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American Airlines vs Southwest Compared

American Airlines vs Southwest Compared
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There are many airlines that fly to nearly every country in the world. While the cost of your ticket will be an important factor in choosing the right airline for you, it is not the only thing that matters. The service and entertainment will play a major role in your long-haul flight, while affordably might be more important for shorter domestic hops.

We’ll compare Southwest and American Airlines to help you decide between the two busiest airlines in the world. American Airlines is the most popular airline in the world, with more than 200 million passengers annually. Southwest, by contrast, is the largest US budget airline.

This comparison guide will help you learn more about American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. We’ll compare what each airline offers with regard to in-flight entertainment, food, and additional charges to help you make a decision. We hope you will be able to confidently book your trip after reading this guide.

Main Differences Between Southwest and American Airlines

The main differences between Southwest and American Airlines are:

    • American flies to more destinations worldwide whereas Southwest flies to more domestic United States locations
    • American has a much larger number of partnerships whereas Southwest has a smaller choice of partnerships. The number of partnerships makes it easier for you to accumulate frequent flyer points more quickly.
    • American has in-flight drinks and snacks whereas Southwest famously does not on shorter domestic hops
    • American generally charges for luggage ($30-75 for any bag), whereas Southwest has a more generous luggage allowance ($75 only for the 3rd checked bag)
    • Southwest offers a unique “Companion Pass” program whereas American does not offer a similar program
    • American allows pre-flight seating selection whereas Southwest does not allow seat selection

Key Airline Perks Compared: American Airlines vs Southwest

American Airlines Southwest
Credit cards Issued by Citibank (3 personal, 2 business options) Issued by Chase (3 personal options, 1 business option)
Frequent Flyer AAdvantage Mile Program, no expiry with active account No blackout; no expiry if the account is active within 2 years
Snacks Complimentary snacks and soft drinks Complimentary snacks and soft drinks ONLY on flights 175 airline miles or more
In-Flight Entertainment $10 Wi-Fi, standard entertainment options $8 per day for Wi-Fi, 16 TV channels, limited on-demand shows, select aircrafts are equipped for iHeart Radio
Customer Service Available 24 hours, 7 days a week Available 24 hours, 7 days a week

Differences At A Glance

American Airlines Southwest
Codeshare with partner airlines Yes No
Bookable on travel booking sites (i.e., Expedia) Yes No
Pre-assigned seating Yes No
Change fees No No
First-class option Yes No
Free checked bags No Yes, 2 free
Legroom 30 to 31″ 31 up to 33″

American Airlines Overview

American Airlines is the largest airline in the world, at least when it comes down to its impressive fleet of 850+ mainline aircraft. These include Boeing and Airbus, as well as Boeing and Airbus.

In 1930, the company was formed by the merger of many smaller airlines. You may have heard by now that AA was the first company to employ a female commercial pilot (Bonnie Tiburzi, 1973). It is also a founding member in good standing of the OneWorld Alliance which is the third largest alliance in the world.

Currently, AA’s headquarters is in Dallas Fort Worth (Texas – Love Field). The airline has hubs in Charlotte and Philadelphia, Washington, as well as other major American cities. American Airlines usually completes approximately 6,000 flights per hour. They also offer the best international service among all airlines.

American Airlines Fares

There are 8 different classes of fares offered by American. They are:

  • Basic Economy: Lowest but genuinely popular fare. Seat selection is possible for a fee, some other paid-for upgrades are available too, but the tickets cannot be changed (with exception for cancelled flights by the airline).
  • Main Cabin: Basic free seat selection, or paid Preferred seat selection at any time, free onboard entertainment, snacks, etc. Other upgrades, including wi-fi available for a fee.
  • Main Cabin Extra: Seats with extra legroom plus priority boarding for a more convenient experience.
  • Premium Economy: Economy fares with added comfort. More legroom and various amenities on selected long-distance international, Hawaii, and Alaska flights.
  • Business: The highest level of onboard service on shorter-distance international flights. Wider seats, more legroom, blankets, and pillows, as well as various priority privileges and extra assistance.
  • First: The highest level of AA service available on flights across the U.S. Five-star assistance, premium dining, priority boarding, and lots of other complimentary incentives await passengers in this exclusive class.
  • Flagship Business: An elevated business-style flying experience with special amenities for long-distance travel. Fully lie-flat seats, chef-curated dining, lounges, complimentary wi-fi, etc.
  • Flagship First: American Airlines’ most exclusive and customized experience for long-distance travel. Exclusive fine-dining, premium lounges in selected hubs, premium assistance, and priority for the most luxurious flying experience.

Further Read: American Airlines Economy vs Basic.

American Airlines Baggage Policy

American Airlines allows passengers to carry one bag with them and one personal item. American Airlines allows passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item (e.g., purse, handbags, briefcase, laptop) for no additional charge. Maximum dimensions for carry-on baggage are 22″x14″x9″

Economy fares with American Airlines usually require that you pay a fee per bag for your checked luggage. Prices start at $30 for domestic and Canadian flights. Premium fares often offer the option to take one or more checked bags free of charge. Standard class passengers have a weight limit of 50 lbs. First and business class passengers can bring bags up to 70 lbs.

American Airlines Loyalty Program

The AAdvantage Program is a loyalty program that gives points for booking flights or spending money at their rental, hotel, and dining partners. You can use the points to upgrade, rent a car, or for hotel rental. If they are frequent flyers, their Elite Status members receive the greatest benefits.

Further Read: How to Transfer Amex Points to American Airlines.

American Airlines Food

A majority of American Airlines flights within the United States will offer a complimentary snack in economy class. It typically consists of a bag with snack mix and a beverage of choice. You will need to pay an additional fee for alcohol.

You might get a complimentary larger snack on longer flights. This is not a meal, but it’s still more substantial than a bag or snack mix. The in-flight menu may offer the possibility to buy something.

Southwest Overview

Southwest was founded in 1971 and primarily serves Texas. It had grown to serve neighboring states by 1979, and by 2021 it was transporting more domestic passengers than any other US airline in North America.

They are known for their reliability, which is why they have high ratings in the Department of Transportation (DOT). There are very few consumer complaints, delays and mishandled baggage.

Southwest’s age shines through its refusal to conform and commitment to what it knows.

Southwest Fares

By comparison to American, Southwest offers a simple 3 fare structure:

  • Business Select: The closest thing to “first class” as Southwest gets. In actuality Business Select means that you can just board the plane earlier.
  • Anytime Fare: Fully refundable fare, no penalties for changing.
  • Wanna Get Away: Non refundable, but cheaper.

Southwest Baggage Policy

Southwest is generous with baggage. Each passenger is permitted to bring a bag and a personal item. There is a limit on the dimensions of carry-on bags. All carry-ons must measure at least 10x16x24 inches.

You are responsible for checking your luggage if it is not possible to fit into the overhead bin.

Each passenger can have two checked bags. Each piece of luggage should not exceed 50 pounds. Bags that weigh more than 51 pounds or exceed 62 inches will be subject to a $75 baggage fee.

Southwest Loyalty Program (Miles Program)

Southwest also offers points to its customers. You can earn points on any flight you buy through the Rapid Rewards Points airline miles program.

You can earn points when you purchase from Southwest retail partners. There are no blackout dates, and your points never expire.

Southwest also has its own airline credit card. Passengers can earn $40,000 in points and get three times as many points for every dollar they spend on dining.

Two card options are available from the airline for miles: the Rapid Rewards Plus credit card and the Rapid Rewards Priority card.

Southwest Food

Southwest Airlines flights include a complimentary snack service. It is quite basic and includes a small bag of snack mix along with a drink.

Southwest Airlines is often cheaper than American mainline carriers, so you can expect them to make some concessions.

Aircraft Safety

Both Southwest and American rely heavily on the Boeing 737 jetliner, a model with a very good safety record in general.

American uses a broader fleet array, with Airbus 320’s and almost all of the Boeing aircraft from the 737 thru 800 series, with the 777 and 787 being their widest body models.

Southwest in contrast almost exclusively relies on the Boeing 737. This is due to their famous standardized business (and quality) playbook.

Overall, American Airlines has more traffic safety incidents, owing in large part to their increased fleet age and model variations. While most incidents have been minor, the November 2001 crash in Queens is marked as one of the most deadliest crashes in history, with all 260 passengers and crew lost. American also seems to be a more frequent target for hijackings and terrorism.

In contrast, Southwest has never had a crash related fatality. 

Final Word: Southwest vs American Airlines

Traveling International? Which airline is best likely depends on your travel habits. For international travelers, American is clearly the better option with more direct flights and useful connections.

Just Flying Domestic? However, for affordable domestic United States travel, Southwest is a much better value, with a stronger loyalty program and better short hop direct flights.

Further Reading on Airline Comparisons: