Any time there’s a major Southwest Airlines sale — as there is now, with round-trip flights to Hawaii for only $198 — or any time you book a Southwest flight at all, there’s a strategy you should have in your back pocket.
No, we’re not talking about how to book your tickets. We’re talking about what to do after you book them.
Confused? Read on.
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Booking an airline flight is a gamble. You never know what the price might be a few days or months down the line and you are always wondering if you are, in fact, booking at the lowest possible rate. Should you book now? Hold off a few days? A few months? It can be a stressful process, especially when buying tickets for an entire family.
Most U.S. airlines charge a hefty change fee of up to $200, which will most likely not be worth it if a fare drops in price. But there is one airline out there that will not charge you any fees when a fare decreases: Southwest Airlines. Whether you booked on points or a revenue fare, you can always rebook your flight and get the difference back. Some other airlines do waive their fees for those with status but with Southwest, it doesn’t matter who you are: All customers can rebook a flight to get the best price available, elite status or no elite status.
Southwest even goes as far as to allow you to rebook your flight an unlimited number of times at any point up until the flight departs (well, really 10 minutes before the flight’s departure). You are not limited to a 24-hour rule like most of the other airlines or allotted a one-time courtesy, and all fare classes are eligible. It is a huge perk and a great option for travelers who want to reduce their overall costs, whether that be in points or dollars.
Many Southwest members — myself included — have been able to rebook upcoming flights and get the fare difference back in their pockets.
Note that Southwest extends its calendar of bookable flights on March 21. We often highlight that it makes sense to book when the airline extends its calendar, as you can always rebook if the price drops and get a credit to use in the future. (Southwest doesn’t extend how far in advance you can book a flight one day at a time, as many major carriers do. Instead, the airline extends its booking calendar in batches a couple of months at a time.)
What happens when you find a lower price
If you happen to find a lower price, you’ll either receive a Travel Funds credit or your points back, depending on how you initially paid for the fare.
- If you paid for the flight: You will receive a Travel Funds credit for the difference in the fare price. You have one year from the date you initially booked the flight to use the credit (not from the date you rebooked). Travel Funds 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 deducted.
Steps to rebook your Southwest flight
Whether your flight was booked on points or a revenue ticket, the process to rebook, and thus reprice, is extremely easy.
1. Sign in to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account. In the “My Account” page, you’ll see all of your upcoming flights midway down the page. Click on “Change Flight.”
2. Select your flight and click on “Select new flights.” If you have a round-trip flight, both the departure and return options will appear. You can select one or the other, or both at the same time. Note: Your original departure and arrival airports as well as date(s) will auto-populate.
3. You’ll see the amount the particular flight has increased or decreased in points or price. If your original flight has decreased (noted by the minus sign), select the fare, click “Continue” and your new trip price will appear.
4. You will see the credit you are receiving at the bottom of the page. In this particular situation, 1,223 Southwest Rapid Rewards points will be credited back into my account. On the next page, the passenger information will already be populated and you’ll just need to confirm your changes by clicking “Change flight.”
After confirming your change, you should receive an email within a few minutes. You’ll notice that your confirmation number for your flight has stayed the same. If you used points, the difference will be credited back to your account immediately. If it was a paid reservation on a nonrefundable fare, you now have Travel Funds available.
Southwest does not keep track of your Travel Funds in your account, so you will need to make sure to keep your confirmation number from the flight that was repriced. When you go to book a future flight, in the Payment method section, select the “Southwest gift card, Travel Funds, or Southwest Luv Voucher” link and you’ll see a new section open up. Select the “Travel Funds” tab and enter the original confirmation number that the funds are tied to as well as the passenger’s first and last name.
Note: If you are paying for just a portion of your flight with Travel Funds, any additional funds added will inherit the earliest Travel Funds expiration date. This is important to know in case you end up canceling your flight.
Repricing a flight is an extremely easy process and, once you get the hang of it, it shouldn’t take more than a minute or so to complete. This is also the same process if you want to change a flight to a different date, time or completely different route.
How does rebooking a flight work with the Southwest Companion Pass?
If a flight goes down in price and requires you to rebook, there are a few extra steps to follow if you have already added a Companion Pass onto your reservation.
The Companion Pass allows you to bring a designated friend or family member for (almost) free on any Southwest flight you take. You’ll just need to pay the taxes and fees, just like you would on an award ticket. This is especially valuable because it applies to both paid and award tickets, allowing you to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points for you and then bring your companion without using any more points.
First, you’ll need to cancel your Companion Pass reservation.
Since you only paid taxes and fees on the companion’s ticket, make sure to request the amount paid back as a refund by selecting “Request a refund.” This will credit the credit card you used so you are not left with a travel voucher. (If you used a gift card originally, the amount paid will result in a voucher and will not be credited back to the original gift card.)
Once you rebook your flight with the lower price, you need to add your companion’s reservation back onto your original reservation. Do not forget this step as you don’t want to be left without a seat for your companion if the flight sells out.
What happens if I paid for Early Bird Check-In?
If you’ve already paid for Early Bird Check-In, rebooking your flight will not cancel out this add-on option. As long as the confirmation number stays the same, you are 100% in the clear.
The real issue is when you cancel a reservation and then rebook. For the most part, this is primarily an issue when you rebook a reservation booked with a Companion Pass. Since this reservation is being canceled and you are receiving a new confirmation number, your Early Bird Check-In is wiped away. The $15 to $25 payment you made initially for this passenger is nonrefundable and will not be credited back to your account. You’ll be on the hook again for the fee if you want to continue to include this option.
If you are a family who wants to purchase Early Bird Check-In, I suggest not paying for your Companion’s Early Bird Check-In add-on until you are pretty confident that fares are not going any lower. (Keep in mind though that your boarding position with Early Bird Check-In is based on a few factors, including how early you add it to your reservation.)
My #1 tip to Southwest travelers is to make checking all upcoming Southwest flight prices part of your morning routine. Southwest flight prices change quite often and there is no reason to not get the best price available. The process is extremely simple and it could ultimately save you hundreds of dollars, or the equivalent amount in points, for hardly any extra effort.
If you’re looking to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points for your everyday spend, consider signing up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.
Featured image courtesy of Southwest Airlines.