While most airlines allow you to book travel 330 days in advance, some of the US lower carrier airlines have a very different booking schedule. Every so often Southwest and AirTran extend their reservations system a few months out at a time. I was very happy this morning when I saw Southwest’s tweet that they have extended their schedule to January 5, 2014. Until now you could only book until November 1, 2013. You can now book travel for Christmas school vacation.

With both airlines, if you book now and the flight price goes down you are able to get a credit.

  • Southwest: 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. If you booked your flight using points, the difference in points will go back into your account. You can rebook your original flight online to get this voucher/point difference credited – no phone call is needed.
  • AirTran: For paid flights, you must call AirTran and request a credit for the difference. This voucher will be attached to the frequent fliers account who the ticket was booked for, but is fully transferable to anyone (you must just book through that FF account). The voucher expires one year from the date the flight was purchased.

Additionally, with Southwest, you can fully cancel your reservation for NO penalty (unlike AirTran). 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 from 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!

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.

This is great for holiday travel, although prices can still be expensive. My assumption is the prices will go down over time though – at least that is what happened last year (holiday travel significantly went down over a 4 month time frame) and I was able to get 5 tickets down in price by about $100 per ticket roundtrip!

Happy booking!

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.

  • Tony said,

    I haven’t been following the southwest air tran merger much, but when they are fully integrated, will southwest keep the business class that Air Tran currently has? Here in Phoenix, I now see Air Tran planes at the Southwest gates, Air Tran was using Terminal 3 and SW is in terminal 4.

  • Stephen said,

    “Until now you could only book until November 1, 2013. You can now book travel for October, including Columbus Day weekend.”
    Not trying to call you out or anything, but if you could previously book until November 1, wasn’t October already included in that??

  • dealswelike said,

    @stephen – the post was a copy from a prior post I did announcing the last schedule change. Over site on my part that wasn’t updated. Thanks for pointing out!

  • Keith C said,

    I was eagerly waiting for this booking window extension, so that I could plan a trip to Disneyland over Thanksgiving break. I’m lucky to live equally distance from three SWA airports, and of course flying to Disneyland gives you four LAX SWA choices, so I felt like I would have lots of options. Although I started early in the morning, I didn’t see *any* cheap Wanna Get Away flights for the Sunday return, and amazingly there was no availability for my old school Standard Awards for weeks. However, I can’t complain, because I was able to find good availability for a Monday return instead, and in combination with our dual Companion Pass status, it meant that our family of four can fly cross-country on Thanksgiving weekend for a total of 50,000 points!

  • Grant said,

    Still waiting to book my jan/feb trips… come on southwest, update your schedule

  • Dave said,

    Ugh… Was hoping to use points + companion to get roundtrip MDW to SJU, but the return is 50,000 already! Booked MDW/SJU side hoping that the return comes down so we can take the trip.

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