DO NOT Change a Southwest Flight

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The Platinum Card® from American ExpressWith the implementation of Southwest new reservation, there is one major thing to know – ALL RESERVATIONS THAT ARE CHANGED WILL BECOME NON-REFUNDABLE IF YOU CANCEL. That is a huge change from how the previous system worked as you might now be unexpectedly hit with a travel voucher if you cancel a flight that was originally fully refundable.

Fully refundable flights include…

  • Flights booked with points
  • Business Select fares
  • Anytime fares

With those three types of fares, if you book with a credit card and need to cancel, everything will be fully refunded to the credit card (or points) on file. Even the taxes paid if it is a points reservation.

Now, if at any point you change your flight due to any reason, i.e., a better fare price, a different flight, a different city pair, upgrading your fare type, etc. your reservation will turn to a non-refundable fare. That means, if you need to cancel your flight, the funds will go to a travel voucher, NOT the credit card on file. For point reservations, while the points will go back to the account they were pulled from, the taxes paid will go to a travel voucher. This is the exact same policy that always held true for international reservations, but is now the case for all reservations.

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Southwest now gives you this warning when you go to change a flight.

In the past, if you faced the above scenario for an international flight, you’d be able to call Southwest Customer Relations and they’d manually credit the amount paid to your credit card instead of a travel voucher. From some of the reports I’ve read and after speaking to Southwest’s Media team directly, they will no longer do this (although there could always be those one off good-will gestures will they do it for a customer).

Cancel and Rebook… Do Not Change!

To get around having your fully refundable fare turn non-refundable, all you have to do is cancel your reservation and then re-book. This will keep your reservation always as a fully refundable fare incase you need to cancel for whatever reason. This will take a few extra minutes of your time, but is absolutely worth it in my opinion.

There is only one downside to canceling and rebooking. If you paid for EarlyBird check-in, the $15 paid will be loss. If you change a flight, the EarlyBird check-in follows the reservation since the reservation number doesn’t change. If you cancel a flight where you’ve already paid the $15, you do not get it back. If you then make a new reservation, you’ll have to re-buy the EarlyBird check-in reservation. I always recommend waiting a little to adding EarlyBird check-in to your reservation to ensure you will not be canceling the flight, although the earlier you add it onto your reservation, the better number you’ll receive. I personally am not a huge fan of EarlyBird check-in and would never pay for it, but do keep this in mind if you typically pay for this additional service.

Overall…

While this adds an additional annoyance to folks, as long as you are aware of how the system works, you should never be blindsided with a travel voucher and should always be able to get your money back. I still appreciate that Southwest still allows these fully refundable fares and does not charge any change fees. Even for the Wanna Get Away fares (which are the only non-refundable fares), you can still cancel and not pay any change fees.

If you do get stuck with a travel voucher because you were not aware of the new rules, I highly suggest calling Southwest Customer Relations (not their reservations line) and see if they’ll do anything for you.

Comments

  1. Regarding the part about Early Bird…this is only applicable if you are buying an Anytime fare since WGA are non-refundable anyway. If you are buying Anytime and adding Early Bird, you are not maximizing your purchase. Anytime + EB is often extremely close to the Business Select price. Book BS, don’t stress about the check in, and get way more points!

    • @elijah – yes that is true for paid fairs. But if you are using points for a wanna getaway fare then it can be impacted.

      • Oh yeah! We never purchase EB for my wife, who always travels on my points. I tend to agree with you that EB is not a great buy.

        But I LOVE A List auto check-in. 🙂

  2. Disappointed about this policy change although, since I usually pay with points, it will not affect me much. As for the value of Early Bird check-in, I have found it extremely worthwhile on longer flights because I have often been lucky enough to get an exit row seat, or, as I like to call it “Southwest First Class.”

  3. so, if you book with points now, the ONLY change is that all of your taxes and fees will NOT have the option of going back to your cc? they will ONLY become a travel voucher?

    is that correct?

    great post!

    • @rhm – Correct. Might not be a huge deal for domestic flights, but taxes/fees for international flights can be high.

        • @Atoya – I was told by the Southwest media relations team that all flights cancelled within 24 hours of being booked will go back to the credit card used to book the flight even if a change was made to the flight. However, I did read a few reports where that did not hold true.

      • Question on this:
        If I change a flight that was booked with points due to a decrease in fare and then the fare decreases even more, can I change it again? Or once it becomes “non-refundable” because of the first change I made, can I not change it again?

        Also if I were to have to cancel, my fees/taxes would become a travel voucher but how does the voucher work? Is it the exact dollar amount of my fees/taxes? And what is the expiration timeline?

        Lastly, if I were to have to cancel – my points would just go back to my account? Even if I did make a change (or multiple changes) to my flight?

        Thanks!

        • @Kelly – yes, you can keep on changing your fare and receive the points back from the flight decreasing! If you cancel, your taxes/fees become a travel voucher that you can use on a future flight in your name only and it expires 1 year from when the flight was originally booked. The voucher is for the exact amount of taxes/fees paid. If you cancel, the points go back into your account regardless of how many changes you made. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  4. Everything you said is correct, but the only thing to point out is that Southwest Customer Service is Reservations but I know you meant Customer Relations.

  5. Note also if you buy a Anytime Fare and pay the few extra dollars to upgrade it to Business Select later, this will count as a change and make the fare non refundable.

      • Such a crazy rule. The business traveler whos company buys a refundable ticket, decides to spend extra money out of his own pocket for business select, ruins the ticket! Its an incentive to not give Southwest more money. Makes no sense.

    • @Daniel – For paid “Wanna Get Away” fares, if you cancel them (regardless of you make a change or not), they always get refunded back to a travel voucher.

  6. If you have purchased earlybird, then changing is the only way not to lose it. This is not a very well thought out article.

    • @Will – That is correct. As the article mentions, EarlyBird check-in is non-refundable and only follows the same reservation number. If you cancel, you’ll lose EarlyBird Check-in.

  7. When you find the fare is lower than your reservation, you can’t not “change” to get the new lower fare, you have to cancel then book the new one. However, you may take a risk if suddenly the new price is higher. I just wonder you just go ahead book the new one before cancel the old one but then computer may cancel your reservation due to double booking. The best way may be opening 2 windows and hit the button for cancel just before you are already fill out most information for new reservation. What do you think?

    • Since the Wanna Get away fare is already non refundable you can just change it and not cancel and rebook. That way you don’t take the chance of losung your current fare.

    • You will be fine to momentarily have two reservations but don’t leave them both active for too long. Southwest will randomly cancel one of them but it isn’t something that happens immediately.

    • @Hoang – You can do this. However, I’ve never seen a Southwest price increase within seconds, especially when a seat was being canceled.

  8. Note that if you are making a change because of a fare reduction it would be best if it was originally booked as two one way tickets because it is likely that while one leg may have decreased in price the other may have increased. If you cancel a round trip to rebook one leg you will have to rebook both legs at the current fares.

  9. I called SWA about a month or 2 ago when I started seeing this “pop-up” about making the flight non-refundable and was told that this did not apply to points reservations. This just makes me want to remind everybody that you should ONLY reserve 1 ways. Has anybody called and asked what the time frame one has before the computer cancels both reservations?

    • @JF – I agree that reserving 1-ways makes everything much easier with Southwest. With that being said, you can always cancel one-way of a flight even if booked as a roundtrip, just requires you to call and can be a lengthier process. The one downfall of booking one-ways is for international flights. Sometimes the taxes/fees you pay is cheaper as a 1-way then a roundtrip.

  10. This is still better then any other airline out there. If I have to rebook on the other airlines I get hit with a fee of $175 or more,

  11. Would love to see this spelled out a little more clearly for those of that book with points and pay early bird. So it’s non longer possible to change those flights AND keep the early bird? I will hesitate to pay for that up until the last minute but I have always paid for it to relieve stress on flights that are full of kids and would have huge family boarding #s (looking at you Orlando.).

    • @Mary – I’ll put together a post detailing out the scenario, but if you book on points, the only out of pocket expense are the taxes/fees. If you cancel your flight for whatever reason, the taxes/fees go back to the credit card on file. Now, if you change your flight, and then need to cancel, the flight is now non-refundable and the taxes/fees paid go to a travel voucher.

      When you add EarlyBird check-in to a reservation, it stays with the confirmation number. So if you change your flight, the EarlyBird check in that you paid for transitions over to the new flight. Whenever you cancel a flight, you lose the $15 paid towards EarlyBird check-in.

      • Thanks so you can keep changing it same as always. That makes sense. On another note, I did notice when I booked a flight last week I could only use 3 forms of payment, didn’t it use to be 4? I had 2 gift cards, a travel “voucher”, and wanted to pay the rest with credit card but it wouldn’t let me. I was able to get around it by using the 2 gift cards and the voucher on another flight then change it and use that voucher combined with my credit card. Seems a little ridiculous but it worked.

        • Mary,

          Be careful to do the combine with other voucher since if you cancel the flight your expiration date will be the date of previous voucher. Last January, I did it with the voucher expired early May only $5.60 and the rest with GC and I need to cancel due schedule the whole amount ~$200 is expired on May. I was able to buy new ticket for $180 but I lost $20 voucher !!!

  12. I have several award flights booked with points + $5.60 taxes. I just went to try to cancel them and now I only get the “nonrefundable” option for taxes (credit voucher good for 1 year) — even though these were paid with a credit card and never changed. Has anyone tried getting these refunded to credit card?

    • @Joe – That is strange. Not sure why it is happening this way. I have a domestic flight booked for October and just went to see what would happen if I canceled it. The taxes are eligible to be refunded back to my credit card.

  13. I wonder if two things I do a lot count as changes – add a companion and add a lap child. The worst part about the credits is that Southwest can’t tell you about all the credits you have. If you constantly change which card you use for them, you end up losing out. Obvious solution to that in retrospect.

    • @TimmyD – I want to say no with the companion and lap child, but I’ll double check and let you know.

  14. Today I’m getting some weird stuff from Southwest.com. I was in the middle of refaring my reservations and I noticed one of them had gone down from 8050 to 7848. With the new changes I went to “buy” a new reservation so I can just cancel the old one and get the taxes and points refunded. When I’m trying to buy the new reservation the points are at 11,952 for the same flight. So is SWA now tracking your browser? I have used different computers and have come up with the same issue.
    Anybody experience this lately?

  15. When canceling award tickets, how is the tax/fee refunded when it is paid with southwest gift card + Credit card?

    • @Rox – The total amount paid turns into a travel voucher and expires 1 year from the date the flight was purchased.

  16. I agree with you in general about paying for Early Bird not being worth it except for cases where I will be predisposed and unavailable when check-in opens 24-hours before the flight.

    This would most likely be a case where I would be using Southwest to get home from an international arrival city and thus I might be on a long-haul international flight when online check-in opens or in a country where Southwest blocks access to it’s website. In that instance Early Bird was a big help getting home from our Singapore Suites flight to JFK.

  17. I am a longtime southwest RR / Companion fare flyer. The last 4 times I have tried to cancel a flight reservation, I have repeatedly received an error message and had to call Southwest to cancel. Has anyone else encountered this issue and have you been able to have it resolved without using the call center?
    Also, since they have outsourced their call center, the service has gone from helpful to borderline antagonistic …

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