Why I Don't Think Southwest Airlines Is As Good As People Think
September 9, 2016
I have a Twitter poll running right now (@MileageMayhem) asking for my readers' favorite domestic airline.
The overwhelming results indicate Southwest is the most popular, with 62% of the votes.
Look, I understand why certain parts of Southwest's experience are attractive to an infrequent traveler, but I am consistently astounded by how many people prefer Southwest to any other airline.
In this post I will discuss the reasons I often hear that people fly Southwest and try and show you why you may be better flying another airline.
Why People Love Southwest
Bags Fly Free!
The first thing people say when I ask them why they fly Southwest is the most confusing and least valuable benefit to me personally. However, I understand why it is valuable as checked bag fees can reach up to $50 per bag.
To me, if you're traveling for less than five days you should be able to fit into a carry-on. If you can't, please try.
Most airlines' co-branded credit cards come with first checked bag free, like American's Platinum Select Mastercard, so this shouldn't be an issue on other airlines either.
No Change Fees!
Again, I understand the merit here, but how often have you needed to change a flight? In my entire life I think I've needed to change a flight once or twice.
If you find yourself needing to change flights often then obviously this has more value, but if you're a leisure travel and your dates are set in stone, this really shouldn't factor into your decision.
The fares are cheaper!
To quote Dwight Schrute, "False."
Dwight thinks this is bogus.
Let's look at an example:
Pretend you're a friend of mine from Nashville coming to visit me in Dallas and you're between Southwest and American for travel between Friday, December 9 and Sunday December 11.
Southwest's cheapest option is the following:
Depart BNA 8:00am
Arrive DAL 10:00am
Depart DAL 9:25am
Arrive BNA 11:05am
American's offering is the following:
Depart BNA 9:34am
Arrive DFW 11:35am
Depart DFW 2:29pm
Arrive BNA 4:08pm
As you can see, American has the advantage on price (admittedly negligible) and schedule as I think AA's flight times are much better. SWA's flights were as much as $50 more at different times of the day.
Even looking at a non-American hub like Atlanta where Delta has a stronghold, American was half the price of Southwest with both requiring a connection.
This is not an isolated occurrence. I consistently find fares that beat SW.
I can pick my seat!
You can pick your seat on every airline. And no, I don't include discount carriers like Spirit because you should never fly them.
Seriously, don't fly Spirit. Ever.
I know the theory behind why people like this feature, but do you really want to have to schedule your entire day around being able to check in exactly 24 hours before your flight? Slip up one time and forget and you're stuck in a middle seat.
I would rather know which seat I am going to get every time.
It's just so easy!
I hear this often but I don't exactly know why. Again, if you're having to cancel your flight or change your flight, I absolutely agree. But that is just not enough for me to fly SW over a legacy carrier.
Why I Dislike Southwest
Yes, it's a pretty straightforward program and it's relatively easy to earn free flights, but that's not what I shoot for.
You have no flexibility with your points since you can't transfer them anywhere and you can't book partner awards for a badass first class flight.
Return on my investment
Similar to the above category, if I spend money with an airline or hotel, I want it to eventually pay off in both something free and with extra attention/service. Yes, I realize that probably makes me a snob.
Regardless, I don't like the thought that someone who spends a boatload of money with a company continues to get the same treatment as everyone else. They should be rewarded. They should get a different section of the plane. They should get a better seat. They should get better food and drink. They earned it.
I don't like being herded onto the plane and having to stand up in line next to a pole. I realize American's boarding process isn't much better if you're in the later boarding groups, but I like boarding with other Priority Access/AAdvantage Gold members. Generally it's a smoother onboarding as elite travelers know the drill a little better. It's a dice roll with SW. This goes back to my return on investment. If I'm giving you my business I want to be treated specially.
SW operates only Boeing 737 air crafts. This was a genius move as it greatly reduced costs of training crew and maintenance, allowing them to turn planes around quicker. I applaud this move.
BUT, I also dislike their planes as they are boring and most are outdated. If I'm going to fly I want the plane to be cooler than my base model Ford Escape.
Most people couldn't care less about the plane they're flying on, but the more you experience the more you appreciate the small design features.
The oddest part about the Southwest loyalty from people is that most don't even know about Southwest's best perk, which is the ability to re-book flights when the price drops and gain the difference as a credit.
Southwest definitely has its place in the airline industry, and I know it serves a particular group of travelers, but I want my readers to understand all of their options and to make the most informed choice when flying. You don't want to make a short-sighted decision based on an event that may or may not happen.
Remember to look at all aspects of a fare, and remember to start thinking with your mileage goals in mind!