The Cranky Flier and I normally see eye to eye on most matters, but he’s got a post today that I just can’t agree with.
Southwest, which has had — and still has — one of the most liberal refund / rebooking policies in commercial aviation, is tightening one of their most liberal provisions:
Effective January 28, 2011, unused travel funds may only be applied toward the purchase of future travel for the individual named on the ticket.
In the past, the unused voucher could be transferable to anyone else. (I’m told their contract of carriage has included this provision for some time, and that they’re just finally getting around to enforcing it, but I can’t currently find a prior version of the contract. Late Edit: Found it. Google cache has it. Sixth revised edition includes updates through April 23, 2010. That version already includes: “Tickets are not transferable unless specified thereon, but Carrier is not liable to the owner of a ticket for honoring or refunding such ticket when presented by another person.”)
Cranky, a.k.a. Brett, doesn’t like it, and would rather see the airline keep the transferability and instead introduce a small (i.e., $25) change fee.
I completely disagree. For me, it’s exactly the opposite. Tying a voucher to the original buyer of the ticket doesn’t offend me nearly as much as if they introduced a fee. The lack of a change fee is what differentiates Southwest from its competitors.
Granted, Brett’s idea of a $25 fee would be less offensive than a more typical $100 or $150 fee. But — let’s say it again — the lack of a fee is what differentiates Southwest from it’s competitors. It fits with their low/no fee marketing strategy, and it’s something I’ve actually heard passengers discuss publicly in an airport.
Sure, you won’t be able to book a ticket for yourself, cancel it, and have your spouse/sibling/parent use the credit the week after. But really, who expects to do that these days?
Maybe I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome, and the airlines-TSA industrial complex have got me convinced that a ticket is non-transferable. Maybe I fly enough myself that using up a voucher within a year is not going to be a problem. But since I’m so accustomed to non-transferability, it doesn’t even enter my consciousness that an airline ticket could be transferable.
Would it have been more consumer-friendly to stay no-fee and permit transferability? Sure. But failing that, Southwest is still a better deal on this front that its competitors. And that’s worth something.