Old (pre-2011) Rapid Rewards

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Everything you need to know about Southwest the old (pre-2011) Rapid Rewards

Note: This is an archived page, not updated after January 2011, describing Rapid Rewards 1.0.

This Wiki FAQ contains virtually all known tips and tricks about flying Southwest and maximizing benefits from Rapid Rewards.

For example, if you know the system, you can get a great seat virtually every time. You will also find Southwest's new boarding process with its letters and numbers more civilized than that of any other airline's coach class.

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Southwest Airlines pre-winglet 737

The Rapid Rewards Program

Overview of the Rapid Rewards Program

  • Rapid Rewards began on June 22, 1987 as The Company Club, a simple program awarding a free round trip after you collected 16 stamps on a paper card, provided that you hadn't accidentally run that card through the washing machine or otherwise misplace it. If you managed to collect 100 stamps in a year, you earned a Companion Pass allowing you to take a designated person with you for free on all your Southwest flights.
  • On April 25, 1996 Southwest renamed the program Rapid Rewards, sending out plastic membership cards to everyone who had redeemed awards under the Company Club program. Those members are the only ones with numbers starting with 0000001. Electronic tracking of flight credits was a major improvement over paper cards and stamps.
  • Rapid Rewards has retained this 16 credits = one free round trip formula since the beginning. But they have often given more than one credit for each one-way trip. Long-haul flyers will find today's Rapid Rewards program uncompetitive, but Southwest makes more money on short-haul tickets and perhaps they feel no need to encourage long-haul purchases.
  • For retroactive credit after signup, use the Add Past Flight Credit page on Southwest's web site (you must first log in). You can request credit for travel completed within the past 24 months. If you are missing any confirmation numbers, a Southwest Customer Relations agent may be able to find them for you. The more information you can provide (especially any credit card numbers used to pay for the flights) the more successful the search is likely to be. Before the "Add Past Flight Credit" functionality was added to the web site it was necessary to submit requests for retroactive credit by mail.
  • Award tickets are usable for two independent one-way trips. The traveler can be anyone, and it does not need to be the same person for both halves. For example, you can use one award for two people on a one-way trip before the award expires, then use another award or paid tickets for the return trip. Or you can book a one-way trip now and save the other half of the award to use months later.
  • Until 2006, award tickets were unrestricted except for a handful of blackout dates, mostly around Thanksgiving and Christmas. All awards earned since mid-February 2006 are subject to capacity controls.
  • Through 2006, Rapid Rewards was a perennial winner of Freddie Awards including a near-monopoly on Best Customer Service and Best Award Redemption.
  • Rapid Rewards works differently than mileage-based programs, and flying on Southwest differs from flying on a legacy carrier. The differences are sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Reading this Wiki is your ticket to a more rewarding flying and earning experience on Southwest.

Elite levels (A-List)

  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced the A-List, its first effort to provide priority boarding to its most frequent customers. In October 2008, Southwest began to add priority screening lines as second A-list benefit. A-List is the only elite level in the current Rapid Rewards program. Rapid Rewards 2.0 is expected to add at least one more elite level, not counting the Companion Pass, which is more of a special award than a traditional elite program level.
  • If you earn credit for 32 flights during any one-year period, Southwest will give you A-List status. This status gives you automatic check-in for any flight you book at least 36 hours before departure time. You will board right after the Business Select passengers. You will no longer need to remember to check in 24 hours before your flight time. Instead, you can print your "A" boarding pass any time up to one hour before departure, or at an airport kiosk until 20 minutes before departure.
  • Customers on the A-List are automatically checked in for their flights, getting boarding passes ahead of all others except Business Select customers.
  • The highest ranked A-lister gets boarding pass A16, or A01 on those few flights where Business Select is not offered. Most flights are expected to have fewer than 10 A-Listers.
  • Priority ranking within the A-List is apparently by number of flights in the qualification period, but Southwest has never revealed the ranking algorithm.
  • In October 2008, Southwest began opening Fly By Lanes, which allow A-Listers and Business Select customers to bypass long screening lines.
  • You can check your progress toward qualification or requalification for the A-List near the lower right of your MySouthwest Account Snapshot page.
  • When you reach 32 flights for requalification, the bar graph stops at 100% but your flight count will continue to increment. The flight count for your next renewal will reset to zero on the original expiration date, at which time your A-List expiration date is extended 12 months.

Award travel to Hawai'i

Award travel on ATA

  • As described at http://www.southwest.com/rapid_rewards/ata.html, ATA has shut down as of April 3, 2008 and you can no longer earn or redeem Rapid Rewards awards for travel on ATA. You cannot transfer your ATA points to Rapid Rewards, because those points no longer exist.

What bonus credits are available? What types of changes void the online booking bonus?

  • All bonuses apply equally regardless of whether you use new funds or recycled ticketless funds for your purchase.
  • Most bonuses post after you fly, but signup bonuses can be immediate and the MySouthwest bonus posts after you make a reservation.
  • For all promotions that mention round trips, two unrelated one-way flights will count the same as one round trip. The RR computer will actually sort this for you. As an example, in the Fall 2007 "Fly 2 R/T, Get 1 Free" (>1250 mi O/W) promotion, people who flew four one-ways >1250 miles back and forth using the same city pairs received the bonus, even if they had unrelated Southwest trips in between.

What types of changes void the online booking bonus?

  • If you make a reservation that qualifies for the bonus, any changes which preserve the original record locator should preserve your bonus. The record locator appears on your boarding stub, allowing you can check it. All changes made at the airport on the day of flight appear to retain the record locator and the bonus credit.

Non-Targeted Promotions

You can depend on any new non-targeted (available to everyone) promotions being promptly announced on Flyertalk. We have seen several types of non-targeted promotions:

  1. Signup bonus
  2. Signups from new cities
    • When Southwest begins service to a new city, they often give existing members who live in that area some bonus credits. The Dulles opening promotion was different and even more generous. New members who signed up using a special link by January 31, 2007 instantly received 8 credits and double credit through January 31. A similar SFO promotion ended October 31, 2007.
  3. Email bonuses
    • Sign up for emails from Southwest and remain signed up for 3 months, and you will receive one credit each for the Rapid Rewards E-mail Update (posted as RREU) and Rapid Rewards Report (posted as RRR). These subscriptions require that you confirm them by email.
  4. Car rental bonuses
    • There is almost always some sort of bonus credit available for qualifying car rentals, sometimes even triple or quadruple the normal 0.5 credit for certain multi-day rentals. Look here for a list of current offers, complied and maintained by FT member crhptic.
  5. Rapid Rewards Visa
    • Southwest offers 16 credits on first purchase to new cardholders who sign up at http://www.southwest.com/bonus/ . This is twice as good as the standard 8-credit offer at http://www.southwest.com/rapid_rewards/visa.html . You will likely qualify as a "new" cardholder if you have not had a Southwest Visa card of the same type within the past 12 months. Business cards and Signature cards are two different products, and you can qualify as "new" with each type even if you already have the other type. The bonus will post about 24 hours after your first statement date.
  6. Hilton HHonors
    • Hilton HHonors allows members to exchange 10,000 HHonors points for one Rapid Rewards credit. Both Amex and Citi offer credit cards offering 15,000 HHonors points after the first purchase, in addition to points for regular purchases (and other bonuses for Amex cardholders).
  7. Choice Visa
    • In summer 2006, the Choice Privileges rewards program offered 24,000 points to sign up for a new Choice Visa card. This card earns 2 points per dollar spent, and 6000 points are redeemable for 1.5 Rapid Rewards credits. Choice Visa points expire at the end of the calendar year 2 years after they are earned. Transfers to Rapid Rewards can also be restricted or devalued with little or no notice. The transfer rate was originally 5000 points to 2 credits. That became 6000 points to 2 credits with no notice in July 2008, then 6000 points to 1.5 credits on July 9, 2009 with only one week's notice buried deep on the website and nowhere else except on FlyerTalk.
  8. Visa
    • During the fourth quarter of 2004, there was a Visa card promotion to get an extra 0.5 credit each way when the credit card in the reservation was a Visa card of any kind. In case such a promotion ever returns, you may want to favor Visa over MasterCard for your SWA purchases. Prior purchases typically qualify for the bonus if you fly within the bonus period. Also note that SWA Signature Visa card purchases at southwest.com earn purchase points at double the normal rate ($600 per credit rather than $1200). This double rate is not available for the cheaper ($39 annual fee) Classic Visa card.
  9. Major sports championships
    • If your mailing address is in a city that wins a baseball, football, or basketball championship, you might get a few bonus credits right afterwards. It's unlikely that address-changing carpetbaggers can benefit from this unless they plan far ahead and get lucky.
  10. Limited duration market-specific promotions
    • Southwest frequently offers bonus credit or bonus awards for flights booked online in markets that need a traffic boost. Here are two recent examples:
      1. Purchase any 3 roundtrips online and fly within the state of California between January 3 and February 28, 2007 and you earn a bonus roundtrip award (good nationwide) on top of the normal credits.
      2. Book online by March 8, 2007 and fly to or from California between February 8 and April 4, 2007 and you earn an extra credit each way.
      3. Earn one additional credit per one-way within California. Reservations must be booked between March 11, 2010 and April 6, 2010. Qualifying travel must be completed between March 11, 2010 and May 26, 2010 and between any two California cities.
    • If you know the promotion code, you may be able to register for one of these non-targeted promotions using a correctly edited version of a URL that looks like:<br>
    <nowiki>http://www.southwest.com/cgi-bin/nsFormTool?ACTION=FILE&Form_Name=OptIn_Promo&first_name=Nick&rr_number=123456789&promo_code=AB123</nowiki> <br>
    Just copy the entire URL, substitute your first name, partial account number (9 digits long, leaving off the final digit), and the promo code, and paste it as a single line into the address field of your browser.
  11. Diners Club (dead)
    • FT member Beckles discovered in 2006 that laundering your Diners Club points through the Choice Rewards program provides a better conversion rate. However the math is no longer favorable. 1250 DC Club Rewards Points = 2400 Choice Privileges points. Since 6000 Choice Privileges Points = 1.5 Southwest Rapid Rewards credit, this works out to 2083.3 Diners Club Club Rewards Points per Southwest Rapid Rewards credit, which is now a worse deal than transferring straight from Diners Club to Southwest Rapid Rewards.
  12. Online booking bonuses (dead)
    • The southwest.com online booking bonus promotion started in 1997, offering double credit for all trips purchased over the Internet. This promotion was continued for many years, but it was reduced from 1.0 to 0.5 extra credits each way for 2004 and the first 3 months of 2005. Then Southwest quietly allowed it to expire, much to the consternation of FlyerTalkers. Double credit for all online purchases was an unsustainably generous example of dot-com mania, but it was great while it lasted.
    • Southwest occasionally offers a short-term online booking bonus such as double credit for the anniversary of Southwest's founding in June. These bonuses are unpredictable and are apparently intended to promote goodwill rather than generate extra bookings.
  13. SWABIZ bonus (dead)
    • Travel booked any time at swabiz.com and flown from November 20 to December 31, 2006 earned double credit, meaning 1 extra credit in each direction. This was a temporary revival of an ongoing bonus that ended quietly on March 31, 2005. How do I join SWABIZ?
  14. College student bonus (dead)
    • Until October 15, 2009, if you had specified that you are a college student between ages 18 and 23 when you first joined Rapid Rewards, you got one extra credit for each one-way trip.
  15. Gay Pride Month bonus (dead)
  16. Philadelphia full fare = free trip (dead)
    • Simply enroll in Rapid Rewards at http://www.southwest.com/rrenroll/phl and purchase 1 roundtrip from Philadelphia International Airport at our Refundable Anytime fare on southwest.com and travel between June 15 and July 15, 2007. You'll get a free roundtrip ticket valid to any of the over 62 destinations we serve nationwide.
  17. California full fare triple credit (dead)
    • Book a Refundable Anytime Fare for yourself at southwest.com or swabiz.com for travel within the state of California. Fly between May 17 and June 17, 2007, and we'll give you triple credit! That's 6 credits per roundtrip instead of the usual 2, which means you could be flying free after just 3 roundtrips!
  18. MySouthwest (dead)
    • From October 14 to November 15, 2005, Southwest offered 1 credit per ticket purchased while logged in to MySouthwest at southwest.com, up to 3 bonus credits per member. This promotion was unusual in that the bonus was given to the holder of the logged-in account rather than to the traveler. This was a great way to boost one of your relatives' accounts over the award threshold. The bonus was earned by the purchase and posted a few weeks later, sometimes before the purchased trip was flown. Flight credit for the trip was treated completely separately from the MySouthwest bonus. This bonus reappeared in Autumn 2006 as a targeted promotion.
  19. SWABIZ new company bonus (dead)
    • Until early 2007, Southwest often gave double credit for up to a full year when your company first joined SWABIZ. This bonus is reportedly no longer offered. How do I join SWABIZ?

Targeted Promotions

Targeted promotions have appeared a couple of times per year since the demise of the non-targeted online booking bonus. FlyerTalkers have been unable to identify any rhyme or reason behind the selection of Rapid Rewards members for targeted promotions. However some FlyerTalkers have reported that Rapid Rewards has a policy not to target you for a promotion if you have recently been targeted for another promotion.

Some targeted promotions appear after you login to MySouthwest. Click Promotions on the left. You get a list of promotions. Click the one you are interested in. Don't forget to click the Register button below the Terms and Conditions. Repeat for any other promotions you are interest in. Here are some examples reported by FT members:

  • "Just purchase 3 roundtrips for yourself on southwest.com and fly between November 9, 2006 and February 20, 2007, and the next roundtrip is on us! How's that for rapid?"
  • "Get triple credit on any flights you book for yourself at southwest.com and fly between November 9, 2006 and February 20, 2007. That's 6 credits per roundtrip instead of the usual 2, which means you could be flying free after just 3 roundtrips!"
  • "Earn one additional credit per one-way flight. Member must register for this promotion between March 25 and May 31, 2010 to qualify, and registration must be completed prior to booking and commencement of travel. Reservations must be booked between March 25 and May 31, 2010. Your travel must be completed between March 25 and May 31, 2010."

Other targeted promotions are delivered by email or regular mail. Here are some recent examples:

  • Southwest Signature Visa card holders received a mailer with a single-use 20% off code. Booking had to be between January 25 and February 10, 2007, for travel between January 25 and March 8, 2007. It was of limited use, since the offer excluded Promotional, Internet One-Way, and Senior Fares. (Also, DING! fares do not allow use of any promotion codes.)
  • Over recent years, FT members have reported receiving "Buy 3, Get 1 Free", "Buy 5, Get 1 Free" and even "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" targeted promotions in the mail. If you receive one of these, consider yourself very lucky.

How can I reach Rapid Rewards by telephone? Is there an elite number?

  • On Southwest, everyone is elite. :) There is a voice response system for Rapid Rewards at 1-800-445-5764. The voice response system is useful if you are on the road without Internet access, or if you want to check the number of credits you have accumulated toward your initial or renewal Companion Pass. This latter feature was not available online until early 2007, but now it is, and the online display is superb. For Companion Pass renewal, the automated phone system will always give you the correct count, but the online display incorrectly keeps dropping old credits off the count after you have qualified. Don't worry about that display error.
  • If you need to talk to a human at Rapid Rewards, the 800 number no longer works. You have to phone 1-214-792-4223 and press 2 at the prompt for Customer Relations and Rapid Rewards. For Refunds, call the same 1-214-792-4223, and press 1 at the prompt.
  • If you need to phone SWA reservations, call 1-800-248-4377. This is the Rapid Rewards priority phone number. That puts your call in line ahead of everyone who calls 1-800-IFLYSWA. You will get a real human being real fast. Southwest long ago made a corporate decision not to use voice response systems that so many us find annoying. If the phone lines are extraordinarily busy, you may be offered the option to have Southwest call you back. That option reportedly works quite well.

When do credits expire?

  • Discontinuation of the online booking bonus at southwest.com at the end of March 2005 made it much more difficult for the occasional traveler to earn 16 credits before the oldest ones expire. Therefore Southwest extended the expiration time to 24 months, effective August 10, 2005. Any unexpired credits in your account at that time got an additional 12 months of life. Unfortunately, Southwest coupled this enhancement with the announcement of capacity controls, a major devaluation.
  • Put another way, the 16th RR credit must be earned within 24 months of the first. The clock starts ticking when the first credit is earned, or when the first credit is earned after a Rapid Reward award is issued. The date of RR award issuance does not start the clock. A new member can thus delay the start date of the earning period by delaying when the first RR credit "hits" the system. For example, if you are new to Rapid Rewards it may not make sense to join Rapid Rewards until the day of your flight (or sometime after your first flight) -- unless there is a generous new member signup bonus that will expire before the day of your flight.

On the other hand, if a credit or partial credit was earned before a RR is issued, but shows up afterward (thus it was not counted for the RR award), the clock is re-started to when it was actually earned. This might happen when an errant .5 credit earned at a RR partner shows up in a member's account long after it was earned. The net effect is to shorten the earning period for the next Rapid Reward award. This is less of a crunch now than it was when the earning period was one year.

When do awards expire? How can I recover an expired award?

  • Awards are good for one year from the date of issue. The reservation system will not allow you to use an award for a travel date later than the expiration date of the award.
  • When you log in to MySouthwest, there is now an option at the left to "Reissue Awards". For a $50 fee, an award near or past expiration can be reissued with a new expiry date 12 months after the date of reissuance. Note the following rules regarding the "character" of reissued awards:
    • Standard Awards (which are subject to capacity controls) are normally reissued as Standard Awards (subject to capacity controls);
    • Freedom Awards (which are subject to blackout dates but not to capacity controls) are reissued as Freedom Awards.
    • Very old awards, meaning awards originally issued before Southwest instituted capacity controls, are reissued as Freedom Awards.
  • The official rules on southwest.com currently (as of April 30, 2010) state: "We will only consider reissuing Awards that have been expired less than 24 months. Members can request an Award reissue and pay for the fee(s) by credit card:
<ul style="list-style-image: none; list-style-type: disc"><li>online through the MySouthwest® section of southwest.com<li>through our toll-free Rapid Rewards number, 1-800-445-5764<li>at any Southwest Airlines Ticket Counter</ul>
  • Note that the rules also state "Credit cards are the only form of payment that will be accepted for the award reissuance fee. Cash, checks, money orders, Ticketless Travel Funds, Southwest LUV Vouchers, and <b>southwest</b>giftcard® will not be accepted." Presumably, however, a debit card that you can use for other online purchases would also work.
  • There used to be a mail option to reissue an expired award. There have been no reports of success or failure for reissuance by mail since the rules were changed. If you try it, please post a report on the Rapid Rewards forum on FlyerTalk. Here are the pre-November 2007 mail-in rules:
  • An Award may be extended for a $50 fee. You can simply mail the expired Award and a check or money order for the appropriate amount to:
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
P.O. Box 972739
Dallas, TX 75397-2739
  • It will take up to 30 days from the date we receive your request for Rapid Rewards Customer Service to process the new Award, which will be valid for 12 months from the date of reissue and will be deposited in your account with the new expiration date. All paper Award Tickets will be reissued as Ticketless Awards. Please note that extension requests will only be accepted from the Member who originally qualified for the Award. Extension requests from anyone other than the Member who originally qualified for the Award will be denied.
  • If your award is expiring soon and you want to save the $50 fee, you may be able to trade it on Coupon Connection for someone else's award that expires later. If the other person is about to burn his just-earned award, why not burn your about-to-expire award instead?
  • If an award expired more than two years ago, the Rapid Rewards people might not be able to find it for you in their system. But if you have the ticket number for the expired award, they probably will be able to issue you a new award.

Can I use expired drink coupons?

  • Business Select boarding passes have a drink coupon printed on them. These drink coupons are valid only on the day of travel.
  • One book of drink coupons is mailed out for each award you earn, provided that you are over 21 and that this preference is specified in your member profile. As of September 2010, these coupons will be personalized with your name and Rapid Rewards number. Presumably this is an anti-counterfeiting measure.
  • Drink coupons issued before March 2007 have expiration dates printed on them, but they were never enforced. According to a policy announced in August 2010, these coupons will be usable only until August 1, 2011, when they will expire. Until then, the old drink coupons with the airplane tail on the cover are redeemable at the old (higher) value.
  • As of April 1, 2010, drink coupons are no longer accepted for Monster energy drinks. However until August 1, 2011 there is an exception for the newest tan-colored coupons that specify "or specialty non-alcoholic drink". Although Flight Attendants have been notified twice of this exception (via their RBF = Read Before Fly memos), many FA's continue to believe that coupons can never be used to purchase Monster energy drinks. Therefore this is a Your Mileage May Vary policy.

Earning Rewards credits without flying

My Rapid Rewards account is just short of 16 credits. How can I top it off? What is the deadline for doing so? How quickly can I expect my flight credit to post?

  • Car rentals and hotel stays with preferred partners earn ½ credit each. Active promotions may double, triple, or even quadruple the normal earnings (though there have been numerous reports of difficulty getting bonus credits to post).
    • Even without a promotion the ½ credit (1/32nd of an award) is usually a much better value than the small number of miles you could earn in another airline's program (typically 1/50th of an award).
    • Check for promotions at:
    • The Rapid Rewards forum on FT does not have a dedicated hotel bonus thread; you can search the forum for the name of your preferred brand.
  • Teleflora purchases made through the Rapid Rewards affiliate page or the dedicated phone number (1-800-355-4381) earn:
    • ½ credit for purchases of $34.95-$99.99;
    • 1 credit for purchase of $100 or more.
  • American Express Membership Rewards lets you transfer 1500 MR points for one Rapid Rewards Credit. (Prior to January 1, 2005, the rate was 1250 MR points per credit.) Effective July 1, 2010 American Express Membership Rewards® points will no longer be eligible for transfer into Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® credits. Please make any transfers prior to June 30, 2010.
  • Diners Club allows you to redeem N times 1500 points for N Rapid Rewards credits, plus a fee of N times either 95 cents or 95 points. You can redeem these for your own account or anyone else's. Ask on Coupon Connection (accessible only if you have 90 solid posts and 90 days of membership), because trading or selling Diners Club credits does not violate Rapid Rewards rules. Diners Club has in past years run a fall promotion in which you could redeem 18,000 points for one Rapid Rewards free ticket. With that redemption you got 12 credits (not 16) toward Companion Pass qualification.
    • Some years ago, FT member Beckles discovered that laundering your Diners Club points through the Choice Rewards program provided a better conversion rate. Devaluations have eliminated this opportunity: 1250 DC Club Rewards Points = 2400 Choice Privileges points. Because 6000 Choice Privileges Points = 1.5 Southwest Rapid Rewards credit, this works out to 2083.3 Diners Club Club Rewards Points per Southwest Rapid Rewards credit, which is no longer a better deal than transferring straight from Diners Club to Southwest Rapid Rewards.
  • You can redeem 6000 Choice Privileges points for 1.5 Rapid Rewards credits, and there is no limit on total redemptions.
    • As of December 14, 2007 Choice imposed a requirement of holding the (free) Choice Privileges affinity credit card or having a recent points-earning stay to qualify for this redemption. At the same time they disabled online transfer requests. These two restrictions (apparently imposed due to the tsunami of activity generated by the initial overly generous Amtrak/Choice transfer terms) were lifted when the exchange rate was increased from 5,000 points to 6,000 points in July, 2008.
  • As of December 1, 2007, you can transfer Amtrak Guest Rewards points to Choice Privileges at the favorable rate of 15,000 Choice points per 5,000 Amtrak points, up to a maximum of 25,000 Amtrak points per calendar year. (From mid-October 2007 until November 30, 2007, the conversion rate was an amazing of 25,000 Choice points per 5,000 Amtrak points. This led to a rush of conversions, and Amtrak Guest Rewards changed the rate without notice on December 1, 2007. This was AGR's third no-notice change, something that most loyalty programs avoid.) As of May 1, 2008, you need to have Amtrak elite status or an Amtrak credit card that you have used to purchase at least $200 of Amtrak travel in the last year in order to make this transfer. The Amtrak credit card, however, is free and you can get 5000 to 8000 points for signing up for it. If you have no Amtrak points, note that Continental Airlines will let you redeem 5000 One Pass miles for 5000 Amtrak points, and there are no limits. All it takes is a phone call. Yes, converting One Pass lead into Rapid Rewards gold via Amtrak and Choice takes more transfers than a Southwest flight to Dallas under the Wright Amendment, but it works. For now, anyway. Expect the conversion from Amtrak to Choice to take several weeks; these conversions are heavily scrutinized. So make sure the account names match!
  • The Rapid Rewards Visa card provides perhaps the most and best opportunities to add credits to your account (though if you procrastinated too long you may not be able to earn the credits by your deadline). Here are some of the ways you can earn a few or many credits fairly quickly:
    • Your first purchase (or balance transfer) on a newly acquired Rapid Rewards Visa card earns you at least 4 credits. (A $20 first statement credit to offset the initial annual fee or first purchase may also be offered.) Temporary offers for 8 (which may include the $20 credit) or even 16 credits (which does not include the $20 credit) for new cardholders have become common of late.
      • The bonus is credited to your Rapid Rewards account as of the closing date of the statement that includes your first purchase or balance transfer. In particular, you don't have to wait until the statement after you pay the fee.
      • You can earn additional credits for balance transfers within the first 90 days, typically one credit per $1,200 of balance transfer, up to 8 credits.
    • The Rapid Rewards Visa page promotes the $59 Signature Visa, but the $39 Classic Visa is still available at this writing if you call and ask for it (or if your credit does not qualify you for the signature card), and you still get the first use credits.
      • You can double dip with Visa cards, getting bonus credits for a Classic Visa and more bonus credits for a Signature Visa. You can re-dip by acquiring the Rapid Rewards Business Visa or Business Signature Visa.
      • Note that the extra $20 for the Signature Visa card gives you double points accrual for purchases at southwest.com and with preferred partners, plus two bonus credits each year on your anniversary. These extras make the Signature card a better deal for most people.
        • The "anniversary bonus" is credited on the day before the closing date of the last statement before you will be billed for the next annual fee. If you cancel the card shortly after the renewal fee is billed (reportedly within 30 days of receiving the statement), you won't have to pay the fee. You do, however, still keep the 2 bonus credits you earned for keeping the card for one full year.
      • Acquiring any one or more of these cards is a good value if the offer is at least four credits and you need them to earn an award before older credits roll off. It is a great value when the offer is eight to sixteen credits. (Keeping the card after the first year may or may not be a good value depending on your usage patterns. If you are not a frequent patron of Southwest and its preferred partners, the card may not be worth the annual fee.)
    • Purchases made with the Rapid Rewards Visa earn one credit per 1,200 "points" (officially called "Reward Dollars"). If your points balance is close to 1,200 and you need one or more credits soon, consider shifting spending to the current statement period. For example you could prepay bills or purchase gift cards, especially southwestgiftcards, which have no fees and no expiry.
  • Many hotel programs will allow you to redeem points in exchange for Rapid Rewards Credit. For example, Hilton HHonors allows you to redeem 10,000 of their points for one Rapid Rewards credit. Marriott Rewards and Intercontinental Priority Club will allow you to redeem 10,000 points for 2 Rapid Rewards Credit as of this writing. This is often a poor value compared to the other hotel awards, (which until December 31, 2006 included a Rapid Rewards ticket and even a Companion Pass for HHonors), but the option is available.
  • Rapid Rewards Dining, offered in partnership with Rewards Network grants ¼ credit per $100 of qualified dining expenses charged to a credit card registered with Rapid Rewards Dining. New members can earn ¼ credit for their first $25 of qualified expenses. Beginning about two months after the program was introduced, a targeted promotion offered one bonus credit for new signups.
    • As has been pointed out on FlyerTalk this is an extremely poor earnings rate compared to what other airlines offer or what you could earn by joining the cash back version of the program. Still, it is one more option if you are truly desperate (e.g., because you have a large number of credits that will roll off in a short period of time, or you are extremely close to earning a companion pass and need to get over the hump).
  • Unlike some other loyalty programs, Southwest does not allow you to purchase credits directly to top off your account if you are a couple credits away.
  • All credits expire two years after they are earned, first-in, first-out. If your 16th credit earning activity occurs prior to expiration of a credit, and if you would have qualified for an award had the activity posted immediately, the system will retroactively restore the expired credit and issue you an award. You won't need to phone Southwest. The activity date, not the posting date, determines whether you have earned the award. For a Diners Club transfer and other transfers, the activity date is typically the same as the request date.
  • Typically flight credits will appear in your account 1 to 2 days after your flight.
    • If a flight credit does not post within several days, whether due to a glitch or your (intentional or accidental) failure to provide your account number before the flight, use the "Add Past Flight Credit" page on southwest.com to request retroactive credit. If the data verifies with Southwest's records, the credit will post immediately, with the flight date as the activity date. Before this functionality was added to the web site, it was necessary to mail or fax your request for retroactive credit to customer service.
      • Note: It is important to understand the distinction between the posting date and the activity date! The activity date is used to determine whether benefits (e.g., an award or CP) have been earned. The posting date affects the date on which earned benefits are actually granted (and therefore when they expire).
    • If you want to speed up the posting of credit for a flight, FT member 21A has discovered that you can use the online system to request "retroactive" credit even if less than 24 hours have passed since you took the flight.
    • Conversely, if you want to slow down the posting of credit for a flight, you can phone reservations to have them remove your Rapid Rewards number, which Southwest's computer systems are likely to have inserted even if you left the Rapid Rewards number field blank when making the reservation. Then, up to 24 months later, request retroactive credit when you are ready for the credits to post. Why would you want to do this? To obtain an award that expires later, perhaps because you are planning for a vacation that is more than a year away, or to delay the issuance of a first Companion Pass. See this FlyerTalk thread for more information.

Who earns the credits: the purchaser or the traveler? Can I combine credits from my family members?

  • Except for the occasional MySouthwest bonus, the traveler earns the credits, not the purchaser. For example, if your family of eight flies to Orlando and back, you will not earn a free trip. Southwest does not have family accounts, à la British Airways. You cannot combine family credits to earn an award. As a practical matter, infrequent fliers cannot earn awards on Southwest unless they earn points from credit card use.

What features does SWABIZ offer? How can I join?

  • SWABIZ provides small businesses and other organizations enhanced travel management and reporting tools and access to the same low fares as southwest.com. The designated Travel Manager can view itineraries and fares, but not credit card information, unless the traveler has used a company credit card account created by the Travel Manager. Bonus credit may be available for a limited time after your organization signs up, or you may get another incentive for booking trips during your first few months.
  • DING! fares are not compatible with SWABIZ. DING! bookings can therefore not be made via swabiz.com, and DING! reservations will not appear on SWABIZ travel reports.
  • According to the terms and conditions "SWABIZ is for business travel only." "Vacation or leisure" travel should still be booked at southwest.com.
  • When logged in to SWABIZ, individual travelers can view, but not change, reservations that were made on southwest.com.
  • You can create a SWABIZ account online. It is no longer necessary to contact your "Area Marketing Manager" and go through an approval process.

Does WN still issue old-style paper award tickets? I want to sell one to (or buy one from) someone I don't know on eBay or craigslist. And what about those discounted TTFs I see for sale?

  • Awards are "fully transferable", but buying and selling of Rapid Rewards Awards is against WN's terms and conditions. Don't do it.
  • As of October 1, 2004, you can no longer have an electronic award be converted to a paper award and mailed to you. Moreover, whether an award is paper or electronic, the Rapid Rewards people can easily check who has been flying on your awards. If you earn 20 awards and they are used by people with 20 different last names flying 20 different routes, that starts looking suspicious.
  • Buyers of award seats may be ticket brokers who use them for people who have entered the US illegally. You probably don't want your Rapid Rewards account to be associated with such flights. For example, Mr. Mileage was served with a cease and desist letter from SWA to stop the sale of Rapid Rewards. SWA then sued them and they finally stopped. Rumor has it that they were booking well over 100 tickets a day for large sized immigration attorneys. The ticket sales are indeed watched by SWA. According to one report, 90% of broker sales are used to move illegal workers to different states. Don't sell awards to ticket brokers!
  • If you want to sell a ticket on eBay, the job is now much more cumbersome than with a paper ticket, which was as easy to transfer as a bus token. The recipient of the award must make the initial reservation, but anyone knowing the record locator can make a change to it. If the ticket is cancelled by someone who knows the record locator (PNR) or if the flight is cancelled, the award is returned to the account of the original recipient. While these awards can be transacted on eBay for about $300, be aware of the risks involved. eBay can and will cough up personal user information (name/address/phone #) to any company that requests it, even if no one from the company has done a transaction with you. Furthermore, eBay will cancel your listing if you use any of several undisclosed keywords that indicate you are going to arrange travel for the buyer.
  • When you buy an "award" ticket from a third party, it may be difficult to determine whether you have actually purchased an award seat, as opposed to a regular fare seat. As noted in this post on FlyerTalk, when you purchase an "award" ticket it might actually be a revenue ticket that was paid for with a stolen credit card. When you show up at the airport for your flight you are likely to be stopped at the counter and asked to cough up the full ("Anytime") fare for your flight.
  • Similarly, any Ticketless Travel Funds purchased from a third party could be tainted due to credit card fraud, and your ticket could be invalidated. Furthermore, such funds will be non-transferrable as of January 28, 2011.
    • You also have no way of ensuring that the seller hasn't sold the same funds more than once. You can check the balance on the PNR being sold at the time of the transaction, but someone else could be purchasing the same funds at about the same time.
  • In summary, you can assume any sale of award tickets in an online forum accessible to the public can be and will be observed by Southwest. Sales to a mileage broker will be detected when Southwest gets its hands on the broker's business records through legal action. Private sales can be detected if the buyer says the wrong thing to a Southwest employee. If Southwest figures out who you are, you will get a polite but firm warning letter. If you keep selling, you can expect your account to be closed.

Where can I find the official Rapid Rewards rules?

What is Rapid Rewards 2.0?

  • Rapid Rewards 2.0 is shorthand for an overhauled version of Rapid Rewards due to be announced in late 2010, although the date has slipped over a year from the initial plans. This is not a top priority project within Southwest. The planned addition of international partners and Internet shopping partnerships forces the program to move to a smaller unit of measurement than the current RR credits, eliminating interim measures like fractional credits for short-haul Business Select flights. Smaller units of measurement will allow both earning and redemption values to vary by itinerary.
  • Southwest is unlikely to switch to a mileage-based earning system. For an airline like Southwest, mileage is not closely correlated with profit. A program that bases earnings on number of tickets bought or ticket price, with a bonus for buying a premium fare, would be a better fit.
  • Virgin America (VX) has this sort of program. Customers earn 4 to 6 points per dollar of fare, depending on the class of service purchased, Taxes and fees do not earn points. The current redemption prices in points are directly proportional to the dollar price of the ticket. The end result is that you earn $100 of free travel after spending about $1000. The great part is that redemption is not capacity controlled at all. It's like an in-kind rebate, which is simple, reliable, and downright boring. Southwest likely intends to adopt a similar structure. JetBlue did so in November 2009. Indications are that Southwest will retain the Companion Pass in Rapid Rewards 2.0.

The Companion Pass (CP)

What is a Companion Pass?

  • A Companion Pass (CP) allows you, the Companion Pass Holder, to bring your Designated Companion along with you for free (paying only the Security Fee) as many times as you want throughout the entire life of the Pass. It doesn't matter what kind of ticket you have booked.

Do I need 100 flight credits to earn a Companion Pass?

  • No, you can earn a Companion Pass by accumulating 100 credits from any source (including Diners Club, Amex Membership Rewards, or Choice Privileges transfers) within any one-year period (not calendar year). You can speed the issuance of your CP by not waiting until SWA mails you a notification postcard. As soon as you have the 100 credits, the web site will allow you to designate a companion after you log in to your Rapid Rewards account. You will then receive the CP card within about a week.

Can I use the Companion Pass in conjunction with a free ticket?

  • The Companion Pass allows you to bring the designated person along with you for free (paying only the Security Fee), even if you are traveling on a free ticket! For some people, this essentially doubles the value of their free tickets. Think of it as a 100% bonus for reaching this elite level.

Can I change my Designated Companion?

  • You may change your Designated Companion up to 3 times per year, a process that originally required mailing in your old Companion Pass. According to an early 2010 report, it is now possible to change your Companion immediately on the phone, a process that will cancel any reservations for your existing Companion.
  • The reservation system will only permit you to make a Companion Pass reservation for the current Designated Companion, so if you are planning to change your Designated Companion from X to Y and back to X, you can make the advance reservation for X before you start this change process.
  • This might have you wondering whether you can book Companion Pass travel for X, change your Designated Companion to Y, and have X get a free trip without switching your Designated Companion Pass to X. The short answer is No, and it's unlikely that anyone would risk losing his Companion Pass by trying this scam.
  • If calling Rapid Rewards doesn't work, you may be able to speed up changing your companion by faxing RR a copy of your cut-up CP along with a letter requesting a different companion name. Here is an example from FT member ejmelton:
    • Two of the three most important ladies in my life (Mrs. And Ms.) wanted to go with me on two different trips during October. (I guess that I didn't go anywhere that Mom wanted to go.) As a result, I had to change companions twice during the month.
      • Saturday September 10. Finished trip with Mrs.
      • Sunday September 11 Called SWA Rapid Rewards to get mailing address (not P.O.Box)
      • Monday September 12 Sent existing CP card and letter via UPS
      • Tuesday September 13 (10:29 am) SWA received Mrs.' CP card
      • Wednesday I checked SWA web site each afternoon for CP name change
      • Friday September 16 CP name change on Internet. Made Ms' Reservation
      • Friday September 23 New CP card arrived snail mail
      • Sunday October 2 Finished trip with Ms.
      • Monday October 3 Sent CP card and letter via UPS. Begged for speed (see below) and included return UPS label
      • Tuesday October 4 (10:29 am) SWA received Ms' CP card (UPS is consistent!)
      • Wednesday I checked SWA web site each afternoon for CP name change
      • Friday October 7 CP name change on Internet
      • Tuesday October 11 New CP card arrived snail mail
      • Friday October 14 Left with my new CP, Mrs.
    • While I would not recommend this maneuver and will always try to give SWA the three weeks that is suggested, it's great to know that they can turn these requests around so effectively. BTW, even though we changed the CP companion, reservations made under the original companion were not affected.

If I can't make good use of a Companion Pass, can I trade it for something else?

  • Prior to 2005, SWA would typically provide an alternative to the CP on request. (PM FT member nsx for details if you are curious, but it's moot now.) Current SWA policy is not to provide an alternative to the CP. You can ask, but the answer is virtually guaranteed to be "no".

Over what time period is a Companion Pass valid?

  • The CP is valid anywhere from a minimum of 13 calendar months to a maximum of 14 calendar months, depending on the date of issuance.
  • An initial CP is valid:
    • immediately upon issuance;
    • for the remainder of the month of issuance (whether one minute or the entire month remains);
    • throughout the entire next 13 months.
  • Here are some examples of initial CP validity periods:
    • A CP issued January 31, 2009 is valid January 31, 2009 through February 28, 2010 (394 days).
    • A CP issued May 15, 2009 is valid May 15, 2009 through June 30, 2010 (412 days).
    • A CP issued July 1, 2009 is valid July 1, 2009 through August 31, 2010 (427 days).
  • The rules above are how the CP actually works. According to the official rules on southwest.com the CP is valid for 12-months. If you phone customer service to inquire about the validity period, you may be told only the official rule that the CP expires one year from the date of issuance. This is an example of how Southwest is sometimes more generous than their rules require.
  • If you are renewing a companion pass the expiration month moves forward by one month every year.

Over what time period are credits counted for renewal of my Companion Pass?

  • This is probably the single most confusing aspect of Rapid Rewards. But if you phone 800 445-5764 and select the Companion Pass info option, or if you check your Companion Pass status after logging in to MySouthwest, the system will tell you how many credits you have toward renewal and what the renewal deadline is.
  • Once the renewal count at MySouthwest reaches 100, you can safely ignore the fact that credits may roll off and bring your renewal count back down below 100. This is a programming error. The actual renewal software is different, and it knows that you already had your 100 credits.
  • Your first renewal period starts not immediately on pass issue, but when you earn your next RR credit. For example, let's say your initial CP is issued January 10, 2006 and you fly again on January 15. You then have until January 15, 2007 to earn your 100 credits for renewal.
  • Assuming that you do so, your new CP will be issued in February 2007. It will be valid from March 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008. You can see that your CP issue date moves one month later each year. There is no overlap between the CP validity periods, so you will never have two valid CPs at the same time.
  • Here's where it starts getting tricky. Your second renewal qualification period does not begin right after you earn your second 100 credits. Rather it is tied to the validity period of your CP. In the example, your CP will be up for renewal in first week of March 2008. To renew, you will need to have 100 credits in the 12 months beginning with your first flight on or after February 1, 2007. If you qualify, your new CP will be valid from April 1, 2008 to April 30, 2009. Your third renewal qualification period will be March 2008 through February 2009 (or later, if you don't fly in March 2008).

Here, from FT member expert 7700, is an example timeline using a hypothetical CP expiration date of 9/30/07:

  • Last year's companion pass issued 8/1/06. Next credit earned 8/5/06. This sets your 1 year qualification period as 8/5/06-8/5/07 for your next CP.
  • 2nd year CP expires 9/30/07.
  • 9/1/07 "Companion Pass earned" will show up on Southwest.com if you earned 100+ credits from 8/5/06-8/5/07
  • 9/3/07 You can designate a new companion name (or reuse same name). This is when your slate is wiped to zero towards your next CP.
  • 9/10/07 New companion card will come via mail. You can book flights online using the old companion name for flights thru 9/30, and also can book flight dates 10/1 and later on the new companion name. SWA will auto-fill in your companion names based on the date chosen.
  • 9/3/07 1st credit that posts will start the new 1yr earning period and count towards your 100 credits needed for your next CP.

Refer to the phone number listed above for automated earnings info to verify your credit count and "must earn by" date for your next CP, especially since any info on this forum may change and is not guaranteed to stay accurate.

  • Because the requalification period for does not begin immediately after you earn your second 100 credits, there is an interval of weeks or months during which credits you accumulate are useless for the purpose of CP requalification. You may want to play close attention to this gap when timing major purchases on a Southwest Visa credit card. For example, if you have 90 credits toward your CP and you spend $48,000 on the Southwest Visa card in one month, only 10 of your 40 credits will count toward the CP. The other 30 will be wasted, although they will of course earn you regular awards. Although most times the gap only bites you on second and subsequent renewals, this credit card scenario causes the same trouble even when you are earning your very first CP. The renewal period starts the next day, after your 40 credits posted.
  • FT member Dan B points out that you are unable to reserve flights for a new CP before it is issued (or is it before the CP's effective date?). You may be able to make a placeholder reservation using a spare RR award or a refundable fare, and have it converted to CP later by telephone. This has been reported to work.

How will I receive my first Companion Pass?

After 100 credits have posted to your account within a year, you will receive an email within the next two days with a link to allow you to designate a companion. Once the companion is designated you can book Companion Pass flights for that companion online even before receiving the card, however, the CP card may be requested at the airport. Per Southwest, you should ask reservations to make a reservation note that you have not yet received the CP card in case they ask.

Capacity-Controlled Awards

What are Capacity Controls?

  • Capacity controls are limitations on the use of award seats similar to the limitations imposed on the availability of low fares on peak-demand flights. In 2005, Southwest decided that it could no longer afford to make every seat available for award travel, even with a dozen or so "blackout" dates such as the day before Thanksgiving excluded from award travel. Some flights to leisure destinations at peak vacation times were being filled primarily by award travelers.
  • Beginning February 10, 2006, all Awards issued have no blackout dates but are subject to capacity controls. As of mid-February 2007, the old awards without capacity controls are history.
  • Standby travel is not allowed on a capacity controlled award. The only exceptions are the same as for a discount fare ticket: If your flight will depart 30 minutes or more late or if you miss your flight by less than 2 hours.
  • Companion Pass reservations are not considered awards and are therefore not subject to capacity controls. If the CP Holder has a seat, paid or not, the Designated Companion can take the last available seat in the airplane.

Freedom Awards: Can I use double the number of awards to avoid capacity controls?

  • Yes. As of November 8th, 2007, two Rapids Rewards Standard Awards can be traded in for a Freedom Award, which has no seat restrictions, but has approximately 15 "blackout" days around holiday periods.
  • You cannot convert one standard award to a one-way Freedom Award.
  • Once you have converted two standard awards to a Freedom Award, you cannot convert the Freedom Award back into two standard awards if you decide you don't need the Freedom Award. If a standard award seat opens up after you booked the trip using a Freedom Award, you may want to change to a standard award, let the Freedom Award expire, and pay $50 later to reinstate the Freedom Award when you need it.
  • If the two Standard Awards that you combine have different expiry dates, the Freedom Award will expire on the earlier of those two dates.
    • For a $50 fee, however, you can elect to have two unexpired Standard Awards combined and reissued as a Freedom Award with a fresh 12 month validity period.

How can I determine whether award seats will be available for a vacation I am planning beyond the current schedule horizon?

  • Is your vacation in Las Vegas? It might as well be, because you pretty much have to gamble on this one. If you check availability the minute the schedule opens up you might snag a couple of token award seats allocated for a peak city pair on a peak date. Otherwise you will need to be flexible with your dates. This lack of ability to make firm vacation plans more than 5 months ahead is a significant weakness of Rapid Rewards.
  • Editorial comment: Southwest appears to have an excellent grasp of the revenue loss from award tickets used for peak flights that are bound to sell out. However Southwest appears not to understand that a loyalty program worthy of the name requires certain features. One of these is the ability to use awards for a family vacation with sufficient advance planning. Although the current capacity controls are not as tight on average as those at other airlines, redeeming an award for a family vacation on a peak date when the schedule first opens can be much easier on a legacy carrier than it is on Southwest. The fact that Southwest awards expire rather than being banked as miles are adds insult to injury if the annual family vacation is the only legitimate use for miles. Members then are tempted to sell their awards to last minute travelers, costing Southwest more revenue than the family trip ever would have. If Rapid Rewards 2.0 incorporates price-based redemption, this problem will disappear.

How can I maximize my chance of getting the award seats I want?

  • You really need date flexibility, unless you know from past experience that flights tend not to fill up on your preferred dates and times. Availability of DING! fares and other deep discounts indicate flights that are likely to have good award availability. You will need to avoid Fridays to Las Vegas and Sunday returns from Las Vegas. Ditto for Orlando. The day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving will be nearly impossible to obtain using an award. The days of carefree award travel, booking any date you want (except for the pre-announced blackout dates) and changing it at will are, alas, over.
  • Be sure to re-check award availability starting about 10 days from your travel date. For Christmas 2007 the availability a week before travel was surprisingly good, much better than it had been in early December.
  • You can use "non-scheduled routing" for Award travel when you do not see availability on the scheduled routes. You can do this using no more than 2 flight numbers (but unlimited stops). Example: You want Sacramento (SMF) to Baltimore (BWI), but there are no Award seats on the regular routing. You can use the Web to book Depart SMF, Arrive LAX, Return BWI using same date on the Reservation Screen. You will then get two selection grids for SMF-LAX and LAX-BWI. Select any pair of single-flight options that meet the connection time minimum (varies by airport) and maximum (always 4 hours). You will be charged only 1/2 of Award (each Award has 2 "coupons," A and B, each good for one-way travel) as long as you use only 2 flight numbers -- even if you stop 2 times from LAX to BWI. If your routing has a connection longer than 4 hours, or is a routing the booking system doesn't like (e.g., due to excessive backtracking) you will be charged both halves of your Award for the two parts of your flight. For example, suppose the normal "regular routing" connection arrives at LAX at 1PM and the normal routing leaves LAX at 2PM, but that there are no Award seats on the 2PM flight. You can book the second leg that leaves LAX at 3:30pm if Awards seats are open on that "non-scheduled routing" connection.
  • If you attempt to book 3 flight numbers on one half of an Award, the system might tease you by showing on the purchase page that only half an award is needed. However if you try to complete the purchase, you will see the message "We are currently unable to complete your request due to an undefined error."

Can I standby on an award?

  • When you can't find a capacity-controlled seat, it's logical to ask whether you can go to the airport and standby for an open seat. The short answer is no. The only exceptions are the same as for a discount fare ticket: If your flight will depart 30 minutes or more late or if you miss your flight by less than 2 hours.
    • If you show up at the airport with no award reservation or an award reservation for a different date, the airport people will not be able to help you without making phone calls to Southwest's internal Help Desk. Your fate will then depend on your particular circumstances and perhaps on what kind of day all those people helping you are having. Don't expect any chance of success unless your story is really compelling.
  • Why wouldn't Southwest allow standby on awards? After all, why not fill a seat that would otherwise go out empty? Simple. Just as for standby on a paid ticket, Southwest is thinking ahead. If standby travel were permitted on awards without any reservation, families would show up at the airport the day before Thanksgiving and jam the terminal, waiting in vain for seats to Grandma's house. That would be a recipe for customer service disasters all around.

What if I can't get seats and my award expires?

An award can be recovered for a fee, as described above.

Buying Tickets and Getting the Best Fare

Why can't I search online travel agents (OTAs) to compare Southwest flights?

Southwest does not publish their flights in a machine readable format. Southwest also prohibits OTAs from scraping their web page to harvest the information (source)

When will the schedule horizon be extended?

  • A new service FlyTimeNotify.com checks every 4 hours for the extension in the schedule horizon and will notify you via email or SMS when it occurs. The service offers both a free and priority option.
  • The estimated date is always subject to change. It can be moved forward or backward, so if you plan to book a flight as soon as the schedule window is extended you may need to check frequently for updated estimates.
  • When the booking horizon is extended the schedules and fares typically show up before or shortly after 10 AM Central Time.
  • Advance estimates of the next horizon extension came about through an April, 2007 policy change. The current practice is significantly more customer-friendly, even though it spoiled our fun guessing game. :)
  • The February 8, 2007 extension was later than any in memory, and the delay was the subject of considerable discussion. On that blog Bill Owen, Southwest's lead scheduler, explained the situation in some detail, even revealing why the schedule tended to open on Thursday mornings. In summary, the schedulers wanted to optimize the May 2007 schedule for summer winds aloft rather than having that optimization take effect in June or July. They decided in November 2006 to delay the summer release until this optimization was complete.
  • Given the amount of criticism engendered by the delay, Bill Owen has set forth a new policy that "We will consider 120 days of bookable inventory as our minimum when getting our schedule ready for peak travel periods, such as summer or the Holiday Season. I can't promise that we will never go under this minimum for those heavy demand periods again, but I can promise that we will do everything in our power to make sure you always have more than 120 days of available flights to choose from. I can promise that it will take something almost cataclysmic to prevent that from happening. For other, less heavy travel periods, we will try to keep a minimum of 100 days of inventory available for your booking pleasure. On the other end of the booking window, we're going to push the maximum available inventory from 180 days to between 190 and 200 days of inventory-and once again, we'll pay particular attention to making peak travel periods available for booking as far in advance as possible." Because of this change in managing the schedule horizon, future schedule extensions are not likely to follow the pattern of earlier years.
  • Years ago, knowing when the schedule was going to open up would often improve your chances of obtaining a discount fare at a peak travel time such as Thanksgiving. Since about 2004 Southwest had been stingy with discount fares from the moment the schedule opens. More discount seats are sometimes allocated between 12 and 8 weeks before the date of travel if the flight is not selling out as quickly as Southwest expected.
  • In most cases you don't need to treat the horizon extension like it's a Black Friday sale at Best Buy, but there are exceptions:
    • For award seats, it often does really help to get in there right away.
    • The day (usually in June) when the horizon is extended to include the busy holiday season can be quite problematic. See, for example, this FlyerTalk thread.
    • On low-frequency routes that require a connection the lowest fare bucket can be painfully small.

Recent schedule extension history

Extension Date Last Bookable Date Notes
&nbsp;November 16, 2010 &nbsp;August 12, 2011 &nbsp;Projected
&nbsp;October 7, 2010 &nbsp;June 3, 2011
&nbsp;September 28, 2010 &nbsp;April 25, 2011
&nbsp;August 17, 2010 &nbsp;March 11, 2011
&nbsp;June 15, 2010 &nbsp;January 7, 2011
&nbsp;May 5, 2010 &nbsp;November 5, 2010 Unusual, unannounced minimal (five day) window extension
&nbsp;March 23, 2010 &nbsp;October 30, 2010
&nbsp;December 16, 2009 &nbsp;August 13, 2010 &nbsp;
&nbsp;October 13, 2009 &nbsp;May 7, 2010 &nbsp;
&nbsp;September 1, 2009 &nbsp;March 12, 2010 &nbsp;
&nbsp;June 23, 2009 &nbsp;January 08, 2010 &nbsp;Had been projected to be through January 15, 2010
&nbsp;April 14, 2009 &nbsp;October 30, 2009
&nbsp;February 2, 2009 &nbsp;August 14, 2009
&nbsp;December 9, 2008 &nbsp;June 26, 2009
&nbsp;November 6, 2008 &nbsp;May 8, 2009
&nbsp;August 21, 2008 &nbsp;March 6, 2009
&nbsp;June 26, 2008 &nbsp;January 9, 2009
&nbsp;April 18, 2008 &nbsp;October 30, 2008
&nbsp;January 31, 2008 &nbsp;August 22, 2008 stealth extension, reservations page did not show the extension until February 1, 2008
&nbsp;January 9, 2008 &nbsp;August 3, 2008
&nbsp;November 8, 2007 &nbsp;May 9, 2008
&nbsp;August 27, 2007 &nbsp;March 7, 2008
&nbsp;June 27, 2007 &nbsp;January 11, 2008
&nbsp;April 26, 2007 &nbsp;November 2, 2007
&nbsp;February 8, 2007 &nbsp;August 24, 2007
&nbsp;November 16, 2006 &nbsp;May 10, 2007
&nbsp;September 21, 2006 &nbsp;March 9, 2007
&nbsp;August 17, 2006 &nbsp;January 9, 2007
&nbsp;July 13, 2006 &nbsp;December 10, 2006
&nbsp;May 26, 2006 &nbsp;October 27, 2006
&nbsp;April 19, 2006 &nbsp;September 12, 2006
&nbsp;February 23, 2006 &nbsp;August 3, 2006
&nbsp;December 20, 2005 &nbsp;June 9, 2006
&nbsp;October 27, 2005 &nbsp;March 31, 2006
&nbsp;September 26, 2005 &nbsp;February 3, 2006 &nbsp;horizon shrink likely due to Hurricane Katrina and MSY replanning
&nbsp;August 18, 2005 &nbsp;January 9, 2006
&nbsp;July 15, 2005 &nbsp;December 12, 2005
&nbsp;May 12, 2005 &nbsp;October 28, 2005
&nbsp;March 17, 2005 &nbsp;September 12, 2005
&nbsp;February 18, 2005 &nbsp;August 3, 2005
&nbsp;December 9, 2004 &nbsp;June 6, 2005
&nbsp;October 22, 2004 &nbsp;April 1, 2005
&nbsp;September 23, 2004 &nbsp;March 3, 2005
&nbsp;July 29, 2004 &nbsp;January 14, 2005
&nbsp;July 15, 2004 &nbsp;December 11, 2004
&nbsp;May 5, 2004 &nbsp;October 29, 2004
&nbsp;March 25, 2004 &nbsp;September 13, 2004
&nbsp;February 13, 2004 &nbsp;August 7, 2004
&nbsp;January 13, 2004 &nbsp;June 11, 2004
&nbsp;December 11, 2003 &nbsp;May 8, 2004
&nbsp;October 16, 2003 &nbsp;April 2, 2004
&nbsp;September 19, 2003 &nbsp;March 6, 2004
&nbsp;July 24, 2003 &nbsp;January 16, 2004
&nbsp;June 26, 2003 &nbsp;December 13, 2003
&nbsp;May 14, 2003 &nbsp;October 24, 2003
&nbsp;March 13, 2003 &nbsp;September 8, 2003

What are the benefits of paying the Business Select premium fare?

  • If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats.
  • As described at http://www.southwest.com/nick/business_select.html, Business Select includes two other benefits: a free drink onboard and bonus Rapid Rewards credit: 0.25 credits for a flight under 750 miles, and 1.0 extra credit for a flight of 750 miles or more.

What is that "promotion code" box on the Book Travel page? How can I get a code?

  • The Southwest promotion codes that can be entered on the main Air Booking page typically give you a fixed percentage or dollar amount discount if you satisfy the parameters of the promotion. Round trip purchases are usually required. Some Southwest promotion codes can only be used once or twice; others allow unlimited use.
    • "Promotion code" can also refer to Rapid Rewards promotions; those codes are not entered on the flight booking page.
    • On southwest.com there are numerous pages, some short-lived, others relatively permanent, that allow entering flight requests. Rarely, if ever, will you see the promotion code field except on the main Air Booking page.
  • If there is a current Southwest promotion code that is not member-specific or limited-use, you will likely find it posted on FlyerTalk's Rapid Rewards forum.
    • Recent promotions have been very short-lived (two-five days). If you blink you might miss it.
  • Be aware that fares change frequently and they may be high while a general use Southwest promotion code is active. Some flights booked with DING15 (see below) were available later at lower fares without any promotion code. In particular, Southwest tends to mark fares up during the "50% off" sales. While the special fares may be attractive, they may well not represent true 50% savings. (See example at the end of this section.)
  • Some Southwest promotion codes are targeted. These are rarely issued, and they are typically snail mailed to targeted Rapid Rewards members. If you are a very frequent flier on Southwest, you are unlikely to be targeted for a promotion. If you do receive one and are sure you will not use it, FlyerTalkers would appreciate your posting it on FlyerTalk.com unless the offer prohibits this.
  • Southwest promotion codes cannot be used with DING! fares.
  • Only one promotion code can be used at a time.
  • The following Southwest promotions are all expired:
    • Various joint marketing promotions (with Disney, for example) and market-specific promotions (Dallas to MCI and STL, for example).
    • On the April 18, 2008 schedule extension date, promotion code SAVE10 (10% discount) was advertised on southwest.com. That was trumped, however, by promotion code DING15 (15% discount) announced via DING! (and of course promptly posted on FlyerTalk).
    • In June, 2008, Southwest offered a $25 discount for a future round trip flight to customers who used Visa to purchase a southwestgiftcard of $100 or more. The codes were distributed by Email on July 18, 2008. Each $25 coupon code saved about $26.88 per passenger ($25 plus the 7.5% Federal excise tax). Because up to eight passengers can travel on one PNR, a single code was worth as much as roughly $215. Restrictions on use of the codes, however, were significant (and apparently a bit more significant than was publicly disclosed by Southwest), according to at least one report on FlyerTalk.
    • The August, 2008 Coca-Cola® / Cinemark / Southwest Airlines Promotion. Some game pieces had one-time use codes good for $25, or 25% off a round trip purchase; the rest of the game pieces had a code good for $10 off.
    • In late 2008 Southwest began offering a series of promotion codes for 50% off round trip WGA fares to or from a specific city. Purchases had to be made within a small time window (two to five days) and travel had to fall within a specific time frame (a few months), while avoiding large blackout periods around the holidays. The following codes and purchase dates have been seen so far:
      • FLYBUF for Buffalo, October 21-23
      • FLYMSY for New Orleans, November 16-18
      • FLYSLC for Salt Lake City, November 16-18
      • DENVER for Denver, December 8-12
      • LASVEGAS for Las Vegas, December 30-31
      • SEATTLE for Seattle, January 20-22
Here is an example of how the actual savings can be less than suggested by the 50% offer: During the Denver sale the lowest WGA fare in one market was $56.50 ($113 x 50%). After the sale the lowest WGA fare on that route went back down to $79, and later to $69. The $56.50 fare thus represented a nice savings of 18%, rather than spectacular savings of 50%.

What is the fee to change or cancel a reservation?

  • There are no such fees. Southwest does not penalize you for canceling or no-showing a flight. If you bought a refundable fare with a credit card, you can ask for the entire amount to be refunded to your credit card. If you bought a non-refundable fare online using a credit card, it is fully refundable if you cancel it within 24 hours of purchase. Otherwise the price is re-usable but not refundable. But buying a refundable fare using these non-refundable funds does not make them refundable even if it should happen to confuse the computer system into not being able to tell you that they are not refundable.
  • If you cancel a flight after checking in or after Southwest assigns you a boarding pass number because of your A-list status, you will need to delete the boarding pass before proceeding to cancel the reservation.
  • FT members have asked Southwest about change fees, and the answer has consistently been that change fees are not being planned. Indeed, such fees would undercut a major attraction of Southwest for high-yield business travelers. The 2009 and 2010 "No Bag Fees" advertising campaign shows a heavy corporate commitment to a no-fee brand identity.

I changed or canceled a non-refundable flight. How do I check the balance or re-use the funds? What restrictions apply?

  • Unused funds can be applied to any new or modified Southwest Airlines air travel reservation, whether purchasing online or by phone.
  • Traditionally funds were fully transferable; there was no requirement that the same passenger use the funds. This rule, however, will soon expire. Beginning January 28, 2011, funds will only be permitted to be applied to a new reservation for travel by the same passenger.
    • There is a work-around of sorts for this restriction. You can combine all the funds for a given passenger, let them expire (and they will carry the earliest expiration date of all the funds you combined), and pay $50 to have the funds re-issued as a travel credit usable for anyone.
  • When purchasing online the funds are applied on the "Purchase" page. Southwest's web site has a very good help page with detailed step-by-step instructions.
  • Until July 24, 2007, you could use funds from up to four PNRs on a single purchase. From then until October, 2008 the limit was two, reportedly due to a desire to conform to international standards for future interlining. From late October, 2008 until approximately mid-April, 2009 the limits were in an exceptionally confusing transitional state wherein the stated rules did not agree with the way the web site actually worked. Thankfully that is behind us, but the rules remain more complex than they were prior to October, 2008:
  • Under the old rules all PNRs with unused funds were categorized as "Ticketless Travel Funds" (TTF) and their reuse was subject to a simple single limit based on the number of PNRs.
  • Under the new rules a single passenger PNR with unused funds will fall into one of two distinct categories, and different limits apply to each category. These new categories are "Unused Tickets" (UT) and "Leftover Electronic Ticket Funds" (LETF).
  • The web site gives the following instructions for using the various sources of funds:

<blockquote><blockquote><p style="border: double; font-size: .9em; padding-left: 2ex">Apply funds one at a time. Up to two unused tickets per passenger may be applied. Unused tickets are always applied first. Up to four of the following may also be applied in any combination: <b>southwest</b>giftcards®, Southwest LUV Vouchers, leftover electronic ticket funds, and one Credit Card. </p></blockquote></blockquote>

  • An "unused ticket" means "one passenger's cancelled itinerary, from which no funds have been reused". A single passenger's itinerary on one PNR is <i>probably</i> a single ticket whether it is for one-way travel, round-trip, or circle itinerary.
  • "Leftover Electronic Ticket Funds" are unused funds that do not make up a complete ticket. The two primary reasons unused funds on a PNR may be LETF are:
  • A flight was rebooked at a lower fare;
  • An Unused Ticket's funds were only partially reused in a prior transaction.
  • There are several additional complexities related to multi-passenger PNRs which make it highly advisable to book each passenger's reservation separately unless you are using a promotion code. (A single-use promotion code covers all passengers on a combined reservation.)
  • Each passenger's funds and funds expiry date are tracked separately.
  • Each passenger's UT counts separately against the limit of two UT per passenger on the new itinerary.
  • Each passenger's LETF count separately against the limit of four "other payments."
  • Presumably, each passenger's balance may separately be UT, LETF, or zero.
  • Example 1: $40 from a two passenger PNR containing two UT balances of $50 each is applied to a purchase. The $60 remaining balance on the PNR would consist of $10 LETF for Passenger A and a $50 UT for Passenger B.
  • Example 2: $60 from a two passenger PNR containing two UT balances of $50 each is applied to a purchase. The $40 remaining balance on the PNR would consist of $0 for Passenger A and $40 LETF for Passenger B. Important: On any later attempt to view or reuse that PNR's $40 balance, the system will return a name doesn't match error if you supply Passenger A's name. (In the past it was always sufficient to use only the primary passenger's name until all funds for all passengers were consumed.)
  • The system will add every separate UT/LETF to the payment screen when you enter a valid PNR/name combination. Fortunately, however, you can use the provided links to remove any one or more of those UTs/LETF from the payment screen. That's especially important when there are widely divergent expiry dates within a single PNR.
  • Below are some additional ways in which the current funds reuse system can trip you up if haven't learned the new rules.
  • The order in which funds are applied is entirely determined by an internal algorithm. (In the past they were simply used in the order they were entered by the purchaser.) Fortunately this will be displayed accurately as each PNR is entered (during a portion of the transition period that was not the case).
  • The "always applied first" rules for UT over LETF and LETF over LUV vouchers mean you cannot (directly) ensure funds from a LUV voucher are used before any LETF, even if the LUV voucher is older.
  • Although it is now possible to apply up to six PNRs to a single purchase of one ticket, and even more for a multi-passenger itinerary, you can only reach the maximum if you have the right kind of PNRs. For a new single passenger ticket, that would be two UT and four LETF. When you have enough unused funds for a new purchase but they are not in the right category, you may have to complete several intermediate steps to either combine LETF into a UT, or extract some LETF from a UT.
  • If you have many PNRs each containing a small amount of LETF, none of which is a UT, you can make one or more dummy reservations to consolidate your funds in stages. Use one of the small amounts plus one larger amount to purchase a new reservation, repeat several times, then cancel these reservations and apply them to another purchase. However you should try to avoid commingling early-expiring funds with later-expiring funds.
  • As explained in this FlyerTalk thread, refaring down generates small LETF/TTF that are very hard to use. The workarounds are far too complex to post in this Wiki. Read that thread if you do a significant amount of refaring to take advantage of fare decreases.
  • In past years, the funds lookup and reuse system would go down every night for about two hours starting at about 10:30 PM Pacific Time. As of May 2009, this no longer happens.
  • If you just want to check the balance and expiration date on a PNR you can use the "View Travel Funds" form, but for a few reasons that can be cumbersome and/or inadequte. Prior to July, 2007, the form allowed lookup of four PNRs at a time. Inexplicably this limit was reduced to two when the funds reuse limit was reduced. Even more inexplicably, the limit was not increased when it again became possible to use funds from more than two PNRs for a single transaction. Furthermore, after closing an enormous (at least $200 million, potentially close to $1 billion) security hole discovered and reported by a FlyerTalk member, SWA took the additional step of adding a ReCAPTCHA challenge to the funds lookup form. Unfortunately the funds lookup form has not yet been made log-in aware and the challenge applies whether you are logged in or not.
  • To know what limits will apply to reusing a particular PNR, you need to know more than just a balance and an expiry date -- but that is all you can get using the funds lookup form. For the rest of the important details you can initiate a flight purchase transaction, enter the PNR in the the "Apply Funds" portion of the payment page, then abandon the flight purchase after collecting the information you need. In particular the output of the funds lookup form neither:
  • Categorizes funds as UT or LETF; nor
  • Reports the individual balances for each passenger of a multi-passenger PNR.

When and why do funds expire?

  • Ticketless travel funds (TTF) expire one year from the original purchase date (of the oldest funds applied to the purchase). Travel must be completed by the expiration date.
    • If you are booking flights that are close to or straddle the expiration date, you have yet another reason to book separate one-ways instead of a round trip.
  • The TTF expiration rules apply equally to both refundable and non-refundable funds. If you call before the expiration date you can request a refund of the refundable portion. (You cannot do this online.) Customers have sometimes been told, however, that certain refund requests can only be made in writing.
    • When you cancel a reservation that has any refundable funds, it only makes sense to let Southwest hold the refundable portion if you are going to immediately use them for a new reservation. Otherwise, request the refund!
    • For fully refundable fares, refund procedures vary depending on several factors.
  • There have been reports that some RSAs do not correctly enter the refund transaction into the system. You'll need to monitor your credit card statement. If the credit does not post within the expected time frame (up to 17 days) you may need to phone again.
    • Presumably the odds of experiencing this problem are much less if you phone Customer Relations (214-792-4223) instead of the Reservations Department.
  • Southwest says TTF expiration is the trade-off for having no change fees. Expiration dates are a major nuisance, but they certainly beat having to pay change fees.
    • Carriers who charge change fees typically have a one year expiration rule as well, so this isn't really a trade-off.
  • Also note that the Southwest system will sometimes "archive" Ticketless Travel Fund PNRs with "low" balances even before their actual expiration date. The exact cutoff amount for low-balance archiving is not known, but it might occur if the balance is below $10 and is likely to occur for balances below $5.00. If a low-balance PNR has been archived you will not be able to apply it to a new reservation without manual intervention. RSAs will be able to see that you have a valid PNR and possibly see the balance on it, but will probably be mystified as to why you (and they) cannot apply the balance. A lengthy wait on hold could ensue while the RSA calls in a supervisor for assistance, so explaining the archiving issue to the CSR at the outset could prove to be a time-saver. The RSA will need to enter a request for the funds to be retrieved from archives, after which you will be able to apply the funds as usual. (The expiration date will not change.) Fortunately, the retrieval of the funds from archives can be completed in a matter of minutes, once the issue has been properly identified.

Why do I have to worry about commingling funds with different expiration dates? How can I efficiently combine small amounts from several ticketless funds?

  • Starting January 28, 2011, only funds for the same passenger can be combined with each other. This will make the following information apply on a per passenger basis if the funds come from more than one passenger's ticket.
  • Avoiding expiration of funds is a major annoyance. When you combine funds, whether you are re-using multiple amounts or whether you are re-using one amount and adding funds, you need to be careful about funds expiration. Southwest's computer system can only carry a single expiration date for all the funds.
  • Southwest has made an uncharacteristically aggressive business decision to retain the earliest funds expiration date. This means, for example, that you probably don't want to combine your $2 credit which expires in one month with $96 of new funds unless you are certain you are going to fly this trip. If you don't fly, the whole $98 will expire in one month! For this reason, you should consider keeping a spreadsheet of reservations with one column for the funds expiration date. You can check your funds expiration date by entering the record locator in the View and Apply Ticketless Funds page at southwest.com.
  • The baroque rules for use of multiple sources of funds to buy a ticket are explained above. Read that section as many times as necessary until you fully comprehend the difference between "Unused Tickets" (UT) and "Leftover Electronic Ticket Funds" (LETF), two different kinds of Ticketless Travel Funds (TTF's). Unfortunately, there are no longer any shortcuts or tricks on this issue.
  • If you have many TTF's with the same expiration date that you want to combine, here's one technique that can help. Book a relatively inexpensive itinerary using up to two UT's and up to four LETF's. Then use the Change Air Reservation option to add funds from up to four additional PNRs to a more expensive reservation. You can repeat this change process numerous times, perhaps indefinitely, building up to more and more expensive itineraries at each step. This mind-exploding technique is explained in this Flyertalk thread. One person managed to combine 9 record locators into a single reservation!
  • If you combined two funds with different expiration dates, the new locator will carry the earlier of the two dates. Only do this if the dates are close together, the amount of the newer funds is small, or you are absolutely sure you will "consume" the funds by the earliest Ticketless Travel Funds expiry date.

What if my ticketless funds have expired?

  • If your ticketless funds have expired you can call or write to Customer Relations and request a travel credit ("LUV Voucher").
  • As of July 2007 a fee of $50 (or so) applies for this (previously free) service. The fee is deducted from the balance of the expired TTF.
    • The fee reportedly applies per ticket so it may be wise to consolidate all expiring funds into a single new reservation before calling to request the voucher. Of course you can only do so with funds that have not yet expired. Also, starting January 28, 2011, only funds for the same passenger can be combined with each other.
  • You must request the voucher within six months of the date on which the funds expired. It has been reported that you cannot request the voucher before the funds have actually expired.
  • The LUV voucher will have an expiration date six months from the date on which you place the request with Customer Relations.
  • In June, 2010 it was finally reported that a LUV Voucher for expired funds had been received by Email. Previously vouchers were only sent by postal service.
  • Funds that have previously expired and been reissued as a LUV Voucher are not eligible to be reissued again.
    • Customer Relations will research the history of the expired funds to ensure they have not been previously reissued. This process may take a few days, so don't expect to be able to use the LUV Voucher immediately.
    • It is unknown whether other funds that were commingled with an expired funds voucher can be separately "reissued."

Does no-showing a flight cancel your return reservation or incur any other penalty?

  • No. On Southwest, unlike other airlines, you can no-show the outbound half and still keep your return reservation. Furthermore, if you purchased a round-trip fare, you will be able to fully re-use the funds from the unused outbound half of your trip after you complete the return. Southwest has very few fares which require round trip purchase, so there usually is no need to book a round-trip when you only plan to fly one direction. After your travel dates have passed any segments that you no-showed remain usable for purchasing future travel. If you want the fastest re-usability of funds, book one-ways instead of round trips.
  • If you want to promptly re-use all the funds from a reservation, cancel the reservation before the day of travel. If you wait until less than one hour before departure (and especially if you have checked in and then not phoned to remove yourself from the flight), your funds may be locked unless you phone Southwest to cancel the reservation and release them.

How can I find what dates have the lowest fares?

  • The reservation process at southwest.com passes through several pages: Plan Trip, Select Flight, Price, Purchase, and Booked. This path is shown in an orange and gray line near the top of each page, with the current step highlighted in red. Most of the time if your travel date is less than a week in the future a GIF format image file showing Shortcut to Low Fares will appear in the "Wanna Get Away" column. Click on the Shortcut graphic and you will see a color-coded month for the outbound flight and another color-coded month for the return. The colors indicate which fares are available on which dates, but the times may not correspond to the time of day you selected on the Plan Trip page. You can scroll through different months if you would like to find availability of low fares.
  • The other way to access the Shortcut to Low Fares is to select the 4th item, called Low Fare Calendar, in the pop-down Air menu next to Special Offers at the top of the screen.
  • Note that the "Shortcut to Low Fares" is not necessarily a shortcut to the lowest fares. Southwest sometimes offers lower fares on non-stop flights (especially on routes with new non-stop service) and the full-month search command executed by the reservation system does not handle this situation well. For details, see this informative post by SWAVictor on FlyerTalk.
  • The Shortcut to Low Fares, renamed Southwest SeatFinder, works the same way to show availability over a month at a time when you are booking award travel. FlyerTalk posters have frequently reported inaccurate results using SeatFinder. According to SWAVictor's post mentioned above, however, the SeatFinder results should be accurate, but in some cases the availability reported on the calendar is on flights that are not "published, scheduled service," and such flights will not be listed on the "Select Flight" page shown after you choose your travel dates. In such cases if you act quickly and somebody doesn't beat you to it, you may be able to grab an award seat by calling Southwest's reservations line.
  • Southwest's customers are more likely to be spending our own money than customers of other airlines, so we typically want to pay the lowest possible fare. Most fares are available either one-way or round-trip. Unfortunately, the November 8, 2007 changes to the online fare display also eliminated your ability to click on the fare basis code to read the rules for the fare, including whether or not it requires a round-trip purchase.
  • On February 28, 2005, Southwest introduced DING!, a real-time fare sale notification application for Windows computers.
  • Internet Specials are typically released early Tuesday morning and expire at midnight Pacific Time Thursday. You can sign up for email notification of these sales, but those emails tend to be tardy. If you want to be the early bird you should check your favorite origin-destination pair early Tuesday morning. Some Internet Specials run Friday through Monday.
  • System-wide sales tend to last a month or so, replacing Internet Specials for the duration. These typically provide the lowest cross-country fares. These sales are often accompanied by sales in specific markets, e.g., intra-California, Florida, or Chicago.
  • Featured destinations are sometimes accompanied by attractive fares to that destination, but not always. If your connecting city is a Featured Destination or has extensive Internet Special fares, you can often build yourself a two-step trip at the same or lower price than a conventional routing. This allows you to double your Rapid Rewards earnings on the trip. There's a risk that you may be required to pay more (the difference from full fare) if your inbound flight is delayed too much. Ambitious mileage runners sometimes book three-step trips and fly up to 10 segments per day, but if you can handle that you hardly need this FAQ.
  • As long as you do not break minimum connection time rules, you can check a bag through to your destination on a two-step itinerary for which there is no published service. You will not be able to print a boarding pass for step 2 at your step 1 origin, but you can do so at the step 2 gate with no problem. Of course you could also print one from your computer if you are using online check-in.
  • Another reason to book a two-step is that WN's software will not sell you an unpublished connection. You have to stand by or buy the two segments separately. You can't even book an unpublished routing on a RR ticket (except as described here) unless no published routing exists between those cities. This is annoying, but the reason is to keep costs (agents' time spent building unpublished trips) down. It also simplifies baggage handling and reduces misdirected bags (probably the main reason to limit published connections).
  • If your outbound flight date is too soon to qualify for the best fare but the return flight would qualify, consider booking the outbound as a one-way at the high fare or using a Rapid Rewards award (one half of an award per traveler for the one way). Book the return as a round-trip if necessary to get the low fare (which it usually is not). After you fly the return you will have a travel credit you can use later.
  • In case you were worried about getting caught breaking the rules, read this. The Customer Service Commitment document posted at southwest.com states "SWA does not prohibit or penalize what is commonly known as 'hidden city' ticketing, nor does it prohibit or penalize what is commonly known as 'back to back' ticketing. 'Hidden city' and 'back to back' reservations and tickets are authorized for travel on SWA." The two-step and similar variants are perfectly OK to 'fess up to on Southwest.
  • The number of seats in the lowest fare bucket may be less than the number of people in your party, so even if not traveling alone it is usually best to do your initial search specifying only one passenger. If the fare per person goes up when you repeat the search specifying multiple travelers, you may need to split your group up onto multiple reservations. Adjust the passenger count as many times as needed to find the point at which the fare quote changes. Book the lowest fare for as many passengers as you can then book the other passengers at the higher fare. If the lower fare opens up later, you can change that reservation with no penalty.
  • A more sophisticated strategy is to open two or more browsers (e.g,. Firefox and Internet Explorer) at the same time, either on the same computer or different computers. Check availability and select as many seats as you can at the low fare on each browser. Fill in all the billing information but do not click the "I Want to Purchase This Air Travel" button. When you have completed this on all the browsers, click the "I Want to Purchase This Air Travel" button on each browser within a few seconds of each other. If you are lucky, you will get more low fare seats than you could otherwise. Please post your results on the Southwest forum at flyertalk.com.
  • DING! fares sometimes show availability only for one person, but FT member L Dude 7 was able to book one ticket then another at the same fare. And DING! still showed availability of a single seat. So availability may not be as limited as it appears at first.
  • If you buy a nonrefundable ticket online and change your mind within 24 hours (exactly 24 hours, not one calendar day), you can phone Southwest to get a refund, or you can request a full refund online. This is a Southwest policy to mitigate Internet glitches. A few other major airlines have a similar policy.

Can I use hidden city and back-to-back tickets?

  • Southwest explicitly permits hidden city and back-to-back tickets. See page 5 of Southwest's Customer Service Commitment: "Hidden city" and "back to back" reservations and tickets are authorized for travel on Southwest Airlines. It is important to note that your luggage will be checked to the final destination as shown in your reservation record.
  • For example, if there is a great fare to Columbus and you want to get off at an intermediate stop or plane change, you can do that without penalty but your checked luggage will end up in Columbus.
  • If you want to skip the first leg and board a later leg, that will not work, according to more than one Southwest employee: If you try to board in a thru city, the Agent will have to exchange the ticket, requiring an upgrade to full fare. If the originating city doesn't board the Customer, the downline city won't be able to either. To get even more technical, the through city won't even have access to the ticket without doing an exchange.
  • Back-to-back tickets (a second round trip from B to A between the outbound and the return of the first round trip from A to B) work fine on Southwest, but there are currently very few cases in which a round-trip ticket is cheaper than two one-way tickets. Most veteran Southwest customers prefer to book only one-way tickets for greater flexibility in taking advantage of DING! sales that become available for one direction only. (DING! fares are not accessible from the Change Air Reservation page; you need to cancel and re-book.) If you only buy one-way tickets, back-to-back ticketing is moot.

Can I manually build a connection when booking online?

  • You can try, and sometimes it works. If you are hoping that you'll only have to pay the lower A-C fare when booking A-B-C, be forewarned that such an endeavor is not advised for the impatient or weak of heart. The topic is certainly complex. It can, however, be broken down into several fairly straightforward rules that the reservations computer uses to decide whether to merge your two flights and charge you a single fare, or to treat them as two separate one-way flights. Unfortunately, though, even a dedicated student of the subject cannot predict what the computer will do in every situation, because Southwest does not publicly disclose any information about one crucial component of the equation (i.e., which cities are valid connection points). Thus trial and error is the only reliable approach. Feeling lucky? Follow these steps:
    1. On the Plan Trip page, select your originating city in the Depart column, the connection city you want to try in the Arrive column, and your destination city in the Return column.
    2. On the Select Flight page choose two flights that meet the minimum connection time. (The next page will show only an error message if your selections do not meet the minimum for your intermediate airport.)
    3. On the Price page your itinerary will be displayed as either two separate fares or one combined fare.
      • Depending on current market prices, the combined fare could be less or more than the sum of the two separate fares. If any long-haul segments are included, the combined fare is likely to be lower.
    • By far the most common reason for wanting to manually build a connection is to find a way to to book an award seat when there is no regular availability, so the valid custom connection topic is discussed in greater detail below. One additional complication, however, applies when booking paid-fare custom connection tickets: fare combinability. When you are hoping that the computer will merge two WGA fares and it doesn't cooperate, check to see what happens if you select the Anytime fares for the same flights. If the computer merges those two fares you will know that the two lowest currently available WGA fare classes are considered non-combinable.
      • There is no way (at least via the website) to force the computer to choose a higher combinable WGA fare that might result in a lower total fare. (Doing so should have been possible with the old detailed fare matrix.)
    • Depending on the pricing and applicable bonus credit offers, you might prefer to have a one-way trip price as two separate fares rather than one combined fare. If the computer insists on merging the two fares against your wishes, you can book each leg as two independent one-way flights on separate PNRs.
      • Be careful not to violate minimum connection times, and be aware that if your first flight is late or canceled WN will be under no obligation to reaccommodate you.
  • When award seats are unavailable passengers often try booking an "A-B-C" one-way flight, using just half of an award (one award "coupon"). For example, the system might report no award seat availability for SAT-BDL, but it might show awards available for SAT-BWI and BWI-BDL. If you select two suitable matching flights you should be able to book them without being "charged" separately for each of the two flights. Understanding which flights are a suitable match can be challenging.
    • In all cases you must comply with the minimum connection time for your connecting airport. The minimum varies by airport, but you don't have to know in advance what the minimums are; the system will automatically prevent connections that are too short. (Note that a phone reservation agent might be able to override the minimum connection time requirement.)
    • The rest of the requirements vary depending on whether or not Southwest offers "published, scheduled service" between your origin and destination. Note that this factor is evaluated for the specific day you wish to travel. For example if WN publishes service "x6" on your route, the "no published service" rules govern your attempts to build a custom connection on Saturday, whereas the more restrictive rules apply Sunday through Friday.
      • If WN does have "published, scheduled service" between your origin and final destination the following rules apply:
        • If you exceed the maximum connection time (4 hours) the connection will be treated as a stopover and you will be charged two coupons.
        • Your itinerary will be limited to a maximum of two flight numbers. In other words, you can always combine two direct flights, regardless how many stops each makes; if either step of the two-step contains a connection (two flight numbers), you cannot "add on" another flight for "free," even a non-stop flight.
          • Before ATA ceased operations it was possible to have three flight numbers on a custom connection flight to Hawai'i (which of course required a full award each direction) without having to consume an extra award.
        • You must choose a "valid" connecting city. Any city that serves as a mid-point for scheduled WN service (published or unpublished), should always be a valid connecting city. Other cities may also be allowed. Sometimes it will be obvious that a connection is not valid: LAS would not be a valid connection for service from PIT to PHL, for example, due to excessive backtracking. In other cases only trial and error will reveal whether the server considers a connection point valid.
      • If WN does not have "published, scheduled service" between your origin and destination, the restrictions are significantly relaxed:
        • You do not have to comply with the 4-hour maximum connection time rule, even if flight pairs that do meet the rule exist. (An overnight stay, of course, will cost an additional flight coupon.)
        • You may be permitted to have up to three flight numbers on your custom connection.
        • You can choose any connecting city without regard to the excessive backtracking rule. For example, you could fly BWI-LAS-PHL on a single award coupon if you are able to meet the minimum connection time. A routing such as SAN-LAS-SNA would also be treated as a valid single-coupon itinerary. So what about planning a day trip to Vegas by flying OAK-LAS-SFO and using public transportation to and/or from the Bay Area airports? Sorry, that won't work. Because OAK and SFO are co-terminals, the booking system recognizes that you are building a round trip itinerary, which requires two award coupons.

What is DING! and how can I make best use of it?

  • DING! is a computer program that provides real-time notification of fare sales. You can download a copy at http://www.southwest.com/ding/ for Windows or Mac.
  • When you register, be sure to enter your Rapid Rewards number. You only get that one chance to do so. There was a 2-credit bonus for installing DING! by March 15, 2005, and a second bonus period in June 2005, but you might get a bonus anyway if you provide your RR number. Bonus credit is posted after you have had DING! installed 30 days.
  • Originally DING! sales tended to appear once or twice per day. Until early 2008 each sale tended to last for only several hours. Southwest then started offering fewer DING! specials (less than one new offer per day) but with longer purchase windows (somewhat more than 24 hours). After several weeks the longer window DING! offers were discontinued.
  • For the first few years in the life of DING!, specials between any given pair of cities would repeat frequently. If you missed a particular sale, that market would likely go back on sale within a week or two; the next sale fare may be the same but it could be higher or lower. That no longer seems to be the case.
  • DING! has exhibited several different "personalities" during its existence -- understandably so, given that it is relatively new and still (presumably) an experimental product. As an example of the varied nature of DING!, there have been periods of frequent good deals and periods of very few good deals. As of summer 2008 DING! appeared to have decided it wanted to stick with the "relatively few good deals" persona. With the slowing economy, falling load factors, and the coming close of the summer travel season, however, perhaps DING! will soon change its face again. (A recent transformation was the elimination of the unsightly multiple listings of severely restricted DING! offers, such as only valid for one particular flight number certain days or dates, a different flight other days and dates, with 1/2 dozen or so listings of specials for a given city pair. Beginning in mid-July 2008, DING! returned to listing a single offer for a given city pair.)
  • During DING!'s first week of operation many, perhaps all, of the DING! sales contained a hidden "Daily Double" (à la Jeopardy). One of the markets (a different one for every sale) was available at a lower price than the one listed in the main sale page. If you selected a date and clicked Book Now, you would see the lower price. In most cases, the Daily Double was a $44 fare between Chicago and some distant point, generally on the West Coast. These hidden fares have not been seen again since mid-2005. Too bad; they were fun to look for.
  • For the first year of so of its operation, DING! offered the same list of sales to all users. It was a long, long list. Once a month or so DING! would offer different sales to users depending on the user's home airport. In 2006, DING! was reconfigured to allow users to select up to 10 airports for sale notification. DING! now notifies you of sales for flights departing from the airports on your list. This makes the list shorter and more relevant.
  • You will not be notified if there is a one-way DING! fare inbound to an airport on your list without a corresponding outbound special -- although that rarely happens. Inbound and outbound DING! fares and associated day-of-week restrictions, however, sometimes differ. For these reasons, when you have a specific destination in mind it can be useful to (temporarily) add that destination to your registered airports list.
  • DING! has the latent capability to target offerings to individual users. This is because DING! identifies your specific installation when it polls Southwest's server every half-hour for sale headlines.
  • Here's how DING! works, as related by FT member curbcrusher. The DING! application polls the WN server every 30 minutes for new offers. When a new offer is available, its details (start and stop time, URL, etc.) are downloaded (pulled) by the application and you are DING!'d when the start time rolls around. When you click the offer, you are then sent to the URL from the offer detail download.
  • DING! will poll the WN server immediately upon loading (booting your computer or restarting the application). If the poll attempt was successful, the bottom left of the DING! window will read "Ready." "Connect Now" (available if you right-click on the tail in your system tray) will be grayed out. If it was unsuccessful, the tail will be covered by a red exclamation mark and the bottom left will read "Communication Error" and "Connect Now" will be enabled. If this happens, make sure Internet Explorer is not set to "Work Offline" (look in the File menu) and that you can reach the Internet through your browser. If you can, right-click the DING! icon in the system tray and then click "Connect Now." If the poll is successful the red exclamation will disappear almost immediately.

How can I access DING! sales for cities not on my list?

  • You might think that you need to add the new cities to your list, but actually you don't. The reservation process at southwest.com passes through several pages: Plan Trip, Select Flight, Price, Purchase, and Booked. This path is shown in an orange and gray line near the top of each page, with the current step highlighted in red. Once you get to the Select Flight Page for a DING! sale offering, FT member curbcrusher has discovered that you can back out by clicking "PLAN TRIP" and book any DING! fare for any city pair you like.

How can I use DING! on a PC at work where I cannot install software?

  • If you are able to install DING! on at least one Windows or Mac computer (at home, for example), you can create a "portable DING! URL" that you can use to view your DING! offers on a different computer. See the portable DING! URL instructions on FlyerTalk for more information. Now you never need to miss a DING! sale!
  • You can also use your portable DING! URL on other non-supported platforms, for example your Linux PC or netbook, or a Blackberry or other web-enabled device. Again, you must first install DING! on a Windows or Mac computer to be able to create the portable DING! URL.
  • Southwest now has an iPhone app that includes DING!

Which airports are considered co-terminals?

For "roundtrip required" fares, the following airports are considered co-terminals:

  • BWI/IAD (and DCA while the ATA codeshare existed)
  • LGA/ISP (usually)

Because Southwest normally only has "roundtrip required" fares in connection with an occasional short-term promotion, the co-terminal rule is rarely relevant. Furthermore, promotions are generally only valid for online purchases. Unfortunately southwest.com can only book A-B-C open jaw itineraries, not A-B/C-A open jaws. While phone reservation agents can book A-B/C-A itineraries, they generally cannot book promotional fares. The end result is that during a promotion like the 50% off Denver special if you want to fly, say, DEN-OAK/SFO-DEN, you probably won't be able to use the 50% discount promotion unless you are willing to book back-to-back fares and reuse the leftover funds later. In other words, the co-terminal rule is typically only useful if you are originating and terminating at one of the co-terminals, not if you are traveling to an area that has co-terminal airports.

Most of the Southwest co-terminal airports are listed twice in the cities/airports lists on the southwest.com booking page under an "area" heading (e.g., [Los Angeles Area:] for the four airports near LA.) PBI, a co-terminal for FLL, however, is not listed in the peculiar [Miami Area] "grouping", which contains just the single airport FLL. If you are traveling to or from a multi-airport [Area] group, the "Modify Your Search" portion of the Select Flight page will present a drop down box allowing you to modify your search to any of the co-terminal airports, so you don't have to back up to modify and resubmit your search. In the case of PBI and FLL, the drop down box will contain only FLL.

Note: SAT-AUS and SAN-SNA are not co-terminals, even though the distance between co-terminals PVD and MHT is about 25% greater than the distance between SAT and AUS, and about 10% greater than the distance between SAN and SNA. Similarly, TPA and MCO, which are marginally closer than PVD and MHT also are not co-terminals.

Can I buy a senior fare or youth fare online? Why would I want to buy one of these when other fares are lower?

  • You can purchase a senior fare online by specifying the number of seniors in the "How many are traveling?" section of the PLAN TRIP page. Youth fares cannot be purchased online.
  • The advantage of a Senior or Youth fare is that it is fully refundable, has no advance purchase requirement, and does not require an upgrade to full fare for standby. Senior and Youth fare seats are, however, capacity-controlled.

What's all this I hear about "Customers of Size" having to purchase a second seat?

  • The official policy is listed at www.southwest.com/about_swa/press/additional_seat.html
  • You can buy the second seat online, as described on blogsouthwest.com: Just buy the first ticket with your full name and second with your first initial and last name. Then, after you get back from your trip, you can call Customer Relations at 214 792-4223 and request a refund on the second seat if the flight wasn't oversold. It's a very easy process.
  • Like other idiosyncratic Southwest policies, this one is annoying if you fight it and remarkably friendly if you instead learn how to work the system. Specifically, if you go ahead and purchase the extra seat you will get refunds most of the time and you will be seated comfortably all the time. You qualify for a refund if the flight is not oversold, and very few flights are oversold. Apparently, filling the flight with standbys does NOT count as an oversell, so you still get a refund then.
  • FT member MarshB reports: "In the past two years I've flown no less than 100 segments and I have received a refund 100% of the time. Call 214-792-4223, press 2. The agent will look up the flights on the spot and get the credit process started."

How do I use an electronic travel voucher (LUV voucher)?

  • Southwest no longer issues paper travel vouchers, which required the person named on the voucher to go to the airport in person. Electronic vouchers work like Southwest gift cards, entering the voucher number and code when purchasing a ticket.
  • The traveler name does not need to match the holder of the travel voucher.

I can't change my reservation online. Why is that?

  • The most common cause is that the reservation was made, or has been modified by, a Reservation Sales Agent (i.e., over the phone). Once a reservation has been made or changed by an RSA, all further changes to that reservation can only be done by an RSA. FT member SWAVictor explains "This is because there are certain scenarios that the website is not currently programmed to understand (ie: circle trips, multi-city, and special fares - infant, child, youth, military, government, etc). To protect the website from getting into a state that it cannot handle, we simply check the history of the pnr and stop you if an offline modification has been made."
  • The Change Reservation system formerly was unavailable each night from approximately midnight through 2:30am (Central Time). Note: this is not the same outage as the former (pre-May 2009) view/apply TTF system outage. This outage appears to have been eliminated.
  • The Change Reservation feature sometimes works on an award or companion reservation and sometimes it doesn't. This behavior is mysterious. When it happens, the only solution is make the change by phone, or cancel and make a new reservation.
  • You should be able to make as many changes as you like prior to any travel occurring. This is not a guarantee, just a statement of how it is supposed to work.
  • Once you have flown the outbound you can make only one change to the return online. This is due to system limitations. FT member SWAVictor says "Trying to explain why this is the case will result in me getting a migraine, and you not really having any better understanding of why. It has something to do with our websites parsers trying to reconcile a new one-way farestore with the original roundtrip."
    • This is another reason that it's advantageous to book your trips, including award travel, as one-ways. You will be able to change your trips online as many times as you want to (provided you don't bump into the mysterious behavior cited above).
  • If the same fare or award seat is still available, you can cancel the reservation and book a replacement online using the funds from the old reservation.

Differences between Southwest and other airlines

Why doesn't Southwest offer assigned seats?

  • Gate agents at legacy carriers seem to spend most of their time dealing with seat assignments, first-class upgrades, and standby requests. Southwest eliminates the first two and gets extra revenue for doing the third one (full-fare only). Eliminating assigned seats also provides an incentive to show up early rather than crush the gate counter at the last minute.
  • The main check-in lines (for passengers with baggage) move MUCH faster because there is no need to choose a seat. Southwest's lines move at least twice as fast as any other airline's. Curbside check-in lines may look shorter but the longer lines inside are likely to serve you more quickly.
  • Seat assignments on multiple-stop flights are a challenge for the airline to deal with. If you assign seats based on seats open for both flights, very quickly all the seats are "taken", even though there are seats open for both flights, just not the same ones. If you have different seat assignments, you have to get up and move to the other seat during the layover. With a 25 or 30 minute turn, there isn't much time for a bunch of people to play musical chairs between deplaning and boarding.
  • Southwest's quick turn around system reduces costs and therefore fares. For a long time this boarding process was an undesirable experience. However, on November 8, 2007 Southwest changed to the letter+number system that eliminates any need to stand in line. Your boarding pass letter and number hold your place for you.
  • Many WN passengers have learned how to play the open seating game, and strenuously objected to a change to assigned seating. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Why doesn't Southwest interline with other carriers?

  • It comes down to cost. Interlining also adds complexity, and therefore even more cost, to operations. Southwest certainly thought long and hard about costs before committing to the interlining agreement with the now-defunct ATA.
  • In 1997 Southwest began an interlining partnership with Icelandair that lasted a few years, allowing connections at BWI, probably with Southwest handling all the ground operations.
  • Interlining with one airline at a handful of airports is hard enough; trading baggage with multiple airlines systemwide makes rapid connections almost impossible. Ticketing software would need to be further upgraded, and the returns from all this investment would probably not even cover the additional costs. Interlining is a great feature of the legacy airline system, but one that adds more cost than most customers want to pay.
  • On November 10,2008, Southwest announced "its intention to build a codeshare partnership with Mexican carrier Volaris," a low-cost airline that began operations in February, 2006.
  • Southwest has also repeatedly stated that it is working on future codeshare arrangements with other carriers for additional International destinations.

What are the standby rules? When do I have to pay extra to standby for a different flight, and why?

  • Standbys can be cleared starting 10 minutes before scheduled departure time. That means you are taking a chance of losing your seat if you show up 2 or 3 minutes before flight time. If you get to the gate before all the seats are gone, the gate agent will give you a boarding pass ahead of any remaining standbys. If not, you are out of luck.
  • Internet check-in has improved this situation. Once you have a boarding pass, your seat is held until the gate agent removes you from the flight (reversing your check-in). This gives you a few extra minutes before you lose your seat.
  • Note that if the flight is delayed and you decide to delay your arrival at the gate correspondingly, you are risking losing your seat unless you already have a boarding pass. Sometimes the gate agents will clear standbys 10 minutes before scheduled departure, and sometimes they will wait until shortly before the actual departure. If you have a boarding pass, you are safe until boarding is complete and the gate agent determines that you have not boarded. Online check-in saves the day again!
  • To standby for a different flight, you will have to pay the difference between what you already paid and the full fare that a walk-up passenger would pay. Once you pay up, you are in the same boat as a walk-up passenger. In particular if the normal departure time is less than an hour away, you cannot buy a confirmed seat: not on the phone, by Internet, or in person. You can only standby. But if the flight is not overbooked, the gate agent will probably give you a boarding pass immediately anyway. Otherwise you have to wait until they clear standbys starting 10 minutes before departure.
  • There are two exceptions to the requirement to pay full fare to standby:
  1. Your original flight is delayed 30 minutes or more. You can often use this excuse when the delay is upstream (at the preceding airport), even if the delay at my airport is not yet posted for your flight.
  2. You miss your original flight by 2 hours or less. You may be able to stretch this time limit a bit, but that would be at the discretion of the gate agent. This is called the "flat tire" rule.
  • Regardless of whether or not you pay the full fare on an outbound flight, you get to keep any discount fare you have on your future return flight.
  • Of all the differences between Southwest and the other majors, charging for standby is one that makes the least sense to most people. But Southwest is just thinking ahead to the consequences. If you were able to standby free for any earlier flight, you would book the Internet Special for the last flight of the day but show up for the peak hour flight. What would be the results?
  1. The peak flight would have far more standbys than could be accommodated. Currently almost all standbys get on the first or second flight. With free standby, there would be chronic huge wait lists. At least until...
  2. Southwest would stop selling cheap seats for any flights on peak travel days. Then...
  3. Flights at off-peak times on peak days would have many empty seats, representing lost revenue relative to the current rules.
  4. This is why changing this seemingly bizarre policy would be a lose-lose proposition. The only reason the other airlines can allow standby for free is that their fares are essentially the same for all times of the day. Southwest gets more revenue and a higher load factor its way, keeping average prices down.
  • If the low fare you want is available both earlier and later than your desired flight time, book the earlier time. If you miss the flight you booked by less than 2 hours, you will be able to standby and keep your low fare.
  • You can easily book a Rapid Rewards award reservation on the SWA website with a 3 to 3.5 hour connection. Although it won't be a "published" connection, you can use all 3 columns on the reservation page (Depart, Arrive, and Return) to book this via www.southwest.com as explained above. Combine this with the "flat tire" rule and you might be able to get a layover of up to 6 hours.
  • Standbys are normally accommodated first-come, first-served. The gate agent may, however, give priority to people for whom the current flight is the only way to make a connection to their destination over people who can get where they're going on a later flight.

Why doesn't Southwest allow me to book 11 months ahead like the other majors do?

  • By limiting its schedule horizon, Southwest virtually eliminates the need to cancel or reschedule flights before the date of travel. Those changes cost the other airlines a lot of money to handle, and they annoy customers. Once Southwest publishes a schedule, it is nearly cast in stone. Even after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Southwest did not immediately drop flights as the other majors did.

Why is there no gate number on my boarding pass?

  • As of May 2006, gate assignments are shown on boarding passes printed at airport kiosks, but not those printed at home or at the counter where an agent is supposed to tell you the gate number. All boarding passes now show the scheduled departure time.

What is the Wright Amendment? What is (or was) the Texas two-step?

  • When Southwest started interstate service from Love Field in Dallas, the DFW people had a cow. The Wright Amendment was a compromise, prohibiting most long-distance commercial flights from Love Field but allowing the kind of short-haul flights that Southwest was known for during its early days. See http://www.fact-index.com/l/lo/love_field.html for more.
  • Because of Wright Amendment restrictions in effect before December 2006, travelers who wished to buy tickets from Dallas to points beyond the bordering states or Mississippi or Alabama (added by the Shelby amendment) had to purchase two trips: one to the border state or Houston Hobby and another between there and the actual destination. This was the Texas two-step. For passengers checking bags, this was a major pain.
  • As described at http://www.setlovefree.com the major parties (Southwest, American, the Dallas airports, and local government) negotiated a compromise in 2006. Congress enacted it into law, and Southwest Airlines began offering through ticketing from Love Field on October 19, 2006.
  • On March 11, 2007, Southwest Airlines began additional service to cities that were previously restricted by the Wright Amendment, for a total of 43 cities beyond the Wright Amendment area. The new schedule offers additional one-stop service to destinations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore, Orlando, and Tampa.
  • Under the new law, the Wright restrictions disappear in 2014.

Why doesn't Southwest fly to Hawai'i?

  • WN cannot afford the costs that a Hawai'i operation would bring under their current cost model, unless they flew something like 40 flights per day there, which is not realistic. Another problem with Hawai'i is that you need heavy over-water equipment (ETOPS and life rafts). WN wants all of its planes available for use anywhere in the system.
  • The biggest problem with Hawai'i is logistics: you need enough flights to justify having a maintenance base and other ground staff. Because of its isolation, Hawai'i cannot easily accommodate flights spread out over the day. (737s can reach Hawai'i from only a limited subset of current Southwest cities.) Another challenge from a business perspective is the high fraction of leisure vs. business travelers. But that didn't keep WN out of Orlando.
  • Southwest generally doesn't add airports unless they can justify at least 10 flights a day from that airport, spread over several destinations, typically a mix of the closest ones outside of 3 hour driving time and one or more of their semi-hubs (Baltimore, Chicago, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando, etc). So it's unrealistic to just look at whether Southwest could fly to somewhere from Hawai'i or Alaska, but whether they could fly often enough to enough different destinations from there to make starting service there (on their point-to-point model) practical.
  • Southwest's partnership with the now-defunct ATA provided connecting service to Hawai'i. Lack of awards to Hawai'i was and now is again a deal-breaker to a significant percentage of frequent fliers.

Why doesn't Southwest fly red-eyes?

  • We can only speculate. Perhaps demand is not adequate, or long overnight flights do not fit Southwest's business model. Also, maintenance planning is easier when aircraft have several hours of down time each night.

Why doesn't Southwest offer an airline lounge?

  • Aside from the fact that "Brown Carpet Club" has a poor ring to it, there would probably be insufficient demand for it. Airside space is expensive, and Southwest's business travelers spend very little time at the airport. With Internet check-in, there is no need to get to the airport an hour early, even for a long-haul flight.
  • Southwest does, of course, offer the Mile High Club on the same basis as other airlines. Because of the lack of long red-eye flights, however, Southwest's MHC is far more difficult to join.

Is assigned seating in our future?

  • Southwest has decided to retain open seating for the foreseeable future. On November 8, 2007, Southwest announced a priority boarding system in an attempt to provide better seating for its frequent flyers and for premium farecustomers.
  • Southwest seriously considered implementing some form of assigned seating. At http://blog.southwest.com/2006/06/21/a-message-from-our-ceo-open-season-on-assigned-seating/ you can read Gary Kelly's musings and hundreds of customer comments. FTers were fairly confident that Southwest would not change to first-come, first-served assignment of seats months ahead of travel. Open seating has a major advantage for full-fare business travelers who book within a few days of travel: they have the same opportunity as everyone else to get a good seat.
  • The implementation challenges of assigned seating are numerous, including handling connecting flights and irregular operations (delays and cancellations). Also, assigned seating practically forces an airline to implement an Elite status program for its best customers so that they can depend on getting a good seat.

Are there other differences I should know about?

  • Southwest does not permit "last flight in, first flight out" connections.
  • As of Friday, May 29, 2009, Small Pets are allowed on Southwest. The cat or dog must be small enough to fit in a carrier below the seat in front of you, and must be vaccinated.

Tips for Flying on Southwest

Before you leave for the Airport

What is Early Bird Check In?

  • Early Bird Check In (EBCI) is a new serivce/product introduced in late summer of 2009. For a $10 fee per one-way flight, you can be automatically checked-in at 36 hours before your scheduled departure. Southwest is marketing this as a way to avoid having to check in on your computer or mobile device, so no need to be waiting for the T-24 mark to check in.
  • EBCI does not guarantee you a low boarding number. Southwest is not limiting the number of EBCI purchases per flight. It is therefore theoretically possible that every person on the flight could purchase EBCI.
  • EBCI can be purchased at the time of booking, or any time up to 25 hours before your flight (via the Travel Tools link on Southwest.com). If you purchase EBCI between 36 and 25 hours before your flight, your Boarding Position will be assigned at T-25
  • All A-List passengers will be checked in before EBCI passengers. Then all EBCI passengers who bought an Anytime fare will be checked in, in order of who purchased EBCI first. Finally, EBCI passengers who bought a Wanna Get Away or DING! fare will be checked in, in order of who purchased EBCI first.
  • The fee is non-refundable. You cannot get the $10 back if you are unhappy with the Boarding Position you were given, nor if you decide to cancel, or no-show your flight. If you decide to change your flight (at least 25 hours before original departure) to a flight (at least 25 hours in the future) with the same confirmation number, the EBCI fee will transfer to the new flight, but you will not retain the same boarding position as you would have for the original flight.
  • The EBCI fee must be paid with a Credit Card. Southwest Ticketless Travel Funds are not accepted.

What determines what boarding letter I get? How do I get an "A"?

  • "A" boarding passes are given to all BS passengers (maximum of 15 per flight leg) plus the next 45 seats to successfully check in (whether manually or via the automatic check in for "A-Listers" and EBCI passengers).
    • EBCI purchasers and A-Listers who were automatically checked in at the 1.5 day mark and all BS passengers can, therefore, completely skip the race to complete OLCI as soon as possible.
    • If Southwest expects the flight to have a high number of through passengers, Business Select will not be offered and there will be 60 A's available for A-list, EBCI, and OLCI passengers.
    • Note that a customer of size who has pre-purchased two seats on a single PNR consumes two boarding passes when checking in.
  • The next 60 seatholders receive a "B" boarding pass, and the remainder (if any) receive a "C".
  • Each boarding pass shows your check-in sequence number, up to 137 (the number of seats on all but the oldest Southwest airplanes) in addition to the letter.
  • If someone is removed from the flight (e.g., cancels their BP or ticket, or catches an earlier flight), their sequence number is put back in the pool. If you happen to be the next passenger to check in, you may draw an "A" or "B" even though the person ahead of you got a "C".
  • If you have a ticketless reservation, whether paid or using a Rapid Rewards award, you can print your own boarding pass at southwest.com starting at your departure time on the day before your flight. That normally equates to "24 hours before departure," but it may be 23 or 25 hours if you are flying on the first day that DST begins or ends. (Before November 9, 2005, OLCI opened at 12:00:01am on the date of your flight, in the departure time zone.)
    • You are most likely get an "A" boarding pass if you complete OLCI reasonably promptly (with the possible exceptions of Orlando and Las Vegas, which have plenty of larger groups, and sold-out holiday flights). With the advent of EBCI, however, this is far from a guarantee.
  • You get boarding passes for all your outbound segments when you check in, whether online, at a kiosk, or at a counter.
  • Note that you cannot check in online later than 60 minutes before your scheduled flight time!
  • If you don't have a printer, never fear: you can get a replacement boarding pass at a kiosk or from any counter agent at the airport and it will still have the same letter and sequence number, with an "r" appended. If you plan to do this, you may wish to print a Security Document the day before travel so that you may get your replacement boarding pass beyond the security checkpoint to avoid the baggage check-in line. Ability to print a replacement boarding pass at the airport kiosks was available system-wide as of March 30, 2005.
  • If you want to check in at the earliest possible moment, you can create a URL to take you directly to the online check-in form. Just right-click the URL below to copy it, paste it into the address line of your browser, edit the record locator and names, then press enter.
You can even bookmark the link if you like (after following the above steps, or by right-clicking on the link and editing the bookmark after saving it). You can test your pre-built URL by using it ahead of time:
  • If you are early you will see the big red "Oops!" message page with a "too soon or too late" error and (SW900001) at the end of the two paragraphs of explanatory text.
  • If you entered the name or PNR incorrectly you will receive the big red "Oops!" message page with a "name mismatch" error and (SW301007) at the end of the single paragraph of text. If this happens be sure to fix your URL before your check in window opens!
Once you have a valid OLCI URL, either use it only if you are within 15 minutes of the correct T-24 check-in time (unless you can refresh the page (by pressing F5 or ctrl-R, or using a browser utility) every 10 minutes or so to keep the server session active). When T-24 strikes, refresh the page to display the OLCI form; check the box by each passenger's name (or click the "select all" link, if present), and click "Submit" to secure your boarding position(s). Note that web site changes have made the former Back button method unnecessary, so the former one second (five or take) advantage of this pre-built URL technique has been diminished.
  • If you have multiple passengers traveling on separate PNRs, you'll need to enter the pre-built URLs in different browsers (not just different browser tabs/windows), or enter the second and subsequent URLs in a new tab/window without pressing enter until after completing OLCI for each prior passenger.
  • After a late May, 2009 overhaul of m.southwest.com, it appears there is no longer a mobile phone equivalent for the above link. As with the later revision of the main southwest.com OLCI page, submitting the form early leaves the OLCI form visible with the data fields intact, so you can just "click" the form button to retry.
  • According to a FT post by SWAVictor, iPhone users were better off using the full version of southwest.com instead of m.southwest.com when using the "web form" for OLCI. That may no longer be true in light of the May, 2009 site overhaul. If you want to pre-build the OLCI URL your only choice is to use the link for the full version of the site. Or just use the new Southwest Airlines iPhone App.
  • Kiosks at the airport can print your boarding pass any time you are eligible for online check-in, even the day before your flight. If you are passing through the departure airport early in the day, for example on the outbound leg of a day trip, stopping by the kiosk to get your evening boarding pass is a great way to get an A. Another trick is to stop off at the kiosk before parking your car. Kiosks can reprint your boarding pass right up until the flight time, and perhaps later. If you have not yet checked in online or otherwise, the kiosk will not give you a boarding pass later than 20 minutes before the originally scheduled departure time.
    • You cannot, however, check bags at the kiosk more than four hours before your scheduled departure.
  • If you are checking in for a flight out of a focus city (what everyone except Southwest calls a hub), be aware that connecting passengers have first shot at the A's. Why? Their 24-hour window for online check-in is based on the departure time of their first flight, probably an hour or two before your flight departs.
  • If you have a same day round trip booked as such (on one record locator), online check is initially available for only your outbound flight(s). However you can check in online again 24 hours before your return flight and get those boarding passes, provided that you avoid the blocked time starting one hour before the original departure and ending some time after that flight lands.
  • If you have a same day return booked as a separate reservation, you can check in online separately for the outbound and the return. This is another advantage of booking one-way trips rather than round-trips. If you booked a same day round trip, just stop at the customer service counter near the gates when you arrive at your destination and pick up your return boarding pass. Try a kiosk if you like, but it may not give you the return boarding pass if your outbound flight was short. The kiosk may tell you that you have already checked in for your outbound flight, and not give you the option to check in for the return.
  • If your reservation is for more than one person, you are now able to print the boarding passes online. The former workaround of phoning SWA to have the reservation split into two (or more) records is no longer necessary.
  • If you have been tagged for random secondary security screening, you will not be able to check in online or print a security document, and Southwest will not be able to tell you what the problem is.
  • If your ticket requires that you are a certain age (senior fare, youth fare), you may not be eligible to check in online. Proof of age is required before check-in. Once Southwest has verified your date of birth as described in the next paragraph you'll be eligible for online check-in from the convenience of your own home, as long as you have entered your Rapid Rewards account number into the reservation.
  • To get your date of birth verified and to take advantage of these new enhancements on future reservations, submit a copy of your state's official drivers license or other government-issued identification indicating your date of birth along with your Rapid Rewards account number to: Southwest Airlines Customer Relations/Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36662, Dallas, TX 75235. Please allow 4-6 weeks for age verification. For verification status, please log in to your MySouthwest account and visit "account details" to confirm whether verification has been completed. You will be notified by letter once the verification process is complete.

How can I estimate how long the security lines will be?

  • If it's a holiday peak travel day, you just have to play it safe and allow extra time. If it's a normal day, consult the TSA's Waiting Time estimator, which will be reasonably accurate.
  • Check Southwest's schedule to see when the next flights are to your destination. Check seat availability by searching for the maximum of 8 seats on the reservations pages. If seats are open, the flat tire" rule (see numbered item 2) will allow you to standby for those flights. Southwest's high-frequency service between some city pairs limits your risk, allowing you to cut it close when catching your flight.

When there is a flight delay, the departure status rarely lists the delay before I leave for the airport. How can I better determine whether my flight will actually be delayed? Also, how can I determine the intermediate stops of a particular flight?

  • The Flight Status information page at southwest.com is a treasure trove of routing information. For example, if you ask about the arrival of your flight number into your departure city, you can find out where the flight is coming from and whether it is leaving that city on time. Then you can ask for the arrival time of the same flight number into that city. This method allows you to work upstream all the way to the origin of the flight and make your own guess as to the downstream delay, if any, in your city. If the flight is originating at your city, you may be able to locate the flight scheduled to arrive at the same gate 30 minutes before your departure and check its status. Unfortunately, this method will not help you detect a late-arriving crew or a tail swap.
  • On http://www.flightaware.com you can enter Southwest and the flight number to see that flight's entire itinerary over the past few days. Note that the segments read upward; that is, the last segment is at the top. It takes some interpretation to see that a flight was diverted on a previous day. Note that Saturday schedules are completely different from other days.
  • You can also search http://www.flightarrivals.com . You can enter a flight number and see its full itinerary. If you want to know on an earlier day whether the flight is originating or continuing (which could influence your boarding strategy), you'll need to check this on a day when the flight follows the same schedule as on the day of travel, and while that flight is in progress or close to it. That is, if you're flying on a Saturday morning, you may need to search this on a Saturday morning.
  • http://www.flightstats.com has an iPod/iPhone-friendly interface. If you aren't taking a continuing flight, you can use flight status by airport to see what flight is arriving at the gate from which your flight departs, and see if that flight shows a delay.
  • If you're interested in seeing the intermediate stops for a future date, possibly after a schedule change, you can go to http://www.southwest.com/cgi-bin/requestSchedule (you can also get there from southwest.com, Travel Tools, Schedules), select Download Schedules for the city in question, then the date range for the date that interests you. You get all the flights to and from that airport; you can either look it over for the flight number, or do a search in the PDF reader for the flight number. You can also use this to determine if the flight is continuing from someplace else.
  • flightlookup.com redirects to http://www.eskyguide.com , another place to look up itineraries of flights on future dates.

Where can I get electronic and paper timetables?

  • Until June 2009, Southwest was perhaps the only major US airline still publishing paper timetables. These were typically available at ticket counters and near the gates. In July 2009, Southwest announced that they would no longer publish paper timetables, because few customers were still using them and because the timetable book had grown rather large (the June 28, 2009 flight schedule had 261 pages.)

Where can I find official airline rules?

What services are available for children?

  • The fee for unaccompanied minors, age 5 to 11, increased to $50 (from $25) on April 23, 2010.

At the airport

What are Fly By Lanes?

  • Fly By Lanes are Southwest's version of priority security screening lanes for elite program members. They were introduced in October 2008. Show your orange A-List card or your Business Select boarding pass and you can bypass a long screening line.
  • Southwest's 2007 and 2008 changes to boarding and security screening make it clear that Southwest wishes to reward paid travel, just as every other airline's elite program does. Companion Pass holders who earned their passes through massive credit card purchases or points transfers are not eligible for these benefits.
  • Travel companions, including designated CP companions, are not eligible to use Fly By Lanes. You can try it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't work.
  • Here is the city by city status, compiled by FT member 6Strong, as of May 21 3:00pm EDT:
    • MDW: Open for use, sometimes monitored, but not valuable as a time saver as there are many places for general public to cut in line.
    • BWI: Lanes almost always open and monitored by TSA, who actively ask to see A-List card or Business Select boarding pass. Concourses A&B. Great time saver.
    • LAS: Located at old C gate and saves lots of time; though typically not monitored.
    • SAN: Monitored. It's on the right side of the checkpoint.
    • HOU:
    • DAL: Monitored and great time saver.
    • OAK: Monitored. Enter on the right. Count the number of TSA ID checkers before choosing your line: Sometimes A-list shares a checker with the right non-status lane. In those cases the left non-status lane can be your fastest option.
    • LAX: Enforced at all times. Show your A-List or BS info at the top of the escalator for access to the center lane.
    • PHX: Sometimes monitored, shorter line than the regular security line in peak times
    • MCO: No Fly By Lane
    • SMF: No Fly By Lane
    • RNO:
    • JAX: No Fly By Lane
    • BNA: No Fly By Lane
    • SEA: Monitored by Horizon Air agents. Works great. It's at the main checkpoint.
    • MCI:Lane exists, contractor staffed, but cards aren't ever checked.
    • STL: Not monitored. It's on the right side of the checkpoint lane by the WN counters. It has it's own WTMD lane, too.
    • ABQ: Not monitored.
    • SLC: Shared with other elite programs, monitored by TSA. WN signage identifying lane is at bottom of sign for elite/first class lane.
    • DEN:Shared lane with other airlines. Staffed by TSA. Card required for entry. Great time saver.
    • PVD:
    • PHL: Shared lane with other airlines on the far left of security checkpoint.
    • MHT: No Fly By Lane
    • PIT: shared with other airlines. No WN staffing and no TSA monitoring. No benefit using this lane.
    • IND:
    • OKC:
    • PDX: Monitored by QX folks. You can also use the D/E checkpoint on the other side of the airport and use that elite line. It's usually a lot faster.
    • TUS: Monitored by the TSA. Can clear security in under a minute when the lines are long in the early morning. Excellent addition.
    • ELP: Monitored by TSA. Use the elevator to get upstairs if the ID check line is long.
    • SFO: Intermittently open. It dumps you into the stroller/family line. Will help when ID check lines are long.
    • SNA: Monitored by the TSA. Works great. Sometimes the other checkpoint by the AS counter is quieter.
    • FLL: Always monitored by TSA, always shorter.
    • BOS: No Fly By Lane (none needed at this time).
    • ONT - Monitored by a TSA ID checker. No signage as a FlyBy.
    • SJC - shared Lane with shortcuts on each side of the regular lane. Excellent lane, saves a lot of time to the ID checker but gets congested after this to the WTMD's.
    • BUR: No fly by lane (still using old "expert", "casual" system). :
    • AUS: No Fly By Lane, but A-list users may use the Premium Passenger lane.

Where are the priority lanes for baggage check-in?

  • Southwest has started introducing priority bag check-in lines for A-list members and those with Business Select tickets. This link shows which airports have priority check-in lanes.
  • Some airports have two lines for baggage check-in: one for customers with electronic tickets and one for customers with paper tickets and customers who need ticketing or other services.

What if I check in online and miss the flight?

  • If you print a boarding pass and do not show up the agents know that you are a "missed flight" passenger. You can still fly standby that day or re-use the funds after the end of the day.

What airport navigation tricks apply to Southwest?

  • Check your bags inside, not at the curb. The inside lines are served by many employees, and they move much faster than the shorter outside lines. It's strange that passengers haven't figured this out. This varies by airport; at SAT and LAX it appears the skycaps are in fact SWA employees.
  • The TSA has separated security screening lanes into 3 self-selection categories: Expert, Casual, and Families/Special Needs. There is nothing to stop you from selecting the Casual line if the Expert line seems too long or if it seems to contain too many travel neophytes. If the lines are short, the TSA may have only one entry option, combining all 3 categories.
  • At OAK the Terminal 2 security checkpoint has been expanded, making the security lines there significantly faster than the lines at Terminal 1. Both terminals are connected on the secure side, so you can use the Terminal 2 security checkpoint even if your flight departs from Terminal 1. At peak business travel hours, the Casual lane can be faster than the Expert Lane. The Fly By lane is at the right, closest to the SWA check-in counters.
  • AUS has two well-known security lines and a third, lesser known line at the west end. The security line closest to the WN counter is frequently the longest around WN departure times. You can often save time by using the second of the two primary lines. If you are checking bags or using the WN counter or kiosk for any other reason, a detour to the third line at the far west end would very likely consume more time walking down and all the way back to the WN gates than could be saved by any shorter line. If you don't need to check bags or use the WN counter or kiosk, however, entering the airport at the extreme west end and beginning your "hunt for the shortest security line" there could prove effective.
  • At LAX, there is a "no-baggage" check-in line to the right of the flight of stairs from the ticketing level to the concourse level if you can't use Internet check-in or the kiosks. The Fly By lane is on the right side, next to the doorway to the street. There is an extra screening area next to Gate 1 that is open at peak travel times. To check this, stop one pace before the ID check and look directly to your right and two floors up. The double doors will be open if and only if the extra screening area is open. If you see a line up there, forget it: the wait there will be longer than for the regular screening area.
  • At LAS, FT Member Red Raider LV reports that "The Las Vegas shortcut (mini-checkpoint for security) upstairs adjacent to the D gate entrance is open, usually has a short line, and even has a dedicated 'Fly-By' lane."
  • DAL has a "secret" TSA line. The main line moves pretty quickly, but when you need to rush, head towards the baggage claim and take the escalators up. There is a second security checkpoint upstairs that almost never has a line.
  • At SEA you can use the 'Elite' Security line using your Rapid Rewards plastic membership card at some of the security lines.
  • If transferring at MCI, be aware that by default when you deplane you go straight ahead a few steps, past a glass wall, and you've left the secure area; as of February 2010 all Southwest flights are in the same sterile area, with gates 37-45. There are small monitors listing gates, but you may be advised to find the gate numbers for your arriving and departing flights beore you start your trip at http://www.southwest.com or http://www.flykci.com . As you deplane, gate numbers to the right are higher. The sterile area has restrooms and a few concessions.
  • At PDX, the express lane for security shows a bunch of airline frequent flyer cards that will let you in. One of the pictured cards is a Southwest Rapid Rewards card. (The sign does not say whether the frequent flyer card has to match the boarding pass.)You can also use this line, with some explaining, if your Rapid-Rewards number is printed on your ticket.
  • At SNA, you can use the "First-Class" security line if you have an A-List Membership Card, or an "A" Boarding Pass.
  • At DEN the WN baggage claim is at carousels six through nine, in the southeast corner of the terminal. For quickest access to baggage claim, choose a car toward the back of the train from the gates, and exit toward the rear. Note that while shuttles for hotels in the immediate airport area generally stop at both the east and west doors, other hotel shuttles do not. For example, Stapleton-area hotel shuttles pick up only the west side (opposite side from WN baggage claim). As the shuttles for the remote hotels are less frequent, being prepared in advance by knowing which side to exit can avoid a long wait for the next shuttle.
  • If you need to refuel a rental car before returning it at DEN, you can save fifteen to twenty or more cents per gallon by avoiding the high priced gas at the single station between E-470 and the airport. The best bet is probably the Flying J on E. 32nd Ave in Aurora. Use your GPS or this online map for driving directions. Example from August 2010: $2.499 at Flying J; $2.859 at Circle K. It is about ten miles from the Flying J to the rental car return area, so don't skimp on the fill up. If you are returning from the mountains, another option is to fill up at the cheaper stations on the west side of town and just buy a small top off at the last gas station before the airport.
  • If taking a rental car or hotel shuttle to DEN and you are in a hurry, tell the driver your airline is United. You'll save time getting off the shuttle at the first stop and walking about 1/3 the narrow width of the terminal, versus sitting on the shuttle as it makes the congested drive from the southwest corner, around the north end, and down to the southeast corner of the terminal.

Which Southwest airports have free WiFi? What security precautions should I take?

  • The answer to that question changes frequently! Southwest does a good job of keeping their city information pages up to date with airport WiFi information. Unfortunately they don't actually use the word "free" so you have to read between the lines. Compare these three examples:

<ol><li>The Albany page states: <ul><li>Wi-Fi: Available throughout airport <li>High-speed Internet: Available</ul> <li>The Burbank page states: <ul><li>Wi-Fi: Available throughout the terminal via AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon</ul> <li>The Cleveland page states: <ul><li>Wi-Fi: Available at gates B2, B7, and in the Airport Wireless store on the B Concourse <li>High-speed Internet: Available</ul></ol>

Interpretation: Albany has free WiFi, Burbank does not; Cleveland has some free WiFi, but not throughout the entire airport.
  • Note that "High-speed Internet: Available" does not mean free high speed Internet.
To go quickly to the city information page for a Southwest airport, copy, paste and edit this sample URL, substituting the appropritate three letter airport code:
  • Another place you can check for airport WiFi information is TravelPost.com's "definitive guide." If you note a discrepancy between Southwest.com and TravelPost's list, try a Web search for [city] airport WiFi. In many cases you'll quickly find the airport's WiFi information page. Example: Southwest.com appears to report free WiFi at BUF, but TravelPost reports fees. A Google search for "buffalo airport wifi" found the airport's WiFi information page, which indicates there are fees.
  • A FlyerTalk poster or an editor of this Wiki has reported learning of free WiFi at the following airports: Albany, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Birmingham, Boise, Columbus, Denver (fee eliminated November, 2007; service is filtered), Ft. Lauderdale, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Harlingen, Hartford, Kansas City (became free July 2006), Las Vegas, Lubbock, Manchester, Midland, Oakland (became free late October 2008), Omaha, Philadelphia (free on weekends or anytime for college students, otherwise fee required), Phoenix (started summer 2006), Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle-Tacoma, Tampa, Tuscon, and West Palm Beach. Additional notes reported here or on FT about airport free WiFi: Tulsa has signs announcing free WiFi. Cleveland has free WiFi in some areas. Coverage at ABQ does not appear to reach the entire SWA gate area, but it covers the food court and bar nearby.
    • The list above should not be considered to be a definitive guide!
  • Do not connect to any peer-to-peer service, especially ones called "Free Public WiFi" or "Free Internet Access". Those signals (viral SSIDs) are broadcast from infected laptop computers, and your computer will become infected the first time you connect to one of these. See http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=602 for an explanation.

What are the weight and number limitations for checked baggage? What happens if the bag was delayed, or if Southwest loses my baggage?

  • Effective January 29, 2008 Southwest cut their free checked bags allowance from three to two. Large or heavy items (described below) do not qualify to fly free. Up to seven additional bags may be checked for a fee of $50 each (one-way). Additional bags are $110 each (one-way).
  • Bags that weigh 50+ to 100 pounds or that measure 62+ to 80 inches are charged $50 each (one way).
    • Note that WN's length + width + height measurement system is different from the girth + length system used by shippers such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS.
  • Bags that exceed 100 pounds or 80 inches are prohibited, except as noted in the Contract of Carriage.
  • Your bag will get a Late Check-In Tag if you check it less than 30 minutes before scheduled departure, or 45 minutes at BWI, DEN, IAD, LAS, LAX, MCO, MDW, or PHX. Late-checked bags might still make your flight, but if they don't Southwest will not cover the cost of delivering them to you at your destination.
  • FT member PTahCha writes: "If your bag was delayed and arrived late, you can either have Southwest deliver the bag for no charge, or pick it up at the airport in exchange for a $50 voucher, provided that it was not checked in late."
  • FT member RockHounder writes: "If you've never been through the lost baggage process, you'd be surprised to know that you have to wait 5 days before you can even request a claim form. Once they mail that to you, they want to know the item, color, material it is made from, manufacturer, where you bought it, size, is it for a male or female, when you bought it and what you paid. In addition, you have to have the form notarized. After waiting two weeks to get the form, they give you 45 days from the date of the flight to get your claim in the mail but they say evaluation and resolution of your claim takes a minimum of 3 days. I understand they also depreciate everything, even it is new and unused."
  • FT member Buffaloflyer reports that he was denied curbside checkin less than 30 minutes before departure. This risk is another reason to use the inside lines (see Airport Navigation Tricks) if you're running short of time.

How do I check my bags for a connection on another airline?

  • No can do. You have to pick up your bags and hoof it over to the other airline. This means that you had better allow plenty of time for connections to international flights. Furthermore, if your bags are lost or delayed on the way to your international flight, you may not see them until you get home again.

If my flight is delayed or canceled, will Southwest sign my ticket over to another airline (Rule 240)?

  • No. You may have seen a couple cases of this on A&E TV's Airline, but this is another departure from everyday reality in that "reality" show. To put you on another airline, Southwest would have to buy you a full-fare ticket. This step is not taken without an exceptionally good reason for which Southwest and not the passenger is clearly to blame.

How much compensation will I get for being bumped?

  • Usually the compensation offer is either $100 or $200 plus the face value of your ticket, all in the form of a travel voucher. Compensation will vary depending on next flight availability, irregular operations, and how much they are overbooked. It is customary to offer either $100 or $200 in compensation. Normally if the customer is confirmed on the next flight, they receive $100 plus the face value of their ticket. If an overnight stay is required or no guarantee of another flight, they receive $200 plus the face of their ticket.
  • If a person traveling on a Rapid Reward volunteers, although they will be offered the same $100 or $200 compensation as revenue passengers, the face value of the 1/2 Rapid Reward is treated as $0 - i.e., the 1/2 RR goes away. This is controversial, as some feel that returning the 1/2 RR is equitable when the revenue passenger gets the face value of the ticket returned as part of the package.
  • In the unlikely event that enough people do not volunteer and Southwest denies you boarding involuntarily, your compensation is twice the fare you paid to your next destination, up to a maximum of $800. This amount is cut in half if Southwest gets you on a flight estimated to arrive less than 2 hours later than the flight on which you were denied boarding. If you are bumped involuntarily, you are entitled to cash compensation (actually a check) if you prefer that to a voucher.
  • Compensation vouchers used to be paper, not usable for online purchases. This drastically limited their usefulness, as the best fares are not available by phone. Also, paper travel vouchers are non-transferable. The person named on the voucher needs to go to the airport in person to redeem the voucher, but the traveler can be anyone you like.
  • As of September 2006, bump vouchers are electronic travel credits called LUV vouchers, fully usable online.
  • You get the PFC waived if you're purchasing with paper vouchers, but once you introduce ticketed funds and/or cash, you've got to pay the added tax. (wiki readers please report whether or not this is the case for electronic vouchers)

Does Southwest cancel flights when they are too lightly loaded?

  • Yes, sort of. More precisely, given that a flight needs to be canceled (equipment shortage), Southwest typically selects the least loaded flight as the one to cancel. They would be foolish to do otherwise. All airlines do this, but Southwest is much more likely than other airlines to shift the cancellation to a lightly loaded flight, because on Southwest all the planes are interchangeable.
  • Customers accurately perceive a tendency to cancel lightly loaded flights. What they fail to notice is the resulting lower percentage of cancellation on heavily loaded flights.


Does Southwest offer priority boarding to its best customers?

  • This topic came up regularly on FT until November 8, 2007. Back in the stone ages, getting a good seat required arrival at the gate approximately an hour before departure and standing in a long line for a plastic boarding card numbered 1 to 137. You might stand for 30 to 45 minutes before getting your boarding card, then you could either sit down or join a disorganized mob ready to assault the gate when the agent called for the first, second, third, and sometimes fourth boarding group (30 per group).
  • When Southwest introduced kiosks, A/B/C group boarding, and Internet check-in, the check-in and boarding process became incomparably more civilized. Savvy customers checked in online, getting an A boarding pass almost every time. Then they could have a seat until most of the A's were already boarded. There was no need to wait in line unless you wanted an extra-special seat.
  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced the A-List, offering priority boarding for frequent flyers, and Business Select, offering priority boarding for a premium fare.
  • On September 2, 2009, Southwest introduced Early Bird Check In (EBCI), offering the ability to automatically check-in at T-36 (and thus secure the lowest available boarding position at the time of purchase) for $10 per one-way flight.

How does priority boarding work?

  • Business Select customers get boarding passes A1 through A15, in order of ticket purchase. (If Southwest expects the flight to have a high number of through passengers, Business Select will not be offered and there will be 60 A's available for A-list, EBCI, and OLCI passengers.)
  • The Business Select boarding slots are held until departure, so you can get one of them any time until boarding starts or until they are sold out. If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats.
  • Business Select customers board after pre-boarders but before everyone else. Because families no longer pre-board, and because pre-boarders are not allowed to sit in the exit rows, you will have some excellent seats to choose from.
  • Customers on the A-List are automatically checked in for their flights ahead of everyone else, receiving boarding passes A16 and up (i.e., starting at end of the group of boarding pass numbers allocated to Business Select). Most flights can be expected to have fewer than 5 A-Listers.
  • On September 2, 2009, Southwest introduced Early Bird Check In (EBCI). For a $10 fee, customers can be automatically checked in immediately after A-Listers, before those using T-24 OLCI have the opportunity to secure a boarding position.

How does Business Select boarding work?

  • On November 8, 2007, Southwest introduced Business Select, offering priority boarding for a premium fare.
  • Business Select fares allow you to board in one of the first 15 slots. The earliest purchaser boards first. These slots are held until departure, so you can get one of them any time until boarding starts or until they are sold out.
  • If a flight is expected to carry a large number of through passengers, Business Select may not be offered on that flight. Southwest's rationale is that early boarders may not have a sufficient choice of good seats.
  • Business Select includes two other benefits: a free drink onboard and bonus Rapid Rewards credit: 0.25 credits for a flight under 750 miles, and 1.0 extra credit for a flight of 750 miles or more. The drink coupon that prints with your Business Select Boarding Pass is only valid for the day of travel. As of August 1, 2010 you can no longer save the drink coupon for use on a later date.

I already have a B or C boarding pass. Is there any way to get an A?

  • Each boarding pass shows your check-in sequence number, up to 137 (the number of seats on all but a few of Southwest's planes) in addition to the letter. If someone is removed from the flight (e.g., catches an earlier flight), their sequence number is put back in the pool. If you happen to check in immediately afterwards, you may draw an "A" or "B" even though the person ahead of you got a "C".
  • On routes where there are many flights (probably won't work for you on MCI-DAL), there is a trick to "upgrade" to an A. Starting around 15-20 minutes before a flight before yours on the same route is scheduled to take off (although really you can try it anytime, but it seems like the largest chance of movement is right before an earlier flight takes off), open up two browsers and in one cancel your boarding pass and in the other re-check-in. If it is a route where there are often many full-fare tickets purchased, there is a good chance that a handful of people will standby/change to an earlier flight and thereby opening up their (possible) A boarding pass for you to snag.
  • There is a slight risk that someone else could come in and snag your B or C during the seconds that you cancel and re-check-in. But that has never happened to me and I've upgraded to an A on 2 of the 4 times I've been stuck with a B or C.
  • Don't try this once you get to an hour before your flight, as you won't be able to re-check-in on-line anymore. You can, however, go to a gate agent and have your boarding pass cancelled and re-issued, possibly snagging an A.

Do I qualify for pre-boarding?

  • As of October 2004, you qualify for pre-boarding if you require physical assistance from a WN employee or have a qualified disability. Examples of qualified disabilities include, but are not limited to, Customers who require the use of a wheelchair, mobility device, cane, walker, etc. One other person can pre-board with you.
  • You qualify for mid-boarding (between the A's and the B's) if your party includes at least one child under 5 years old. Until October 2, 2007, these families were allowed to pre-board. Flights out of Orlando often had dozens of pre-boarders, causing complaints from people who made the effort to obtain "A" boarding passes. The advent of Business Select made a change absolutely necessary. The change to mid-boarding created much consternation, but after people experienced the new process the complaints died down.
  • Effective August 1, 2005 no Customer who accepts preboarding will be permitted to sit in the Emergency Exit Row. When the first "Non-Preboard" passenger is boarded...the ops agent will scan their boarding card and then return it with the instruction to give it to the "A" Flight Attendant upon boarding. This will signal the F/A that general boarding has begun and passengers may choose exit row seats. Board the flight before that boarding pass comes down and you will not be permitted to sit in the exit row.

How do I play the open seating game? Where is Southwest's "Secret First Class"

  • With the new boarding system that began November 8, 2007, you don't need to stand in line. Just check in online if you can, then have a seat until boarding starts. Any "A" will get you an aisle or window seat if you don't need to be in an exit row or in the front of the plane.
  • On Southwest you can choose your seat on board either by location or by neighbor. If you are boarding late in the B group or early in the C group, you can choose to avoid sitting next to a particular person or you can choose to sit next to someone who interests you. People have met their future spouses on Southwest, as Colleen Barrett wrote in the February 2004 Spirit Magazine:
"We are truly blessed to have Customers who are much more than passengers; they are supporters, friends, and fans. Those Customers consider Southwest as an extension of their personal and/or corporate family. Our low fares and frequent flights allow them to attend college in another city; to commute daily between home and an office in another city; or to provide clients with a personal visit in lieu of a phone call or e-mail. We also hear from Customers telling us that Southwest played Cupid by bringing them together with their future spouses, whom they met during one of our flights (thanks to our "open seating" policy), and our Employees have even been known to be "conspirators" in helping with surprise onboard wedding proposals."
  • Open seating is great if you have kids on a long flight. During boarding, the kids can find other kids their age to sit next to, leaving both sets of parents in peace.
  • What seat locations are the best? If you need to exit quickly, for example for a short connection, you will want a seat near the front. If exit speed is not important to you and if the plane is not going to be full (see next paragraph), you can increase your chance of having an empty middle seat by sitting farther back in the cabin.
  • Southwest's "Secret First Class" is located just aft of the exit row. Selecting a seat in that area (rows 13 through 17 on most Southwest airplanes) gives you the highest probability of having an empty middle seat. Why? Passengers wanting an aisle or window seat or overhead bin space will walk all the way to the back of the cabin, hoping for success. If they don't find what they are looking for, they will turn around and take the first decent middle seat. Only rarely will they walk all the back to row 15.
  • Knowing the expected number of empty seats on flight can influence your seating strategy. If you can find out the passenger count you can calculate the expected number of empty seats. Although you can ask a gate agent, ops agent, or the flight attendant at the door how many people are on the flight, the answer will generally be too vague (or too stale) to be useful. A more reliable approach is to read the monitor used by the person scanning boarding passes. The four columns on the screen are: Boarding Passes Issued, Through Passengers, Local Passengers, and Total on Board. The last two columns count up as the boarding passes are scanned. The number you want is the sum of the first two columns. (For an originating flight it's just the first column, because the second column is zero.) Subtract the expected number of passengers from either 137 (most flights) or 122 (in the case of a flight utilizing one of the 25 737-500 aircraft) to come up with the expected number of vacant seats.
  • If you are a very attractive female, your chance of having an empty middle seat on a nearly full flight is approximately zero. If your flight has more than 110 passengers, you might want to delay boarding until the middle of the B's, then select a middle seat. This way you, not they, control who you sit next to.
  • On a full flight there are three sections for drink service, starting at rows 1, 9, and 17. Those are the best rows if you need a drink quickly.
  • When the aisle seats are all taken, it's time to play "Unite the Couple". As you walk down the aisle look for what appears to be a couple in the aisle and window seats. When you ask for the middle, most of the time you will end up with the aisle. This will not work 100% of the time, but is a good tactic to avoid a middle seat in the back. As you scope it out you can usually figure out the couples that are travelling together and trying to protect the middle.
  • While many people like to board as early as possible, it may be better to board at the start of the B group, particularly for "fuller" flights. First, if you don't want to sit near kids, it's better to board AFTER the kids, so you can see where they are seating. Second, if you are flying solo and the flight is close to full (but not full), you can play the "look for the worst middle seat" game. This game involves looking for another solo flyer in the aisle or window. If that person is relatively large or otherwise less than desirable as a seat mate, then grab the open aisle or window seat (it works best if they are in the aisle). Then, when the C group boards, they will be less likely to sit in the middle seat between you and your new friend. Note that this can backfire on you if the flight is completely full, so ask at the gate or listen for the oversold announcement if you're not sure!
  • Prior to August 2006, the overhead bins would often fill up early in the C group, forcing later boarders to check their carry-ons. The new restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags have largely eliminated this problem. So you need not panic about your carry-on if you draw a C boarding pass or if you are flying standby after missing your flight.

What are the aircraft types and what are the differences between them?

  • According to their published data Southwest operates 25 Boeing 737-500s, 172 Boeing 737-300s, and 340 Boeing 737-700s (as of December 31, 2009).
  • The 737-300s (sometimes listed as 733) serve Southwest's short-haul routes and have 137 seats with 32" seat pitch. The "infinite legroom" seat is 12F, and seats 12ABC all have extra legroom.
  • The 737-700s (sometimes listed as 73G), which are a few feet longer than the 737-300s, also have 137 seats in the same arrangement as the 737-300s. The 737-700s serve long-haul flights, but may also appear on short segments just before or after a long haul leg. All 737-700s have winglets that provide net fuel savings on longer flights; winglets are being added to older aircraft during scheduled maintenance cycles. With the same 137 seats, the 737-700s provide about 34" seat pitch, roughly equivalent to United's Economy Plus on most of their aircraft. At row 11 you can tell the difference between types: 737-700s have clear plastic covers over the exit window handles, and 737-300s have no covers on the window handles.
  • The 737-500s (sometimes listed as 735) have only 122 seats. In these aircraft the exit rows are reversed, with the "infinite legroom" seat being 10A. Seats 10DEF all have extra legroom.
  • Seat recline was standardized at 3 inches at the end of 2006.

On board

What food will be served on my flight?

  • On flights up to 600 miles: peanuts.
    • These are currently dry roasted, but Southwest switches to honey roasted and back every year or so.
    • You can have pretzels instead if you like.
    • Southwest makes "every effort to make sure peanuts are not served on flights where someone with an allergy is traveling." If you are allergic they ask that you "please let a Reservation Sales Agent know, so the Crew will be notified." They also "suggest taking early morning flights before the plane has been in service and nuts have been served onboard."
  • On nonstop segments from 601 to 1270 miles: a snack appropriate for the time of day (e.g., a cereal bar for breakfast, pretzels or crackers in the afternoon, etc.).
  • On nonstop segments 1271 or more miles long: several options (such as small bags of peanuts or pretzels and Nabisco snacks such as cookies, cheese-filled crackers, etc.). These are now offered via a "Select-A-Snack" basket the FAs carry up and down the center aisle . Passengers are free to select as many of each type of snack as they like.
  • If your flight is a series of short hops, you may be downright hungry by the time you arrive if you don't pack your own snack.
  • As of April 1, 2010, drink coupons are no longer accepted for Monster energy drinks. However until August 1, 2011 there is an exception for the newest tan-colored coupons that specify "or specialty non-alcoholic drink". Although Flight Attendants have been notified twice of this exception (via their RBF = Read Before Fly memos), many FA's continue to believe that coupons can never be used to purchase Monster energy drinks. Therefore this is a Your Mileage May Vary policy.

What is the "pillow trick"?

  • This has nothing to do with the Mile High Club, but it's still useful information. If the overhead bins are full or nearly full, you can sometimes fit your roller bag in endwise if you insert it wheels up. Then you stuff a coat or something soft under the bag to lift the bag an inch or two above the sill. The door will now close without obstruction. When the bins are totally full, look for a similar bag to turn endwise to make room for yours.
    • Pillows were great for this purpose, but pillows and blankets were removed from Southwest's aircraft on April 29, 2009, ostensibly because of the swine flu scare. The removal was initially supposed to be temporary, but now it's permanent.
    • You don't actually need anything underneath to elevate the bag. An especially savvy flight attendant (or passenger) can simply hold the bottom of the bag up a bit with one hand while lowering the door with the other hand.
    • On the newest aircraft (737-700's) the bins are a tad deeper and will accommodate roller bags endwise without needing the pillow trick.
  • Another trick is the secret release latch under the aisle-facing armrest on some rows of some aircraft. It's on the bottom of the arm toward the rear. Press this latch rearward and the armrest will be free to rotate upward, allowing you to make a quicker exit if you are in a hurry.

Glossary of abbreviations used on the Rapid Rewards forum

Abbreviation Meaning
BP Boarding Pass
BS Business Select (an infelicitous initialism if there ever was one)
CC Capacity Controls
CP Companion Pass (less frequently: Choice Privileges)
CSR Customer Service Representative (Customer Relations department employee; may be used as a more generic term for RSA)
EBCI Early Bird Check In
ECBI Mistyping of EBCI
FA Flight Attendant or Freedom Award
FT Flyer Talk
GA Gate Agent
IB Internet Brands (owner of flyertalk.com)
LEFT Common mistyping of LETF
LETF Leftover Electronic Travel Funds (one of two categories of TTF)
OA Ops (Operations) Agent
OLCI Online Check In
PAX Passenger(s)
PNR Passenger Name Record
PRN Common mistyping of PNR
RBF Read Before Flying (FA advisories)
RR Rapid Rewards
RSA Reservation Sales Agent (Employee who answers the phone when you call the toll free number)
SAAS Sabre reservation system used by Southwest for ticketing
SODA Southwest Operational Disruption Accommodation
SST Southwest Standard Time (the time to which WN's online (WWW) computers are synched)
SWA The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) code for Southwest.
TTF Ticketless Travel Funds
UT Unused Ticket (one of two categories of TTF)
uTTt unused Ticketless Travel tickets (obsolete; see UT)
WGA Wanna Get Away (marketing term for WN's discounted, non-refundable fares)
WUT Wholly Unused Ticket (FT-proposed acronym for uTTt/UT)
WN The IATA (International Air Transport Association) airline code for Southwest. WN is FT geek-speak for SWA.
  • Can't find the abbreviation in the list above? Try the glossary in FlyerTalk's help area.