This is post #4 in a series discussing the Southwest Rapid Rewards program:

This series contains:

  1. Southwest Credit Card 50,000 Point Offer
  2. Earning and Redeeming Southwest Rapid Reward Points
  3. Earning Status with Southwest and the Benefits
  4. Changing and Canceling a Southwest Ticket
  5. Earning the Southwest Companion Pass
  6. Converting Southwest Credits to Free Flights
  7. Transferring Points to Southwest
  8. Transferring Points/Credits between AirTran and Southwest
  9. Extending the Life of Free Flights from Rapid Reward 1.0 Program
  10. Booking Southwest Flights with Chase Ultimate Reward Points
  11. Canceling a Flight Booked with Points
  12. Changing a Flight if Booked as a Roundtrip
  13. Getting Money Back if the Flight Goes Down in Price

Compared to all the other US airlines, Southwest has the best change/cancelation policy out of them all. While I know many people are anti-Southwest, their flexibility with changing and canceling flights really makes them a winner in my opinion. This flexibility has allowed me to make speculative flights and cancel at any point (even after the flight has taken off!).

The below scenarios are for Southwest’s “Wanna Getaway” fares, which I believe the majority of the people book.

Southwest has no fees for changing or canceling your flight! For changing a flight, however, you will need to pay the fare difference if the price has increased, but other than that there are no additional fees like other airlines charge – some charge up to $150 per passenger!

Here are the four scenarios on how you will get refunded for your reservation:

  • Purchasing a ticket with a credit card: If cancelled, you will receive a credit back in the full amount you paid valid for one year from when the ticket was purchased. Unfortunately, these credits are not transferable.
  • Purchasing a ticket with Southwest credit or a voucher: If cancelled, you will receive a credit back in the full amount you paid, but the expiration date will stick with the original voucher expiration date. This will not extend the date. Again, these credits/vouchers are not transferable.
  • Purchasing a ticket using points: If cancelled, you will receive the full amount of points used back into your account. The points will go back into the account from which they were pulled from even if they were used on another passenger. There is no fee at all!
  • Purchasing a ticket using a free ticket: If cancelled, you will receive the free ticket back into your account. This will not extend the expiration date. If the ticket was used for another passenger, it will still go back into the account from where the free ticket was pulled from. There is no fee at all!

For all four scenarios, you will also receive the full amount of taxes back to your credit card. If you cancel the reservation via the phone, however, many times they will not tell you this and instead give you a credit to be used for future travel for the taxes (ranging from $2.50-$7.50 one way). Make sure to request that the taxes go back to the credit card.

Additionally, for changing a flight, no advance notice is needed. Even if you forget to cancel your ticket and the flight has already taken off, Southwest will automatically cancel your ticket for you and refund the credit/points within a few days. Again, you will not be charged. Chances are this policy will change, but for now, there are no rules.

Now, since there are no fees at all, if the price of your flight goes down you are able to get a credit. You essentially do this by changing your flight online for the same flight originally selected. Here are the two scenarios on how you will get the fare difference back:

  • Paid flight: If you pay for your flight, you will receive a voucher for the difference to be used one year from the date the flight was purchased. This voucher is non-transferable. The voucher will be tied to the confirmation number of the original flight booked, so make sure to keep this number handy when used for future reservation purposes.
  • Flights booked using points: If you booked your flights using points, the difference in points will go back into your account.

Since I have a good amount of Southwest points due to the two Southwest credit cards I applied for in November 2011, I am able to book flights on a whim and not have to worry about canceling them. Sometimes if I am not 100% sure of the exact desired dates, I can book for both dates and cancel the one that doesn’t work. I also do not have to strategically decide when the best flight price will be, because if the price goes down I’ll get the points back! I must admit though, if I have Southwest flights reserved, I do check the prices every morning. For example, I booked a flight for my sister a month ago and the price has already dropped twice $40 less. This flexibility works out great for me and my booking habits for domestic travel.

Current Southwest Credit Card Offer: There are four different Southwest credit cards in total, two personal and two business versions. The main differences is that the cards have different annual fees and bonus points after each year. ALL of them have the same bonus offer. You can view all four cards and the differences in this prior blog post. You can also apply for the Southwest card here. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. As always I’ll list the best offer available as my goal is for you to travel on a deal!

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

  • Old Flyer said,

    I don’t understand. I thought certain fares i.e. Business and Senior fares were fully refundable to your credit card and didn’t have to be used for another Southwest ticket. Please explain further. Thanks

  • Jack said,

    Southwest has their “low fare finder”, covering their lowest fares for any given month, but I’ve not been able to find a comparable feature for AirTran; do you know if there is such? Or, lacking that, how can one go about finding the best AirTran fare over a month, other than checking a day at a time?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Old Flyer – That is correct. It is the “Wanna Getaway” fares that I’ve outlined. I’ll be comparing the differences between fares and their perks in a future post.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Jack – Unfortunately AirTrans interface is not as user friendly. You can used kayak which will pull in three days before and after.

  • Kay said,

    I cancelled a ticket over the phone and tried to get the taxes credited back to my card, but they said they couldn’t do it. It was all tied to the confirmation code and they couldn’t separate the base fare from the taxes.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Kay – Only when you book with points will you get the taxes credited back to the credit card that was used to book the reservation. With a paid reservation both the fare + taxes will be given back in the form of a credit.

  • Christine said,

    I have cancelled many flights using points. After not getting my taxes back the first time I called Southwest. You have to physically right down each confirmation code, one for passenger and companion. The next time you book you use that code and enter under travel funds, then choose the travel funds option. Then that money is put towards your new taxes. I have done it a dozen times because I always booking advance with my points and as you know sometimes life happens and you can’t go.

  • Andrea said,

    If I buy a ticket for someone, and they can’t go and tell me this in advance, can I get the credit and use it for myself in the future or does it have to be the original person I bought the ticket for? Thanks!

  • dealswelike said,

    @andrea – if you purchase with credit card and then cancel the credit amount can only be used for the person that the ticket was originally purchased for. If purchased with points then they just go back into your account and can be used again by anyone.

  • Andrea said,

    Thanks Dealswelike. That’s interesting that one form of payment can affect who uses it next. Good to know for flaky friends hahaha. Too bad one can’t then just buy points.

  • Linda said,

    I recently purchased two round trip Southwest tickets using my Southwest credit card and charged the tickets. I was just rewarded the 50,000 points and wonder if there is any way to change instead of cancel the charged ticket to points instead?? Thanks!

  • dealswelike said,

    @Linda – you’d have to book a new reservation.

  • Brittany said,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who obsessively checks southwest prices after booking! I bought my first ticket with this new rewards system and I’m glad I can do the same with my points. Wahoo!

  • Tammy said,

    So if I need to cancel a round trip ticket, used No points will I get money back?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Tammy – You will get back the amount paid in a credit which expires one year from the date you purchased the ticket. The credit is not transferable.

  • Krysta said,

    So my husband and I are military and we bought the round trip wanna get away tickets but our leave dates switched. So now we have to change the tickets. There shouldn’t be a problem if it’s just a day or so off. What I’m aasking is what will happen.. thanks!

  • dealswelike said,

    @Krysta – Southwest does not charge any change fees. So if the price is exactly the same then the credit will get applied to the new date. If the price is less than the difference in price will go back as a credit good for one year from the date booked. If the price is more then you will need to pay the difference.

  • Galen said,

    Southwest is slowly becomes like all the others; now you have to cancel your flight 10 min before scheduled takeoff or you don’t get your credit back. Also, some time back they disallowed use of one person’s funds by another person. Still they are better in other ways mentioned here.

  • RK said,

    Can I book two completely separate trips with just one cancelled trip’s worth of travel funds? My original trip’s fare was pretty expensive, so I would like to use it toward more than one future trip (within the required year). I know the tickets bought need to be directly for me, but I cant seem to find anywhere if its possible to split travel funds between two different future trips.

  • dealswelike said,

    @RK – Absolutely! Think of it as a gift card where any remaining amount can be used on the next purchase.

  • RK said,

    Great! Thanks!!

  • Katy Austin said,

    Hello,
    I could really use some advice. I purchased 2 round trip tickets from Grand Rapids MI to Aruba on AirTran 11/15/13. Yesterday I had to cancel the trip and they gave me a credit minus $300. Here’s my problem, when I went to book a trip that we could take I discovered that AirTran no longer flys from Grand Rapids Mi, now that area is serviced by SWA. I called air tran to ask what I should do and they told me I am out of luck and would need to fly out of Detroit (about 3 hours away). Any thoughts?

    Thank you,
    katy

  • dealswelike said,

    @katy – you can still purchase southwest operated flights via airtrans website. Is the system not allowing you to apply your voucher when a southwest flight is included in the itinerary?

  • Andy said,

    I have three $30 credits under my wife and kids. The kids are both minors, is there any way to transfer their credits to my wife’s name because of this?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Andy – unfortunately southwest doesn’t allow you to transfer credits

  • SH said,

    What if I pay with points (for base fare) and gift card (for tax)? I know points will be back to my account, but tax will be refunded to gift card balance or travel fund?

  • dealswelike said,

    @SH – The taxes will be refunded to a travel fund (which has expiration dates)

  • Stan said,

    What if I checked in within 24 hours of a flight, would I still be able to cancel my flight and get credit? thanks.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Stan – Yes

  • jam64 said,

    I have a small number of SW rapid rewards points. I also have 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Preferred card. I need tickets for my friend and myself to Florida.

    For maximum benefit,
    1)should I purchase tickets for my trip out of the Chase travel website or

    2) transfer my UR points to my SW account and then purchase the flights using points?

    What if the price drops….how would that affect either plan?

    thanks ~

  • dealswelike said,

    @jam64 – You will get the best value by transferring your UR points to your SW account and then purchase the flight using your Southwest points. You actually cannot book Southwest flights from the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Regardless, you still get a better value by transferring your UR points to your SW account and then purchasing the flight with your SW points.

    If the price drops the difference in points will be credited to your Southwest account (assuming you actively change your flight for the lower price ticket).

  • jam64 said,

    Thanks …. good info.

    If I redeem some of my SW Rapid Rewards points for a car rental for my daughter using the More Rewards link on SW, will those points be re-deposited in my RR account if she cancels the car rental before the rental date?

    Are there any cancellation fees for car rentals purchased with Rapid Rewards?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • dealswelike said,

    @jam64 – Off the top of my head I actually do not know. I’ve never used my points for a rental car. I’ll look into it and get back to you.

  • Meredith said,

    My neighbor who has been just given a terminal diagnosis of cancer has cancelled a reservation for a trip she had thought she’d be taking in March. Clearly, the credit does her no earthly good. How can she:
    A. Get a refund or B. Transfer the credit to someone else?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Meredith – Southwest’s general policy is a voucher in the name of the traveling passenger valid one year from date of purchased. With that said, I suggest calling Southwest and asking to speak to customer service. My assumption is they will make special accommodations as long as you provide documentation (a doctors note). I had a similar situation with the companion pass and they were very accommodating as long as there was proof.

  • jam64 said,

    Apparently, if a car rental is made with Rapid Rewards points and subsequently cancelled, the points are lost.

  • Sherri said,

    I have made round trip reservations. Can I cancel part of my round trip and still get full credit? Credit is good for one calendar year so if I made my reservation on Feb. 25 do I have to actually travel somewhere by that date or just make another reservation by that date?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Sherri – You need to travel by that date (unfortunately)

  • PJ Robert said,

    I’ve flown the outbound leg of a round trip ticket purchased with points and now find it necessary to cancel the return trip. Do I get full credit for the return trip ticket?

  • dealswelike said,

    @PJ – Yes you will get full credit back for the return trip/

  • Faz said,

    Hi…I’ve read your comments about cancelling a flight and getting a credit for a subseequent flight within one year…is there any possibilites of getting the funds credited back to my credit card? I know for sure I cannot book a another flight within a year’s time.

    Thanks

  • dealswelike said,

    @faz – you can call customer service and ask to speak to a supervisor. Explain your situation and maybe they will allow it. I believe you’d need some sort of doctors note though (just from prior experience)

  • Fred said,

    If I purchase a roundtrip ticket for my wife and I, but then need to change the travel dates of just one leg, and just for me, can I cancel just my one part of the package, leaving my return and her roundtrip intact? Or will I need to cancel both complete round trips?

    I’m trying to figure out if I need to purchase our tickets separately (and purchase mine as two one-ways), to have the flexibility to cancel and apply the funds to a new flight, without risking the entire ticket price going up if we have to repurchase then.

    I know I’m risking having to pay extra if the new date for my flight there is more than the original price, but at least I won’t have to worry about having to pay more for my return flight or her full round trip if the fares have changed!

  • dealswelike said,

    @Fred – The great thing about Southwest is even if you book as a roundtrip, you are actually booking individual one-ways since they price out separately. If you need to cancel one of the one-ways, just call Southwest and they will be able to cancel one of the one-ways for you while keeping the other one-way intact.

  • Sheryl said,

    Do I have any recourse if I forgot to use my voucher and it is expired?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Sheryl – Call Southwest’s customer service. If you get the reservations line, ask for the customer service number – they work business hours and many times you’ll get a busy signal, but keep on calling. Many times they will make an exception. Let me know and goodluck!

  • Nick said,

    I canceled a flight November 2013 so my points expire this November 2014. Can I book a flight that is for after November if I book it before November?

  • Lily said,

    My dad cancelled his flight and got a travel fund and he wanted to give it to me but when i booked the ticket it says i have to put the person the travel fund is credited to name on the traveler? Is there a way i can change to my name?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Lily – Unfortunately the credit can only be used for the person who the flight was originally booked for. Credits are non-transferrable.

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