The first thing you need to know about Southwest is that they differ from the majority of airlines in several ways.
- As I have previously mentioned, they do not have many (if any) online booking sites or travel search engines that search their flights. Therefore, they can be easy to miss if you do not consciously remember to check out their website. The site is www.southwest.com.
- They are currently the only airline that will allow you to check two bags for free. (Alaska Airlines and JetBlue each give you one free bag)
- They only do their scheduling 4-6 months in advance. Most other airlines allow you to book a year in advance.
- Southwest does not pre-assign seats. When you arrive at the airport your boarding pass has a letter (A, B, C). Southwest will allow all A passengers to go first, followed by B, then C.
- They have a very lenient and flexible cancellation policy even for sale fares. Airlines will typically charge you between $75-$150 to change a flight in addition to any fare difference. Southwest, on the other hand, will only charge you the fare difference. Need to cancel your travel plans? No worries. You get all the money you paid for tickets in Southwest redeemable vouchers that you must spend within one year of the original purchase date.
- I know this final point is a little subjective, but for the most part you need to be a happy and friendly person to work at Southwest. I’ll just say that I have found many not-so-pleasant customer service agents that work for other airlines. Southwest (with some exceptions, of course) has always provided friendly and upbeat service.
What I love about Southwest:
- Low one-way fare. My family is at a point where we do a lot of one-way travel. The pattern has certainly changed over the last couple of years, but previously Southwest was the only place you could get a reasonable one-way fare. Other airlines are now responding by offering low one-way fares, but Southwest, it seems to me, still sets the standard on low fares.
- The flexibility. The biggest drawback on buying cheap tickets is that they tend to be so inflexible. They often will cost more than the original ticket to change. With Southwest it is easy and free. Their flexibility essentially gives them a lowest fare guarantee. (see below to learn how you can guarantee the lowest fare)
- Seating policy. I’ll be honest, this one has changed for me recently. I wasn’t a fan of everyone fighting for seats with the open seating policy. But then I started traveling with my young family. The last 4-5 times I’ve flown Southwest I have been one of the first ten on the plane and had my pick of almost any seat.
- The experience. Southwest employees make air travel enjoyable. We had one flight where they strung a roll of toilet paper along the tops of the seats down the main row. They then took the end and flushed it down the toilet just so we could see how powerful their toilets were by how quickly the roll followed behind.
- Free baggage. This makes a huge difference on your total price. If my family of four each had two bags to check in we would pay an average of $160 more on most airlines.
Room for Improvement:
- Seating policy. I know I also listed this as one of the things I love, but if you do not have young kids you might not love it. If you are traveling with a group (without small children) you may need to be prepared to sit apart.
- Tips for Southwest:Check-in Online 24 hours before your flight. This will most likely allow you to secure an “A” boarding pass. This would essentially eliminate the negative statement about the seating policy.
- How Southwest offers you a ‘sort-of-kind-of’ lowest fare assurance.
- Let’s say you buy tickets from Baltimore to Nashville for $260 round trip with tax. Then three weeks later that same ticket is priced at $220 round trip with tax. Just sign into your Southwest account and either cancel your itinerary or change your itinerary. You would end up with the tickets from Baltimore to Nashville and $40 (260-220) in Southwest redeemable dollars. Must be used within one year of original booking. You could just apply the $40 towards your next trip.
- This also allows you to change to more appealing itineraries. Lets say you bought tickets again from Baltimore to Nashville for $260 round trip with tax. But to get that price you need to leave at 9:50 a.m. and you had one stop along the way for a total travel time of 3 hours. Then a few days later Southwest had a sale and the one way flight is available for the same price (or lower!) then you could just switch to a preferred flight itinerary at not cost or even get some money back!
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