As a consumer, we’re fortunate to have a surplus of airlines to choose from. While some can be more pricey than others, some go out of there way to establish themselves as the budget alternative. This is not only a positive for us as travelers but further helps us in our initiative to travel more frequently. Lowering our up-front costs will allow us the flexibility to do more when we reach our destination rather than having our costs tied up predominantly in transportation. With that being said, there are pros and cons associated with choosing Southwest Airlines. Let’s dive in!
What Is Southwest Doing Well?
Let’s start with the positives and jump right into the best perk of Southwest: two free checked bags. There’s nothing more frustrating as a traveler than having to account for the additional costs of travel like checked bags. Most airlines out there charge for this – usually in the range of $20 – $30 per bag. It adds up, especially when traveling in groups. Take a family of four – that’s $100 one-way! Not to mention, we’re looking at this from the perspective that each member in a family of four is only checking in one bag.
Let’s get away from the downside of other airlines, shall we? Instead, let’s circle back to Southwest’s best perk: each traveler gets two checked bags free! This perk alone makes flying Southwest worth it. Additionally, if you find yourself feeling frustrated when an airline has premium fare classes that you aspire to have, but cannot afford – well, Southwest can remedy that. All of the seats and treatments you receive on Southwest are the same for everyone. You’ll have ample legroom wherever you sit with very attentive flight attendants so you’ll never feel like your section of the plane is inferior. Sounds good, no?
One aspect of Southwest’s customer service that stood out to me was their continuous clear communication while at the gate as I awaited my departure to West Palm Beach. For me, these announcements usually blend in with the noise and other announcements scattered throughout the airport. However, with Southwest, it was noteworthy enough for me that I jotted it down in my notes in preparation for writing this article for you. Additionally, having phone chargers available at the gate was a nice touch. I still am baffled that in the tech world we live in today that there are airlines out there that still haven’t adopted this practice. While some airlines have phone chargers available, it’s still relatively scarce at the gate. It seems pretty smart from a business standpoint to make it available for all customers.
Do you remember how I mentioned earlier the frustration of expensive fare classes? While Southwest has three fare classes: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away – the benefits you get if you have the disposable income to afford Business Select do not outweigh the most affordable Wanna Get Away option, in my opinion.
The most notable benefits of Business Select are priority boarding and Fly By (priority security). This is something you’ll find on alternative airlines, but you’re usually flying first class with these benefits. When flying Southwest, there is no first-class which makes this premium benefit underwhelming. The 12x rewards for Rapid Rewards members are more applicable for those who are business travelers and fly as a part of their jobs. That perk does not apply to us considering we’re just looking to travel more than once per year.
Truthfully, my favorite premium benefit is offered for Anytime travelers which is the ability to receive a 100% refundable ticket if you have to cancel your flight. You don’t even need a Business Select ticket to take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s be honest, you probably have scheduled time off work, booked your hotel, etc. Am I right? I think it’s a safe bet that you’re not canceling your flight. With that being said, your best option as a budget traveler is going to be the Wanna Get Away option.
Where Can Southwest Improve?
With all of the positive points accounted for, there’s always the opposite side of the coin. Let’s take a look at how Southwest can improve to further cement themselves as the leader (in my opinion) in budget travel.
I think it’s fair to say that we all enjoy in-flight entertainment when we travel. Some airlines excel at this: Delta and JetBlue. Southwest, on the other hand, has room to improve. To be fair, in-flight entertainment is available, but only on your device. With no phone charger in-flight (based off a 2.5-hour flight), this is not acceptable. We’re all aware that watching videos on your cell phone is going to drain your battery faster. With no way to charge your phone, you face the uncertainty of how much in-flight entertainment you’ll get to enjoy before your phone is drained of its battery.
It may be wise to charge your phone at the gate before getting on the plane, but to say with 100% certainty that this charge will last the entire flight (2.5-hour baseline) is questionable. That uncertainty can be removed if there were built-in TV’s on the back of the seats like you see on Delta and JetBlue.
My biggest gripe with Southwest is their boarding system. I believe their boarding system is cumbersome and causes congestion. Since it’s based on your boarding zone, there could be passengers in-line who are supposed to be ahead of you and vice-versa, but due to the proximity of the zone markers, it’s more a kludge than a benefit. Due to this, you may be boarding the plane later than you expected and thus missing out on where you had contemplated sitting.
The clunky boarding process ties directly into Southwest’s no assigned seat philosophy. It’s yet another layer of controlled chaos. I don’t think it’s that controlled, do you? Plain and simple, I want my seat assigned. There’s no questioning where you sit (you’ve already made that selection ahead of time), no discussions amongst your party as to where you want to sit, no congestion for other passengers trying to board, and most important piece of mind for all. It’s understood that flying causes some people anxiety. Why add to that anxiety with unanswered questions like, “are we in the right place in line?” and “where are we sitting?”
Finally, the last item I’d like to point out is upgrading your ticket. I have seen other airlines like Delta offer the ability to upgrade your airfare (i.e. main cabin to first-class). This doesn’t appear to be an option with Southwest which is a little unfortunate, especially if you have the extra income to do so. In our purposes of budget travel, I can understand that some of you may not be looking to upgrade, but having the option to do so is always appreciated. The only upgrade option you have is your boarding position. It’s better than nothing, of course. However, when the competition offers it, you would think Southwest would do the same. Overall, I don’t find this to be too big of an issue because Southwest is marketing itself as an affordable airline so I can see why they don’t have the option to upgrade your airfare after purchase. It’s worth noting that using your Rapid Rewards points cannot be used to purchase upgrades either. Although, you can use your points for a better fare option if that’s something you’re saving up for. All in all, there’s not much loss in this scenario. If you truly desire to travel in Business Select, save your points!
An Overall Solid Option
As we reach the end of this article, hopefully, you have a better picture of the benefits and potential negatives when deciding whether or not Southwest is a good budget option for you. I’d have to give them a resounding seal of approval for anyone who may be looking for an airline that makes travel economically friendly. Have you flown Southwest before? What are your opinions regarding the cost of a plane ticket? What are some experiences you can share that would benefit others reading this article?