Workaround for NOT Getting a Southwest Travel Voucher

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If you are a Southwest flier and enjoy the flexibility of being able to change and cancel flights, you’ll want to make sure to pay attention to this post! Last week, Southwest implemented their new reservation platform and when you change a flight, any fully refundable reservation automatically becomes non-refundable. While Southwest does not charge a fee if you cancel a Southwest flight, non-refundable fares result in a travel voucher instead of being refunded back to the credit card used to pay. I wrote about this in depth last week, but I do want to point out how you are able to ensure you do not get stuck with a travel voucher.

For reference, fully refundable flights include…

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

**Paid Wanna Get Away fares are NOT affected.

So if you make a change to any of the above fare types at any point they will essentially act as if you booked a paid “Wanna Get Away” if you want to cancel your flight. I personally am not a fan of Southwest travel vouchers for a few reasons:

  1. They expire 1 year from the date the flight was originally booked (NOT the date the flight was canceled). So if you booked a flight on January 1, 2017 and then go to cancel the flight in November 2017, the travel voucher you are issued has to be used and flown by January 1, 2017. This gives you minimal time to use the credits.
  2. They are non-transferable. Years ago you used to be able to use a travel voucher to book a flight for anyone, but not anymore. It is valid only for the person whose name is on the ticket, even if someone else paid for a ticket.
  3. If you use a travel voucher combined with a credit card for a flight and need to cancel the flight, the paid portion of the flight inherits the expiration date of the travel voucher. So if you use a $5.60 travel voucher that expires July 1, 2017 towards a $200 flight, and for whatever reason cancel the flight, you’ll receive a $200 travel voucher back where the entire thing expires July 1, 2017. The $194.40 paid on the credit card will NOT expire a year from when you booked the flight, but instead when the original travel voucher expires.

Workaround to NOT Get a Travel Voucher

As I mentioned above, if you make a change to a flight (this even includes upgrading an Anytime fare to a Business Select fare even if the routing stays the same). To ensure you to not get caught with a travel voucher when you need to change a flight, there is a simple workaround – cancel your flight then rebook. This will keep your flight fully refundable in the case you need to cancel.

While I am definitely not a fan of this change, I do appreciate that Southwest is still the only airline that does not charge for flight changes or cancelations. Southwest is also not hiding this issue at all. When you go to change a flight the warning below appears:Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 4.33.33 PM

Unfortunately though, the warning does not appear when you go to make a flight, so you are not aware of this if you want to add on EarlyBird check-in. That is essentially the major disadvantage to canceling and re-booking a flight. If you paid for Early Bird Check-In, it will be lost, so keep that in mind. I wrote more about the impact of EarlyBird Check-In with this recent change here. I personally do believe there will be some sort of Class Action Lawsuit in the future for folks that booked a fully-refundable fare to only find out later their reservation in non-refundable.

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  1. If I book with points and make a change and then cancel those points are refunded correct? No voucher for points?

  2. ” I do appreciate that Southwest is still the only airline that does not charge for flight changes or cancelations. ” That’s true, but irrelevant in the context of refundable tickets, which this post is about.

    Other airlines won’t give you a voucher for the value of a canceled nonrefundable flight, at least not without a change fee; Southwest does, which is great. But Southwest’s recent change makes their fully refundable tickets less flexible than the competition. With AA or Delta, I can buy a refundable ticket, then change it to get another fully refundable ticket, as many times as I want, and still get a full refund if I later decide not to travel.

  3. Earlier this year I booked a flight for my family (3 tickets, 1 companion pass ticket) to Mexico and used points to pay for the flight. As international taxes and fees are higher than domestic, the taxes/fees portion of each ticket was roughly $80. I paid for these fees using a SW gift card. Later, I had to cancel the flight. I received the points back to my account, as expected, but the fees paid for with a gift card were refunded to a travel voucher. D’OH! I called Southwest’s so called “customer service” line (which had a 58 minute hold time, I might add) and was summarily told there was “nothing they could do.” Not quite sure why the technology does not exist to, you know, put the funds back on the gift card, but there you have it. Another data point to be cautious about – I assumed because I used points I’d have no problem canceling, but I was wrong. Hopefully others will not suffer the same fate.

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