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All the Changes Coming to Southwest Airlines in 2024

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A new year is just around the corner, and that usually means change. In the travel world, the airline my family flies most – Southwest Airlines – has already announced a number of changes, differences, and new rules coming in 2024.

If you plan to fly Southwest Airlines in the the coming months, what differences do you need to be on the lookout for? What are the new benefits that may improve your flying experience or save you money? And are there any steps you should be taking now to mitigate the negative effects of less favorable policy modifications?

Southwest Airlines Planes at Airport Gate

Here is an overview of all the recent changes the airline has made as well as a complete list of all the Southwest Airlines changes coming soon in 2024.

What Was New with Southwest in 2023?

As you may remember (and may desperately want to forget!), the 2022 holiday travel season for Southwest was a really rough one. My own family flew Southwest across the country last December too. We had some significant delays on one direction of our trip, but luckily avoided the major multi-day meltdown that many customers experienced.

Related: Complete Guide to Flying Southwest with Kids

To its credit, Southwest really doubled down on making things right for passengers in 2023 once the dust settled. As a traveler who is on Southwest’s website almost daily and who flies the airline at least one roundtrip a month, I saw many of these changes roll out firsthand and have already taken advantage of a number of them.

If you haven’t flown the airline or booked a flight in the last several months, here are all the 2023 features that may be new to you:

Website & App Enhancements

The airline invested in IT improvements that have been steadily rolling out all year. A lot of these have been minor unless you are a heavy user of the site, but the sum total is that they make it much easier for customers to search, book, change travel plans, keep track of flight credits, and more. Any time you don’t have to call an airline call center, I call that a win!

Helpful features on the website or in the official Southwest app added this year include:

Southwest Airlines Screenshot Search Flights at Multiple Airports
  • Searching Flight Options from Multiple Airports in a Region: Southwest serves several airports in a single region in some locations – like my home turf in the San Francisco Bay Area at OAK, SFO, and SJC. You can now run searches to and from these multiple co-located airports all at one time!
  • Make Changes to Just One Person on a Multi-Passenger Booking: We often book flights for my family but then later have to cancel or change the booking for just one person. It used to be that you had to call Southwest to make changes for just one person on a multi-person itinerary, but now it’s possible to do that yourself on the website.
  • Cancel One Leg of a Roundtrip: It’s now also possible to cancel just one flight of a roundtrip booking on the website. As with multi-passenger bookings, previously this could only be done by calling the airline.
  • Pre-adding Checked Bags to Reservations: When you check in for a Southwest flight on the website or in the app less than 24 hours in advance, passengers are prompted with a new feature that enables them to digitally add checked bags to their booking to save time at the airport.
  • Checked Bag Tracking: Yes, I know Southwest is late to this party, but you can now also track any of your checked bags in the app to make sure they are arriving at the same destination you are/
  • Purchasing Upgraded Boarding: Customers who want to pay for priority A1-A15 boarding can now do it digitally up to 24 hours in advance instead of waiting in line at the gate.
  • Researching on the Website by Vacation Type: Sometimes you know what kind of vacation you want to take – beach, ski, etc. – but you don’t quite know where to go. The website now lets you put in your home airport and then get suggestions based on vacation type.
Southwest Airlines Screenshot Search for Vacation Destination Ideas

WiFi & Power Upgrades & Drawbacks

Southwest finally jumped on the connectivity bandwagon in 2023 and started addressing some important in-flight tech deficiencies: WiFi and power. While Southwest has offered in-flight WiFi for many years, it’s been slower and spottier than many competitors. And the airline hasn’t had power outlets or USB ports on its all Boeing 737 fleet at all!

New aircraft added to the fleet in 2023 are all being delivered with USB-A and USB-C ports as well as a new speedier WiFi provider. Older aircraft won’t get the port upgrades, but nearly all older aircraft now have upgraded faster WiFi. The projected completion date for the WiFi upgrades is by year’s end. I’ve personally noticed quite a bit better connectivity and faster speeds on balance this year.

One negative side effect of this upgrade (specifically, the use of two different providers), however, was that Southwest changed its WiFi pricing in early 2023. While the airline used to offer $8 all day WiFi, the price is now $8 per flight segment. So for now, connecting passengers have to pay more if they want to be connected all trip.

My hack? If you fly Southwest a lot, get the Southwest Priority Business Credit Card which comes with 365 WiFi credits a year. Even charging the cost of WiFi on several segments across multiple devices, my family doesn’t even come close to maxing that out. See my comparison guide to Southwest credit card offerings for more details.)

Southwest Flight Schedules Released Farther in Advance

Southwest Airlines Screenshot of Schedule Release Dates

Southwest used to be notoriously tardy in releasing its flight schedules more than about 4-6 months in advance. The practice lead to a lot of frustrations for advance planners everywhere, especially now that Southwest is serving farther flung destinations like the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii! Some travelers inevitably went ahead and booked on other airlines if they spotted a good price so as not to miss out.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about Southwest Flights to Hawaii

In 2023, Southwest began releasing flights much farther in advance. It’s still not the full year out that many other airlines release, but it’s much closer. As of the date this article is being published, Southwest already has flight schedules on sale through August 4, 2023. In just a few days, schedules through early October are due to be released. That means you can now make Southwest travel plans nearly 10 months in advance in some instances!

One negative I’ve noticed is that this shift has led to fewer flight deals on schedule release days. It used to be that savvy Southwest flyers who jumped on the website in the wee morning hours of a schedule release day could snag some great deals. I’m seeing fewer and fewer deep discounts on those dates (although there are plenty of Southwest sales at other times to watch for to snag low prices).

Free Same Day Standby for Wanna Get Away Fares

Over the summer, Southwest improved on the flexibility of its cheapest fares by introducing Free Same Day Standby. Previously, customers would need to pay a fare difference if they had booked a Wanna Get Away fare and wanted to take an earlier flight.

Related: 7 Things that are Free on Southwest Airlines

This is such a great benefit for travelers (like me!) who fly short trips between frequently served routes who are nimble with just a carry on bag. There are definitely times I’ve gotten to the airport early enough to take the earlier flight.

Now, if there is a seat available, passengers of every fare type can snag it with no extra fee charged. And there’s no downside for passengers paying higher fares or who have Southwest’s elite status (A-List or A-List Preferred) because they are higher on the standby priority list.

(Note that Southwest does charge a fare difference for same day confirmed flight changes on Wanna Get Away fares only.)

Family Boarding Experiments

Kids Boarding Southwest Airplane

While not exactly an official change, a lot of Southwest frequent flyers – myself included – began noticing some changes in how Southwest administers family boarding this past year.

Southwest officially allows families with kids ages 6 and under to board between Boarding Groups A and B. This policy helps families with little ones secure seats together during the open boarding process without needing to pay an extra fee. Although mine are too old now for family boarding, it gave us peace of mind for many years knowing we would not be separated from our kids.

Some time this year, Southwest added this language to its website:

If you are traveling with a child age seven to 13 years old:

If you need and request assistance, Southwest will endeavor to seat a child next to one accompanying passenger (14 and older) to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.

Families can speak to Gate Agents or Flight Attendants to request assistance.

https://www.southwest.com/help/day-of-travel/boarding-process

It’s not an official extension of family boarding to all, but certainly families with older children with special needs should make sure to take advantage.

And on at least two occasions this past year, I personally heard gate agents announce that families with older kids could board during family boarding (at Oakland in January, I heard under age 13 and at Seattle in August, I heard 10 and under). Several other reports have corroborated this and other family boarding tweaks that the airline may be unofficially experimenting with. While it’s nothing that family travelers can count on, I’ll certainly be continuing to monitor news on this policy into 2024 at the very least!

Changes Coming in 2024 for Southwest Airlines Customers

Southwest Airlines Airport Ticket Counter and Kiosks

As you can see, there were a lot of changes – major and minor – this past year. And even more changes are coming in the new year. Here are the ones that Southwest has announced so far for 2024.

Rapid Rewards Elite Status Changes

A few weeks ago, Southwest announced improvements to its airline loyalty program, Rapid Rewards. Some of these are of more niche appeal to its more frequent flyers chasing status, but they are generally quite positive across the board.

The ones to note (all of which go into effect January 1, 2024) are as follows:

  1. Credit card spending gets customers to tier status 2 times faster: All spending put on (most) Southwest credit cards is now worth 2 times more than it previous was towards Southwest elite status qualification. For every $5000 spent, card holders get 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) towards A-List and A-List Preferred status. Note that this benefit applies to all card except the lowest annual fee Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card.
  2. Fewer flights Needed for A-List status: Southwest is lowering the required number of one-way flights needed to get A-List status from 25 to 20 (or 35,000 tier qualifying points).
  3. Fewer flights Needed for A-List Preferred status: Southwest is lowering the required number of one-way flights needed to get A-List Preferred status from 50 to 40 (or 70,000 tier qualifying points).

Cash and Points Bookings are Coming!

Southwest Airlines Cash and Points Bookings

Many travel loyalty programs – especially hotel brands – allow customers to use both cash and points to make a single reservation. To date, Southwest has only allowed its customers to use one or the other to book a flight.

For travelers who don’t quite have enough Rapid Rewards points for a flight (or maybe not enough for the whole family), this creates complications. I know I have personally booked members of my family on separate bookings to redeem points for some of us while spending cash on others. This means we have different reservation numbers, making it harder and more time-consuming to check-in (and if you fly Southwest, you know how important checking in at 24 hours before a flight is!).

But that’s about to change. Some time in spring 2024 TBD, Southwest will be debuting a cash + points booking option. There are no other details so far other than that these redemptions start as low as 1000 points. So no promises that it solves all these kinds of complications, but it’s a step in the right direction to give customers even more flexibility.

Rapid Rewards Points Devaluation

Of course, it can’t all be good news. While many of these Rapid Rewards program changes are generally positive for Southwest travelers, Southwest has some bad news in the mix too.

Starting January 1, 2024, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards points will be worth 4% less (H/T to Frequent Miler). Yep, Southwest will be charging more points for fares that have the exact same dollar value as they did in 2023. This is the second time post-pandemic that the airline has devalued Rapid Rewards points.

Mercifully, Southwest gave customers some advance notice of this change. And that means that there is still time to book flights at the higher points rate until year’s end! If you have trips you are likely to take in 2024, now is the time to use points – instead of cash – to make the booking. Since Rapid Rewards points are fully refundable, there is no harm in booking even tentative trips to lock in the better points redemption rate. I know I personally plan to spend some time over the holidays spending down my own balances as much as possible!

Even with this devaluation, I still think that Rapid Rewards is an excellent airline loyalty program. It’s especially ideal for families due its flexibility. Nevertheless, this change is a good reminder – don’t hold on to large stashes of airline miles for a long period of time because they never become worth more!

What Southwest changes are most helpful to you? Any other modifications you are hoping for in 2024?

Southwest Airlines has made a number of changes in 2023, with more coming in 2024. Get a download of all the modifications to the airline's rules, perks, Rapid Rewards program, and more.

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