With 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. Now, you might now be unexpectedly hit with a travel voucher if you cancel a flight that was originally fully refundable. UPDATE: This is no longer the case. For all reservations booked October 10, 2018 or later, changing a flight will continue to keep your fare 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, 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. In the past it would always go back to the the credit card on file. That is for fully refundable fare types. For point reservations, all flights were treated as fully refundable. With this new change, the points will go back to your account, but 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.
In the past, if you faced the above scenario for an international flight, you’d be able to call Southwest Customer Relations. They would 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 for some customers.
Cancel and Rebook… Do Not Change!
Despite the changes, there is still a way to keep your fare fully refundable. All you have to do is cancel your reservation and re-book. This will keep your reservation as a fully refundable fare incase you need to cancel. 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. There is no way to get that fee paid, unfortunately. Southwest will also not apply it to a new reservation. If you were to change your flight (instead of canceling), the EarlyBird check-in follows the reservation since the reservation number doesn’t change. If you cancel and then re-book, you’ll have to re-buy the EarlyBird check-in option. 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. It is expensive and I would prefer to use that money elsewhere. But, if you typically purchase this additional service, keep this in mind.
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. You 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.