Just prior to airline deregulation, when Southwest Airlines had to start competing with Texas International Airlines and Braniff offering cheap fares between Houston and Dellas, they started giving out “to go” bottles of alcohol to full fare customers. They became the largest liquor distributor in the state.
For many years Southwest Airlines offered free drinks inflight to all customers. They cut that back to offering free drinks only during key business travel times. And then in 1988 they eliminated free alcohol from their flights, but started giving coupons to frequent flyers.
Booze may be part of the airline’s DNA, stemming from Wild Turkey-drinking co-founder Herb Kelleher, but the airline isn’t as loose with the drinks as they once were.
Southwest doesn’t pour as generously during flight delays. Chase stopped giving out drink chits to their cardholders in 2016. Southwest no longer sends them out when you redeem award tickets, or on your birthday. There seemingly aren’t as many free drink holidays on the airline as there used to be. They were even sued for enforcing expiration dates on their free drink coupons.
People buying Business Select fares – which are more expensive than merely refundable tickets – don’t just get to board the plane first, they get a free drink on the flight. Their drink chit is valid that day only.
However you still get four free drinks for every 10 paid one way flights you take but you have to make sure your account is set up correctly to receive them. It’s important to note that Rapid Reward redemption flights don’t count, so that’s one reason to use Chase ‘pay with points’ over the phone rather than transferring points to Rapid Rewards.
These drink coupons show up in the US mail about 10-14 days after you hit your 10 flight threshold. It’s worth knowing what the envelope looks like — it’s sent as bulk (pre-sorted) mail without a cancellation mark and may appear to be junk mail. It isn’t.
Here’s how to make sure you’re set up to receive free drinks from Southwest Airlines:
Log into your account. Then scroll down to “Preferences” and “Travel” and in the upper right hand corner select “Extras.”
If your account isn’t set to receive free drink coupons, select edit and make sure not to be choosing the wrong thing.
Here are the drinks that Southwest has on board for purchase. At $6 – $7 apiece, four drink chits are worth $24 – $28.
By the way people sell these on eBay.
If you don’t drink you can always let your seatmates know that it’ll be your shout on the flight. These make great giveaways for frequent flyer friends. And on the other hand if you’re not hitting 10 flights fast enough and you really need a drink and don’t want to pay Southwest Airlines pricing, you can always buy them at a discount on eBay even though you’re not supposed to.