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Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

Feb. 17, 2021
7 min read
Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best
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Editor's Note

/strong> It's no surprise that TPG writers and editors have favorite airlines. So we decided to do a battle that covers the top four U.S. carriers. Check out the Sept. 9 episode of the "Miles Away" podcast to hear us defend our airlines. And click on the links below to read which airlines we chose and why. This story has been updated. 

Editor's note: It's no surprise that TPG writers and editors have favorite airlines. So we decided to do a battle that covers the top four U.S. carriers. Check out the Sept. 9 episode of the "Miles Away" podcast to hear us defend our airlines. And click on the links below to read which airlines we chose and why. This story has been updated.

Further reading: Podcast: TPG staffers debate their favorite airlines

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think American Airlines is the best

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Delta Air Lines is the best

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think United Airlines is the best

TPG Senior Credit Cards Editor Benét J. Wilson makes the case for why Southwest Airlines is the best, after taking years of 'abuse' -- especially from TPG staffers -- for showing the love to her favorite carrier.

Related: Best U.S. airlines of 2020: Who’s doing it right in the COVID era

A Southwest Boeing 737 at Baltimore/Washington Airport after arriving from Houston. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)

The "crazy" boarding process. The absence of assigned seats (even in a pandemic). No business class or airport lounges. The wisecracking and occasionally singing flight attendants. The pre-boarding cattle call. I've heard it all, people, and I don't care — Southwest is my favorite airline, hands down.

I need an airline that gets me from Point A to Point B at a good fare, on time and safely — and Southwest does that. Call me crazy, but I also want to fly on an airline that makes me feel that they really appreciate my business. Southwest does that too. And then there are these four magic words — two free checked bags.

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Although the airline’s on-time performance isn’t what it used to be in the 1990s when it was winning all those triple-crown awards for on-time performance, best baggage handling and fewest customer complaints, 86% of its flights still arrived on time as of November 2020, according to the Southwest.

Southwest offers Wi-Fi at a very reasonable $8 a day and its Wi-Fi is much more reliable than it used to be. If you fly out of Baltimore in the morning for a work trip to Boston and fly home in the afternoon, you won't have to pay for Wi-Fi again. Plus there's free access to text messages via iMessenger or WhatsApp.

If you don't need to surf online, you can just bring your device of choice — smartphone, tablet or laptop — to watch live and recorded television along with the latest movies — all for free. I use my frequent Southwest flights to catch up on all the movies I've missed. Just remember to either charge your device fully before boarding or carry your own charger.

I cannot remember the last time I flew with a crew that wasn’t courteous and fun — plus, I like those attempts at humor, no matter how corny they are. Can you imagine most other airlines' flight attendants doing that? No.

Flexibility

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

I don’t usually check bags unless I’m traveling with my teenage daughter (who made Southwest A-List status at the tender age of 16 months), but it’s nice that I don’t have to worry about adding $60 in bag fees on top of my very reasonable airfares.

I sometimes need to make changes on my flights and I can do it easily online without worrying about paying those pesky change fees (although there is sometimes a fare difference). If I have to cancel a flight, I receive a credit and I typically have one year to rebook — again, with no pesky change fees. And these aren't new-fangled pandemic-era temporary flexibilities -- it's just always how Southwest operates.

Flight options

I’m normally based in Baltimore, and Southwest has plenty of flights to all the places I go, including nonstops to San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Antonio, Boston and Atlanta. I’ve also taken advantage of the carrier’s international flights to the Bahamas, Havana, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Montego Bay.

Bahamas (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Because I have A-List status, I’m allowed to stand by on flights earlier or later the same day if seats are available. That has saved me money, since Southwest Airlines does charge the fare difference if you want to get on another same-day flight. And those same-day fare differences can be pricey.

Even if I make a change and lose my prized A boarding pass, I don't have to worry about receiving the dreaded C boarding pass, since my A-List status allows me to board right after the A boarding group. There are usually still plenty of my beloved aisle seats plus overhead bin space, which is a big plus.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Charge your way to status

When I had my Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, I used it to charge all my flights, along with the airline’s hotel and car-rental partners. I signed up for the Southwest shopping plug-in and joined the dining program to further build up my Rapid Rewards points. I also looked forward to earning my 6,000 annual bonus Rapid Rewards points.

If I were to ever go back to a Southwest credit card, I would definitely switch to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, since, thanks to a $75 annual Southwest credit, its effective annual fee is actually lower than the Premier card ($149 minus the value of the travel credit). Plus it comes with better perks, including 7,500 points every card anniversary, four upgraded boarding passes a year and a 25% statement credit on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi purchased with the card.

Right now, you can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

Related: Best credit cards for Southwest flyers

Frequent flyer downsides

While Rapid Rewards has extremely good award seat availability (if a seat is open for sale with cash, it’s yours with points) and simple redemption options, you are tied to Southwest's network as there aren't partners to speak of, unlike with many other U.S. carriers.

However, if you have your heart set on seeing the Eiffel Tower, you do have the option to use your Rapid Rewards points to book that flight to Paris via the More Rewards section on the Southwest Airlines website. However, be warned that the redemption rate is well below what you'd get by just staying within the Southwest route network.

If I were to nitpick, I wish Southwest’s Wi-Fi were a little more robust. I also wish that its fleet of Boeing 737s had outlets to charge electronics so I wouldn’t have to carry my heavy-duty brick charger to keep my iPad and iPhone charged for longer flights. But in the end, there’s far more for me to like than not like with Southwest Airlines and they are unquestionably my favorite airline.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards

1 - 5X points
5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
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Earn 150,000 points120,000 points
The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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$695

Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
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  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
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4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.