Southwest Airlines’ unofficial free drink policy

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I was enjoying a pleasant Southwest “redeye” earlier this week and it reminded me of an important tip for the savvy Southwest flyer.


While you will never see this explicitly written as a benefit, there is an unwritten rule among *most* Southwest flight attendants that a delay of greater than one hour or so means the first alcoholic drink ordered will be on the house. The savvy Southwest traveler orders and accepts the free drink without alerting the nearby cabin to the policy. Savvy travelers do not ask the flight attendant if they are entitled to a free drink nor expect it every time since there are a few caveats.


  • If you have a drink coupon or method of payment visible when you order the flight attendant will probably accept it.
  • Not all flight attendants honor the unwritten rule so respect their decision.
  • A mechanical delay is more likely to result in a free drink than a weather delay though both generally qualify.
  • The unofficial offer is generally only valid on the first pass through the cabin.
  • If you experience a FLIPPIN’ FIVE HOUR MECHANICAL DELAY LIKE MW you can probably expect an “all you can drink” flight.  The flight attendants won’t even take out the payment machines.

The bottom line

Because this is an unofficial policy, YMMV (Your Martinis May Vary).  Savvy Southwest travelers know this is a generous unwritten benefit and proceed with respect toward the flight attendant’s decision to honor the unwritten rule. 

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at

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  1. Interestingly, had a 5 hour delay DEN to SFO Monday 6/24/13. Ordered drinks with anticipation of this unwritten rule. FA asked for CC or drink coupon!!!!

  2. frank – that sucks…but as alex mentioned, YMMV! If that was a non-weather related delay, I would write to Southwest customer service.

  3. I’ve gotten this treatment on weather delays while trapped onboard on the Tarmac. It seems fairly common and another reason why SW is a good airline.

  4. That’s all fine and good if you drink, but IME hardly anyone does, I like how United FAs comp DTV in the case of a long delay (YMMV, of course), which is a far better value for nearly everyone on the plane.

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