Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $5,000 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.
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 photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees