Second to none: Here’s what makes Southwest’s generous change policies so good

Aug 16, 2020

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Positives in the travel industry are hard to come by in recent months — so we’ll take a win when we can.

One positive change is the removal of change and cancellation fees with most airlines. With shifting coronavirus case counts and ever-changing U.S. state and country restrictions, flexibility in travel is more important now than ever before.

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That’s why it’s remarkable to remember that one airline — Southwest — has never charged a fee to change or cancel any ticket it sells, so long as you make your change no later than 10 minutes before departure.

Related: Which Southwest credit card makes sense for you?

Change and cancellation fees (pre-COVID)

One of the more egregious fees airlines have added — and even increased — over the last decade is the change and cancellation fee. That’s the penalty airlines like to charge for altering a ticket after buying it, even if the change is being made months in advance of the flight.

It’s not unusual for these fees to reach hundreds of dollars just to change a flight by a day or two, and that cost doesn’t even include any actual increase in the airfare itself. However, almost industrywide, the change fee has been eliminated — at least in the short term.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers

The Southwest change and cancellation policy

Earlier this summer, Southwest went so far as waiving any difference in airfare when changing flights — but that is no longer the case.

However, if the price of a new ticket is less than the old one, you’ll get credit for that. Any extra money left over from a lower airfare will become a travel credit if you purchased one of Southwest’s cheaper Wanna Get Away fares, or you can get the money back if you’re traveling on a higher-priced ticket.

Southwest’s already-flexible policy is even more generous during the pandemic. For already-booked trips, Southwest has extended the validity for any existing travel credits that were originally set to expire between March 1 and Sept. 7, 2020 to Sept. 7, 2022. Any new credits issued between March 1 and Sept, 7, 2020 will remain valid through Sept. 7, 2022.

Related: Southwest extends Companion Pass, elite status benefits into 2021

Plastic protective barriers are now in place at check-in counters at Orlando International Airport, including for Southwest. (Image courtesy of Orlando International Airport)
(Photo courtesy of Orlando International Airport)

This generous policy also applies to tickets purchased with Southwest Rapid Rewards points, so any award flight can be canceled at any time without penalty. And if you’ve purchased either a cash or points ticket ahead of time and find your flight later decreases in price, you can trade in your ticket for the lower-cost one and get the difference returned to you.

Finally, Southwest recently announced the ability to convert travel vouchers into Rapid Rewards points. However, as TPG’s Zach Griff noted, the value in this conversion may not make sense for everyone.

Southwest is very proud of its “no change fee” policy, and it should be. It’s very customer friendly and just one reason you should strongly consider Southwest when making travel plans.

Related: 9 ways to earn points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program

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Additional reporting by Julian Kheel. 

Featured photo by John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock.

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