30 May The Best and Worst of Southwest Airlines
I got LUV for Southwest. I would say that I fly Southwest at least 3 times as much as any other domestic carrier, and most of the time I am very happy with the experience! But, even with all that LUV, for someone that has experienced his fair share of SW, I do have my qualms…
So here you have it – the best and worst of Southwest Airlines, according to Accounting Your Points!
1. No Change/Cancellation Fees
In my opinion, this is the most valuable attribute that Southwest Airlines offers. You can book flights, change flights, cancel flights – and you don’t have worry about the extra fees! Plans change, so this feature is valuable for obvious reasons! My favorite use of this feature is the ability to re-book your existing flights and receive a refund if the airfare decreases below what you originally paid. That means it literally pays to keep monitoring for lower fares after purchasing your flight!
2. Bags Fly Free
While many airlines charge for baggage (though there are ways to avoid these), Southwest has remained steady in their “bags fly free” policy! The ability to check 2 bags free of charge on each and every Southwest flight is a HUGE benefit – saving you hundreds of dollars on a single trip compared to competitor airlines like Delta, United and American.
3. The Boarding Process
The SW boarding process is unlike most other airlines – which is a good thing! There is no need for all the fancy statuses – Diamond Medallion, Sky Priority, OneWorld Emerald, Venti Triple Caramel Mocha – On Southwest, you line up according to your boarding position and hop on the plane in that order! Simple as that.
4. Simplicity of Rapid Rewards
The SW Rapid Rewards program is a strong one. You can accumulate Rapid Reward points by flying Southwest, utilizing the SW credit card(s), shopping/dining with associated SW programs, and transferring from Chase Ultimate Rewards! The point value is fixed – meaning redeeming points occurs at a (somewhat) fixed rate of 1.5 cents per point. With a fixed point value, redeeming points for flights is simple – the price of the flight is directly correlated to the points needed for a redemption – much easier than referencing domestic carrier award charts…
The program overall is solid, but two favorite Rapid Reward features are the relationship with Chase Ultimate Rewards (as a transfer partner), and the ability to earn (by flying 100 flights or earning 110,000 points in a calendar year) the Companion Pass – awarding an individual with 2-for-1 (or BOGO, if you will) SW flights for the remainder of the calendar year the Companion Pass is earned as well as the following calendar year.
5. Free Holiday Adult Beverages
“Free” happens to be one of my favorite words in the English language. And I have been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two… So the combination here is a Win/Win! Fly Southwest on a holiday (Memorial Day, for instance) and enjoy a free beer, wine, or spirit! FYI – the SW flight attendants will not announce this to all passengers, so you will need to check the holiday dates observed and request from the flight attendant directly when they come by to take your drink order.
1. Route Network (International)
SW has a great domestic route network, but it is lacking in terms of international routes. While they do have flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, there is certainly room for improvement (Cuba, I’m looking at you…). I understand that SW is limited here a bit by its exclusive use of the Boeing 737, but hopefully that won’t stop them from expanding the route map to more and more international destinations!
2. Lack of First Class Product
While a First Class cabin doesn’t really go with the Southwest business model, it would be nice to have the ability to redeem some additional points for a higher class of service. While domestic first class is generally not worth the extra cash compared to economy, there are some exceptions. For instance, JetBlue offers a very attractive first class product with Mint Class, which I would love to experience someday soon! I really don’t think this will ever happen for SW, but it’s fun to imagine!
3. The Boarding Process
While it has some positive features (see #3 in the “Best” section), the SW boarding process can be somewhat of a cluster. In theory, the method should expedite boarding, but having 3 groups of 60 people with carry-on luggage repeatedly cram into a confined boarding area doesn’t always render these results.
Additionally, considering there are no assigned seats on SW, there is a premium on boarding position – meaning you better check into your flight at exactly 24 hours prior to departure or pay $15-$40 extra for a better boarding assignment, or you may be stuck in a middle seat in the back with no overhead space…
4. Lack of Airline Agreements, Partners and Alliances
SW is all on its own as it relates to airline partners, alliances and agreements. This is a positive in that they will not be influenced by the actions of partners… But a severe disadvantage during unforeseen circumstances – like flight delays and cancellations.
I witnessed this disadvantage firsthand when we missed a connection due to a flight delay. Our missed connection was the last SW flight of the day, though there were many other available flights on other airlines – like Delta, for instance. Since SW has no agreement with Delta, they could not book us on the Delta flight and instead we had to stay the night in Atlanta and connect in New Orleans on our way from Atlanta to Tampa.
5. West to East Red Eye Flights
SW schedules most (if not all) the Eastbound flights originating on the West Coast earlier in the day and avoids any red-eye flight scenarios. While I generally and not a red-eye fan, departing the West Coast at 8am really does limit the time spent in a destination, creating a possible need to take off additional days of work for travel.
Not a big gripe here, but I think the more options the better when it comes to flight schedules!
Southwest has done a great job of differentiating itself among the pack of Domestic Airlines. While some of these different features provide flyers increased cost savings and flexibility (i.e. Free Bags and Free Cancellations), others sometimes increase hassle and decrease vacation options (i.e. No Partner Agreements and Limited International Destinations).
Overall, the Best very clearly trump the Worst, and I will happily travel the USA with this view…