Southwest schedule extended: Book most of your summer vacation flights now

Dec 11, 2019

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If you have yet to book your family’s vacation for next summer and want to score the best deal to get out of town — now’s a good time to book flights. Although some carriers allow you to book flights 330 days in advance, Southwest extends its booking window in batches of only a few months at a time.

As of 9:15 a.m. ET this morning, Southwest extended its reservation schedule to book flights through Aug. 10, 2020. This means run — do not walk — and go book any June, July and early August flights now. This will allow you to book that summer vacation right when the kids get out of school or get out of town over the extended July Fourth weekend. (Previously, you could only book flights through June 6, 2020.)

Summertime is one of the most popular times of the year for families to fly, so booking the moment the Southwest schedule gets extended is important. Although availability will probably still be around for a little while, the best prices will most likely be had today, especially for those peak travel dates.

Southwest has an extremely flexible change and cancellation policy so if you book now and find a lower price at a future date, you can “rebook” your flight at the lower price. Here are the rules:

  • 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 initially booked the flight to use the credit. Travel Fund credits are nontransferable and can only be used for the same passenger.
  • If You Used Points for the Flight: The difference in points will automatically go back into the account from which those points were originally deducted if you reprice the flight.

This means if your family’s travel plans change, you can cancel your flight with no cost and if the price decreases, you can receive the difference back in a credit if you rebook. This is a very low-risk booking situation, which is important for family travel.

(Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

How to score the best Southwest deals on most of your summer flights

Book right now!

I recommend booking flights immediately when the booking window opens, especially if you are looking to fly during peak times. Although flights already opened up this morning, you are still within the realm of being able to get a good deal (relatively speaking). As mentioned above, there is minimal risk with booking Southwest flights due to the airline’s flexible policies. So, even if you are not 100% certain of your plans, book now — especially if you are using points. Southwest also allows you to cancel a flight within 24 hours of booking and you’ll get a full refund. Go book your flight and then sleep on it overnight. If it’s a paid reservation, just make sure to cancel within the 24-hour time frame. Note: If using points, your reservation is always fully refundable.

(Photo by @criene via Twenty20)
(Photo by @criene via Twenty20)

Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest

Using Southwest points is my preferred method for booking a Southwest flight because of the airline’s flexible policies. If you need to cancel a flight booked with points, there is absolutely no penalty and your points go straight back into your Rapid Rewards account (you can cancel up until 10 minutes before the flight’s departure time).

If you do not have enough points in your Southwest Rapid Rewards account, you can transfer points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account via cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve (1:1 ratio). Although this might not provide you with the absolute best value for your Ultimate Rewards points, it’s still a great option to secure holiday flights.

First, you’ll need to link your two accounts, which only takes a minute or two. Log in to your Chase Ultimate Rewards account and go to “Transfer to Travel Partners.” Scroll down to the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards option and select “Transfer Points.”

You’ll need to select the recipient and enter your Southwest Rapid Rewards number. While you can transfer points to one authorized user on your account (who is also a household member), you’ll need to reenter their information every time when initiating a transfer. After you click the “Continue” button, your information will be saved in your Frequent Travel Programs, even if you did not actually transfer any points.

Then, hover over the Southwest Rapid Rewards box and click “Transfer Points.” Enter the number of points you want to transfer over, click “Continue” and then confirm the transfer. Note: Points must be transferred in 1,000-point increments.

Use a Companion Pass, but you can add it later

The Southwest Companion Pass is my favorite benefit in the travel industry. You’ve probably read about it before on TPG, but it ultimately allows a friend or family member to fly with you for free (plus taxes/fees) for the life of the pass. Normally, the pass expires Dec. 31 the following year after you earn it (though sometimes promotional passes are valid for shorter periods of time).

If you do not yet have the pass but you are planning on earning it prior to your flight, you can still book your flights now and then add your companion’s ticket later. The only requirement for adding your companion onto your reservation is that there must be at least one seat left for sale. Just keep in mind that if you are flying during peak times, there is the chance that your flight will sell out if you wait too long.

Welcome bonuses and credit card spending from all five cobranded Southwest credit cards count toward the qualifying points needed in a calendar year to earn the pass. These include: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. All three personal consumer cards are currently offering 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Related: Southwest increases Companion Pass requirements

Have alternative dates in mind

If you have some flexibility for your vacation schedule, use that to your advantage when booking your flights. The most expensive days to fly are typically Fridays and Sundays, but if you can shift your dates a few days, you might find the price to be significantly less. Tuesday and Wednesday flights typically are the least expensive days to fly. Of course, missing work or taking kids out of camp might not work for all families, but having backup dates might pay off.

Fort Myers Beach pier, Florida. (Photo by lightkey / Getty Images)
Fort Myers Beach pier, Florida. (Photo by lightkey / Getty Images)

Watch prices, and request a credit

If your flight happens to go down in price between when you book and when you fly, you can easily get the difference in Rapid Rewards points back into your account. Of course, these flexible policies still exist when you pay for your fare with cash, but you’ll end up with a nontransferable Southwest credit instead, which expires 12 months after your original booking.

Peak date flight options

Here are some samples fares I came across. With this extension window, being flexible is key.

Ft. Lauderdale to Aruba

If you are looking for that Caribbean getaway, but hoping to stay outside of the hurricane belt, Aruba could be the perfect opportunity. Starting at just 5,850 Rapid Rewards points, you can visit this beautiful island and even use your points from many loyalty programs to stay at an amazing resorts.

Oakland to Lihue

With Southwest now flying to Hawaii, you can fly to Lihue for less than a little over 14,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. You can even fly 2-for-1 to Hawaii with your Southwest Companion Pass.

Washington, D.C. to Providence

For those looking to embrace summertime in New England, you can fly to Providence for less than 5,000 points. From there you can head to Cape Cod and or even take the ferry over to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.

Bottom line

Knowing the ins and outs of booking a Southwest flight can allow you to book the best flights possible for your family at the lowest cost. Those looking to travel throughout summer vacation should book now in order to score the best deals on Southwest.

Anyone able to get a good deal with this schedule extension announcement?

Featured image by Robert Alexander / Getty Images

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