than relying completely on a hub and spoke model. Of course, there will still be times where you’ll need to make a stop along the way. When this is required, look for flights that don’t require a change of planes. You’ll pay fewer taxes, have less ground time, and don’t need to get off the plane. Best of all, you can move to a better seat once all disembarking passengers have deplaned and before new passengers begin to board.
Take Advantage of Free Checked Bags
Forget trying to pack everything into a carry-on bag to avoid fees. Southwest offers two free checked bags on all fares. This gives you flexibility in choosing what to bring without worrying about paying extra. This perk alone can make Southwest the cheapest option for your trip. It can also make the flying experience more enjoyable without lugging around all of your belongings throughout the airport. Plus, there’s almost always room in the overhead bin for any bags you do carry onboard.
Bring Your Own Entertainment Device (and Headphones)
Southwest doesn’t have any seat back screens for entertainment. However, it does offer free streaming and live TV on your own device. Simply bring your laptop, tablet, or smartphone and go to southwestwifi.com onboard to enjoy the free inflight entertainment. And don’t forget your headphones! Southwest does not sell any onboard so you’ll need to have your own. You can also text through iMessage and WhatsApp for free and have full access to the Internet for a reasonable $8 a day.
Book with Points for More Flexibility
Looking for even more flexibility? If you book your flight with Southwest points, it actually makes your ticket completely refundable. While you can get a credit for cash tickets when plans change or fares drop, if you change or cancel a ticket booked with points, any difference in points is simply put back into your account. And you can also have all taxes/fees refunded to your credit card. This means you can use those points again whenever you wish since they never expire and can even use them for passengers other than who was originally ticketed.
Booking Southwest flights with points is a great way to make speculative plans when you are not completely sure where, when, or if you want to fly. It can be a great way to secure good rates for multiple dates if you want to have the flexibility to choose when to fly at the last minute. Flights can be cancelled up to 10 minutes before departure. Keep in mind that you cannot book more than one confirmed ticket in the same market on the same travel date. Southwest’s system will automatically cancel one of your flights if you do this.
Get the Companion Pass
Possibly the best deal in all of travel is Southwest’s companion pass. It allows you to book 2-for-1 flights for yourself and a designated companion on any Southwest flight. To get the companion pass, you’ll need to fly on 100 qualifying one-way segments or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, which will then be valid through the end of the following full calendar year. For example, if you earn it in 2021, you’ll have 2-for-1 flights through the end of 2022.
Companions only need to pay certain taxes and fees and must be booked on the same flights as the paid itinerary. The companion pass can be difficult to obtain unless you’re a very frequent Southwest flyer. Many people tend to take advantage of Southwest credit card offers in order to earn enough points to get the companion pass.