Southwest Airlines has long been an industry favorite for its often lower fares and some of its standard inclusions on each ticket—including an astonishing two bags checked for free for every passenger. At Scott's Cheap Flights, we're big fans, particularly for some of the airlines rock bottom flights to Hawaii.
For any Southwest newbie, however, there may be a little initial shock when boarding begins, as there’s no assigned seating and passengers can just claim any empty seat. Every seat is the same (the entire plane is economy class), but you get to board earlier if you pay the higher “Business Select” fare.
We say this frequently when discussing Southwest (and yes, you’ll see it later in this article), but it’s important enough that we’re going to emphasize it here at the outset.
Southwest Airlines strictly prohibits the use of “automatic device, program, algorithm, or methodology” tool to pull any information from the Southwest site to another site.
In other words, every tool that OTAs use to gather and display ticket information to you are designated as off-limits by Southwest, so Southwest fares will never show up on any other site than the official Southwest Airlines site.
The good news comes in two parts. First, you’ll learn exactly how to find Southwest’s best fares in this article. And second, SCF includes Southwest deals in its member emails, making it even easier to find them.
How to find the best Southwest Airlines deals
We’re so accustomed to being able to see multiple flight options at once on a wide variety of airlines by looking at online travel agency (OTA) sites that it’s easy to forget there’s a big player missing from every one of those search results: Southwest Airlines.
As mentioned, Southwest doesn’t send its fares to any of the OTAs or search sites like Google Flights. Their cheap fares aren’t hard to find, mind you, doing so just requires an extra search on the Southwest site itself.
It’s also worth noting here that while most airlines have flight calendars that go out as far as 11 months ahead of today’s date, Southwest handles things a little differently. There’s no set time frame of how many months in advance they’ll allow you to book a trip, though the furthest future date is usually about seven months out, and they release fares periodically in batches. As you’ll see in the screenshots below, the date through which Southwest is currently booking tickets is visible on the search screen.
What is the Southwest Low Fare Calendar?
Southwest Airlines’ Low Fare Calendar works basically the same way other calendar search tools on other OTAs do, in that it displays a month-by-month calendar with the starting price of airline tickets on each day. This makes it easy to see which dates have the cheapest departure and return fares.
How to use the Southwest Low Fare Calendar to find the cheapest dates
There are two ways to access the Low Fare Calendar. From the main Southwest page, you’ll see there’s a link for the Low Fare Calendar underneath the “Depart” and “Arrive” search boxes.
Clicking on that link opens a new tab on your browser. Enter the departure city and airport (if it’s not already filled in based on your location) plus the arrival city and airport. Date selection is limited to a month-long window for both the departure and return dates. To change the month you start with, click in the “Depart Month” box.
Note the small text to the left of the yellow “Search” button. This tells you how far in advance Southwest is currently booking flights, so if your trip is for after the date listed you’ll need to check back at a later time.
You can adjust the number of passengers for the trip on this screen. And, using the options above the search fields, you can also switch from a round-trip itinerary to a one-way or multi-city trip. When you’ve customized the search parameters to your liking, click the yellow “Search” button.
The first results page displays the calendar months you chose on the previous page for your departure and return dates, with the lowest fare available on each day of that month. You can toggle between different months at the top of each calendar.
The other way to see the Low Fare Calendar is to simply enter a standard flight search on Southwest’s homepage. When you click the yellow “Search” button and are shown the departing and returning flight options, there are tabs at the top of each list for a range of dates. On the right side of the tabs is a green tab that says, “Low Fare Calendar”—which brings you to the same display.
You can also view the calendar options in terms of how many Southwest points you’d need to spend on each day, rather than the dollar amounts for each ticket.
Click on the date you want to start your trip in the “Departs” calendar. This automatically adds the “depart date” to the “Returns” calendar, too.
Click on the date you want to return in the “Returns” calendar. This automatically adds the “return date” to the “Departs” calendar. It also grays out all dates after your return date on the “Departs” calendar, but if you want to change your date selections after your initial choices you can still do that by clicking on a new date in either calendar. When you have the dates you want, click the yellow “Search” button.
The next page shows all the flight options for both the departure and return dates. The list is sorted by departure time as the default, but you can click on the drop-down menu to sort by arrival time, ticket price, flight duration, or the number of stops instead.
There are also three Southwest Fare options for every flight listed—Business Select, Anytime, or Wanna Get Away. You can learn more about each type of fare here.
To choose a departure flight, click on the price in the box under the Southwest Fare category you want. The rest of the departure flights will collapse on the screen so you can more easily see the return flight options. The sorting options are the same for the returns flight, still defaulting to “departure time” even if you changed the sorted method for the departure flight. Here, again, you’ll choose the fare type you want on the flight you want, and then you’ll see only the two flights you chose.
Click the yellow “Continue” button to proceed to the purchase page, where you’ll get a detailed breakdown of the ticket price. And, if you’re not ready to buy, you can click the “Save this flight for later” option to the left of the yellow “Continue” button.
At the top right of the screen, you’ll also see the total cost of the itinerary and an arrow indicating a drop-down menu. Click on that and you’ll see a quick overview of the trip, including the option to “Save flights” rather than purchase and options to “Edit” or “Remove” the flights if you want to make changes or start over.
Other pro Southwest booking tips
Transferring Chase points to use on Southwest
Like many airlines, Southwest has its own credit card that awards members with additional points that can be used toward Southwest flights. Unlike other airlines, however, Southwest also has a partnership with select Chase credit cards that make points earned on the Chase card transferable to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.
This means that if you’ve earned 1,000 points on a Chase card, you can turn it into 1,000 points in your Southwest Rapid Rewards account.
There are three Chase cards included in this partnership arrangement: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Chase Ink Business Preferred. In order to transfer points from Chase to Southwest, you’ll also need a Southwest Rapid Rewards account and at least 1,000 points available for transfer. From your Chase Ultimate Rewards account, navigate to the “Transfer to Travel Partners” option and select Southwest.
As easy as the process is, it’s not always the best way to use your Chase points. Chase points have a higher value when redeemed through Chase’s travel portal than they do when transferred to a travel partner. And while Southwest doesn’t appear on Chase’s website (per the airline’s strict prohibition mentioned in the introduction), cardholders can book Southwest flights using Chase points if they call the Chase Travel Center at (866) 951-6592. This latter option has the added bonus of earning Rapid Rewards points, too.
You can look at both options—transferring Chase points or booking Southwest via Chase’s Travel Center—and do some calculations to verify which is the better deal. But most experts agree that Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred cardholders get more out of their points by transferring them to Southwest, while Sapphire Reserve cardholders get more from their points by booking through Chase.
Rebooking when the price drops
One of Southwest’s standard policies is that they don’t charge a fee to cancel or change your ticket. The only caveat is a tiny one—you can only make said changes up to 10 minutes before departure.
This policy offers peace of mind to anyone whose travel plans might change, of course, but it’s also an easy way to take advantage of a cheaper flight even after you booked your trip.
If the price of the Southwest ticket you bought goes down, you can buy the cheaper ticket and cancel the original ticket for free. The type of refund depends on what fare type you booked and how you paid for it. For Southwest’s nonrefundable Wanna Get Away fares, for instance, the refund comes in the form of Southwest credit called a “Travel Fund.” (The credit does have an expiration date, however, so keep track of that in your Southwest account.) If you booked the trip using Southwest points, your refund will be in the form of points.
Southwest makes it easy to make changes via the “Change Flights” option in your account. You can change multiple flights in an itinerary or just one. Just note that you’ll see flight options listed in terms of the difference in cost or points between the ticket you have and any new ticket. So, if you see a negative number, that’s when you know the newer ticket is a better deal.
The Southwest Companion Pass
Some airlines offer only one or two free tickets to their credit cardholders, but Southwest rewards its frequent flyers with a free (except for taxes and fees) Companion Pass each time they book a flight for a whole year.
In order to qualify for this reward, you must rack up at least “100 qualifying one-way flights” or earn “125,000 qualifying points” during a calendar year. Once you reach this level, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Companion Pass reward for the entire next calendar year, plus whatever remains of the year in which you earned enough points. In addition to flying Southwest, other ways to earn points include using a Southwest credit card, shopping with partners via the Southwest website, dining in Southwest partner restaurants, and booking things like hotels or car rentals through the Southwest website.
Once you’ve achieved Companion Pass status, you need to designate your companion through your Rapid Rewards account via the website or by phone. To use the Companion Pass, you need to book your ticket first. Next, find the flight you just booked in the “My Trips” section of your account and click “Add Companion.” The ticket itself is free, though you’ll need to enter payment information to cover the applicable taxes and fees.
The Companion Pass itself is a physical card with your designated companion’s information on it, so it’s not something you can change with every ticket you buy. Southwest allows up to three changes per year, each of which triggers the creation of a new card.
Note that the companion ticket must be identical to the purchased ticket and both passengers must check in together. You may also be asked to present the Companion Pass card.
Cheap awards flights to Hawaii on Southwest
Southwest’s famously low fares aren’t restricted to the continental US—sometimes the fares on flights to Hawaii from California cost less than 10,000 points (or around $200). Not only that, once you get to the islands you can use Southwest’s inter-island flights to explore further afield for under 5,000 points each way. And, if you’ve got a Companion Pass, it’s an even better deal. Similar tickets on Hawaiian Airlines or JetBlue both cost more.
Racking up Southwest points with hotel stays
Earning Rapid Rewards points when flying Southwest is straightforward, but it’s not the only way to earn points. As mentioned in the Companion Pass section above, another easy way to earn points is by booking your hotel with one of Southwest’s travel partners.
Your hotel options on Southwest’s site include Best Western, Radisson, Marriott, and Hyatt. Not only that, Southwest has partnerships with Booking.com and RocketMiles.com that offer even more options. Every property lists both the room rate and how many points you’d earn with a booking and there are occasional promotions during which you’ll earn even more Rapid Rewards points on a hotel booking.
Note that the room rates you’ll find through these partnerships aren’t always the cheapest available, so if cost is your primary consideration be sure to make your own comparisons.
Maximizing Southwest rewards
We’ve gone over the best ways to maximize your Southwest Rapid Rewards in this article, so here’s a review:
- Always check the Low Fare Calendar with the cost displayed in points rather than currency.
- Check back on the fares of flights you’ve already booked to see if you can get a better deal.
- Buy from Southwest’s shopping, dining, and travel partners to earn even more points.
- Use a Southwest credit card or one of the Chase cards that has a partnership with the airline to transfer points (but do the math before you transfer those points).
- Reach Companion Pass level to get a second ticket for almost nothing.
Southwest Low Fare Calendar Summary
Southwest fares will never show up in search results on other OTA sites, so you must visit the Southwest website in order to review their ticket options and book Southwest flights. (And if you join Scott's Cheap Flights, we'll search for amazing Southwest deals for you!)
The Low Fare Calendar is the easiest way to find the cheapest Southwest ticket, whether you’re a Rapid Rewards member or not, so having flexible travel dates is a great way to save money on a flight.
Once you’ve bought a ticket, you can make changes or cancel your trip up to 10 minutes before the flight departs with zero fees, so it’s never a bad idea to check the prices of tickets for a trip you’ve already booked