Southwest Airlines’ Quirky Perks and Hacks: The Complete Guide

by Shelli Stein

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. Knowing these tips, hacks and upgrades on Southwest Airlines will make your flight a breeze!

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 Southwest flyers.

Southwest Airlines tips, tips, upgrades and hacks

Get ready for takeoff. Southwest Airlines has some hidden perks and benefits that almost anyone can take advantage of.

These tips, hacks and upgrades on Southwest Airlines opens up Southwest’s LUV machine. The tips are available to anyone willing to pay attention and go the extra mile for some free perks. Are you ready to learn some tricks?

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.

Southwest hacks, tips, secrets, upgrade tips

The exit row is the only “extra legroom” seating you’ll find on a Southwest plane.

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 Airlines upgrade tips hacks shortcuts

If you want to sit in the first few rows on Southwest, try plugging away at an airport kiosk before your board your flight. I’ve seen upgrades to top-tier boarding for as low as $11.

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.

What Exactly is a Southwest ‘Wanna Get Away’ Fare?

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

Southwest hacks tips upgrades status

Spend on all Southwest Cards (Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card shown) counts toward A-List elite 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.

Southwest is the Best Airline You’re Probably Not Flying!

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.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and knowing about tips, hacks, and upgrades on Southwest Airlines hacks can help you maximize and customize your Southwest Airlines experience.

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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.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Tommy Yates September 4, 2019 - 6:03 am

I have never flown Southwest but plan to in near future. I am looking for all revenant information.

Shelli September 4, 2019 - 10:10 am

Thanks for reading, Tommy. Here’s our guide to EVERYTHING Southwest. Hope it helps you have an awesome Southwest experience!

Greg October 11, 2021 - 9:11 pm

Southwest is current cancelling hundreds of flights, so I’d like to switch a booked flight to another airline to avoid the risk that my flight might be cancelled. I have a Wanna Get Away ticket that is non refundable. If i upgrade to Anytime, can i then cancel and get the entire fare refunded?

Shelli October 12, 2021 - 1:38 am

I’d suggest contacting Southwest directly with your question. Hope it works out in your favor, Greg.

What Exactly is a Southwest 'Wanna Get Away' Fare August 26, 2022 - 3:27 am

[…] Learn more: Why Fly Southwest Airlines? […]


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