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Southwest Airlines vs American Airlines

Choosing between American Airlines and Southwest for your upcoming journey? You'll find pros & cons in this article.

Southwest Airlines vs American Airlines

At a glance, Southwest stands out as an esteemed budget airline known for stellar customer service, though its main focus is on North America and the Caribbean. On the other hand, American Airlines, one of the world's mega carriers, delivers a varied experience that aligns with what passengers invest in. We already compared American Airlines with Delta before. 

Budget carriers are increasingly becoming the go-to for travelers, prompting many to weigh up American Airlines against Southwest. Within the US, the decision often hinges on comfort, overall experience, and cost, aspects we'll delve into shortly. 

Pricing: Ticket, Baggage & Fees

American Airlines adopts a conventional booking approach, categorizing fares into distinct classes. For this comparison, we'll focus on the 'Main Cabin' fare, which offers seat selection and zero fees for changes—particularly useful if altering travel plans post-booking.

Our analysis of bookings across various seasons indicates that a round trip on the East Coast hovers around $240. Flights spanning the country are priced close to $400, and journeying to South America might set you back approximately $500, depending on flight timings and layovers.

Here’s an overview of what American Airlines offers across its classes:

  • Basic Economy: Features carry-on, personal item, seat selection ahead of time, and general boarding at the most affordable rate.
  • Main Cabin: In addition to what Basic Economy offers, it includes a checked bag.
  • Main Cabin Extra: For an additional $20 over Main Cabin, it offers early boarding and added legroom.
  • Premium Economy: Priced roughly $300 above Main Cabin, it boasts broader seats, early boarding, priority services, free WiFi, and exclusive dining with a complimentary alcoholic drink.
  • Business: Valued around $1000 over Main Cabin, it incorporates Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club access, with premium dining for international flights. 
  • First: Costing about $500 above Main Cabin, it emphasizes premium services on domestic routes with the added privileges of the Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club.

Southwest, meanwhile, structures its fares into three simple tiers: Business Select (top-tier), Anytime (mid-tier), and Wanna Get Away (most affordable). The seating is fairly consistent across these options, with distinctions primarily in the additional benefits. Here's the breakdown:

  • Wanna Get Away: Priced the lowest, offers two free checked bags and doesn't charge for changes or cancellations.
  • Anytime: About $400 more than 'Wanna Get Away', it permits last-minute flight alterations and potential refunds, in addition to the basic offerings.
  • Business Select: Priced around $400-$500 above 'Wanna Get Away', it grants premium boarding, expedited security, and complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Comparing fares with American Airlines using the 'Wanna Get Away' option, our findings suggest: a round trip on the East Coast averages $150, a cross-country journey (likely with a layover) stands at about $300, and traveling to the Caribbean may cost roughly $515.

Southwest Airlines vs American Airlines

The baggage fee structure for American Airlines is as follows: If your first checked bag isn't covered by your ticket, it's priced at $30. Subsequent bags are $40 for the second, $150 for the third, and $200 for any additional ones. Rates might differ for international routes.

Southwest stands out by not levying charges for the first two checked bags. However, any additional bags beyond these two will incur a fee of $75 each. It's essential to ensure each bag doesn't exceed the weight and size limit, generally set at 50 lbs and under 62 inches in length. Bags breaching these parameters will attract an additional $75 fee.

American Airlines offers few additional charges, but there are certain optional features available. For instance, if you opt for flight insurance to ensure a refund, the fee usually ranges between $50 and $150, depending on the total cost of your trip.

Southwest provides an upgraded boarding option on select flights, costing an additional $30 to $50 per passenger. If you've booked a 'Wanna Get Away' ticket, which typically boards last, we suggest considering this upgrade. Since Southwest doesn't offer pre-assigned seating, early boarding ensures you have a better seat choice and can decide your seatmate.


After cost, in-flight comfort is a primary concern for most travelers. This review delves deep into everything from onboard safety to staff approachability and the culinary offerings.

In recent times, American Airlines' Main Cabin seats have noticeably reduced in size to accommodate more passengers. Regular flyers have observed reduced legroom and seemingly tighter restroom spaces. If you're new to flying American, this might not stand out, but long-time patrons definitely noticed.

Southwest offers a uniform seating arrangement throughout its planes, which means Business Select passengers have the same seat options as the "Wanna Get Away" travelers. The primary distinction is the boarding sequence. As Southwest doesn't allow pre-flight seat selection, late boarders may not sit with their companions. However, on the plus side, Southwest boasts some of the roomiest economy seats in the industry, with ample headrests and plush cushions. Most flyers attest to their comfort, especially in comparison to other budget airlines.

American’s Premium Economy, Business, and First Class seats offer a consistent experience: early boarding, spacious seating, and enhanced cabin service. Expect an amenity kit with essentials like blankets and eye masks, a gourmet menu crafted by top chefs, and a heightened sense of privacy. However, there have been murmurs of cabin crew neglecting premium sections and occasional downgrades from first class. It's evident that American is working to rectify these issues based on feedback.

Southwest's Business Select and Anytime fares differ from traditional class upgrades. They don't offer a tangible upgrade in seating but grant benefits like early boarding and enhanced refund options. With Business Select, the advantage is the ability to board first and pick prime seating spots, be it window, exit, or upfront.


American Airlines offers complimentary snacks and beverages on all its flights. For those traveling overnight or internationally, a more extensive menu awaits. While passengers in Economy need to purchase WiFi, it's complimentary for Premium seating. Additionally, each seat features a headrest screen, ensuring free entertainment throughout your journey.

On the other hand, Southwest never misses a chance to pamper its passengers with free snacks and drinks. What's more, they even serve complimentary alcoholic drinks during specific holidays. Although WiFi is available for purchase, you won't be short of entertainment thanks to the free in-seat entertainment system. With live streaming, movies, and shows on offer, your journey is bound to be enjoyable.


For the spontaneous traveler or those prone to abrupt changes, understanding the flexibility of your chosen airline becomes crucial, especially in the face of cancellations or adjustments.

Southwest, with its robust fleet of 734 aircraft, caters to approximately 4,000 travelers daily. Meanwhile, American stands tall as one of the aviation giants, launching close to 6,800 flights daily with its impressive 864-strong aircraft lineup.

American connects to 95 diverse points in the US, rooted deeply in its primary Dallas/Fort Worth hub, and branching out with ten more hubs dotting the country.

Benefiting from its expansive alliances and intricate codeshare links, American ensures that bookings, modifications, or cancellations are smooth operations. However, it's worth noting that their operational efficiency hinges on their union relationships. A recent spike in cancellations, driven by obligatory aircraft groundings, has impacted about 4% of their total flights - a figure that's considered substantial in aviation circles.

On the other hand, Southwest, also Dallas-based, covers a wide canvas of US destinations. Their flight frequency remains admirable, even during traditionally quieter months. In the event of flight hitches, Southwest's promise is clear: they'll swiftly transition you to the next available flight. Should you need to recalibrate your travel plans, they'll either adjust the fare difference for a more pricey journey or offer a credit for a more affordable choice.

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Oct 17, 2023

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