Save Money on Flights: Why Your Family Needs to Know When Southwest Extends Its Schedule
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If you have kids in school, you already know that booking flights for a family vacation can be quite costly. Parents typically don't want to take their kids out of school due to missed classroom learning and attendance policies, so they resort to traveling during school vacation weeks — a peak time for flight costs (and just about anything else travel related). That is why booking your peak-season flights at the first opportunity is imperative and can save your family a ton of money on that next vacation.
You can book a flight about 330 days in advance with many of the domestic airlines, but Southwest Airlines works differently. Roughly every six weeks or so, Southwest extends its reservation schedule in batches. Fortunately, Southwest informs customers about the schedule extension in advance, which allows you to plan ahead. On its flight schedules site, you can find out when the schedule extension is set to take place as well as the travel date you'll be able to book through.
Southwest's Flight Schedule
Typically, Southwest will allow you to book flights for the new dates at some point between 6am and 7am EST the morning they are released. There is no "set" time of day, but this is a good bet from my years of experience booking Southwest flights. Making reservations right away for peak flights is imperative as many times the "Wanna Getaway Fares" can be sold out within a few hours and the pricing could be the lowest you'll ever see for that particular flight.
For example, when Southwest opened its reservation schedule for Christmas/New Year's vacation this year back in May, I was able to book round-trip flights for Christmas week from Boston to Cancun for just 19,422 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for each member in my family! Being able to use airline points for a peak time of the year is amazing, especially when other airlines typically do not even open up their saver-level award inventory for those dates.
While I've been checking those flights on a daily basis to see if they have decreased in price, they have not. In fact, they have only gone up in price, so booking the moment they were released was a smart move. I also always knew in the back of my mind that I could cancel if I needed to due to Southwest's flexible cancellation policy. When you have kids, you never know what might pop up between the time you book your flight and when you are set to depart.
Book Now and Keep an Eye on Price Decreases
One of the biggest benefits of Southwest is if a flight you have already booked decreases in price, you can actually change it to the less expensive fare with no additional fees. This is the case for both paid and points reservations. Due to this flexible policy, there is little risk to booking a flight when the new schedule is released. With other airlines, it's a guessing game as to whether or not you are booking at the lowest fare possible. With Southwest, you do not need to worry! You can read detailed instructions on how to rebook a Southwest flight when you find a lower flight, but here are the rules in a nutshell. If you...
- Paid for the Flight — You will receive a Travel Fund credit for the difference in the fare price. You have one year from the date you booked the flight (NOT changed the flight) to use the credit. Travel Fund credits are nontransferable and can only be used for the same passenger.
- Used Points for the Flight — The difference in points will automatically go back into the account from which they were originally deducted.
Just keep in mind though, if your flight was booked prior to October 10, 2018, and you need to change your flight, it will automatically adjust the ticket to a nonrefundable reservation. A refundable fare includes paid Business Select and Anytime tickets as well as any reservation booked with points (including Wanna Get Away fares). This means that if you then ultimately cancel your new reservation, any amount paid will be credited as a Travel Fund instead of going back to your credit card. Points will still be returned to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account, but any taxes paid will result in a Travel Fund credit. Fortunately though, Southwest just reversed its policy and now any refundable tickets booked on October 10 or after will still stay as a refundable fare if a change takes place. Remember, whether your ticket stays refundable or changes to nonrefundable depends on the date you booked your flight, not the date you actually change the ticket.
You can beef up your Rapid Rewards point balance with these Southwest co-branded credit cards or keep in mind that Chase Ultimate Rewards points from cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve can transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.
Pay attention to when Southwest extends its flight schedule. For peak travel times, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation and spring vacation, you will want to book right away and put those Rapid Reward points and/or Southwest Companion Pass benefits to work. Fares for those type of dates will usually only increase from that day forward. And, if fares do happen to decrease in price at some point prior to your flight, you can always get the difference back in dollars/points paid. This tip can help your family travel for less.
Jennifer Yellin covers family travel deals for TPG and blogs at Deals We Like. Follow her family's adventures on Twitter and Instagram.