Southwest Rapid Rewards

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Southwest | Rapid Rewards

Rapid Rewards works differently than mileage-based programs, and flying on Southwest differs from flying on a major airline carrier. The differences are sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Reading this Wiki is your ticket to a more rewarding flying and earning experience on Southwest. test

The Rapid Rewards Program

History of the Rapid Rewards Program

  • Rapid Rewards began on June 22, 1987 as The Company Club, a simple program awarding a free round trip after you collected 16 stamps on a paper card. If you managed to collect 100 stamps in a year, you earned a Companion Pass allowing you to take a designated person with you for free on all your Southwest flights. Despite other significant changes over the years, the basic 16 credits = free round-trip and 100 credits = Companion Pass formulas remained in place until March 1, 2011.
  • On April 25, 1996 Southwest renamed the program Rapid Rewards, sending out plastic membership cards to everyone who had redeemed awards under the Company Club program. Those members are the only ones with numbers starting with 0000001. Electronic tracking of flight credits was a major improvement over paper cards and stamps. This phase of the program is known by Cpi-Web members as Rapid Rewards 1.0.
  • Double credit for online bookings, first offered in 1997 provided a huge boost for the transition from telephone to web-based booking. In 2004 the bonus was reduced to 50% (1 bonus credit per two credits earned). In April 2005 the online booking bonus was quietly dropped.
  • As Southwest grew, the disadvantages of the program from their point of view became harder and harder to ignore. Last-seat availability for award travel led to instances when peak holiday flights were filled with 75% or more award passengers. Those seats could have been sold for high prices. The revenue loss was obvious.
  • In 2006 Southwest imposed capacity controls on awards, softening the blow slightly by doubling the validity period of credits from 12 to 24 months. Capacity controls gradually became tighter as fares rose with fuel prices. This phase of the program is sometimes referred to on Cpi-Web as Rapid Rewards 1.5.
  • With the exception of Business Select bonus credits, RR 1.0 and RR 1.5 rewarded customers identically regardless of the fare paid or the distance traveled. Southwest was operating many long-haul flights that were not envisioned when the original Company Club program was designed. Full fare ticket prices had also risen quite dramatically since then. The program was unfairly stingy to long-haul full-fare passengers and unfairly generous to short-haul discount-fare passengers. Company management believed the inherent unfairness of their loyalty program was a significant impediment to increasing their share of the lucrative premium passenger market. Something had to be done.
  • In an effort to address the unfairness of the program and to capture a significantly larger share of “premium” passengers, Southwest developed the New Rapid Rewards, which Cpi-Web members call Rapid Rewards 2.0. Southwest announced the change on January 6, 2011. The new program began on March 1, 2011.
  • On September 27, 2010, Southwest announced that it had agreed to acquire AirTran. AirTran's operation was fully converted to Southwest by the end of 2013.

Today's Rapid Rewards Program

  • The new Rapid Rewards program, effective March 1, 2011, is fare- and fare class-based with banked points and significant elite level bonuses. It bears some similarity to Virgin America's Elevate, JetBlue's (overhauled in 2012) TrueBlue, and even America West's original Flight Fund. Rapid Rewards 2.0 adds the new wrinkle of varying earnings with both fare and fare class. Furthermore, it adds the novel feature of fare class-based redemption rates, dramatically boosting the points "price" for short-notice travel.
  • Earnings and redemptions are based on the base fare (the amount that airline actually charges, thus exclusive of excise tax and the various add-on fees and charges).
    • Prior to mid-2014, earnings and redemptions were based on “old style” stated fare (i.e. base fare plus excise tax). Southwest never formally announced this change; it was quietly slipped into the program Terms and Conditions in December, 2013.
  • Earning rates are 6 points per dollar for Wanna Get Away fares, 10 points per dollar for Anytime fares, and 12 points per dollar for Business Select fares.
  • Redemption rates are 72 to 80 points per dollar of base fare for WGA fares (varying by fare class), 100 points per dollar for Anytime fares, and 120 points per dollar for Business Select fares. Because of this disparity in redemption values, the best redemption strategy for RR 2.0 is exactly opposite what it is for RR 1.0 and major airline programs: You should never redeem points for expensive, last-minute tickets. Redeeming exclusively in the WannaGetAway lower fare classes will maximize the value of your points.
    • The original WGA redemption rate was 60 points per dollar. Southwest increased it to 70 points per dollar effective March 31, 3014.
    • A second devaluation on April 17, 2015 changed the 70 points per dollar to an undefined range, currently 70 to 80.
    • A third, and never announced, devaluation on April 28, 2016 changed the range to 72 to 80 points per dollar. There are no longer any flights at 70 points per dollar.
  • All seats are available for points redemption, with no blackout dates.
  • Redemption prices in points are shown on the flight selection page.
  • You cannot combine cash and points directly for a purchase, but you can buy the extra points you need and then redeem your points. Points are sold in blocks of 1,000 for $27.50, with a minimum purchase of 2,000 for $55. The maximum purchase is 40,000 points per transaction. Promotions offering 35% to 40% more points per dollar are offered several times per year.
  • As is typical with travel loyalty programs, buying points is expensive except to top off the amount you need to redeem for a ticket.
  • Unused redemption travel is redeposited to your account. Redeeming for WannaGetAway tickets for relatives who travel infrequently is a good idea, because it avoids the problem of non-transferability of ticketless funds. If a passenger cancels a trip for which a cash fare was paid, the funds are locked to that passenger’s name and are not usable for anyone else. With a reward ticket, the points go back into your account regardless of who the (non-) traveler was.
  • Points do not expire provided there is earning activity in your account within the preceding 24 months. Unusually for a loyalty program, activity other than earning (such as a redemption) does not keep the points alive. You may receive an email notification that your points are nearing expiration for inactivity. Also, the website displays last activity date below the center right of the screen after you login to Rapid Rewards .
  • Because redemption price is based on fare, it increases as fares climb due to inflation, making the program seem inherently stable and sustainable. This did not stop Southwest from devaluing points in late September 2013, effective for flights booked (or rebooked) after March 30, 2104, a most disappointing development to members. Another devaluation on April 17, 2015 removed any commitment to maintain fixed exchange rates between points and cash prices.
  • Redemption price automatically drops during some (but not all) fare sales, providing interesting redemption opportunities. Short-haul/low-fare redemption, which is a bad deal in RR 1.0 and all major airline programs, becomes an excellent deal in RR 2.0. This is arguably the most salient advantage of the new program. Infrequent travelers who under the old program never reached 16 credits within two years will now be able to redeem a small number of points for a cheap one-way trip.
  • Rapid Rewards Visa cardholders are able to redeem points for travel outside the lower 48 states, including over 800 international destinations, and for items other than airline tickets. Southwest calls these options “More Rewards.” Except during short-term promotions (e.g., during November, 2013), you cannot take advantage of "More Rewards" if you do not have the Rapid Rewards Visa. Because Southwest has to buy these items for you, the point cost of these awards will be at least 100 points per dollar of cash price. “More Rewards” redemptions cannot be redeposited.
  • Credit card earnings are 1 point per dollar, or 2 points per dollar for purchases from Southwest (and partners, for holders of the Signature and Preferred versions of the card). If used toward WGA fares, the value here is comparable to or potentially better than the former program (in which $19,200 of Rapid Reward Dollars earned 16 credits and a Standard Award). If used for Anytime or Business Select fares, the value is poor to abysmal: Your 19,200 points would be worth only $192 toward base Anytime or $160 toward base Business Select fares. (Actual values are somewhat higher after considering the 7.5% excise tax and the avoided fees and charges.)
  • Rapid Rewards Dining earns 3 points per dollar.
  • One drink coupon book will be mailed to you every time you complete 10 paid one-way trips.
  • The smaller denomination of the frequent flier currency under Rapid Rewards 2.0 has allowed the addition of Rapid Rewards shopping, a portal via which you can earn points for purchases from a variety of online merchants. There might even be some small-scale redemption opportunities in our future.

Rapid Rewards 2015: Opaque Award Pricing

  • On February 12, 2015, Southwest announced that on April 17, 2015 it would begin changing the points pricing for awards. The new formula is secret, making award pricing unknown to members until we do a search. There is no award chart and there is no longer be a fixed ratio of points per dollar of cash Wanna Get Away fare.
  • More importantly, this change opens the door to slow and steady erosion of the value of our points without any announcement, let alone advance warning. Under this new program, it will be risky to hold a large balance of unused points.
  • The current points per dollar redemption ratios for WannaGetAway fares varies from 72 to 80, going higher as the fares rise toward the Anytime level. Redemption ratios are believed to match the following table:


Fare Class Points per Dollar Type of Fare
 T  72  Wanna Get Away
 N  72  Wanna Get Away
 M  72  Wanna Get Away
 S  72  Wanna Get Away
 O  72  Wanna Get Away
 W  74  Wanna Get Away
 H  76  Wanna Get Away
 Q  76  Wanna Get Away (Senior fare is 25% off cash Q fare)
 B  78  Wanna Get Away
 L  80  Wanna Get Away
 YL  100  Anytime
 K  120  Business Select
  • In mid-September 2017 Southwest began experimenting with charging only 60 points per dollar of cash base fare rather than 72 points for departures very early or very late in the day in some markets, as discussed on Flyertalk

Elite Levels

  • Elite levels in the new Rapid Rewards are somewhat competitive with major airline programs. Southwest uses Tier Qualifying Points (TQP), similar to major airline programs’ Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM)
  • A-list in the new Rapid Rewards requires only 25 paid one-way trips in a calendar year or 35,000 TQP within a calendar year. At this level you get automatic assignment of a boarding number 36 hours before your flight plus a special phone number for Reservations, priority standby, and a 25% bonus on your flight points earnings.
  • The A-list Preferred level requires 50 paid one-way trips or 70,000 TQP within a calendar year. At this level you get all A-list benefits plus an extra-special phone number for Reservations, higher priority standby, free Wi-Fi when the aircraft is Wi-Fi capable, and a 100% bonus on your base flight points earned. Top elites who buy Business Select and redeem Wanna Get Away will find the value of their points earnings very competitive with that of top elites on other major airline carriers.
  • Priority standby does NOT include free same-day standby. You will still have to pay up to Anytime fare or higher to take an earlier flight than you booked.
  • The Companion Pass continues in the new Rapid Rewards. By itself, it carries none of the A-List elite travel benefits, although many CP holders will have also earned A-List or A-List Preferred status.
  • With the new program, you can qualify or re-qualify for CP based on either:
    a) 100 one-way flights in a calendar year, or
    b) 110k Companion Pass Qualifying Points (CPQP’s), earned via a mix of flight points & partner points, but not including flight bonuses or elite level percentage bonuses, in a calendar year
  • These levels are essentially equivalent to the levels under Rapid Rewards 1.0. The main change is that you cannot qualify with a mix of, for example, 50 cheap one-way flights and 55k partner points.
  • For people buying high fares, CP qualification via points is easier than under the old Rapid Rewards. For people buying fewer than 100 cheap tickets, CP qualification will get much harder. For example, total WGA fare purchases of $6,750 for the year, $150 per week for 45 weeks, will earn only about 32,000 Companion Pass Qualifying Points, only about 30% of the points needed for a Companion Pass. That example has 90 flights, a tantalizing 10 flights away from qualifying based on flight count. The number of passengers who earn the Companion Pass through purchases of cheap tickets is likely to drop dramatically due to the inability to mix point-based and flight count-based qualification. (Meanwhile, generous credit card signup points have created an enormous number of new Companion Pass holders.)
  • Qualification for elite levels and for the Companion Pass is now based on calendar years. As of March 1, 2011, there are no more mid-year expiration dates for elite levels and Companion Passes.
  • You will maintain your CP or A-List or A-List Preferred status for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it and for the entire next calendar year. The transition from the previous rolling qualification system was customer-friendly, extending all currently earned status to the end of the appropriate calendar year.
  • Here is a summary of which types of points count toward tier qualification (Tier Qualifying Points) and companion pass qualification (Companion Pass Qualifying Points):
TQP? CPQP? Type of Earning
 Yes  Yes  Flight Base Points
 No  No  Tier Bonus for Flights
 No  No  Promotional Bonuses for Flights
 Capped  Yes  Rapid Rewards Visa card earnings
 No  Yes  Rapid Rewards Visa sign-up bonus points
 No  Yes  Rapid Rewards Dining earnings
 No  Yes  Rapid Rewards Dining bonuses
 No  Yes  Hotel stay base points
 No  ???  Hotel stay bonus points
 No  Yes  Rental car base points
 No  ???  Rental car bonus points
 No  Ended 3/31/17  Hotel program point transfers to Rapid Rewards
 No  No  Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfers to RR

Elite benefits

A-List

  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced A-List, its first effort to provide priority boarding to its most frequent customers. In October 2008, Southwest began to add priority screening lines (Fly By Lanes) as a second A-list benefit. Priority bag check-in lines followed. In November 2013, Southwest allowed most A-list members (those who passed screening by the TSA) to participate in the TSA’s PreCheck program, which allows travelers to avoid a body scan and leave their belt and shoes on.
  • The new Rapid Rewards added a higher elite level, A-List Preferred, on March 1, 2011. The Companion Pass is more of a special award than a traditional elite program level, so it is covered separately in this Wiki.
  • If you take 25 or more paid one-way flights or earn 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year, Southwest will give you A-List status for the remainder of that year and all of the following year. This is the same way other large airlines award elite status. A-Listers receive a 25% bonus on flight points they earn.
  • High-fare passengers will find it easier to qualify based on points. Low-fare passengers will qualify more quickly by flight count than by points.
  • Tier Qualifying Points are base points earned through the purchase of revenue flights (6, 10, or 12 points per dollar of base airfare, according to fare class) or through the use of the Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase. Other partner points or bonus points, unless otherwise noted, are not Tier Qualifying Points and do not count toward A-List and A-List Preferred qualification.
  • Members who have a Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase will earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in credit card spending, up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points per year.
  • You can check your progress toward qualification or requalification for the A-List near the lower right of your MySouthwest Account Snapshot page.
  • A-List status gives you automatic check-in for any flight you book at least 36 hours before departure time. You will board right after the Business Select passengers and passengers who have paid $40 for a boarding upgrade at the gate. You will no longer need to remember to check in 24 hours before your flight time. Instead, you can print your 'A' boarding pass any time up to one hour before departure, or at an airport kiosk until 20 minutes before departure.
  • Customers on the A-List are automatically checked in for their flights, getting boarding passes ahead of all others except Business Select customers.
  • The highest ranked A-list member gets boarding pass A16, or A01 on those few flights where Business Select is not offered due to extraordinarily high through passenger count.
  • Priority ranking within the A-List is apparently by Tier Qualifying Points in the current qualification period, but Southwest has never revealed the ranking algorithm.
  • Beginning March 1, 2011, Southwest began offering standby priority to A-Listers. This does NOT change the fact that under normal circumstances you have to "buy up" to Anytime fare in order to take a flight earlier than the one you booked.
  • Also beginning March 1, 2011, Southwest opened a higher-priority telephone reservations line for A-Listers.
  • Beginning March 8, 2017 if you have A-list status you may stand by for a flight departing the same date between the same city pair any time earlier than your booked flight without paying the fare difference.
  • If you call Customer Relations (1-855-234-4654) from a phone number that's in your profile, Southwest will recognize you and give your call priority.

A-List Preferred

  • On March 1, 2011, in conjunction with the complete overhaul of Rapid Rewards, Southwest introduced A-List Preferred, a higher elite level.
  • The qualifying criteria for A-List Preferred are exactly double those for A-List. If you take 50 or more paid one-way flights or earn 70,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year, Southwest will give you A-List Preferred status for the remainder of that year and all of the following year.
  • A-List Preferred members receive all A-List benefits plus a few more:
  • 100% bonus on flight points rather than 25%. This benefit can make it worthwhile to take several low-fare trips at the end of the year to reach 50 flights and lock in the higher earning rate for the following year.
  • An even higher-priority telephone reservations line than A-List members. You may or may not get priority over regular A-listers when you call Customer Relations.
  • Top priority for standby, above A-List members.
  • Free use of WiFi on flights equipped with that service, a savings of $8 per one-way trip.

Earning with Partners

  • The Rapid Rewards Visa card provides perhaps the most and best opportunities to rapidly add Rapid Rewards points to your account (though if you procrastinated too long you may not be able to earn the points by your deadline). Here are some of the ways you can earn a few or many points fairly quickly:
    • Reaching $3000 in purchases within the first 3 months on a newly acquired Rapid Rewards Visa card will earn you 40,000 to 60,000 points, with 50,000 points being the typical offer. The bonus offer is not valid if you have received the bonus on exactly the same type of credit card less than 24 months ago.
      • There are four different types of cards: Plus personal, Premier personal, Plus business, and Premier business. In theory you could earn the signup bonus for all 4 of these every 27 months or so. In practice, applying for more than one card in rapid succession could cause Chase Bank to add you to its "do not approve" list. Space out your applications.
      • You also need to check that you have not opened more than 4 new credit cards in the last 24 months. Wait until the second week of the next calendar month to be safe. If you exceed this limit, no amount of begging will get you approved.
      • If you surpass the $3000 spending threshold at least a week before your statement closing date, the signup bonus should be credited to your Rapid Rewards account within a day or two of the closing date. You don't have to wait until the statement after you pay the fee. Note that the annual does not count toward the $3000 threshold.
    • The Rapid Rewards Credit Card page promotes the $69 annual fee Rapid Rewards Plus card with 3000 anniversary points. Additionally, Southwest Rapid Rewards also promotes a Premier card for a $99 annual fee with 6000 anniversary points, approximately offsetting the higher fee. They also offer business Plus and Premier accounts for the same annual fees as described above. Both Plus and Premier cards are Signature Visas. Plus is a blue card and Premier is a black card.
      • You can double dip with Visa cards, getting bonus credits for a Plus Visa and more bonus credits for a Premier Visa. You can re-dip by acquiring the Rapid Rewards Business Visa, either Plus or Premier or one after the other.
      • Note that the Rapid Rewards Visa cards give you double points accrual for purchases at southwest.com and for Rapid Rewardshotel and [http://southwest.com/html/rapidrewards/partners/travel/rental-car/index.html rental carpartner]purchases, plus at least 3,000 points each year on your anniversary.
        • The "anniversary bonus" is credited on the day before the closing date of the last statement before you will be billed for the next annual fee. If you cancel the card shortly after the renewal fee is billed (reportedly within 30 days of receiving the statement), you won't have to pay the fee. You do, however, still keep the bonus points you earned for keeping the card for one full year.
      • Keeping the card after the first year may or may not be a good value depending on your usage patterns. If you are not a frequent patron of Southwest and its preferred partners, the card may not be worth the annual fee.
    • Purchases made with the Rapid Rewards Visa earn one to two points per dollar . If you need points soon, consider shifting spending to the current statement period. For example you could prepay bills or purchase gift cards, especially southwestgiftcards, which have no fees and no expiry.
  • American Express Membership Rewards ended its partnership with Rapid Rewards on June 30, 2010.
  • Although it has not been possible to obtain a new Diners Club account for many years, Diners Club allows you to redeem N times 1500 points for N times 1200 Rapid Rewards points, plus a fee of N times either 95 cents or 95 points. You can redeem these for your own account or anyone else's. Ask on Coupon Connection (accessible only if you have 180 solid posts and 180 days of membership), because trading or selling Diners Club credits does not violate Rapid Rewards rules.
  • Hotel and other partner point transfers do not count toward Companion Pass qualification, but hotel points earned from a hotel stay do count. Transfers give you redeemable points with no status earning whatsoever.
  • As of December 1, 2007, you can transfer Amtrak Guest Rewards points to Choice Privileges at the favorable rate of 15,000 Choice points per 5,000 Amtrak points, up to a maximum of 25,000 Amtrak points per calendar year. (From mid-October 2007 until November 30, 2007, the conversion rate was an amazing 25,000 Choice points per 5,000 Amtrak points. This led to a rush of conversions, and Amtrak Guest Rewards changed the rate without notice on December 1, 2007. This was Amtrak Guest Rewards' third no-notice change, something that most loyalty programs avoid.) As of May 1, 2008, you need to have Amtrak elite status or an Amtrak credit card that you have used to purchase at least $200 of Amtrak travel in the last year in order to make this transfer. The Amtrak credit card, however, is free and you can get 5000 to 8000 points for signing up for it.
  • Some hotel programs will allow you to redeem their points in exchange for Rapid Rewards points. For example, Marriott Rewards will allow you to redeem from 10,000 Marriott points for 2000 Rapid Rewards points up to 140,000 Marriott Points for 50,000 Rapid Rewards points. See the hotel partners page for details on current conversion rates. Redeeming Marriott points for their Travel Packages which include 100,000 or 120,000 airline points is a very popular option for Rapid Rewards members.
    • You can redeem 6000 Choice Privileges points for 1800 Rapid Rewards points, and there is no limit on total redemptions. This exchange rate was increased from 5,000 points to 6,000 points in July, 2008 with no advance notice at all. Members should be aware that zero-notice changes are a hazard of Choice Privileges.
    • Priority Club ended its partnership with Southwest effective September 13, 2011.
    • Starwood Preferred Guest became a partner in August 2010 and had a more favorable exchange rate, however they ended points transfers with the change to the new Rapid Rewards. Per-stay points are still available. Starwood's September 2016 merger with Marriott again opened a path for transfer of Starwood points to Southwest, via Marriott.
    • Hilton ended its partnership with Southwest Rapid Rewards effective December 31, 2011.
    • Hotel point transfers are typically a poor value compared to the other hotel awards, (which until December 31, 2006 included Rapid Rewards tickets and even a Companion Pass for Hilton HHonors), but the option is available.
  • Rapid Rewards Dining, offered in partnership with Rewards Network grants three points per dollar of qualified dining expenses charged to a credit card registered with Rapid Rewards Dining. New members can earn 300 points for completing their first $25 of qualified expenses and a review within 60 days of signup.
    • Rapid Rewards Dining is most useful as an inexpensive means of keeping points from expiring in accounts for children and other relatives who travel very infrequently. The credit card holder does not need to be the same as the Rapid Rewards member.
  • Southwest will sell you Rapid Rewards points. Points are sold in blocks of 500 (minimum of 1,000 per transaction) at a cost of $27.50 per 1,000, which was increased from $25 in July 2013. The maximum purchase is 40,000 points per transaction. Purchased points do not count as Companion Pass Qualifying Points. Occasionally Southwest offers promotions on purchases of points. The typical offer is 35% to 40% extra points per dollar. Bonuses as high as 70% have been offered for short periods.
  • As of July 2013 you can transfer points to another member for $10 per 1,000. For transfers as well as for purchases, you can select any multiple of 500 points with a minimum of 2,000. Points are expensive, so purchasing them or transferring them will rarely make economic sense unless you don't have quite enough points to redeem for an upcoming trip and you don't plan fly Southwest again in the next two years.

Redemption Options other than Southwest Tickets

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards points cannot be transferred to other programs. Until November 2, 2014 there was an option to transfer to AirTran credits, but that ended with the AirTran program. If you have a Southwest Visa card, however, you can redeem points for air tickets to Hawaii, Alaska, foreign countries, or other items through the More Rewards program. Redemption to non-Southwest cities in the lower 48 states will not be allowed. Expect an approximate value of 1 cent per point for gift card redemptions (e.g., Amazon, Home Depot), which is less than that for travel redemptions but which may make sense for people with a huge surplus of points beyond their foreseeable travel needs.

Targeted Promotions

  • Targeted promotions have appeared a couple of times per year since the demise of the non-targeted online booking bonus. FlyerTalkers have not been unable to identify any rhyme or reason behind the selection of Rapid Rewards members for targeted promotions. However some FlyerTalkers have reported that Rapid Rewards has a policy not to target you for a promotion if you have recently been targeted for another promotion.
  • Both the generally available and your targeted promotions appear on the promotions page of your Rapid Rewards account.(Click Promotions on the left if you are already logged in.) The Promotions page may show just the oldest available promotion; if there are more you may have to find the “View all” (in small light blue text) to see links for the rest. When viewing promotion details, don't forget to click the Register button below the Terms and Conditions. It rarely makes sense not to register for an available promotion, whether you think you'll take advantage of it or not. (If there are multiple promotions you can save time by opening each in a new tab/window that you then close after registering.)
  • Non-targeted promotions have become relatively frequent. They are discussed on Cpi-Web within hours of beginning. You typically need to register via MySouthwest > Promotions before traveling and before booking your trip. That means canceling and re-booking existing reservations if the fare has not increased

Can I use expired drink coupons?

  • Business Select boarding passes have a drink coupon printed on them. These drink coupons are valid only on the original date of travel.
  • One book of multi-colored drink coupons is mailed out for each 10 paid one-way trips you take, provided that you are over 21 and that this preference is specified in your member profile. As of September 2010, these coupons are personalized with your name and partial Rapid Rewards number. Presumably this is an anti-counterfeiting measure.
  • Expiration dates are now enforced. Coupons with no printed expiration date have now expired.
  • However after a period of very rigid enforcement and a recently settled (2017) class action lawsuit, FT members report many Flight Attendants appear to accept expired coupons and/or don't bother to look at the dates. It may be worth it to save and present expired coupons first while holding back unexpired coupons.

Who earns: purchaser or traveler? Can I pool with family members?

  • Except for one instance in the distant past (the MySouthwest booking bonus), the traveler earns the points, not the purchaser. Southwest does not have family accounts, à la British Airways. You cannot combine family points to redeem for a larger reward.

What features does SWABIZ offer? How can I join?

  • SWABIZ provides small businesses and other organizations enhanced travel management and reporting tools and access to the same low fares as southwest.com. The designated Travel Manager can view itineraries and fares, but not credit card information unless the traveler has used a company credit card account created by the Travel Manager. Bonus credit may be available for a limited time after your organization signs up, or you may get another incentive for booking trips during your first few months.
  • According to the terms and conditions "SWABIZ is for business travel only." "Vacation or leisure" travel should still be booked at southwest.com.
  • When logged in to SWABIZ, individual travelers can view, but not change, reservations that were made on swabiz.com.
  • You can create a SWABIZ account online. It is no longer necessary to contact your "Area Marketing Manager" and go through an approval process.

How can I sell my awards, points, or ticketless funds?

  • Southwest announced a name match restriction on ticketless funds beginning January 28, 2011, but implementation was delayed for an unspecified period. The restriction went into effect without further notice on April 29, 2011. Now ticketless funds are only permitted to be applied to a new reservation for travel by the same passenger. You can no longer buy or sell ticketless funds unless you find someone with the same name as you.
  • The most effective response to the new transfer restrictions is to use Rapid Rewards points to book flights for your family members. If you need to cancel a trip, the security fee is fully refundable and the points refund into your Rapid Rewards account, where they can be used for anyone and they will never expire if you have earning activity at least every 24 months.
  • Award trips are "fully transferable", but buying and selling of Rapid Rewards Awards is against the Rapid Rewards terms and conditions. Don't do it. Southwest can easily check who has been flying on your awards. If you earn 20 awards and they are used by people with 20 different last names flying 20 different routes, that starts looking suspicious.
  • Buyers of award seats may be ticket brokers who use them for people who have entered the US illegally. You probably don't want your Rapid Rewards account to be associated with such flights. For example, Mr. Mileage was served with a cease and desist letter from SWA to stop the sale of Rapid Rewards. SWA then sued them and they finally stopped. Rumor has it that they were booking well over 100 tickets a day for large sized immigration attorneys. Online ticket sales are watched by SWA. Don't sell awards to ticket brokers!
  • eBay effectively prohibits sale of Southwest award tickets.
  • When you buy a ticket purchased using points or an "Award" from a third party, it may be difficult to determine whether you have actually purchased a points or Award seat, as opposed to a regular fare seat. As noted in this post on FlyerTalk, when you purchase an "Award" ticket it might actually be a revenue ticket that was paid for with a stolen credit card! When you show up at the airport for your flight you are likely to be stopped at the counter and asked to cough up the full ("Anytime") fare for your flight.
  • In summary, you can assume any sale of points or Award tickets in an online forum accessible to the public can be and will be observed by Southwest. Sales to a mileage broker will be detected when Southwest gets its hands on the broker's business records through legal action. Private sales can be detected if the buyer says the wrong thing to a Southwest employee. If Southwest figures out who you are, you will get a polite but firm warning letter. If you keep selling, you can expect your account to be closed.

Where can I find the official Rapid Rewards rules?

The Companion Pass (CP)

What is a Companion Pass?

  • A Companion Pass (CP) allows you, the Companion Pass Holder, to bring your Designated Companion along with you for free (paying only the Security Fee) as many times as you want throughout the entire life of the Pass. It doesn't matter what kind of ticket you have booked.

How do I earn a Companion Pass?

  • You can qualify or re-qualify for Companion Pass by taking 100 or more paid one-way flights or by earning 110,000 Companion Pass Qualifying Points in a calendar year. However, purchased points and points earned from program enrollment, Tier bonuses (25% or 100%), flight bonuses, and Partner bonuses (not defined in detail) do not count toward Companion Pass status. After March 31, 2017, transfers from hotel programs will not count as Companion Pass Qualifying Points. This change was initially effective without any advance notice on January 1, 2017. A few days later Southwest announced a 3-month reprieve. One can hope that Southwest will avoid making adverse zero-notice changes in the future.
  • As of March 1, 2011, Companion Passes all expire at the end of the calendar year. When you earn a Companion Pass, it is valid for the remainder of the current year and all of the following year.
  • Because hotel transfers no longer count toward Companion Pass qualification, the fastest way to earn a Companion Pass remains to earn signup bonuses from two different Southwest Visa cards. See Earning with Partners for details.

How will I receive my first Companion Pass?

  • After the necessary number of points or paid trips taken during the year have posted to your account, you will receive an email, generally within the next two days, with a link to allow you to designate a companion. Also, once the web site recognizes that you have qualified, it will allow you to designate a companion after you log in to your Rapid Rewards account. You will then receive the CP card within about a week.
  • Once your companion is designated you can book Companion Pass flights for that companion online even before receiving the card. In rare cases the CP card may be requested at the airport. Per Southwest, you should ask reservations to make a reservation note that you have not yet received the CP card in case they ask.
  • FT member Dan B points out that you are unable to reserve flights for a new CP before it is issued. You should consider making a placeholder reservation using Rapid Rewards points or a refundable fare and have it converted to CP later by telephone. This has been reported to work even if the flight sells out.

Can I use the Companion Pass on international flights?

  • Yes! There are no geographic restrictions on the Companion Pass.

Can I use the Companion Pass in conjunction with a free ticket?

  • The Companion Pass allows you to bring the designated person along with you for free (paying only the Security Fee), even if you are traveling on a free ticket! For some people, this essentially doubles the value of their points (or Award) funded tickets. Think of it as a 100% bonus for reaching this elite level.

Can I change my Designated Companion?

  • You may change your Designated Companion up to 3 times during the life of the Pass, a process that originally required mailing in your old Companion Pass. It is now possible to change your Companion immediately on the phone, a process that will cancel any reservations for your existing Companion.
  • The reservation system will only permit you to make a Companion Pass reservation for the current Designated Companion.
  • This might have you wondering whether you can book Companion Pass travel for X, change your Designated Companion to Y, then have X get a free trip on the earlier booking. The short answer is No. The earlier companion booking for X will be canceled when the Designated Companion is changed to Y.

If I can't make good use of a Companion Pass, can I trade it for something else?

  • SWA has not provided an alternative to the Companion Pass since 2005.

What if I need a Companion seat (or even a Primary seat) on a sold-out flight?

  • This situation is not unusual. You can try to prevent it or try to recover from it. Prevention requires reserving either an Anytime or points seat for your Companion before you have the Companion Pass or before you have redesignated your Companion. Also before the flight sells out! Then when your Companion is earned or redesignated, cancel and refund your provisional reservation then book the Companion reservation. This method is not guaranteed to work. If, for example, Southwest has manually oversold the flight your cancellation will reduce the oversale by one without making a seat available for sale.
  • Recovery is simpler in concept but more work to execute. People cancel their reservations all the time. If you check the website incessantly, meaning every 15 to 30 minutes depending on demand, you will almost certainly be able to grab a seat for your Companion. FlyerTalkers have reported nothing but success with this method. The mobile app seems to allow you to check availability repeatedly (just select one date forward then one date back) without the annoying master session timeout error that the desktop site imposes.
  • Unrelated to Companion Pass, this recovery method applies equally to finding a seat for yourself on a fully booked flight, provided that you don't mind paying full fare.

Buying Tickets and Getting the Best Fare

Why can't I search online travel agents (OTAs) to compare Southwest flights?

  • Southwest does not publish their flights in a machine readable format. Southwest also prohibits OTAs from scraping their web page to harvest the information (source)

When will the schedule horizon be extended?

  • The estimated date is always subject to change. It can be moved forward or backward, so if you plan to book a flight as soon as the schedule window is extended you may need to check frequently for updated estimates.
  • When the booking horizon is extended the schedules and fares typically show up before or shortly after 6 AM Central Time. This is 4 hours earlier than in prior years, presumably in order to limit the size of the initial booking surge.
  • Advance estimates of the next horizon extension came about through an April, 2007 policy change. The current practice is significantly more customer-friendly, even though it spoiled our fun guessing game. :)
  • The February 8, 2007 extension was later than any in memory, and the delay was the subject of considerable discussion. On that blog Bill Owen, Southwest's lead scheduler, explained the situation in some detail, even revealing why the schedule tended to open on Thursday mornings. In summary, the schedulers wanted to optimize the May 2007 schedule for summer winds aloft rather than having that optimization take effect in June or July. They decided in November 2006 to delay the summer release until this optimization was complete.
  • Given the amount of criticism engendered by the delay, Bill Owen has set forth a new policy that "We will consider 120 days of bookable inventory as our minimum when getting our schedule ready for peak travel periods, such as summer or the Holiday Season. I can't promise that we will never go under this minimum for those heavy demand periods again, but I can promise that we will do everything in our power to make sure you always have more than 120 days of available flights to choose from. I can promise that it will take something almost cataclysmic to prevent that from happening. For other, less heavy travel periods, we will try to keep a minimum of 100 days of inventory available for your booking pleasure. On the other end of the booking window, we're going to push the maximum available inventory from 180 days to between 190 and 200 days of inventory-and once again, we'll pay particular attention to making peak travel periods available for booking as far in advance as possible
  • Years ago, knowing when the schedule was going to open up would often improve your chances of obtaining a discount fare at a peak travel time such as Thanksgiving. Since about 2004 Southwest had been stingy with discount fares from the moment the schedule opens. More discount seats are sometimes allocated between 12 and 8 weeks before the date of travel if the flight is not selling out as quickly as Southwest expected.
  • In most cases you don't need to treat the horizon extension like it's a Black Friday sale, but there are exceptions:
    • For award seats, it often does really help to get in there right away. Be aware that award seats are sometimes loaded into the system several hours after the schedule opens for revenue bookings.
    • The day ( usually in June) when the horizon is extended to include the busy holiday season can be accompanied by extremely slow and erratic website performance. See, for example, this Cpi-Web thread.
    • On low-frequency routes that require a connection the lowest fare bucket can be painfully small. Ask for only one seat when checking fares, then increase your request to the actual number of passengers to confirm availability of the lowest fare for that number of seats.

A decade+ of schedule extension history

Extension Date Last Bookable Date Days Inventory Notes
 November 2, 2017  August 12, 2018  283  Projected
 September 18, 2017  June 5, 2018    (unannounced short extension)
 August 28, 2017  June 1, 2018  277
 July 27, 2017  April 6, 2018  253
 June 22, 2017  March 7, 2018  258
 May 18, 2017  January 7, 2018  234
 March 16, 2017  November 3, 2017  232
 March 9, 2017  September 29, 2017  209
 January 5, 2017  August 14, 2017  221
 December 6, 2016  June 2, 2017  178
 November 1, 2016  May 8, 2017  188
 On August 4, 2016  April 24, 2017  263
 July 7, 2016  March 7, 2017  243
 May 19, 2016  January 4, 2017  230
 February 18, 2016  November 4, 2016  260
 December 8, 2015  August 05, 2016  241
 October 27, 2015  June 03, 2016  220
 August 11, 2015  April 11, 2016  244
 May 14, 2015  January 4, 2015  235
 February 19, 2015  October 30, 2015  263
 November 10, 2014  June 5, 2015  216
 August 25, 2014  April 6, 2015  224
 May 19, 2014  January 4, 2015  241
 March 3, 2014  October 31, 2014  243
 January 27, 2014  August 8, 2014  194
 December 16, 2013  June 30, 2014  197
 October 14, 2013  June 6, 2014  236
 August 26, 2013  April 6, 2014  224
 July 22, 2013  March 7, 2014  229
 June 24, 2013  February 12, 2014  234
 May 6, 2013  January 5, 2014  245
 March 4, 2013  November 1, 2013  243
 February 4, 2013  September 27, 2013  236
 November 19, 2012  August 9, 2013  264
 October 22, 2012  May 31, 2013  222
 August 27, 2012  April 12, 2013  229
 July 16, 2012  March 8, 2013  236
 July 9, 2012  February 13, 2013  220
 June 4, 2012  January 4, 2013  215
 February 20, 2012  November 2, 2012  257
 January 22, 2012  September 28, 2012  251
 November 13, 2011  August 10, 2012  272
 October 3, 2011  June 1, 2012  243
 September 5, 2011  April 9, 2012  218
 July 25, 2011  March 9, 2012  229
 May 24, 2011  January 6, 2012  228
 March 15, 2011  November 4, 2011  235
 February 8, 2011  September 30, 2011  235
 November 16, 2010  August 12, 2011  270
 October 7, 2010  June 3, 2011  240
 September 28, 2010  April 25, 2011  210
 August 17, 2010  March 11, 2011  207
 June 15, 2010  January 7, 2011  207
 May 5, 2010  November 5, 2010  185  Unusual, unannounced minimal (five day) window extension
 March 23, 2010  October 30, 2010  222
 December 16, 2009  August 13, 2010  241
 October 13, 2009  May 7, 2010  207
 September 1, 2009  March 12, 2010  193
 June 23, 2009  January 8, 2010  200  Had been projected to be through January 15, 2010
 April 14, 2009  October 30, 2009  200
 February 2, 2009  August 14, 2009  194
 December 9, 2008  June 26, 2009  200
 November 6, 2008  May 8, 2009  184
 August 21, 2008  March 6, 2009  198
 June 26, 2008  January 9, 2009  198
 April 18, 2008  October 30, 2008  196
 January 31, 2008  August 22, 2008  205  stealth extension, reservations page did not show the extension until February 1, 2008
 January 9, 2008  August 3, 2008  208
 November 8, 2007  May 9, 2008  184
 August 27, 2007  March 7, 2008  194
 June 27, 2007  January 11, 2008  199
 April 26, 2007  November 2, 2007  191
 February 8, 2007  August 24, 2007  198
 November 16, 2006  May 10, 2007  176
 September 21, 2006  March 9, 2007  170
 August 17, 2006  January 9, 2007  146
 July 13, 2006  December 10, 2006  151
 May 26, 2006  October 27, 2006  155
 April 19, 2006  September 12, 2006  147
 February 23, 2006  August 3, 2006  162
 December 20, 2005  June 9, 2006  172
 October 27, 2005  March 31, 2006  156
 September 26, 2005  February 3, 2006  131  horizon shrink likely due to Hurricane Katrina and MSY replanning
 August 18, 2005  January 9, 2006  145
 July 15, 2005  December 12, 2005  151
 May 12, 2005  October 28, 2005  170
 March 17, 2005  September 12, 2005  180
 February 18, 2005  August 3, 2005  167
 December 9, 2004  June 6, 2005  180
 October 22, 2004  April 1, 2005  162
 September 23, 2004  March 3, 2005  162
 July 29, 2004  January 14, 2005  170
 July 15, 2004  December 11, 2004  150
 May 5, 2004  October 29, 2004  178
 March 25, 2004  September 13, 2004  173
 February 13, 2004  August 7, 2004  177
 January 13, 2004  June 11, 2004  151
 December 11, 2003  May 8, 2004  150
 October 16, 2003  April 2, 2004  170
 September 19, 2003  March 6, 2004  170
 July 24, 2003  January 16, 2004  177
 June 26, 2003  December 13, 2003  171
 May 14, 2003  October 24, 2003  164
 March 13, 2003  September 8, 2003  180

What are the benefits of paying the Business Select premium fare?

  • If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats. This typically happened on flights to or from Dallas when they were forced to stop in Wright Amendment states bordering Texas. This situation largely disappeared with the expiration of the Wright Amendment in October 2014.
  • Business Select customers also may use the Fly By security lane and Fly By bag check if the airport offers them.

What is that "promotion code" box on the Book Travel page? How can I get a code?

  • Non-targeted promotion codes are truly rare. The Southwest promotion codes that can be entered on the main Air Booking page typically give you a fixed percentage discount if you satisfy the parameters of the promotion. Round trip purchases are usually required. Some Southwest promotion codes can only be used once or twice; others allow unlimited use.
  • If there is a current Southwest promotion code that is not member-specific or limited-use, you will likely find it posted on FlyerTalk's Rapid Rewards forum.
  • Be aware that fares change frequently and they may be high while a general use Southwest promotion code is active. In particular, Southwest tends to mark fares up during the "50% off" sales. While the special fares may be attractive, they may not represent true 50% savings. (See example at the end of this section.)
  • Some Southwest promotion codes are targeted. These are rarely issued, and they are typically snail mailed to targeted Rapid Rewards members. If you are a very frequent flier on Southwest, you are unlikely to be targeted for a promotion. If you do receive one and are sure you will not use it, FlyerTalkers would appreciate your posting it on cpi-web.ru unless the offer prohibits this.
  • ’’’Southwest promotion codes cannot be used with award reservations made using Rapid Rewards points. ‘’’
  • Only one promotion code can be used at a time.
Here is an example of how the actual savings can be less than suggested by the 50% offer: During the Denver sale the lowest WGA fare in one market was $56.50 ($113 x 50%). After the sale the lowest WGA fare on that route went back down to $79, and later to $69. The $56.50 fare thus represented a nice savings of 18%, rather than spectacular savings of 50%.

What is the fee to change or cancel a reservation?

  • There are no such fees. Southwest does not penalize you for canceling a flight, as long as you do so at least 10 minutes before the originally scheduled departure time. If you bought a refundable fare with a credit card, you can ask for the entire amount to be refunded to your credit card. If you bought a non-refundable fare online using a credit card, it is fully refundable if you cancel it within 24 hours of purchase. Otherwise the price is re-usable but not refundable. Buying a refundable fare using non-refundable funds does not make them refundable!
  • If you cancel a flight after checking in or after Southwest assigns you a boarding pass number because of your A-list status, you will need to delete the boarding pass before proceeding to cancel the reservation. The next lucky person checking in will get your old boarding slot, a result dubbed Serendipitous Early Boarding (SEB) on FlyerTalk.
  • FT members have asked Southwest about change fees, and the answer has consistently been that change fees are not being planned. Indeed, such fees would undercut a major attraction of Southwest for high-yield business travelers. The 2009 and 2010 "No Bag Fees" advertising campaign shows a heavy corporate commitment to a no-fee brand identity. In January 2011 Southwest ran "Fee Court" advertisements touting the lack of $150 fees to change tickets.

Why can't I get a refund of my refundable ticket after I change it?

  • Southwest's internal reservation software is changing. The new software, used for 100% of travel after May 8, 2017, has some important new limitations.
  • One of these limitations is that any reservation which has been changed will no longer be refundable to the original method of payment. The ticketless funds will be locked to the original passenger and will expire just as if the original fare had been nonrefundable. This will not be a problem if you cancel and refund the reservation, then buy a new reservation.
  • In short, you should avoid using Change Reservation with refundable fares.
  • If you use gift cards or a LUV voucher to purchase a refundable fare, the same result applies: The ticketless funds will be locked to the original passenger and will expire just as if the original fare had been nonrefundable. You can't get the funds back onto the gift card or LUV voucher.

I changed or canceled a non-refundable flight. How do I check the balance or re-use the funds? What restrictions apply?

  • Unused funds can be applied to any new or modified Southwest Airlines air travel reservation for the same individual, whether purchasing online or by phone.
  • When attempting to apply funds, if you hit the Enter key rather than Tab to advance to the next field, this has the result of immediately purchasing the ticket without applying the funds. You can avoid trouble by changing your default payment method to a defunct credit card. Then any purchase will fail unless you manually change the payment method. This is inconvenient but foolproof.
  • Traditionally funds were fully transferable; there was no requirement that the same passenger use the funds. Southwest announced its intent to impose this name match restriction beginning January 28, 2011. Enforcement started April 29, 2011 without further notice. Funds are now permitted to be applied only to a new reservation for travel by the same passenger.
    • There is an expensive work-around for this restriction. You can combine all the funds for a given passenger, let them expire (and they will carry the earliest expiration date of all the funds you combined), and pay $100 to have the funds re-issued as a travel credit usable for anyone.
  • When purchasing online the funds are applied on the "Purchase" page. Check that the application is correct before you complete the purchase.
  • A single passenger PNR with unused funds will fall into one of two distinct categories: "Unused Tickets" (UT) and "Leftover Electronic Ticket Funds" (LETF).
  • The web site used to give the following instructions for using the various sources of funds:

Apply funds one at a time. Up to two unused tickets per passenger may be applied. Unused tickets are always applied first. Up to four of the following may also be applied in any combination: southwestgiftcards®, Southwest LUV Vouchers, leftover electronic ticket funds, and one Credit Card.

  • For travel after May 8, 2017, the web site gives the following instructions for using the various sources of funds:

Please apply funds one at a time. Unused tickets are always applied first. Up to three forms of payment per Passenger may be applied, which includes one credit card or PayPal account per transaction.

  • An "unused ticket" means "one passenger's cancelled itinerary, from which no funds have been reused". A single passenger's itinerary on one PNR is probably a single ticket whether it is for one-way travel, round-trip, or circle itinerary.
  • "Leftover Electronic Ticket Funds" are unused funds that do not make up a complete ticket. The two primary reasons unused funds on a PNR may be LETF are:
  • A flight was rebooked at a lower fare;
  • An Unused Ticket's funds were only partially reused in a prior transaction.
  • If you have re-fared a ticket downward and then canceled the trip, you will have a UT in the final fare amount and an LETF for the amount of the reduction from the initial fare. Both the UT and the LETF are in the same PNR. This makes tracking funds from fare changes more difficult. Consider canceling and rebooking your tickets when the fare goes down to avoid this problem.
  • There are several additional complexities related to multi-passenger PNRs which make it ‘’’highly advisable to book each passenger's reservation separately’’’ unless you are using a promotion code. (A single-use promotion code covers all passengers on a combined reservation.)
  • Each passenger's funds and funds expiry date are tracked separately.
  • Each passenger's UT counts separately against the limit of two UT per passenger on the new itinerary.
  • Each passenger's LETF count separately against the limit of four "other payments."
  • Presumably, each passenger's balance may separately be UT, LETF, or zero.
  • Example 1: $40 from a two passenger PNR containing two UT balances of $50 each is applied to a purchase. The $60 remaining balance on the PNR would consist of $10 LETF for Passenger A and a $50 UT for Passenger B.
  • Example 2: $60 from a two passenger PNR containing two UT balances of $50 each is applied to a purchase. The $40 remaining balance on the PNR would consist of $0 for Passenger A and $40 LETF for Passenger B. Important: On any later attempt to view or reuse that PNR's $40 balance, the system will return a name doesn't match error if you supply Passenger A's name. (In the past it was always sufficient to use only the primary passenger's name until all funds for all passengers were consumed.)
  • The system will add every separate UT/LETF to the payment screen when you enter a valid PNR/name combination. Fortunately, however, you can use the provided links to remove any one or more of those UTs/LETF from the payment screen. That's especially important when there are widely divergent expiry dates within a single PNR and you don’t wish to taint the bulk of your funds with the early expiration date or a small source of funds
  • Below are some additional ways in which the current funds reuse system can trip you up if haven't learned the new rules.
  • Unused Tickets are used before Left Over Ticketless Funds, which are used before LUV vouchers and gift cards
  • Within each category, funds are now used in the order they are entered by the purchaser. You can confirm this because the funds use is displayed accurately as each PNR is entered.
  • The "always applied first" rules for UT over LETF and LETF over LUV vouchers mean you cannot (directly) ensure funds from a LUV voucher are used before any LETF, even if the LUV voucher is older.
  • If you have many PNRs each containing a small amount of LETF, none of which is a UT, you can make one or more dummy reservations to consolidate your funds in stages. Use one of the small amounts plus one larger amount to purchase a new reservation, repeat several times, then cancel these reservations and apply them to another purchase. However you should try to avoid commingling early-expiring funds with later-expiring funds.
  • As explained in this Cpi-Web thread, re-faring downward generates small LETF/TTF amounts that used to be very hard to use.
  • If you just want to check the balance and expiration date on a PNR you can use the "View Travel Funds" form, but for a few reasons this can be cumbersome and/or inadequate. After closing an enormous (at least $200 million, potentially close to $1 billion) security hole discovered and reported by a Cpi-Web member, SWA took the additional step of adding a ReCAPTCHA challenge to the funds lookup form. Unfortunately the funds lookup form has not yet been made log-in aware and the challenge applies whether you are logged in or not.
  • To know what limits will apply to reusing a particular PNR, you need to know more than just a balance and an expiry date -- but that is all you can get using the funds lookup form. For the rest of the important details you can initiate a flight purchase transaction, enter the PNR in the "Apply Funds" portion of the payment page, then abandon the flight purchase after collecting the information you need. In particular the output of the funds lookup form neither:
  • Categorizes funds as UT or LETF; nor
  • Reports the individual balances for each passenger of a multi-passenger PNR.
  • The rules for use of multiple sources of funds to buy a ticket are explained above.
  • If you have many TTF's with the same expiration date that you want to combine, here's one technique that can help. Book a relatively inexpensive itinerary using up to three UT's and LETF's. Then use the Change Air Reservation option to add funds from additional PNRs to a more expensive reservation. You can repeat this change process numerous times, perhaps indefinitely, building up to more and more expensive itineraries at each step. This mind-exploding technique is explained in this Cpi-Web thread. One person managed to combine 9 record locators into a single reservation!
  • A simpler technique is to book a more expensive reservation with 2 TTF’s and a credit card, then immediately cancel the reservation and request a refund of the credit card portion. You will then have a single TTF (LETF).
  • If you combined two funds with different expiration dates, the new locator will carry the earlier of the two dates. Only do this if the dates are close together, the amount of the newer funds is small, or you are absolutely sure you will "consume" the funds by the earliest Ticketless Travel Funds expiry date.

What if my ticketless funds have expired?

  • If your ticketless funds have expired you can call or write to Customer Relations and request a travel credit ("LUV Voucher") which will be emailed to you.
  • As of 2013 a fee of $100 ($75 in 2012 and $50 before that) applies for this once-free service. The fee is deducted from the balance of the expired TTF.
    • The fee reportedly applies per ticket so it may be wise to consolidate all expiring funds into a single new reservation before calling to request the voucher. Of course you can only do so with funds that have not yet expired. Given the new (as of April 2011) name match restriction on ticketless travel funds (TTFs), only funds for the same passenger are combinable with each other.
  • You must request the voucher within six months of the date on which the funds expired. It has been reported that you cannot request the voucher before the funds have actually expired.
  • The LUV voucher will have an expiration date six months from the date on which you place the request with Customer Relations. It will be usable for any passenger.
  • Funds that have previously expired and been reissued as a LUV Voucher are not eligible to be reissued again.
    • Customer Relations will research the history of the expired funds to ensure they have not been previously reissued. This process may take a few days, so don't expect to be able to use the LUV Voucher immediately.
    • It is unknown whether other funds that were commingled with an expired funds voucher can be separately "reissued."

Does no-showing a flight cancel your return reservation or incur any other penalty?

  • YES! Until September 13, 2013, you could no-show your reservations with impunity. Any unused reservation would convert to ticketless funds. Southwest has changed this policy. If you booked a refundable fare, you may continue to no-show flights without penalty: Your funds will remain reusable (as well as refundable unless the ticket was purchased with non-refundable ticketless funds). If you booked a non-refundable (Wanna Get Away or Ding) fare, you now forfeit 100% of your funds if you no-show your reserved flight.
  • ’’’The value of your return ticket will be irrevocably lost if you no-show the outbound leg, even if your return was a refundable fare class.’’’ If you needed another reason to always book one-way tickets, this is an excellent one.
  • If you want to promptly re-use all the funds from a reservation, cancel the reservation before the day of travel. If you wait until less than one hour before departure (and especially if you have checked in and then not phoned to remove yourself from the flight), your funds may be locked unless you phone Southwest to cancel the reservation and release them.
  • Tickets booked using Rapid Rewards points continue to have no penalty. If you no-show a points booking the points will appear back in your account the next day. The security fee will be usable as a travel credit. If you paid that fee with a credit card or with refundable ticketless funds you can call Southwest to have it refunded to you.

How can I find what dates have the lowest fares?

  • Southwest's web site has a tool they call the "Low Fare Calendar." At times of heavy website loading Southwest may disable this functionality.
  • Senior fares are not searchable on the Low Fare Calendar. If a passenger is eligible (age 65+) and if the cheaper Wanna Get Away fares are not available, compare Senior fares. They are fully refundable, making them a good alternative to booking with points.
  • Sale fares are typically released early Tuesday morning and expire at midnight Pacific Time Thursday. You can sign up for email notification of these sales, but those emails tend to be tardy. If you want to be the early bird you should check your favorite origin-destination pair early Tuesday morning. Some sale fares run Friday through Monday.
  • Competitor match fares are less predictable, and Southwest never announces them. Tuesday through Wednesday sales are common. Your best bet is to subscribe to competitors’ sale notification emails, especially from JetBlue and Virgin America. When the competitor offers a deal, check the date restrictions and then look for a match on southwest.com.
  • System-wide sales tend to last several weeks to a month or so, replacing Internet Specials for the duration. These typically provide the lowest cross-country fares. These sales are often accompanied by sales in specific markets, e.g., intra-California, Florida, or Chicago.
  • Featured destinations are sometimes accompanied by attractive fares to that destination, but not always. If your connecting city is a Featured Destination or has extensive special fares, you can sometimes build yourself a two-step trip at the same or lower price than a conventional routing. (Through 28-Feb-2011, this allowed you to double your Rapid Rewards earnings on the trip; under RR 2.0 this benefit no longer exists, except for people wanting to qualify for A-list based on trip count.) There's a risk that you may be required to pay more (the difference from full fare) if your inbound flight is delayed too much. Ambitious mileage runners sometimes book three-step trips and fly up to 10 segments per day, but if you can handle that you hardly need this FAQ.
  • As long as you do not break minimum connection time rules, you can check a bag through to your destination on a two-step itinerary for which there is no published service. You will not be able to print a boarding pass for step 2 at your step 1 origin, but you can do so at the step 2 gate with no problem. Of course you could also print one from your computer if you are using online check-in.
  • Another reason to book a two-step is that WN's software will not sell you an unpublished connection. You have to stand by or buy the two segments separately. This is annoying, but the reason is to keep costs (agents' time spent building unpublished trips) down. It also simplifies baggage handling and reduces misdirected bags (probably the main reason to limit published connections).
  • For many years, the Customer Service Commitment document posted at southwest.com stated "SWA does not prohibit or penalize what is commonly known as 'hidden city' ticketing, nor does it prohibit or penalize what is commonly known as 'back to back' ticketing. 'Hidden city' and 'back to back' reservations and tickets are authorized for travel on SWA." The two-step and similar variants were perfectly OK to 'fess up to on Southwest. As of the October 3, 2011 edition (possibly earlier) of the Customer Service Commitment document, this verbiage is no longer present. However, also not present is any language signifying that Hidden City or Back To Back reservations are prohibited. So while apparently no longer explicitly allowed, neither do there seem to be any rules forbidding such practices. However Southwest apparently dislikes the practice, because in October 2013 they silently imposed a 100% points earning penalty on it. See http://cpi-web.ru/forum/southwest-airlines-rapid-rewards/1513013-no-longer-earning-points-hidden-city-ticketing.html for discussion of the financial cost of hidden city ticketing, including loss of points earnings.
  • The number of seats in the lowest fare bucket may be less than the number of people in your party, so even if not traveling alone it is usually best to do your initial search specifying only one passenger. If the fare per person goes up when you repeat the search specifying multiple travelers, you may need to split your group up onto multiple reservations. Adjust the passenger count as many times as needed to find the point at which the fare quote changes. Book the lowest fare for as many passengers as you can then book the other passengers at the higher fare. If the lower fare opens up later, you can change that reservation with no penalty.
  • If you buy a nonrefundable ticket online and change your mind within 24 hours (exactly 24 hours, not one calendar day), you can phone Southwest to get a refund, or you can request a full refund online. This was a Southwest policy to mitigate Internet glitches, but it is now required of all airlines by US federal law.
  • Southwest often matches sale fares initiated on jetblue.com or virginamerica.com by these competitors. Check their websites to determine when the sale ends, and for what dates it is offered. Southwest often ends its matching fares a few hours earlier than competitors, at 9 PM Pacific Time.
  • Subscribe to Google Flights price alert and Fare Compare alert emails for some Tuesday 8 to 12 weeks out and you will pick up most fare sales in markets where Southwest has competition.

Can I use hidden city and back-to-back tickets?

  • Until some time in 2011 Southwest explicitly permitted hidden city and back-to-back tickets. From page 5 of Southwest's 2010 Customer Service Commitment: "Hidden city" and "back to back" reservations and tickets are authorized for travel on Southwest Airlines. It is important to note that your luggage will be checked to the final destination as shown in your reservation record.
  • Although there has been no formal announcement of any change in this permissive policy, in October 2013 Southwest silently imposed two penalties on hidden city tickets. Formerly the unflown segment would contain a small amount of funds from taxes or fees. Now the partially flown ticket has no residual value, even if the fare was fully refundable. The harsher penalty is that your partially flown ticket will earn you ZERO Rapid Rewards points! If you book a hidden city ticket in Business Select class, any fare savings will probably evaporate when you consider the value of the points you lost. In making this change Southwest reportedly intended to discourage hidden city ticketing.
  • Here's a hidden city example. If there is a great fare to Columbus and you want to get off at an intermediate stop or plane change, you can do that without penalty but your checked luggage will end up in Columbus.
  • If you want to skip the first leg and board a later leg, that will not work, according to more than one Southwest employee: If you try to board in a thru city, the Agent will have to exchange the ticket, requiring an upgrade to full fare. If the originating city doesn't board the Customer, the downline city won't be able to either. To get even more technical, the through city won't even have access to the ticket without doing an exchange.
  • Back-to-back tickets (a second round trip from B to A between the outbound and the return of the first round trip from A to B) work fine on Southwest, but there are currently very few cases in which a round-trip ticket is cheaper than two one-way tickets. Most veteran Southwest customers prefer to book only one-way tickets for greater flexibility in rebooking one direction online.
  • Round-trip tickets now incur risk of loss of the return ticket value if you no-show the outbound trip. This alone makes it virtually imperative to avoid booking round trips. If you only buy one-way tickets, back-to-back ticketing is moot.

Can I manually build a connection when booking online?

  • You can try, and sometimes it works. If you are hoping that you'll only have to pay the lower A-C fare when booking A-B-C, be forewarned that such an endeavor is not advised for the impatient or weak of heart. The topic is complex. It can, however, be broken down into several fairly straightforward rules that the reservations computer uses to decide whether to merge your two flights and charge you a single fare, or to treat them as two separate one-way flights. Unfortunately, though, even a dedicated student of the subject cannot predict what the computer will do in every situation, because Southwest does not publicly disclose any information about one crucial component of the equation (i.e., which cities are valid connection points). Thus trial and error is the only reliable approach. Feeling lucky? Follow these steps:
    1. On the Plan Trip page, select your originating city in the Depart column, the connection city you want to try in the Arrive column, and your destination city in the Return column.
    2. On the Select Flight page choose two flights that meet the minimum connection time but do not exceed the 4-hour maximum. (The next page will show only an error message if your selections do not meet the minimum for your intermediate airport.)
    3. On the Price page your itinerary will be displayed as either two separate fares or one combined fare.
      • Depending on current market prices, the combined fare could be less or more than the sum of the two separate fares. If any long-haul segments are included, the combined fare is likely to be lower.
    • One complication in addition to those rules applies when booking custom connection tickets: fare combinability. When you are hoping that the computer will merge two WGA fares and it doesn't cooperate, check to see what happens if you select the Anytime fares for the same flights. If the computer merges those two fares you will know that the two lowest currently available WGA fare classes are considered non-combinable.
      • There is no way (at least via the website) to force the computer to choose a higher combinable WGA fare that might result in a lower total fare.
    • Depending on the pricing and applicable bonus credit offers, you might prefer to have a one-way trip price as two separate fares rather than one combined fare. If the computer insists on merging the two fares against your wishes, you can book each leg as two independent one-way flights on separate PNRs.
      • Be careful not to violate minimum connection times, and be aware that if your first flight is late or canceled WN will be under no obligation to re-accommodate you.
    • In all cases you must comply with the minimum connection time for your connecting airport. The minimum varies by airport, but you don't have to know in advance what the minimums are; the system will automatically prevent connections that are too short. (Note that a phone reservation agent might be able to override the minimum connection time requirement, but the 4-hour maximum is firm.)
    • The rest of the requirements vary depending on whether or not Southwest offers "published, scheduled service" between your origin and destination. Note that this factor is evaluated for the specific day you wish to travel. For example if WN publishes service "x6" on your route, the "no published service" rules govern your attempts to build a custom connection on Saturday, whereas the more restrictive rules apply Sunday through Friday.
      • If WN does have "published, scheduled service" between your origin and final destination the following rules apply:
        • If you exceed the maximum connection time (4 hours) the connection will be treated as a stopover and you will be charged the sum of the separate fares.
        • Your itinerary will be limited to a maximum of two flight numbers. In other words, you can always combine two direct flights, regardless how many stops each makes; if either step of the two-step contains a connection (two flight numbers), you cannot "add on" another flight, even a non-stop flight.
        • You must choose a "valid" connecting city. Any city that serves as a mid-point for scheduled WN service (published or unpublished), should always be a valid connecting city. Other cities may also be allowed. Sometimes it will be obvious that a connection is not valid: LAS would not be a valid connection for service from PIT to PHL, for example, due to excessive backtracking. In other cases only trial and error will reveal whether the server considers a connection point valid.

What is DING! and how can I make best use of it?

  • DING! was a computer program to provides real-time notification of fare sales. Southwest stopped posting any DING! sales without announcing its demise.

Which airports are considered co-terminals?

  • For "roundtrip required" fares, the following airports are considered co-terminals:
    • BUR/SNA/LAX/ONT
    • BWI/IAD (and DCA while the ATA codeshare existed)
    • OAK/SFO/SJC
    • PBI/FLL
    • PVD/MHT/BOS
    • LGA/ISP (usually)
  • Because Southwest normally only has "roundtrip required" fares in connection with an occasional short-term promotion, the co-terminal rule is rarely relevant. Furthermore, promotions are generally only valid for online purchases. Unfortunately southwest.com can only book A-B-C open jaw itineraries, not A-B/C-A open jaws. While phone reservation agents can book A-B/C-A itineraries, they generally cannot book promotional fares. The end result is that during a promotion like the 50% off Denver special if you want to fly, say, DEN-OAK/SFO-DEN, you probably won't be able to use the 50% discount promotion. In other words, the co-terminal rule is typically only useful if you are originating and terminating at one of the co-terminals, not if you are traveling to an area that has co-terminal airports.
  • Most of the Southwest co-terminal airports are listed twice in the cities/airports lists on the southwest.com booking page under an "area" heading (e.g., [Los Angeles Area:] for the four airports near LA.) PBI, a co-terminal for FLL, however, is not listed in the peculiar [Miami Area] "grouping", which contains just the single airport FLL. If you are traveling to or from a multi-airport [Area] group, the "Modify Your Search" portion of the Select Flight page will present a drop down box allowing you to modify your search to any of the co-terminal airports, so you don't have to back up to modify and resubmit your search. In the case of PBI and FLL, the drop down box will contain only FLL.
  • Note: SAT-AUS and SAN-SNA are not co-terminals, even though the distance between co-terminals PVD and MHT is about 25% greater than the distance between SAT and AUS, and about 10% greater than the distance between SAN and SNA. Similarly, TPA and MCO, which are marginally closer than PVD and MHT also are not co-terminals.

Can I buy a senior fare or youth fare online? Why would I want to buy one of these when other fares are lower?

  • You can purchase a senior fare online by specifying the number of seniors in the "How many are traveling?" section of the PLAN TRIP page.
  • Youth fares cannot be purchased online.
  • The advantage of a Senior and Youth fares is that they are fully refundable, have no advance purchase requirement, and do not require an upgrade to full fare for standby. Senior and Youth fare seats are, however, capacity-controlled.
    • Seniors and youths are both allowed to travel on WGA fares, which are usually less expensive than Senior or Youth fares. The WGA fares lack the advantages listed above.
    • Senior fares appear to be set at 25% less than Q class WGA fare, which is one of the highest (least restricted) WGA fares. When only Q class is available Southwest charges 78 points per dollar for an award ticket. That makes Senior fares a good value when WGA fares are near their highest.
  • Senior and youth fares earn RR points at the same 6x rate as WGA fares.

What's all this I hear about "Customers of Size" having to purchase a second seat?

  • Many details of the CoS policy are discussed in Q&A form at http://southwest.com/html/customer-service/faqs.html?topic=extra_seat_policy In a nutshell, you can ask for a free second seat at the gate and you will get it unless the flight is sold out. To protect yourself from that possibility you can buy the second seat in advance and get a refund after the flight, even if the flight oversells.
  • You can buy the second seat online, as described on blogsouthwest.com: Just buy the first ticket with your full name and second with your first initial and last name. Then, after you get back from your trip, you can call Customer Relations at 1-855-234-4654 and request a refund on the second seat if the flight wasn't oversold. It's a very easy process.
  • Like other idiosyncratic Southwest policies, this one is annoying if you fight it and remarkably friendly if you instead learn how to work the system. Specifically, if you go ahead and purchase the extra seat you will get a refund afterwards and you will be seated comfortably all the time.
  • FT member MarshB reports: "In the past two years I've flown no less than 100 segments and I have received a refund 100% of the time. Call 1-855-234-4654. The agent will look up the flights on the spot and get the credit process started."
  • If you have earned a Companion Pass, you can name yourself as the Companion so your second seat is always free except for the security fee. This is a special privilege for Customers of Size. It is not permitted if you are not large enough to require a second seat.

How do I use an electronic travel voucher (LUV voucher)?

  • Southwest no longer issues paper travel vouchers, which required the person named on the voucher to go to the airport in person. Electronic vouchers work like Southwest gift cards, entering the voucher number and code when purchasing a ticket.
  • The traveler name does not need to match the holder of the travel voucher.

I can't change my reservation online. Why is that?

  • The most common cause is that the reservation was made, or has been modified by, a Reservation Sales Agent (i.e., over the phone). Once a reservation has been made or changed by an RSA, all further changes to that reservation can only be done by an RSA. FT member SWAVictor explains "This is because there are certain scenarios that the website is not currently programmed to understand (ie: circle trips, multi-city, and special fares - infant, child, youth, military, government, etc). To protect the website from getting into a state that it cannot handle, we simply check the history of the PNR and stop you if an offline modification has been made."
  • The Change Reservation feature, found under Travel Tools, is the simplest way to downfare a points reservation. Your reservation maintains the same record locator even though the old ticket is redeposited and a new ticket is created.
  • The Change reservation cannot be used on a Companion Pass reservation. To avoid confusion, cancel the Companion’s ticket before attempting to change the primary traveler’s reservation. After that is done, rebook the companion.
  • You should be able to make as many changes as you like prior to any travel occurring.
  • Once you have flown the outbound portion of a roundtrip reservation, you can make only one change to the return online. This is due to system limitations. FT member SWAVictor says "Trying to explain why this is the case will result in me getting a migraine, and you not really having any better understanding of why. It has something to do with our websites parsers trying to reconcile a new one-way farestore with the original roundtrip."
    • This is another reason that it's advantageous to book your trips, including award travel, as one-ways. You will be able to change your trips online as many times as you want to\.
  • If the same fare or award seat is still available, you can cancel the reservation and book a replacement online using the funds from the old reservation.

I want to reserve two options for my trip. Will Southwest cancel one of them?

  • The short answer is Yes.
  • For years, Southwest's official policy has prohibited speculative booking, at least if the website was used: "You may not use Southwest's sites to make any speculative, fraudulent, or false reservation or any reservation in anticipation of demand. If you have made multiple reservations to one or more destinations on or about the same date, Southwest reserves the right to cancel all such reservations without notice."
  • On May 10. 2013 Southwest added this to its Contract of Carriage: "Multiple Reservations. Southwest prohibits multiple reservations for the same passenger departing from the same city on the same date. Furthermore, without notice to the passenger or purchaser, Southwest may cancel such reservations or any other reservations that it believes, in its sole discretion, were made without intent to travel"
  • Historically, Southwest never enforced this policy. When the new Amadeus-based reservation system went live in Spring 2017, enforcement began without notice. If you book two similar trips on the same date you can now expect one of them to be canceled about 48 hours after your booking. You need to make up your mind and cancel one of them within 24 to 48 hours, or Southwest will decide for you.
  • In May 2017 Southwest updated the Contract of Carriage: "Prohibition of Multiple/Conflicting Reservations. To promote seat availability for our Customers, Southwest prohibits multiple reservations for the same Passenger departing from the same city on the same date, or any multiple reservations containing conflicting or overlapping itineraries (such as departures for the same Customer from multiple cities at the same time). Furthermore, without advance notice to the Passenger or purchaser, Southwest may cancel such reservations, or any other reservations that it believes, in its sole discretion, were made without intent to travel. With the exception of Southwest gift cards, funds from proactively cancelled reservations by Southwest will be returned to the original form of payment. Reservations paid for with a Southwest gift card will have the amount applied from the gift card held as travel funds for use by the Customer on a future Southwest Airlines flight."

Differences between Southwest and other airlines

Why doesn't Southwest offer assigned seats?

  • Gate agents at legacy carriers seem to spend most of their time dealing with seat assignments, first-class upgrades, and standby requests. Southwest eliminates the first two and gets extra revenue for doing the third one (full-fare only). Eliminating assigned seats also provides an incentive to show up early rather than crush the gate counter or the operations agent (the person who scans the boarding passes) at the last minute.
  • The main check-in lines (for passengers with baggage) move faster because there is no need to choose a seat. Southwest's lines move at least twice as fast as any other airline's. Curbside check-in lines may look shorter but the longer lines inside are likely to serve you more quickly.
  • Seat assignments on multiple-stop flights are a challenge for the airline to deal with. If you assign seats based on seats open for both flights, very quickly all the seats are "taken", even though there are seats open for both flights, just not the same ones. If you have different seat assignments, you have to get up and move to the other seat during the layover. With a 25 or 30 minute turn, there isn't much time for a bunch of people to play musical chairs between deplaning and boarding.
  • Southwest's quick turnaround system reduces costs and therefore fares. For a long time this boarding process was an undesirable experience. However, on November 8, 2007 Southwest changed to the letter+number system that eliminates any need to stand in line. Your boarding pass letter and number hold your place for you.
  • Many WN passengers have learned how to play the open seating game, and strenuously objected to a change to assigned seating. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Why doesn't Southwest interline with other carriers?

  • It comes down to cost. Interlining also adds complexity, and therefore even more cost, to operations. Southwest certainly thought long and hard about costs before committing to the interlining agreement with the now-defunct ATA.
  • In 1997 Southwest began an interlining partnership with Icelandair that lasted a few years, allowing connections at BWI, probably with Southwest handling all the ground operations.
  • Interlining with one airline at a handful of airports is hard enough; trading baggage with multiple airlines systemwide makes rapid connections almost impossible. Ticketing software would need to be further upgraded, and the returns from all this investment would probably not even cover the additional costs. Interlining is a great feature of the legacy airline system, but one that adds more cost than most customers want to pay.
  • On November 10,2008, Southwest announced "its intention to build a codeshare partnership with Mexican carrier Volaris," a low-cost airline that began operations in February, 2006. The partnership details were announced on October 28, 2010. Baggage was transferred and ticket purchases done in one transaction, although one tickets was issued for each airline. This partnership ended quietly, with only two weeks’ notice, in February 2013, continuing Southwest’s pattern of failed partnerships.
  • Southwest has also repeatedly stated that it is working on future codeshare arrangements with other carriers for additional International destinations.

What are the standby rules? When do I have to pay extra to standby for a different flight, and why?

  • Standbys can be cleared starting 10 minutes before scheduled departure time. That means you are taking a chance of losing your seat if you show up 2 or 3 minutes before flight time. If you get to the gate before all the seats are gone, the gate agent will give you a boarding pass ahead of any remaining standbys. If not, you are out of luck.
  • Internet check-in has improved this situation. Once you have a boarding pass, your seat is held until the gate agent removes you from the flight (reversing your check-in). This gives you a few extra minutes before you lose your seat.
  • Note that if the flight is delayed and you decide to delay your arrival at the gate correspondingly, you are risking losing your seat unless you already have a boarding pass. Sometimes the gate agents will clear standbys 10 minutes before scheduled departure, and sometimes they will wait until shortly before the actual departure. If you have a boarding pass, you are safe until boarding is complete and the gate agent determines that you have not boarded. Online check-in saves the day again!
  • To standby for a different flight, you will have to pay the difference between what you already paid and the full fare that a walk-up passenger would pay. Once you pay up, you are in the same boat as a walk-up passenger. In particular if the normal departure time is less than an hour away, you cannot buy a confirmed seat: not on the phone, by Internet, or in person. You can only standby. But if the flight is not overbooked, the gate agent will probably give you a boarding pass immediately anyway. Otherwise you have to wait until they clear standbys starting 10 minutes before departure.
  • There are three exceptions to the requirement to pay full fare to standby for a flight between the same cities on the same date as your booking:
  1. Your original flight is delayed 30 minutes or more. You can often use this excuse when the delay is upstream (at the preceding airport), even if the delay at my airport is not yet posted for your flight. A posted delay of 15 minutes or more is often sufficient to obtain this treatment, since gate agents know that an estimated delay of 15 minutes is likely to become an actual delay of 30 minutes.
  2. You miss your original flight by 2 hours or less. You may be able to stretch this time limit a bit, but that would be at the discretion of the gate agent. This is called the "flat tire" rule. It is an internal rule that is not viewable by the public.
  3. You have A-list or A-list Preferred status and you are standing by for an earlier flight the same day. This benefit was added March 8, 2017, replacing a more restricted benefit added September 13, 2016. (The earlier version was limited to flights departing within 2 hours of your booked flight.)
  • Regardless of whether or not you pay the full fare on an outbound flight, you get to keep any discount fare you have on your future return flight.
  • Of all the differences between Southwest and the other majors, charging for standby is one that makes the least sense to most people. But Southwest is just thinking ahead to the consequences. If you were able to standby free for any earlier flight, you would book the Internet Special for the last flight of the day but show up for the peak hour flight. What would be the results?
  1. The peak flight would have far more standbys than could be accommodated. Currently almost all standbys get on the first or second flight. With free standby, there would be chronic huge wait lists. At least until...
  2. Southwest would stop selling cheap seats for any flights on peak travel days. Then...
  3. Flights at off-peak times on peak days would have many empty seats, representing lost revenue relative to the current rules.
  4. This is why changing this seemingly bizarre policy would be a lose-lose proposition. The only reason some other airlines can allow standby for free is that their fares are essentially the same for all times of the day. Southwest gets more revenue and a higher load factor its way, keeping average prices down. Other airlines have tightened their standby rules over recent years, and you will have to pay to change your flight time more often than not.
  • If the low fare you want is available both earlier and later than your desired flight time, and if you do not have A-list status, book the earlier time. If you miss the flight you booked by less than 2 hours, you will be able to standby and keep your low fare.
  • You can easily book a Rapid Rewards award reservation on the SWA website with a 3 to 3.5 hour connection. Although it won't be a "published" connection, you can use all 3 columns on the reservation page (Depart, Arrive, and Return) to book this via southwest.com as explained above. Combine this with the "flat tire" rule and you might be able to get a layover of up to 6 hours.
  • Standbys are normally accommodated first-come, first-served. The gate agent may, however, give priority to people for whom the current flight is the only way to make a connection to their destination over people who can get where they're going on a later flight. Passengers whose original flight was canceled also have priority. Beginning March 1, 2011, A-List Preferred members and A-List members, in that order, have standby priority over other passengers who have not been displaced by a cancellation.

Why doesn't Southwest allow me to book 11 months ahead like the other majors do?

  • By limiting its schedule horizon, Southwest virtually eliminates the need to cancel or reschedule flights before the date of travel. Those changes cost the other airlines a lot of money to handle, and they annoy customers. Once Southwest publishes a schedule, it is nearly cast in stone. Even after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Southwest did not immediately drop flights as the other majors did.

Why is there no gate number on my boarding pass?

  • As of May 2006, gate assignments are shown on boarding passes printed at airport kiosks, but not those printed at home or at the counter where an agent is supposed to tell you the gate number. All boarding passes now show the scheduled departure time.

What was the Wright Amendment? What was the Texas two-step?

  • When Southwest started interstate service from Love Field in Dallas, the DFW people had a cow. The Wright Amendment was a compromise by Congress, prohibiting most long-distance commercial flights from Love Field but allowing the kind of short-haul flights that Southwest was known for during its early days. See http://fact-index.com/l/lo/love_field.html for more.
  • Because of Wright Amendment restrictions in effect before December 2006, travelers who wished to buy tickets from Dallas to points beyond the bordering states or Mississippi or Alabama (added by the Shelby amendment) had to purchase two trips: one to the border state or Houston Hobby and another between there and the actual destination. This was the Texas two-step. For passengers checking bags, this was a major pain.
  • As described at http://setlovefree.com the major parties (Southwest, American, the Dallas airports, and local government) negotiated a compromise in 2006. Congress enacted it into law, and Southwest Airlines began offering through ticketing from Love Field on October 19, 2006.
  • On March 11, 2007, Southwest Airlines began additional service to cities that were previously restricted by the Wright Amendment, for a total of 43 cities beyond the Wright Amendment area. The new schedule offers additional one-stop service to destinations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore, Orlando, and Tampa.
  • Under the new law the Wright restrictions disappeared on October 13, 2014. The new flight schedules reduced service between Dallas and adjacent states as longer nonstop flights were added.

Why doesn't Southwest fly to Hawaii?

  • Customers have consistently urged Southwest to add service to Hawaii. Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly mentioned in 2017 that Hawaii service was a priority for Southwest. So why hasn't it happened yet?
  • Hawaii routes incur high fixed costs, spread over a relatively small number of flights per day. Another problem with Hawaii is that you need heavy over-water equipment (ETOPS and life rafts). WN has historically preferred that all of its planes be usable anywhere in the system, but the addition of San Juan bent that rule. Also, Southwest's newest planes are configurable for over-water flying.
  • The biggest problem with Hawaii is logistics: you need enough flights to justify having a maintenance base and other ground staff or you need to outsource those functions. Crew rotation may also be a challenge. Red-eye flights from Hawaii to the mainland are almost a financial necessity, and until 2017 Southwest did not have internal software capable of handling red-eye flights.
  • Southwest generally doesn't add airports unless they can justify at least 10 flights a day from that airport, spread over several destinations, typically a mix of the closest ones outside of 3 hour driving time and one or more of their semi-hubs (Baltimore, Chicago, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando, etc). So it's unrealistic to just look at whether Southwest could fly to somewhere from Hawaii or Alaska, but whether they could fly often enough to enough different destinations from there to make starting service there (on their point-to-point model) practical. That said, thin route problems did not stop Southwest from entering Long Beach with only 4 flights per day, all to and from Oakland.
  • Another challenge from a business perspective is the high fraction of leisure vs. business travelers and a high anticipated fraction of award and companion pass travelers. But that didn't keep WN out of Orlando or San Juan.
  • Southwest's partnership with the now-defunct ATA provided connecting service to Hawaii. Lack of awards to Hawaii is a deal-breaker to a significant percentage of frequent fliers. The new program's option to redeem points for off-network travel at approximately 1 cent per point addresses this in a way that is inferior to other airlines' capacity-controlled awards but probably better than those airlines' double mileage awards.

Why doesn't Southwest fly red-eyes?

  • We can only speculate. Perhaps demand is not adequate, or long overnight flights do not fit Southwest's business model. Also, maintenance planning is easier when aircraft have several hours of down time each night.
  • Some media reports hint that the pre-2017 internal reservation software could not support red-eye flights. The new software reportedly gives Southwest the ability to add red-eye flights.

Why doesn't Southwest offer an airline lounge?

  • There would probably be insufficient demand for a Southwest airport club. Airside space is expensive, and Southwest's business travelers spend very little time at the airport unless there is a flight delay. With Internet check-in, there is no need to get to the airport an hour early, even for a long-haul flight.

Is assigned seating in our future?

  • Southwest has decided to retain open seating for the foreseeable future. On November 8, 2007, Southwest announced a priority boarding system in an attempt to provide better seating for its frequent flyers and for premium farecustomers.
  • Southwest seriously considered implementing some form of assigned seating. At http://blog.southwest.com/2006/06/21/a-message-from-our-ceo-open-season-on-assigned-seating/ you can read Gary Kelly's musings and hundreds of customer comments. FTers were fairly confident that Southwest would not change to first-come, first-served assignment of seats months ahead of travel. Open seating has a major advantage for full-fare business travelers who book within a few days of travel: they have the same opportunity as everyone else to get a good seat.
  • The implementation challenges of assigned seating are numerous, including handling connecting flights and irregular operations (delays and cancellations).

Are there other differences I should know about?

  • Southwest does not permit "last flight in, first flight out" overnight connections.
  • As of Friday, May 29, 2009, Small Pets are allowed on Southwest’s domestic flights. The cat or dog must be small enough to fit in a carrier below the seat in front of you, and must be vaccinated. The fee has increased twice and is now $95.

Tips for Flying on Southwest

Before you leave for the Airport

How can I reach Rapid Rewards by telephone? Is there an elite number?

  • If you need to phone SWA reservations, call 1-800-248-4377. This is the Rapid Rewards priority phone number. That puts your call in line ahead of everyone who calls 1-800-IFLYSWA. You will get a real human being based in the US. Southwest long ago made a corporate decision not to use voice response systems that so many of us find annoying. If the phone lines are extraordinarily busy, you may be offered the option to have Southwest call you back. That option reportedly works quite well.
  • As of March 1, 2011, A-List members are allowed to use an exclusive A-List phone number. A-List Preferred members have another exclusive phone number with higher priority.
  • There is a voice response system for Rapid Rewards at 1-800-445-5764. The voice response system is useful if you are on the road without Internet access, or if you want to check the number of credits you have accumulated toward your initial or renewal Companion Pass.
  • If you need to talk to a human at Rapid Rewards, the 800 number no longer works. You have to phone 1-855-234-4654 and press 2 at the prompt for Customer Relations and Rapid Rewards. For Refunds, call the same 1-855-234-4654, and press 1 at the prompt.

What is EarlyBird Check-In?

  • EarlyBird Check-In (EBCI) was introduced in late summer of 2009. For a $15.00 fee per one-way flight (as of September, 2017, increased twice from the original price of $10 and later $12.50), you can be automatically checked-in at 36 hours before your scheduled departure. Southwest markets this as a way to avoid having to check in on your computer or mobile device, so no need to be waiting for the T-24 mark to check in.
  • EBCI does not guarantee you a low boarding number. Southwest is not limiting the number of EBCI purchases per flight. It is therefore theoretically possible that every person on the flight could purchase EBCI.
  • EBCI can be purchased at the time of booking, or any time up to 36 hours before your flight (via Southwest Products > EarlyBird Check-in® on Southwest.com).
  • All A-List passengers will be checked in before EBCI passengers. Then all EBCI passengers who bought an Anytime fare will be checked in, in order of who purchased EBCI first. Finally, EBCI passengers who bought a Wanna Get Away fare will be checked in, in order of who purchased EBCI first.
  • The fee is non-refundable. You cannot get the fee back if you are unhappy with the Boarding Position you were given, nor if you decide to cancel, or no-show your flight. If you decide to change your flight (at least 25 hours before original departure) to a flight (at least 25 hours in the future) with the same confirmation number, the EBCI fee will transfer to the new flight, but you will not retain the same boarding position you had for the original flight.
  • To retain EBCI, use the "Change Flight" option and not "Cancel/Rebook." In general, EBCI will be retained if the confirmation number is retained.
  • Southwest will refund the fee if they cancel your flight, upon customer request.
  • The EBCI fee must be paid with a Credit Card. Southwest Ticketless Travel Funds are not accepted.

What determines what boarding letter I get? How do I get an "A"?

  • "A" boarding passes are given to all Business Select (BS) passengers (maximum of 15 per flight leg) plus the next 45 seats to successfully check in (whether manually or via the automatic check in for "A-Listers" and EBCI passengers).
    • EBCI purchasers and A-Listers who were automatically checked in at the 1.5 day mark and all BS passengers can, therefore, completely skip the race to complete OLCI as soon as possible.
    • If Southwest expects the flight to have a high number of through passengers, Business Select will not be offered and there will be 60 A's available for A-list, EBCI, and OLCI passengers.
    • Note that a customer of size who has pre-purchased two seats on a single PNR consumes two boarding passes when checking in.
  • Southwest will sell any unused BS slots at the gate for $30 or $40, depending on destination. You get to board at position A15 or better but you do NOT get bonus points or the free drink that people who pay for Business Select get.
  • The next 60 seatholders receive a "B" boarding pass, and the remainder receive a "C".
  • If a non-BS boarding pass holder is removed from the flight (e.g., he cancels his BP or ticket, or catches an earlier flight), that sequence number is put back in the pool. If you happen to be the next passenger to check in, you may draw an "A" or "B" even though the person ahead of you got a "C".
  • If you have a ticketless reservation, whether paid or using Rapid Rewards points, you can print your own boarding pass at southwest.com starting at your departure time on the day before your flight. That normally equates to "24 hours before departure," but it may be 23 or 25 hours if you are flying on the first day that DST begins or ends. (Before November 9, 2005, OLCI opened at 12:00:01 AM on the date of your flight, in the departure time zone.)
    • You are most likely get an "A" boarding pass if you complete OLCI reasonably promptly (with the possible exceptions of Orlando and Las Vegas, which have plenty of larger groups, and sold-out holiday flights). With the advent of EBCI, however, this is far from a guarantee.
  • You get boarding passes for all your outbound segments when you check in, whether online, at a kiosk, or at a counter.
  • Note that you cannot check in online later than 60 minutes before your scheduled flight time!
  • If you don't have a printer, never fear: you can get a replacement boarding pass at a kiosk or from any counter agent at the airport and it will still have the same letter and sequence number, with an "r" appended. If you plan to do this, you may wish to print a Security Document the day before travel so that you may get your replacement boarding pass beyond the security checkpoint to avoid the baggage check-in line. Ability to print a replacement boarding pass at the airport kiosks was available system-wide as of March 30, 2005.
  • If you want to check in at the earliest possible moment, you can create a URL to take you directly to the online check-in form. Just right-click the URL below to copy it, paste it into the address line of your browser, edit the record locator and names, then press enter.
http://southwest.com/cgi-bin/selectBoardingPass?recordLocator=ABC123&firstName=NICK&lastName=PUDDER
You can even bookmark the link if you like (after following the above steps, or by right-clicking on the link and editing the bookmark after saving it). You can test your pre-built URL by using it ahead of time:
  • If you are early you will see the big red "Oops!" message page with a "too soon or too late" error and (SW900001) at the end of the two paragraphs of explanatory text.
  • If you entered the name or PNR incorrectly you will receive the big red "Oops!" message page with a "name mismatch" error and (SW301007) at the end of the single paragraph of text. If this happens be sure to fix your URL before your check in window opens!
Once you have a valid OLCI URL, either use it only if you are within 15 minutes of the correct T-24 check-in time (unless you can refresh the page (by pressing F5 or ctrl-R, or using a browser utility) every 10 minutes or so to keep the server session active). When T-24 strikes, refresh the page to display the OLCI form; check the box by each passenger's name (or click the "select all" link, if present), and click "Submit" to secure your boarding position(s). Note that web site changes have made the former Back button method unnecessary, so the former one second (five or take) advantage of this pre-built URL technique has been diminished.
  • If you have multiple passengers traveling on separate PNRs, you'll need to enter the pre-built URLs in different browsers (not just different browser tabs/windows), or enter the second and subsequent URLs in a new tab/window without pressing enter until after completing OLCI for each prior passenger.
  • After a late May, 2009 overhaul of m.southwest.com, it appears there is no longer a mobile phone equivalent for the above link. As with the later revision of the main southwest.com OLCI page, submitting the form early leaves the OLCI form visible with the data fields intact, so you can just "click" the form button to retry.
  • According to a FT post by SWAVictor, iPhone users were better off using the full version of southwest.com instead of m.southwest.com when using the "web form" for OLCI. That may no longer be true in light of the May 2009 site overhaul. If you want to pre-build the OLCI URL your only choice is to use the link for the full version of the site. Or just use the new Southwest Airlines iPhone App.
  • Kiosks at the airport can print your boarding pass any time you are eligible for online check-in, even the day before your flight. If you are passing through the departure airport early in the day, for example on the outbound leg of a day trip, stopping by the kiosk to get your evening boarding pass is a great way to get an A. Another trick is to stop off at the kiosk before parking your car. Kiosks can reprint your boarding pass right up until the flight time, and perhaps later. If you have not yet checked in online or otherwise, the kiosk will not give you a boarding pass later than 20 minutes before the originally scheduled departure time.
    • You cannot check bags at the kiosk more than four hours before your scheduled departure.
  • If you are checking in for a flight out of a focus city (what every other airline calls a hub), be aware that connecting passengers have first shot at the A's. Why? Their 24-hour window for online check-in is based on the departure time of their first flight, probably an hour or two before your flight departs.
  • If you have a same day round trip booked as such (on one record locator), online check-in is initially available for only your outbound flight(s). However you can check in online again 24 hours before your return flight and get those boarding passes, provided that you avoid the blocked time starting one hour before the original departure and ending some time after that flight lands.
  • If you have a same day return booked as a separate reservation, you can check in online separately for the outbound and the return. This is another advantage of booking one-way trips rather than round-trips. If you booked a same day round trip, just stop at the customer service counter near the gates when you arrive at your destination and pick up your return boarding pass. Try a kiosk if you like, but it may not give you the return boarding pass if your outbound flight was short. The kiosk may tell you that you have already checked in for your outbound flight, and not give you the option to check in for the return.
  • If you have been tagged for random secondary security screening, you will not be able to check in online or print a security document, and Southwest will not be able to tell you what the problem is.
  • If your ticket requires that you are a certain age (senior fare, youth fare), you may not be eligible to check in online. Proof of age is required before check-in. Once Southwest has verified your date of birth as described in the next paragraph you'll be eligible for online check-in, as long as you have entered your Rapid Rewards account number into the reservation.
  • To get your date of birth verified and to take advantage of these new enhancements on future reservations, submit a copy of your state's official driver’s license or other government-issued identification indicating your date of birth along with your Rapid Rewards account number to: Southwest Airlines Customer Relations/Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36662, Dallas, TX 75235. Please allow 4-6 weeks for age verification. For verification status, please log in to your MySouthwest account and visit "account details" to confirm whether verification has been completed. You will be notified by letter once the verification process is complete.

How can I estimate how long the security lines will be?

TSA's Mobile App, including a Waiting Time estimator], which will be reasonably accurate. 
  • Check Southwest's schedule to see when the next flights are to your destination. Check seat availability by searching for the maximum of 8 seats on the reservations pages. If seats are open, the flat tire" rule (see numbered item 2) will allow you to standby for those flights. Southwest's high-frequency service between some city pairs limits your risk, allowing you to cut it close when catching your flight.

When there is a flight delay, the departure status rarely lists the delay before I leave for the airport. How can I better determine whether my flight will actually be delayed? Also, how can I determine the intermediate stops of a particular flight?

  • The Flight Status information page at southwest.com has been overhauled, making it possible to request information for the previous day. Unfortunately the new page no longer allows user to track an arriving flight without knowing what city it is coming from. For that functionality you need to use other web sites.
  • On http://flightaware.com you can enter Southwest and the flight number to see that flight's entire itinerary over the past few days. Note that the segments read upward; that is, the last segment is at the top. It takes some interpretation to see that a flight was diverted on a previous day. Note that Saturday schedules are completely different from other days.
  • You can also search http://flightarrivals.com . You can enter a flight number and see its full itinerary. If you want to know on an earlier day whether the flight is originating or continuing (which could influence your boarding strategy), you'll need to check this on a day when the flight follows the same schedule as on the day of travel, and while that flight is in progress or close to it. That is, if you're flying on a Saturday morning, you may need to search this on a Saturday morning.
  • http://flightstats.com has an iPod/iPhone-friendly interface. If you aren't taking a continuing flight, you can use flight status by airport to see what flight is arriving at the gate from which your flight departs, and see if that flight shows a delay.
  • If you're interested in seeing the intermediate stops for a future date, possibly after a schedule change, you can go to http://southwest.com/cgi-bin/requestSchedule (you can also get there from southwest.com, Travel Tools, Schedules), select Download Schedules for the city in question, then the date range for the date that interests you. You get all the flights to and from that airport; you can either look it over for the flight number, or do a search in the PDF reader for the flight number. You can also use this to determine if the flight is continuing from someplace else.
  • http://info.flightmapper.net/search : enter Southwest and the flight number. The first results page shows listings for that flight number on all dates, but you can fill in the date that interests you in Select Flight Date. That will give you the routing of that flight for that date.

What if my flight is canceled?

  • If you signed up for phone or text notification of changes when you made the reservation, you will likely get a message containing a phone number to call for rebooking. You may be able to avoid that wait by going to southwest.com/rebook or southwest.com/rebook2 and entering your reservation information. If your flight has been designated for free rebooking due to cancellation, storm activity, or other disruption, the web page will offer you a one-time opportunity to rebook your flight within a specified date range with no additional charge. If your new flight is less than 36 hours in the future, you will lose your A-List automatic check-in. If it's less than 30 hours in the future, you will lose Early Bird check-in if you paid for it on the original flight. There appears to be no way around these limitations short of paying full price for Business Select.

Where can I get electronic and paper timetables?

  • For electronic timetables in pdf format, go to http://southwest.com/cgi-bin/requestSchedule and click Retrieve Schedule, either using the default of "--Retrieve All Cities--" or after selecting a single city of interest.

Where can I find official airline rules?

What services are available for children?

  • The fee for unaccompanied minors, age 5 to 11, increased to $50 (from $25) on April 23, 2010.

At the airport

What are Fly By Lanes?

  • Fly By Lanes are Southwest's version of priority security screening lanes for elite program members. They were introduced in October 2008. Show your orange A-List card or your Business Select boarding pass and you can bypass a long screening line.
  • Southwest's 2007 and 2008 changes to boarding and security screening make it clear that Southwest wishes to reward paid travel, just as every other airline's elite program does. Companion Pass holders who earned their passes through massive credit card purchases or points transfers are not eligible for these benefits.
  • Travel companions, including designated CP companions, are not eligible to use Fly By Lanes. You can try it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't work.

Where are the priority lanes for baggage check-in?

  • Southwest operates priority bag check-in lines for A-list members and those with Business Select tickets. This link shows which airports have priority check-in lanes.

What if I check in online and miss the flight?

  • If you print a boarding pass and do not show up the agents know that you are a "missed flight" passenger. You can still fly standby that day or re-use the funds after the end of the day.

What airport navigation tricks apply to Southwest?

  • Check your bags inside, not at the curb. The inside lines are served by many employees, and they move much faster than the shorter outside lines. It's strange that passengers haven't figured this out. This varies by airport; at SAT and LAX it appears the skycaps are in fact SWA employees.
  • At OAK both terminals are connected on the secure side, so you can use the Terminal 2 security checkpoint even if your flight departs from Terminal 1. The Fly By Lane is at the right, closest to the SWA check-in counters. If you have Precheck you may be able to cross over to the front of that line after entering via the Fly By Lane.
  • AUS has two well-known security lines and a third, lesser known line at the west end. The security line closest to the WN counter is frequently the longest around WN departure times. You can often save time by using the second of the two primary lines. If you are checking bags or using the WN counter or kiosk for any other reason, a detour to the third line at the far west end would very likely consume more time walking down and all the way back to the WN gates than could be saved by any shorter line. If you don't need to check bags or use the WN counter or kiosk, however, entering the airport at the extreme west end and beginning your "hunt for the shortest security line" there could prove effective.
  • At LAS, FT Member Red Raider LV reports that "The Las Vegas shortcut (mini-checkpoint for security) upstairs adjacent to the D gate entrance is open, usually has a short line, and even has a dedicated 'Fly-By' lane."
  • DAL has a "secret" TSA line. The main line moves pretty quickly, but when you need to rush, head towards the baggage claim and take the escalators up. There is a second security checkpoint upstairs that almost never has a line.
  • At SEA you can use the 'Elite' Security line using your Rapid Rewards plastic membership card at some of the security lines.
  • If transferring at MCI, be aware that by default when you deplane you go straight ahead a few steps, past a glass wall, and you've left the secure area; as of February 2010 all Southwest flights are in the same sterile area, with gates 37-45. There are small monitors listing gates, but you may be advised to find the gate numbers for your arriving and departing flights beore you start your trip at http://southwest.com or http://flykci.com . As you deplane, gate numbers to the right are higher. The sterile area has restrooms and a few concessions.
  • At PDX, the express lane for security shows a bunch of airline frequent flyer cards that will let you in. One of the pictured cards is a Southwest Rapid Rewards card. (The sign does not say whether the frequent flyer card has to match the boarding pass.) You can also use this line, with some explaining, if your Rapid-Rewards number is printed on your ticket.
  • At SNA, you can use the "First-Class" security line if you have an A-List Membership Card, or an "A" Boarding Pass.
  • At DEN the WN baggage claim is at carousels six through nine, in the southeast corner of the terminal. For quickest access to baggage claim, choose a car toward the back of the train from the gates, and exit toward the rear. Note that while shuttles for hotels in the immediate airport area generally stop at both the east and west doors, other hotel shuttles do not. For example, Stapleton-area hotel shuttles pick up only the west side (opposite side from WN baggage claim). As the shuttles for the remote hotels are less frequent, being prepared in advance by knowing which side to exit can avoid a long wait for the next shuttle.
  • If you need to refuel a rental car before returning it at DEN, you can save fifteen to twenty or more cents per gallon by avoiding the high priced gas at the single station between E-470 and the airport. The best bet is probably the Flying J on E. 32nd Ave in Aurora. Use your GPS or this online map for driving directions. Example from August 2010: $2.499 at Flying J; $2.859 at Circle K. It is about ten miles from the Flying J to the rental car return area, so don't skimp on the fill up. If you are returning from the mountains, another option is to fill up at the cheaper stations on the west side of town and just buy a small top off at the last gas station before the airport.
  • If taking a rental car or hotel shuttle to DEN and you are in a hurry, tell the driver your airline is United. You'll save time getting off the shuttle at the first stop and walking about 1/3 the narrow width of the terminal, versus sitting on the shuttle as it makes the congested drive from the southwest corner, around the north end, and down to the southeast corner of the terminal.

Which Southwest airports have free WiFi? What security precautions should I take?

  • The answer to that question changes frequently! Southwest does a good job of keeping their airport information page up to date with airport WiFi information (click the + sign next to the city neam). Unfortunately they don't actually use the word "free" so you have to read between the lines.
  • Do not connect to any peer-to-peer service, especially ones called "Free Public WiFi" or "Free Internet Access". Those signals (viral SSIDs) are broadcast from infected laptop computers, and your computer will become infected the first time you connect to one of these. See http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=602 for an explanation.
  • Very important to note: Due to security issues it is highly inadvisable to log in to MySouthwest over public WiFi, even though logging in to most bank sites is relatively safe!

What are the weight and number limitations for checked baggage? What happens if the bag was delayed, or if Southwest loses my baggage?

  • Effective January 29, 2008 Southwest cut their free checked bags allowance from three to two. Large or heavy items (described below) do not qualify to fly free. Additional bags may be checked for a fee of $75 each (one-way), increased from $50 in early 2013
  • Bags that weigh 50+ to 100 pounds or that measure 62+ to 80 inches are charged $75 each (one way), increased from $50 in early 2013.
    • Note that WN's length + width + height measurement system is different from the girth + length system used by shippers such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS.
  • Bags that exceed 100 pounds or 80 inches are prohibited, except as noted in the Contract of Carriage.
  • Your bag will get a Late Check-In Tag if you check it less than 30 minutes before scheduled departure, or 45 minutes at DEN, IAD, LAS, LAX, MCO, MDW, or PHX and 60 minutes at BWI. Late-checked bags might still make your flight, but if they don't Southwest will not cover the cost of delivering them to you at your destination.
  • FT member PTahCha writes: "If your bag was delayed and arrived late, you can either have Southwest deliver the bag for no charge, or pick it up at the airport in exchange for a $50 voucher, provided that it was not checked in late."
  • FT member RockHounder writes: "If you've never been through the lost baggage process, you'd be surprised to know that you have to wait 5 days before you can even request a claim form. Once they mail that to you, they want to know the item, color, material it is made from, manufacturer, where you bought it, size, is it for a male or female, when you bought it and what you paid. In addition, you have to have the form notarized. After waiting two weeks to get the form, they give you 45 days from the date of the flight to get your claim in the mail but they say evaluation and resolution of your claim takes a minimum of 3 days. I understand they also depreciate everything, even it is new and unused."
  • FT member Buffaloflyer reports that he was denied curbside checkin less than 30 minutes before departure. This risk is another reason to use the inside lines (see Airport Navigation Tricks) if you're running short of time.

How do I check my bags for a connection on another airline?

  • No can do. You have to pick up your bags and hoof it over to the other airline. This means that you had better allow plenty of time for connections to international flights. Furthermore, if your bags are lost or delayed on the way to your international flight, you may not see them until you get home again.

If my flight is delayed or canceled, will Southwest sign my ticket over to another airline (Rule 240)?

  • No. You may have seen a couple cases of this on A&E TV's Airline, but this is another departure from everyday reality in that "reality" show. To put you on another airline, Southwest would have to buy you a full-fare ticket. This step is not taken without an exceptionally good reason for which Southwest and not the passenger is clearly to blame.

How much compensation will I get for being bumped?

  • For voluntary denied boarding (VDB), the compensation offer is $300 plus the face value of your ticket, all in the form of a travel voucher. Normally, if the customer is confirmed on an alternate flight scheduled to arrive within two hours of their original arrival time, they receive $300 plus the face value of their ticket. If the customer can not be placed on a flight scheduled to arrive within two hours of their original arrival time, the compensation is increased to $400 plus the face value of their ticket.
  • If a person traveling on a Rapid Reward or Companion Pass volunteers their seat, the new policy is to assign a $100 ticket value to the compensation voucher (in addition to the $300) per FT VDB award/CP thread. With the conversion to Rapid Rewards 2.0, it's the cash equivalent fare is used the fare was paid with points.
  • In the unlikely event that enough people do not volunteer and Southwest denies you boarding involuntarily, your compensation is twice the fare you paid to your next destination, up to a maximum of $800. This amount is cut in half if Southwest gets you on a flight estimated to arrive less than 2 hours later than the flight on which you were denied boarding. If you are bumped involuntarily, you are entitled to cash compensation (actually a check) if you prefer that to a voucher.
  • As of September 2006, bump vouchers are electronic travel credits called LUV vouchers, fully usable online. You can’t pay taxes with a LUV voucher, but you can evade this limitation by booking and canceling a ticket with a LUV voucher and then using those travel funds to pay the taxes and more on the ticket you want to fly.

Does Southwest cancel flights when they are too lightly loaded?

  • Yes, sort of. More precisely, given that a flight needs to be canceled (equipment shortage), Southwest typically selects the least loaded flight as the one to cancel. They would be foolish to do otherwise. All airlines do this, but Southwest is much more likely than other airlines to shift the cancellation to a lightly loaded flight, because on Southwest all the planes are interchangeable.
  • Customers accurately perceive a tendency to cancel lightly loaded flights. What they cannot see is the resulting lower percentage of cancellation on heavily loaded flights.

Which airports have Priority Pass or American Express affiliated lounges that are accessible to Southwest passengers?

Having a Priority Pass or American Express Platinum card can be helpful for lounge access at several airports with Southwest service. The Priority Pass can be purchased directly from Priority Pass, while the Priority Pass Select membership is a benefit provided by several credit cards including the American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige.

The American Express Platinum provides access to Airspace, Escape and Centurion Lounges. Centurion Lounges are operated by American Express.

Atlanta (ATL)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The [email protected] - International Terminal - Concourse F - mezzanine level, next to chapel - accessible to Southwest passengers using Terminal Train.

- Minute Suites- Concourse B - mezzanine level, near Gate B16 - accessible to Southwest passengers using Terminal Train

Cleveland (CLE)

American Express Platinum

- Airspace Lounge - located in Main terminal, post-security and just before the Concourse B gates; easily accessible to all concourses. $7 credit to use on their menu.

Denver (DEN)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Timberline Steaks & Grill - located in Concourse C, $28 credit to use on their menu per cardholder and guest. Menu available here: http://dia-food.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/timberline_spot2.pdf

Hartford (BDL)

American Express Platinum

- Escape Lounge - Located on the low gates A pier.

Las Vegas (LAS)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The [email protected] - Terminal 1 - Concourse D, 2nd level above red line train station. Accessible to Southwest passengers but not the most convenient for access before Southwest flights, make sure to factor in time to get to gate prior to departure.

- The [email protected] - Terminal 3 - across from Gate E2. Accessible but not the most convenient for access before Southwest flights, make sure to factor in time to get to gate prior to departure)

American Express Platinum - Centurion Lounge - need Flyertalkers' reports - accessible to Southwest passengers?

Los Angeles (LAX)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Alaska Board Room - Terminal 6, likely not useful for most Southwest flights, as most Southwest flights depart from Terminal 1 at LAX, while lounge is in Terminal 6. However, some international flights will depart from TBIT, so accessibly behind security to Terminal 6 (not particularly convenient, but an option)

- KAL Lounge - TBIT,likely not useful for most Southwest flights, as most Southwest flights depart from Terminal 1 at LAX, while lounge is in Terminal 6. However, some international flights will depart from TBIT, so accessibly behind security to Terminal 6 (not particularly convenient, but an option)

Newark (EWR)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Art&Lounge Lounge is outside security in Terminal B, so accessible to Southwest passengers. Lounge is located at Gate Level, before Security between B2&B3 or Gates 50&60. Since Southwest flies out of Terminal A, need to factor time to get between Terminals, so not the most convenient. Free snacks (chips, pretzels, soup, little sandwiches, salad bar) / beer/ alcoholic beverages; better food offering in the early afternoon prior to El Al flight and after 6 PM prior to La Compagnie flight (steamed veggies, chicken/fish, pasta). Not the most convenient for access before Southwest flights, make sure to factor in time to get to gate prior to departure)

- Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge inside security in Terminal A, near Air Canada departure gates, same as Southwest flights, so accessible to Southwest passengers.

New York LaGuardia (LGA)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge - before security so accessible - located in Concourse A, Level 3.

American Express Platinum

- Centurion Lounge - Outside security, so should be accessible to Southwest passengers. Complimentary breakfast and lunch/dinner buffets and drinks. Free internet.

Oakland (OAK)

American Express Platinum

- Escape Lounge, this is a 5-15m walk (inside security) from the T-2 gates that handle the WN flights.

Orlando (MCO)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The Club MCO - Terminal B Concourse 4 - accessible from gates 70-99, next to InMotion Store, near gate 91 - inconvenient for Southwest for departures, and better as an arrivals lounge where one isn't pressed to go through security - possible need to clear security again if there are international arrivals. Several FTers had to clear security twice, so be mindful of the possibility of needing to clear security again, helps if you have TSA Precheck. Per nsx, The Club at MCO is accessible to Southwest passengers by riding the other train to gate 90. You can cut across on the air side of security between that train and the train that connects to Southwest's gates. nsx also mentioned that the Club at MCO is a very, very nice lounge and is the best US domestic terminal lounge he has ever visited. shammers and northsider agreed that the Club at MCO is a nice domestic lounge with decent food and alcohol.

Phoenix (PHX)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The [email protected] Located at the end of N4 Concourse (Gates B15-B28). Accessible to Southwest passengers but not necessarily the most convenient for access before Southwest flights, make sure to factor in time to get to gate prior to departure.

Portland (PDX)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Alaska Airlines Board Room - looks doable - lounge is in Concourse C, Southwest gates are out of Concourse C also. Note: No guests allowed with Priority Pass - cardmember only.

- Capers Café Le Bar - past security, on left hand side. $28 off final bill per person per visit.

- House Spirits Distillery - near Gate C6, Southwest gates are out of Concourse C also. $28 off final bill per person per visit.

San Jose (SJC)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The [email protected] - Located across from Gate 15. Accessible to Southwest passengers. All gates are connected airside.

Seattle (SEA)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Alaska Airlines Board Room - Concourse D- over at the entrance to the D gates, and is a bit of a walk from the WN gates. Has good soup and there are bathrooms inside. Just clear security over at the D/N or main checkpoint and it's right there. Note: No guests allowed with Priority Pass - card member only.

- Alaska Airlines Board Room - North Satellite - Between gates N1 and N2. Has good soup and there are bathrooms inside. Note: No guests allowed with Priority Pass - card member only.

- The Club at SEA - Concourse A- near gate A11, and is a bit of a walk from the WN gates?

- The Club at SEA - South Satellilte- near gate S9, and is a bit of a walk from the WN gates?

American Express Platinum

- Centurion Lounge - near gate B3. Complimentary breakfast/lunch/dinner food items and drinks. Free internet.

Washington Dulles (IAD)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- British Airways Galleries Club - hours: 7 AM - 2 PM. Concourse B, near Train. Convenient for Southwest passengers.

- Air France - Opposite Gate A22. Convenient for Southwest but further walk from Southwest gates than British Airways and Turkish Airlines lounges.

- Turkish Airlines - near gate B43. Convenient for Southwest passengers.

International destinations

Aruba (AUA)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- International VIP Lounge - Gate 2 - Gate 2 - proceed through immigration and follow signs to Gate 2.

- International VIP Lounge - Gate 8 - Gate 8 - proceed through immigration and follow signs to Gate 8.

Cancun (CUN)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Mera Business Lounge - near Gate A.

Los Cabos International (SJD)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- VIP Lounge - after security, in front of Gate 8.

Mexico City (MEX)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The Grand Lounge Elite - entrance G, turn right after Duty Free corridor, take escalators down to Gate H. Kind of a hike to the Southwest gates, but not too bad. 1 plate item from menu during breakfast, lunch or dinner windows.

- Avianca Lounge - near Gate 31, close to the Southwest gates.

- Lounge 19 - near gate 19. Kind of a hike to the Southwest gates, but not too bad. 1 plate item from menu during breakfast, lunch or dinner windows.

American Express Platinum

- Centurion Club - International Terminal 1 (pre-security) - Pre-Security, Between Doors 8 and F1 - Note: food and beverage is not free. complimentary 15 minute massage? Comments on one blog mention there may be complimentary food, just need to ask?

- Centurion Club - International Terminal 1 (past security) - Past Security, Gate, K, Floor 2 - Note: food and beverage is not free. complimentary 15 minute massage? Comments on one blog mention there may be complimentary food, just need to ask?

Montego Bay (MBJ)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Club Mobay - after security, go up to the Mezzanine Level and take the elevator between Gates 8 and 13 up to lounge. Follow signs.

- Club Mobay Arrivals Lounge - after customs, proceed straight ahead. Lounge located opposite Global Exchange Cambio and beside Thrifty Car Rental Desk.

Nassau (NAS)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Graycliff Divans - after passport control and security checks, located at rear of terminal, 10 meters from the restrooms.

San Juan (SJU)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Avianca Lounge - Terminal C -Lounge in Terminal C while Southwest flies from Terminal B, Juanefny confirms that all terminals are connected airside, so can access the lounge by foot.

Needing confirmation from fellow FlyerTalkers

Philadelphia (PHL)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- Minute Suites - located between Concourses A and B in the AB connector

Puerto Vallarta (PVR)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- VIP Lounge - Hall 1, located after Food Court, before the connecting hallway to the International Departure Area

Punta Cana (PUJ)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- VIP Lounge Punta Cana - Terminal A - after Security check and passport control - located on 2nd floor.

- VIP Lounge - Terminal B - after passport control, left side next to the food court and before the Gates on the 2nd floor. Need FTers Reports on if this is accessible to Southwest passengers

San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- VIP Lounge Costa Rica - Located in front of Gate 5. Need FTers reports on if this is accessible to Southwest passengers.

Inaccessible to Southwest passengers

Baltimore (BWI)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The Club BWI, Located at D gates, near D10 and Dunkin Donuts, and not particularly useful to Southwest passengers.

Boston (BOS)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select (was relevant when Southwest flew out of E, but now that they fly out of A, are the two lounges accessible to Southwest passengers?)

- Air France Graf Lounge - Southwest flies out of Terminal A, there is an Air France Graf lounge that is near Gate E4 (tucked away). Free drinks, snacks (cookies, cheese, crackers, chips, etc.). Free internet from Logan. Opens around 1:30 PM - 2 PM though. Accessible even if you have to clear security twice?

- The Club at BOS- Southwest flies out of Terminal A, lounge is airside after security at Terminal E, and take elevator down 1 level. Accessible even if you have to clear security twice?

Minneapolis / St. Paul (MSP)

American Express Platinum

- Escape Lounge- The Escape Lounge is in the Lindbergh terminal while Southwest flies out of Humphrey terminal, so access would not be possible.

Orlando (MCO)

Priority Pass & Priority Pass Select

- The Club MCO - Terminal A Concourse 1 - located near Gates 1-29, adjacent to XpressSpa - does not sound like easily accessible to Southwest passengers

San Diego (SAN)

American Express Platinum

- Airspace Lounge - Terminal 2, post security between Terminal 2 East security and the bridge to Terminal 2 West. Accessible to all Terminal 2 customers. Southwest flies from Terminal 1, so not accessible to Southwest passengers.

San Francisco (SFO)

American Express Platinum

- Centurion Lounge - in a different terminal so not accessible to Southwest passengers without clearing security twice. Complimentary breakfast and lunch/dinner buffets and drinks. Free internet. Can try to access as long as you're ok clearing security twice at different terminals.

Seating

Does Southwest offer priority boarding to its best customers?

  • This topic came up regularly on FT until November 8, 2007. Back in the stone ages, getting a good seat required arrival at the gate approximately an hour before departure and standing in a long line for a plastic boarding card numbered 1 to 137. You might stand for 30 to 45 minutes before getting your boarding card, then you could either sit down or join a disorganized mob ready to assault the gate when the agent called for the first, second, third, and sometimes fourth boarding group (30 per group).
  • When Southwest introduced kiosks, A/B/C group boarding, and Internet check-in, the check-in and boarding process became incomparably more civilized. Savvy customers checked in online, getting an A boarding pass almost every time. Then they could have a seat until most of the A's were already boarded. There was no need to wait in line unless you wanted an extra-special seat.
  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced the A-List, offering priority boarding for frequent flyers, and Business Select, offering priority boarding for a premium fare.
  • On September 2, 2009, Southwest introduced EarlyBird Check-In (EBCI), offering the ability to automatically check-in at T-36 (and thus secure the lowest available boarding position at the time of purchase) for $10 per one-way flight. The fee was later raised to $12.50, and is currently (as of September, 2017) $15.

How does priority boarding work?

  • Business Select customers get boarding passes A1 through A15, in order of T-24 check in. (If Southwest expects the flight to have a high number of through passengers, Business Select will not be offered and there will be 60 A's available for A-list, EBCI, and OLCI passengers.)
  • The Business Select boarding slots are held until departure, so you can get one of them any time until boarding starts or until they are sold out. If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats.
  • Business Select customers board after pre-boarders but before everyone else. Because families no longer pre-board, and because pre-boarders are not allowed to sit in the exit rows, you will have some excellent seats to choose from.
  • Customers on the A-List are automatically checked in for their flights ahead of everyone else, receiving boarding passes A16 and up (i.e., starting at end of the group of boarding pass numbers allocated to Business Select).
  • On September 2, 2009, Southwest introduced EarlyBird Check-In (EBCI). For a $15.00 fee (increased twice from the original $10 and later $12.50), customers can be automatically checked in immediately after A-Listers, before those using T-24 OLCI have the opportunity to secure a boarding position.

How does Business Select boarding work?

  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced Business Select, offering priority boarding for a premium fare.
  • Business Select fares allow you to board in one of the first 15 slots. The earliest T-24 check in boards first. These slots are held until departure, so you can get one of them any time until boarding starts or until they are sold out.
  • If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats.
  • Business Select includes two other benefits: a free drink onboard and more Rapid Rewards points per dollar of fare. The drink coupon that prints with your Business Select Boarding Pass is only valid for the day of travel. As of August 1, 2010 you can no longer save the drink coupon for use on a later date.

I already have a B or C boarding pass. Is there any way to get an A?

  • When available, Southwest sells open A1-15 positions as Upgraded Boarding, for $30 or $40 (depending on destination) at the gate.
  • Each boarding pass shows your check-in sequence number, up to 143 (the number of seats on most of Southwest's planes) in addition to the letter.
  • If your flight is on a 737-800, there are 175 seats. Your boarding number is roughly half a letter (32 positions) better than you think in terms of finding an empty aisle or window seat. To learn if your flight is scheduled on a 737-800, start a reservation search for your city pair and date and click on the flight number. You will see the aircraft type. The 737-800's are more comfortable and the fares are often lower due to the surplus of seats.
  • If someone is removed from the flight (e.g., catches an earlier flight), their sequence number is put back in the pool. If you happen to check in immediately afterwards, you may draw an "A" or "B" even though the person ahead of you got a "C".
  • On routes where there are frequent flights (probably won't work for you on MCI-DAL), there is a trick to "upgrade" to an A. Starting around 15-20 minutes before a flight before yours on the same route is scheduled to take off (although really you can try it anytime, but it seems like the largest chance of movement is right before an earlier flight takes off), open up two browsers and in one cancel your boarding pass and in the other re-check-in. If it is a route where there are often many full-fare tickets purchased, there is a good chance that a handful of people will standby/change to an earlier flight and thereby opening up their (possible) A boarding pass for you to snag.
  • There is a slight risk that someone else could come in and snag your B or C during the seconds that you cancel and re-check-in. But that has never happened to me and I've upgraded to an A on 2 of the 4 times I've been stuck with a B or C.
  • Don't try this once you get to an hour before your flight, as you won't be able to re-check-in on-line anymore. You can, however, go to a gate agent and have your boarding pass cancelled and re-issued, possibly snagging an A.

Do I qualify for pre-boarding?

  • As of October 2004, you qualify for pre-boarding if you require physical assistance from a WN employee or have a qualified disability. Examples of qualified disabilities include, but are not limited to, Customers who require the use of a wheelchair, mobility device, cane, walker, etc. One other person can pre-board with you.
  • You qualify for mid-boarding (between the A's and the B's) if your party includes at least one child under 5 years old. Until October 2, 2007, these families were allowed to pre-board. Flights out of Orlando often had dozens of pre-boarders, causing complaints from people who made the effort to obtain "A" boarding passes. The advent of Business Select made a change absolutely necessary. The change to mid-boarding created much consternation, but after people experienced the new process the complaints died down.
  • Effective August 1, 2005 no Customer who accepts pre-boarding will be permitted to sit in the Emergency Exit Row. When the first "Non-Preboard" passenger is boarded...the ops agent will scan their boarding card and then return it with the instruction to give it to the "A" Flight Attendant upon boarding. This will signal the F/A that general boarding has begun and passengers may choose exit row seats. Board the flight before that boarding pass comes down and you will not be permitted to sit in the exit row.

How do I play the open seating game? Where is Southwest's "Secret First Class"

  • With the new boarding system that began November 8, 2007, you don't need to stand in line. Just check in online if you can, then have a seat until boarding starts. Any "A" will get you an aisle or window seat if you don't need to be in an exit row or in the front of the plane.
  • On Southwest you can choose your seat on board either by location or by neighbor. If you are boarding late in the B group or early in the C group, you can choose to avoid sitting next to a particular person or you can choose to sit next to someone who interests you. People have met their future spouses on Southwest, as Colleen Barrett wrote in the February 2004 Spirit Magazine:
"We are truly blessed to have Customers who are much more than passengers; they are supporters, friends, and fans. Those Customers consider Southwest as an extension of their personal and/or corporate family. Our low fares and frequent flights allow them to attend college in another city; to commute daily between home and an office in another city; or to provide clients with a personal visit in lieu of a phone call or e-mail. We also hear from Customers telling us that Southwest played Cupid by bringing them together with their future spouses, whom they met during one of our flights (thanks to our "open seating" policy), and our Employees have even been known to be "conspirators" in helping with surprise onboard wedding proposals."
  • Open seating is great if you have kids on a long flight. During boarding, the kids can find other kids their age to sit next to, leaving both sets of parents in peace.
  • What seat locations are the best? If you need to exit quickly, for example for a short connection, you will want a seat near the front. If exit speed is not important to you and if the plane is not going to be full (see next paragraph), you can increase your chance of having an empty middle seat by sitting farther back in the cabin.
  • Southwest's "Secret First Class" is located just aft of the exit row. Selecting a seat in that area (rows 13 through 17 on most Southwest airplanes) gives you the highest probability of having an empty middle seat on a less than full flight. Why? Passengers wanting an aisle or window seat or overhead bin space will walk all the way to the back of the cabin, hoping for success. If they don't find what they are looking for, they will turn around and take the first decent middle seat. Only rarely will they walk all the back to row 15.
  • Knowing the expected number of empty seats on flight can influence your seating strategy. If you can find out the passenger count you can calculate the expected number of empty seats. Until May 8, 2017 it was possible to glance at the Ops Agent's boarding screen and see the necessary information. Now that screen is essentially unreadable. So you can ask a gate agent, ops agent, or the flight attendant at the door how many people are on the flight and hope it's accurate.
  • If you are a very attractive female, your chance of having an empty middle seat on a nearly full flight is approximately zero. If your flight has more than 110 passengers, you might want to delay boarding until the middle of the B's, then select a middle seat. This way you, not they, control who you sit next to.
  • On a full flight there are three sections for drink service, starting at rows 1, 9, and 17 in a 143-passenger cabin. Those are the best rows if you need a drink quickly.
  • When the aisle seats are all taken, it's time to play "Unite the Couple". As you walk down the aisle look for what appears to be a couple in the aisle and window seats. When you ask for the middle, most of the time you will end up with the aisle. This will not work 100% of the time, but it is a good tactic to avoid a middle seat in the back. You can usually figure out the couples that are travelling together and trying to protect the middle.
  • While many people like to board as early as possible, it may be better to board at the start of the B group, particularly for full or nearly full flights. First, if you don't want to sit near kids, it's better to board AFTER the kids, so you can see where they are seating. Second, if you are flying solo and the flight is close to full (but not full even after allowing for standby passengers), you can play the "look for the worst middle seat" game. This game involves looking for another solo flyer in the aisle or window. If that person is relatively large or otherwise a less than desirable as a seat mate, then grab the open aisle or window seat (it works best if they are in the aisle). Then, when the C group boards, those people will be less likely to sit in the middle seat between you and your new friend. Note that this will backfire on you if the flight is completely full, so ask at the gate or listen for the oversold announcement if you're not sure!
  • Prior to August 2006, the overhead bins would often fill up early in the C group, forcing later boarders to check their carry-ons. Imposition of restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags largely eliminated this problem. So you need not panic about your carry-on if you draw a C boarding pass or if you are flying standby after missing your flight.

What are the aircraft types and what are the differences between them?

  • According to their data Southwest's fleet of 665 aircraft consists of 13 Boeing 737-500s, 120 Boeing 737-300s, 447 Boeing 737-700s, and 85 Boeing 737-800s at the end of 2014.
  • On December 15, 2010, Southwest announced that it was switching 20 of its 737-700 orders for 737-800s, with the first delivery scheduled for March 2012. These will be equipped for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards (ETOPS), making them suitable for flights to Hawaii. The 737-800 is longer than the 737-700 and can hold up to 189 passengers in single-class seating. Southwest's 737-800 aircraft seat 175 passengers.
  • The 2011 acquisition of AirTran added 86 Boeing 717-200 aircraft, which can be configured for about 110 seats in single-class 5-across seating. These aircraft were leased to Delta Airlines by the end of 2014.
  • The 737-300s (sometimes listed as 733) serve Southwest's short-haul routes and have 143 seats with 31" seat pitch. The "infinite legroom" seat is 12A, and seats 12DEF all have a little extra legroom.
  • The 737-700s (sometimes listed as 73G), which are a few feet longer than the 737-300s, also have 143 seats in the same arrangement as the 737-300s. The 737-700s serve long-haul flights, but may also appear on short segments just before or after a long haul leg. All 737-700s have winglets that provide net fuel savings on longer flights; winglets are being added to older aircraft during scheduled maintenance cycles. With the same 143 seats, the 737-700s provide 31” to 32" seat pitch. At row 12 you can tell the difference between types: 737-700s have clear plastic covers over the exit window handles, and 737-300s have no covers on the window handles.
  • The 737-500s (listed as 735) had only 122 seats. In these aircraft the "infinite legroom" seat was 10A. Seats 10DEF all had extra legroom. These aircraft did NOT have the new slimline seats with the tighter row spacing. Southwest has retired all its 737-500's.
  • The 737-800s (sometimes listed as 738) have noticeably greater seating pitch than any of the other aircraft types. These aircraft are worth seeking out for long-haul originating flights. If you are connecting onto a 737-800 flight, be aware that Southwest may board that flight VERY early due to the higher passenger count. Be sure you can get to the gate 40 minutes before departure to be safe.
  • Seat recline was standardized at 3 inches at the end of 2006.
  • All 737s have flap "canoes". The -700s have theirs painted red, or a different color if on a logo jet. All 737-700's have winglets. Some 737-300's and all 737-500's do not have winglets.
  • The 737-700s have N numbers in the 2XXs, 4XXs, 7XXs, 9XXs and a few 55X. N501-N528 are 737-500s. One can spot these numbers on the nose gear doors from the gate area, plus the full registration number back by the tail.

What are the features of the new "Evolve" seating?

  • The new seats are used in all the 737-800's. They were retrofit into all 737-700's and virtually all 737-300’s by the end of 2013.
  • Southwest claims that the new seats preserve knee room. Under-seat storage decreased according to the reduced (by about 1.5 inches) row spacing.
  • The mesh seat-back pocket is the hallmark of the Evolve seats. Perhaps it will keep you from accidentally leaving a personal item (other than your kneecaps) behind.

On board

Onboard Internet (WiFi)

  • Southwest has installed satellite-based Internet service in all its 737-700 and 737-800 aircraft.
  • The service operates using WiFi inside the aircraft. Just turn on your computer or other WiFi-enabled device, view available wireless networks, select "Southwest WiFi," and connect.
  • To see if your flight has WiFi, look for the sign saying "Southwest Airlines WiFi Hotspot" on the bulkhead as you enter the plane. Also, all WiFi equipped aircraft have a round "bubble" antenna enclosure on top of the fuselage just forward of the tail. If you board a 737-300 or -500 it will not have Internet service.
  • When the WiFi system is in service, a small green light will appear just to the right of the EXIT lettering on the ceiling-mounted sign at the front of the aisle. The presence of a small round indicator light on that sign is another way to identify a WiFi equipped aircraft. Other aircraft have nothing in that part of the sign.
  • WiFi service costs $8 per flight segment, payable using a credit card or debit card. The service is free for A-List Preferred members.
  • For current official information, see http:southwest.com/wifi

What food will be served on my flight?

  • On flights up to 600 miles: peanuts.
    • Southwest switches between honey roasted and dry roasted and back every year or so.
    • You can have pretzels instead if you like.
    • Southwest makes "every effort to make sure peanuts are not served on flights where someone with an allergy is traveling." If you are allergic they ask that you "please let a Reservation Sales Agent know, so the Crew will be notified." They also "suggest taking early morning flights before the plane has been in service and nuts have been served onboard."
  • On nonstop segments from 751 to 1750 miles: a snack appropriate for the time of day (e.g., a cereal bar for breakfast, pretzels or crackers in the afternoon, etc.).
    • Medium Haul AM - Belvita (transition to Brown Sugar Belvita October 2017)
    • Medium Haul PM - Regular Wheat Thins (transition to Ritz snack mix October 2017)
  • On nonstop segments 1751 or more miles long: several options (such as small bags of peanuts or pretzels and Nabisco snacks such as cookies, cheese-filled crackers, etc.). These are now offered via a "Select-A-Snack" basket the FAs carry up and down the center aisle. Passengers are free to select as many of each type of snack as they like.
    • Long Haul - Lorna Doones / Fritos / Ritz with Cream Cheese (transition to Cinnamon Airplane Cookies / Fritos / Wheat Ritz with White Cheddar this month)
  • If your flight is a series of short hops, you may be downright hungry by the time you arrive if you don't pack your own snack.
  • For each quarter of the year, the drink menu in the seatback pocket lists some free drink days. Here is a list of dates from 2011 so you can get an idea of when you expect your drink to be free:
    • Feb. 14 (Valentine's Day)
    • March 17 (St. Patrick's Day)
    • May 8 (Mother's Day)
    • May 30 (Memorial Day) "for all of our Service Men and Women"
    • June 18 (Southwest's birthday)
    • June 19 (Father's Day)
    • July 4 for service members.
    • Aug. 11 for those who show the Chase RR Visa
    • Oct. 31
    • Thanksgiving Day

What is the "pillow trick"?

  • This has nothing to do with the Mile High Club, but it's still useful information. If the overhead bins are full or nearly full, you can sometimes fit your roller bag in endwise if you insert it wheels up. Then you stuff a coat or something soft under the bag to lift the bag an inch or two above the sill. The door will now close without obstruction. When the bins are totally full, look for a similar bag to turn endwise to make room for yours.
    • Pillows were great for this purpose, but pillows and blankets were removed from Southwest's aircraft on April 29, 2009, ostensibly because of the swine flu scare. The removal was initially supposed to be temporary, but now it's permanent.
    • You don't actually need anything underneath to elevate the bag. An especially savvy flight attendant (or passenger) can simply hold the bottom of the bag up a bit with one hand while lowering the door with the other hand.
    • On the newest aircraft (737-700's) the bins are a tad deeper and will accommodate roller bags endwise without needing the pillow trick.
  • Another trick is the secret release latch under the aisle-facing. It's on the bottom of the arm toward the rear. Press this latch rearward and the armrest will be free to rotate upward, allowing you to make a quicker exit if you are in a hurry.

Southwest's Acquisition of AirTran

  • On September 27, 2010, Southwest announced that it had agreed to acquire AirTran. The transaction was approved on April 27, 2011, with full conversion of AirTran service to the Southwest brand occurring near the end of 2014.
  • Southwest has converted leftover frequent flier points from AirTran's A+ Rewards program to Rapid Rewards in November 2014.
  • AirTran's fleet included 52 Boeing 737-700's and 86 Boeing 717's (the newest version of the DC-9). Southwest later decided to lease the 86 smaller aircraft to Delta.
  • AirTran had 31 gates at ATL. This acquisition brought Southwest to Atlanta in a big way.

Glossary of abbreviations used on the Rapid Rewards forum

Abbreviation Meaning
BP Boarding Pass
BS Business Select (an infelicitous initialism if there ever was one)
CC Capacity Controls
CP Companion Pass (less frequently: Choice Privileges)
CSR Customer Service Representative (Customer Relations department employee; may be used as a more generic term for RSA)
EBCI Early Bird Check In
FA Flight Attendant
FT Flyer Talk
GA Gate Agent (employee who works the desk near the gate)
IB Internet Brands (owner of cpi-web.ru)
LEFT Common mistyping of LETF
LETF Leftover Electronic Travel Funds (one of two categories of TTF)
OA Ops (Operations) Agent (employee responsible for boarding the aircraft and more)
OLCI Online Check In
PAX Passenger(s)
PNR Passenger Name Record
RBF Read Before Flying (FA advisories)
RR Rapid Rewards
RSA Reservation Sales Agent (Employee who answers the phone when you call the toll free number)
SAAS Sabre reservation system used by Southwest for ticketing
SEB Serendipitous Early Boarding (obtaining a boarding number from an A-lister's canceled trip)
SODA Southwest Operational Disruption Accommodation
SST Southwest Standard Time (the time to which WN's online (WWW) computers are synched)
SWA The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) code for Southwest.
TTF Ticketless Travel Funds
UT Unused Ticket (one of two categories of TTF)
uTTt unused Ticketless Travel tickets (obsolete; see UT)
WGA Wanna Get Away (marketing term for WN's discounted, non-refundable fares)
WUT Wholly Unused Ticket (FT-proposed acronym for uTTt/UT)
WN The IATA (International Air Transport Association) airline code for Southwest. WN is FT geek-speak for SWA.
  • Can't find the abbreviation in the list above? Try the glossary in FlyerTalk's help area.