Southwest backtracks, issues refunds for EarlyBird check-in fees

Apr 4, 2020

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Southwest is a favorite of travelers who are tired of being inundated with fees. It has a history of zigging when every other airline is zagging and has maintained a policy of two free checked bags per passenger and no cancellation/change fees. Meanwhile, other airlines are charging over $30 each way to check a bag on domestic flights and have change fees that can top $200 per ticket.

Even in the middle of this global pandemic Southwest continues to go a step further and not charge for price increases on flight changes.

However, the two biggest gripes with Southwest has been its unforgiving points expiration policy, which was changed last year (they no longer expire) and its cattle call boarding process. If you don’t have Southwest elite status, you do have the option of jumping to the front of the line by paying for EarlyBird Check-In, which costs $15-$25 per passenger each way. EarlyBird Check-In fees are non-refundable unless Southwest cancels the flight. This became an issue this past month as passengers began canceling flights en masse and were stuck eating upwards of $50 in fees per round-trip ticket.

Related reading: Is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In worth it?

Now, as reported by USA Today, Southwest has changed course and is issuing travel vouchers for EarlyBird fees paid on customer-canceled travel from March 1 to May 31, 2020. These vouchers are valid for one year and can be applied to future flights, but not EarlyBird Check-In fees. If you qualify you can receive one voucher per reservation. So groups traveling together under a single reservation will be issued one voucher for the total cost of the EarlyBird fees, not one voucher per person.

If you need to cancel a flight scheduled to depart by May 31 or have already canceled a past flight you can call Southwest (800-435-9792) or email to request an EarlyBird refund.

This is obviously a positive move, but it’s always preferable to a get full refund over a travel credit. Although Southwest has extended the expiration date of travel funds set to expire by May 31, 2020, that policy won’t impact these refunds. Also, many airlines have been more generous by issuing full refunds that cover extra costs, like seat selection fees.

If you have any travel credits with other airlines that are expiring soon take a look at our guide to airline credit expiration policies, which we’ve updated with current information. And if you need to reach out to a travel provider to request a refund or adjust your plans, follow these strategies to help make the call a bit smoother for everyone.

One travel returns to normal (whatever normal will look like), we’ll still be here to help you find the great deals and make the most of your credit card rewards. So sign-up for our daily email newsletter to stay in the loop.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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