Southwest Airlines is unlike any other. The original discount carrier with a cult following has different rules, a different fare structure and different perks than just about any other airline in the world.
One of the most fun things about Southwest is all the bizarre quirks and benefits that, if in the know, can do great things for even the most casual flyers.
These hacks to open up Southwest’s LUV machine are accessible to all who are willing to pay attention and go the extra mile for some free perks.
Seats: Location, Location, Location
Many people think the equivalent of a first class seat on a Southwest jet is the second row aisle on either side. These seats have slightly more legroom than the bulkhead, under-seat storage and they provide that quick on-off at the airport.
Those looking for extra legroom have one choice on Southwest flights: emergency exit row.
Seating is first-come, first-served, which means the only way to get one of these upgraded seats is to get in the front of the boarding line. Checklist:
- Check-in immediately when check-in opens (literally, set an alarm at 24 hours before departure).
- If you won’t be able to check-in immediately, Southwest offers something called “Early Bird check-in” for $15. This checks you in ahead of everyone but A-list elite flyers and business select passengers.
- Consider a same-day move into business select. Business select flyers get free drinks, and are the only ones with access to the cream-of-the-crop A1 through A15 boarding slots.
Check-in ‘Again’ For the $11 Upgrade
Always check-in twice, even if you’re A-List or A-List Preferred. Check in once on your smart phone via the app (to secure the best seating position), then “check-in” again via the ticket kiosks.
As you do this, click on the Upgrade button to check to see what Southwest requires to upgrade. Very close to departure time, I’ve seen offers to jump into Business Select for as little as $11. That upgrade gets you access to priority security lines (“FlyBy Lane”) a free drink and a prime boarding position.
Southwest also offers something called “Upgraded Boarding” for $30, $40 or $50. Upgraded Boarding also allows access to the A1-A15 boarding slots, without the free drink. Still, those occasional $11 Business upgrades are the best deal when they pop up.
If you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card, four of those upgrades will be free, regardless of their sticker price.
Waived Change Fees AND Fare Difference
If a flight is delayed by more than 10 minutes, and you attempt to reschedule ahead of Southwest’s efforts to place you on another flight, be sure to remind Southwest not to charge any fare difference, since it’s ultimately Southwest Airlines’ fault. Never hurts to ask, “Don’t you sometimes waive the fare difference when the delay isn’t our fault?”
Fare Redeposits (And Rapid Rewards Redeposits)
Southwest reward flights are based on fare price. They are also fully refundable. Tickets can be canceled right up to flight time.
Translation: monitor fare prices. If you book an award and the fare price drops, you can actually use the Southwest website to change your flight (to the same flight) and watch the extra points refunded to your account. That’s called LUV.
Those Nice Little Receipts
Be sure to double check kiosk-printed receipts so as not to miss or throw away a free drink coupon or free WiFi code that may be printed on the receipt. Those offers pop up.
The Empty Middle Seat Secret
If aiming for an empty seat next to you, and if the flight is going out with a few empty seats, look mean.
In all seriousness, the best odds for that empty middle seat, in my experience, are around row 8-9. People in group C push past there to the back of the plane looking for a “good” seat, and then settle for whatever’s left. So sitting midship in a non-exit row is a good bet.
Promotions and Price Drops
Be sure to register for all Southwest Airlines promotions. Check all of your booked flights when new promotions occur in case of a price drop.
Shop and Eat Your Way to Frequent Flyer Status
If you often eat at restaurants, make sure to join the Rapid Rewards Dining Program. This not only helps earn free flight, Southwest is the only airline that actually counts this type of spend toward elite frequent flyer status.
Along those lines, join the Rapid Rewards Shopping Program. You’ll get up to 10 points for every dollar you spend at partner stores. There are hundreds of restaurants and retailers in the programs.
Not all overhead bins are created equal
Southwest flies only Boeing 737s, and packs these narrow tubes to the gills. If you notice, next time you’re on a SWA 737, you can actually see that the overhead bins taper toward the front of the airplane.
If you want to sit up front with a big roll-a-board, save yourself the embarrassment of trying to stuff a bag into a tiny tapered bin and step back a couple of rows.
That WallyPark Deal
I haven’t been to all 11 WallyPark locations, but I do know that at LAX, WallyPark provides the absolute best combination of time-to-gate and cost-per-day. In almost every issue of Southwest’s onboard magazine, Spirit magazine, WallyPark has an ad good for 25% off your total parking bill, not just one day’s worth. Clip the ad.
Understanding and knowing about Southwest Airlines hacks can help you maximize and customize your Southwest Airlines experience.
Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane, you can find her at Joy in Movement.
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