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Is Southwest Airlines Raising Service Fees?

The stalwart low cost U.S. carrier may—or may not—be raising fees on some services

by Lark Gould

July 5, 2023

Photo: Houston Hobby. Courtesy of Stephen M. Keller, Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines celebrated its 52nd anniversary last month—and the date gives flyers a chance for a long look back at the pesky airline entrant that started a movement and continues to keep a steadfast profile as a low-cost carrier.

Low-cost, trans-continental air transport has been on a roll since those mid-late century days. And during those years, Southwest has survived a steady wave of mergers, shut-downs, and shake-ups in the airline industry. Through it all, Southwest continues to offer its trademark perks: no charge for the first two bags and no charge for choosing seats, as seats are never assigned. But some of its ancillary cost benefits may be going away.

A recent employee memo leaked to Gary Leff, founder of online airline watcher View From The Wing shows that some secondary services may be seeing fee spikes at the once upstart carrier. And although none are dramatic rises or moves that will raise eyebrows or cause customers to go elsewhere, they are significant to note.

Also note: these changes are not policy at this time and may not become policy at the airline.

  • Third and beyond checked bag goes from $75 to 125.
  • Overweight bags go from $75 for up to 100 pounds to $100 for up to 70 pounds or $125 for up to 100 pounds.
  • Oversized bags go from $75 to $125.
  • Unaccompanied minor fees go from $50 to $100.
  • Pets go from $95 to $125 per carrier without changing intra-Hawaii pet fees.

Good Reasons to Fly ‘Luv’

However, Southwest still offers plenty of reasons for passengers to get on board and for frequent flyers to rack up those Rapid Rewards. Unlike other legacy carriers, Southwest does not charge customers to check a first—or second—bag. Others might point to Southwest for its seemingly more democratic stance on seats.

The plane offers only one class, and the seats up front are just as large (or small) as the seats in the back. And that seat on its most new and upgraded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will be one of 175 seats, each offering a now generous 32-inch pitch that is an easy two extra inches more than most airlines offer in economy class without paying any added “premium seat” fees.

The only thing a passenger might pay extra for is a better placement in line to board. Southwest does allow passengers to upgrade their spot at home (upon checking in 24 hours earlier) or at the airport at a cost that can run up to $60 for a position within the first 15 regular boarders—and the price includes premium drinks on most flights.

Photo: Courtesy of Southwest Airlines / Stephen M. Keller

You can pay for that privilege in cash and get 12x points for the trouble – or you can get a premium Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card and receive upgrades as part of the perks plan.

As another plus, those Rapid Rewards points never expire. The company frequently releases seats at affordable point values—a recent nonstop cross-country trip from LAX to BWI cost this writer 6,100 points or around $80 in cash terms. Southwest flyers get numerous notices each month on extreme discount opportunities and ways to raise their point totals.

And while food onboard is limited to a few high-calorie snacks, it does offer worthy inflight entertainment on its free Wi-Fi system (to email, text, and gain internet access, it will cost a minor fee) for those who connect through their own devices.

Staff is usually friendly, and those seats are comfortable enough, but if you are stuck in the middle of the row, no one will bother you if you decide to make a last-minute switch to another, as all unoccupied seats on that flight are game.

Expanded Flight Schedule

For those flyers who can see ahead to their next travel needs, the airline last week opened its schedule to allow customers to book through March 6, 2024, and snag the best fares.

Southwest also added new seasonal nonstop service between Omaha and Fort Lauderdale on Saturdays starting January 13, and daily service routes begin around that time, namely between Dallas and Fort Myers and between Dallas and Palm Springs.

The airline will also bring back routes linking cities across the United States to many Florida destinations beginning January 13, 2024:

  • Albany, N.Y. and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Fla.
  • Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Fla.
  • Buffalo, N.Y. and Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Louisville, Ky. and Fort Myers, Fla
  • Providence, R.I. and Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Cleveland and Tampa, Fla.
  • Cincinnati and Orlando, Fla.
  • Detroit and Orlando, Fla.
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul and Orlando, Fla

Southwest will offer weekly service on Saturdays between:

  • Hartford, Conn. and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Fla.
  • Grand Rapids, Mich. and Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Washington, D.C. (Reagan National) and Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul and Tampa, Fla