It’s easy to forget that Southwest Airlines actually carries more domestic passengers than any other US airlines. They carry a decent a number of business travelers, and have their own loyalty program to match.
Delta, American, and United all offer free same-day standby to certain elite members, where you can move to an earlier or later flight without a charge, pending availability of seats, of course. This benefit varies with different tiers of elites. For example, Delta Silver Medallions can only move to an earlier flight and must pay a fee (just like non-Medallions), while Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallions get free standby on an earlier or later flight. It varies between airlines too. For instance, American extends the benefit to companions on the same record, but Delta only applies the benefit to elite members traveling.
In a way, Southwest actually already offers “free standby,” since they don’t charge any cancellation fees. You can change your flight on the same day, but if you are traveling on a “Wanna Get Away” (their cheapest) fare, you have to upgrade to their “Anytime” fare. This essentially means you have to pay the fare difference between your ticket and the “walk-up fare,” which can be astronomically high.
Southwest elites currently get priority standby, but they are by and large subject to the same rules regarding paying fare differences. Well, it looks like Southwest just sent out an email, announcing that A-List and A-List Preferred members now get same-day standby.
With this new benefit though, there seems to have a big catch. New flight must depart within two hours of original scheduled departure, between the same city pairs, and on the original date of travel. This severely limits how you can utilize this benefit. I understand Southwest probably doesn’t want you to say, pay for an mid-day but get to fly on a late night one, which might be in higher demand. However, there are probably only a few markets where there are flights with the same origin and destination within 2 hours.
An additional note is that only the Southwest elite traveling on the ticket is eligible for free standby; her or his traveling companions on the same reservation do not get the same benefit. The benefit is also not available at kiosks, so you will have to see an agent at the airport to get it sorted out.
I think it’s nice that Southwest is trying to somewhat align their elite offering with the other big 3 US carriers, but I think the 2-hour window essentially makes this benefit moot for many people. Still, if you are an A-Lister in the right market, this could still prove to be a useful perk.
Southwest A-List requires 25 one-way flights or 35,000 tier-qualifying points, while A-List Preferred requires 50 one-way flights or 70,000 tier-qualifying points. These statuses cannot be earned with spending on the Southwest credit cards, unlike the Companion pass.
(HT to Ethan for sending this in!)