During the coronavirus pandemic, Southwest launched its Southwest Promise to address how COVID changes the way we travel. Now that a vaccine is being distributed, more and more travelers are looking forward to flying again in 2021 and beyond. When that happens, should you fly Southwest Airlines? Here’s what you need to know about the Southwest policies on fees and the many reasons why Southwest Airlines is still a solid option for travelers.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
What to expect when flying Southwest this year
No change fees
Whether you're flying on a cash ticket or an award reservation, Southwest doesn't charge any fees for changing or canceling your flight. When you pick a new flight, if it costs more, you'll simply pay the extra cost in cash or points. For flights that cost less, you'll receive a refund of the cash or points that can be used for future travel.
Depending on the type of ticket you buy, your refund may have limitations. Southwest's cheapest fares, Wanna Get Away, will have refunds in the form of a flight credit that must be redeemed within one year from the original purchase date. You have your choice of credits from Anytime and Business Select fares: Choose a future flight credit or have funds returned back to your original form of payment.
What's even better is that there is no limit to the number of times that you can change your flight without paying a fee.
You can rebook the same flight to save money
Not only can you cancel or change your flight to save money, but the same is also true for rebooking the same flight. Southwest Airlines has fare sales on a regular basis. If you find the same flight for less, you can rebook your flight to pocket the difference (sometimes as a credit and sometimes as a refund). This is a rarity among airlines.
Two free checked bags
While competing airlines continue to raise the cost of checking a bag, Southwest still offers two free checked bags for every customer. As long as your bag is under 50 pounds and 62 inches, it's free. Other airlines charge up to $35 per bag each way when flying. For a family of four, that's $280 for a round trip flight.
Strollers and car seats can also be checked for free, which is a welcome relief for families. These items do not count towards the two free checked bags either and, if you decide to carry-on the car seat for your child, it doesn't count against the carry-on limits.
For adventure lovers, snowboards can be checked as one of your free checked bags. Just be careful — the 50-pound limit still applies.
» Learn more: Your guide to booking award flights on Southwest
No fees to sit together
Southwest doesn't have assigned seating, so you may be wondering what to expect when you fly Southwest Airlines. On Southwest, it is first-come, first-served when picking seats on the plane. Because of this, it is possible for your entire group to sit together without paying any extra fees.
If you're worried about sitting together on a packed flight, travelers can pay for Early Bird boarding access. This benefit checks you in 36 hours before departure, which which means you check in ahead of passengers without a Business Select ticket or A-List elite status. Checking in early bumps you up in the line and gives you earlier boarding access ahead of regular passengers.
When there are spots available, you can also purchase upgraded boarding passes, which will move you up to the A1 to A15 boarding group. The cost is $30, $40 or $50 per segment, depending on your itinerary. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card gives cardholders four free upgraded boardings every year.
A growing number of destinations
Southwest Airlines started out as a regional airline in Texas. Now, it is one of the largest U.S. carriers. Southwest now serves over 100 destinations across the U.S. (including Hawaii) and 10 additional countries.
If you're looking to fly within the U.S., Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean, there's a good chance that Southwest can take you there. This gives you plenty of options in planning your next long-awaited vacation.
» Learn more: Southwest Airlines sweet spots
No blackout dates
There are no blackout dates when redeeming your Rapid Rewards points for a flight on Southwest Airlines. As long as there's an open seat on that flight, you can use points to book the reservation.
Earn the Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best benefits available among all airlines. Once you've earned this status, your designated companion can travel for nearly free wherever you are flying, whether you booked using cash or points. You're only responsible for the associated taxes and fees that apply.
Join the A-List
Southwest offers two levels of elite status — A-List and A-List Preferred — for travelers that fly it the most. A-List provides priority boarding, same-day standby, priority check-in and a 25% earning bonus on paid flights. A-List Preferred members have those same benefits, plus a 100% earning bonus and free in-flight Wi-Fi.
To earn your elite status, you'll need to complete 25 one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points for A-List, or 50 one-way flights and 70,000 TQPs for A-List Preferred. To help travelers in 2021, Southwest gave existing customers a points boost toward earning status:
15,000 TQPs towards A-List.
10 qualifying flight credits towards A-List.
25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points.
25 qualifying flight credits towards Companion Pass.
Southwest credit cards, including the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, are currently offering an attractive welcome bonus for new cardmembers: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
» Learn more: Guide to earning Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points
The bottom line
Southwest Airlines offers a lot of value for travelers who are looking to fly in 2021 and beyond. The Southwest policies on fees are very generous and tailor-made for uncertain COVID-era travel: No fees to cancel or change a flight, and every passenger gets two free checked bags.
Its network of destinations continues to grow, and frequent travelers can earn attractive benefits through elite status and the Companion Pass. If you’re still wondering if you should fly Southwest Airlines, the answer is yes.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card