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

Feb 17, 2021

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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.

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

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

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 20% statement credit on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi purchased with the card.

Right now, you can earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months and earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year on either 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 photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images 

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

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