Why I never fly Southwest


Southwest, AirTran, JetBlue, Ryan Air (Europe), IndiGo (India) – these are all low cost airlines that are focussed on giving cheap airfares with no frills. One of the frills they do not offer is a decent Frequent Flyer program. In some cases there is no program at all. I hence do not fly them. As I mentioned in my article on Maximizing Airline Mile earnings (Part 3 in my series on Economics of Airline Miles), if you have a goal to maximize the airline miles you earn, you should only fly on airlines that earn you miles. Low cost airlines, like Southwest, do not allow you to do so.a blue and orange airplane at an airport

Frequent Flyer Programs:

Southwest does have a frequent flyer program called Rapid Rewards. It is actually a very aggressive program in terms of the rewards it gives. My issue with it is that it limits me to flying only Southwest. I can only earn on Southwest and only redeem on Southwest. Southwest is not the part of any alliance and does not have any airline partners. That is a problem. There are other airlines, even major airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Alaskan Airlines and Emirates that are not in any alliance, but they have an extensive network of airline partners. You can fly any of those partners and earn miles on their program. You also have ability to redeem on some of these partners. As there is usually limited or even no earning of Status Miles under such partnerships, I recommend avoiding flying these airlines too. But to me they are a better option than the low cost airlines that do not have a full featured frequent flyer program.

Price Justification:

The justification these low cost airline have for their lack of a full featured frequent flyer program, is the low cost of their tickets. First of all, price is a feature of the route, the passenger load and seats sold at the time at which you purchase your ticket. On highly competitive routes with decent passenger loads, such as say New York to San Francisco (JFK-SFO), you can always get good prices, unless you buy at the very last minute. On the other hand, routes as Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC (DCA-CLT) are always expensive. It is also a proven fact that whenever a low cost airline like Southwest introduces a new route, all the other full featured airlines that already fly that route, drop their prices to match. VirginAmerica caused routes such as Washington, DC to San Francisco (IAD-SFO) to go to a perennial low. So, when looking at the price, you need to look at what you are getting in return. Other than a comfortable, safe flight, which any decent airline out there will give you, are you earning anything towards a reward from the airline in the future? If you are earning, how Rapidly can you add up the miles towards the Reward? (No pun intended). Are you limited to just one airline or a whole set of airlines that you can fly to continue earning that reward?

At the end of the day, I look at it as a matter of having freedom of choice. I like to have the option to fly multiple airlines and still be able to accumulate miles on one program. Also I want to be able to have a choice of multiple airlines I can redeem my awards on.

Elite Status Miles:

Along the same lines, such airlines do not allow you to earn Elite Status by flying any other airline. If they even do have an Elite Status available thru their program, you can only achieve Elite Status by flying the airline itself. Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue do have a limited Elite Status program. Achieving Elite Status here is achieved based on the revenue spent on the airline, not on miles or segments flown. I compared Southwest’s frequent flyer program’s Elite Status with traditional full featured programs’ Elite Status in my article on the What and How of Elite Status.

Airline Alliances:

If you really want freedom of choice, having a Frequent Flyer program from an airline that is in an Airline Alliance is your best option. I have discussed this in detail in my article describing Airline Alliances. It is the only way to have a large set of airlines (25 for Star Alliance!) that you can earn and redeem miles on; that you can fly and earn Elite Status on and that recognize your Elite Status when you fly any of the airlines in the Alliance.

In conclusion, I have nothing against frill-free airlines like SouthWest, JetBlue, etc. They have an excellent product that has a viable customer base. Quite frankly, it is only some of these low cost airlines that are making a profit in this market. My issue is with the lack of a full featured Loyalty Program. As a Frequent Flyer, I value my Elite Status, my Award Tickets and my Upgrades. When I fly, I want to be rewarded for my loyalty.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment.

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  1. Never fly Southwest (or any of the other airlines)? Too simplistic, IMHO.

    I am a UA 1K and thus mostly fly UA and its partner carriers. But there are certainly cases where it makes more sense to fly a different carrier, even if it means not earning miles. The other day I booked a trip to Vegas (from SFO). Outbound I am going UA, since they were price competitive. On the way back, they were twice as expensive as Virgin America. Southwest was in the same range as Virgin, but required a connection in Phoenix. Guess who got my money. It will be my first trip on Virgin and I am looking forward to it. And I won’t miss the roughly 1000 RDM and 500 EQM (or even the “special” 1K treatment I get as a 1K), given that I save about $100 per person on top of the experience of flying a new/different airline.

  2. Hello Oliver,

    Thanks for sharing. Yes, if you go by my articles title, it does come across as an over simplistic recommendation. I have to admit I use the word ‘never’ in the title for the shock value :). “Don’t fly Southwest unless it is dirt cheap’ just did not have the same punch…

    On the other hand, where you are on your elite qualification will have an impact on your decision process. I would like to know if you had done anything differently if you were 5,000 EQM away from (re)qualifying 1K and were running out flights you were going to take for the rest of year to get there. Would you then not be putting every mile you fly on UA to get to 1K? It would be then a choice between – spend the extra money for a ticket on UA, do an MR or miss 1K, would it not?


  3. Right — there are certainly cases where I’d rather pay an extra $100 to collect 1000 EQM. For me, the Virgin America flight is the first of the year, and it’s impossible to predict at this time whether the 500 EQM I am forgoing will be making a difference at the end of the year. But I am fairly certain that, if push comes to shove, I can buy a cheap and quick MR from SFO to LAX for about that amount of money.

  4. I understand your reasoning, but you’re missing out on a very pleasant flying experience. Southwest is one of the best domestic airlines I’ve had the pleasure of flying.

  5. I only fly Southwest – no baggage fees and if we have to make changes, not additional fees for that. The money we save on no baggage fees almost pays for another ticket on its own!

  6. Amy, Thanks for sharing. I agree with your reasoning on baggage fees, but they do not impact everyone. As an Elite, one is exempt from baggage fees anyways. For people who travel a lot and are Elites, the benefits of Elite status and the ability to earn or redeem miles on international travel and upgrades, trumps free bags on domestic flights.

  7. I live in Kansas City but I’m from New Jersey and regularly fly into Philadelphia. US Airways was always the right choice for my loyalty until Southwest began serving PHL. There is simply no comparison between US Airways and Southwest when you consider the value of the SWA Companion Pass add to that the availability of rewards using as few as 12,000 points round trip and it makes connecting tolerable. Such a great value!

  8. I have been a loyal Southwest flyer for over 8 years now, only about once a year flying any other airline. After being mistreated by Delta one too many times in Atlanta, I decided to go to an airline that actually cared about having me as a customer. It’s pretty funny now that over a meal voucher Delta lost a customer that flies 60-70 flights a year. I really understand why Southwest is the airline of LUV! In regards to the Rapid Rewards program, I earn more than enough points throughout the year only through flying (no credit cards, etc…) to fly my family of four on multiple vacations per year without any cost. I will be a Southwest customer for life.

  9. You are not correct. When you get a fare on Southwest that clearly saves you $100 or more round trip AND no luggage charges–you take it
    and screw the miles. The few miles you would have earned on another airline paying MORE money for the flight and luggage charges is just not worth it.

  10. @Herman the frog, thanks for sharing your view on miles vs. $$ saved. We are look at this differently.

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