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.

pixel Southwest tightens its unused ticket policy
Categorized in: Southwest Airlines

25 Responses to “Southwest tightens its unused ticket policy”

  1. El Cid Vacation Says:

    why do people buy tickets and not use them???? gosh!

  2. China Tours Says:

    SW’s policy change actually makes sense to me as I don’t expect my unused flight credit to be transferrable. However, I do like the option to pay a little extra to be able to transfer the credit. I like that SW doesn’t have a bunch of random fees… but I like having options too… so I’m a bit torn.

    @El Cid Vacation: Sometimes, an emergency comes up and you just have to cancel.

  3. LMI Says:

    I’m not torn at all… I’m with you, Mark. I can book when I know I’m going to take a trip, but can continue to watch for a sale and get a better price for the trip and apply the savings toward a future flight. Maybe a small fee for transferring, which I’d have no reason to do, but it’s the no-charge-for-change policy that often encourages me to fly instead of driving.

  4. Mongo Says:

    I heartily disagree.
    I’ve often had SWA air credits that I used for family members. I travel on business, and my children are near destitute. Having an easy transfer has been a boon.
    Why change it? Is SWA trying to join the race to hell with the rest of the airlines? How does it harm them that I transfer the credit to one of my children, or use it to let my spouse travel with me on a trip?
    As to “why buy tickets and not use them” – uh, welcome to Planet Earth, visitor from somewhere else. We have a saying here, “Life Happens” only spelled a little differently.

  5. Thomas Says:

    I have a friend from overseas who we haven’t seen in years, who is soon visiting. Somehow our wires got crossed (we will be out of town when he arrives) and we had to go through all sorts of gyrations to make his already purchased ticket work. It would have been much easier for us to maybe buy the ticket from him and use on a later date and he purchase one that worked for him.

    But those sorts of things happen. We’re thankful they still have the no fee change policy even on a cheap ticket.

  6. Natalie Says:

    My husband is in the Army and flew home for Christmas and his sister’s wedding. On Christmas day his Grandmother died and we had to change his ticket since the funeral was the day he was suppose to fly back to Texas. Southwest told us we could pay the difference and fly out on a different day or we could save the ticket and use it within one year. We decided to purchase a ticket from a different company since it would cost us less than the price change with southwest and we figured we could fly a family member to Texas at a latter date to see us. Now I’m wondering if we could have the name changed on the ticket. We purchased and chanceled our flight before the end of december 2010 does this allow us to use it for someone else since it was before the policy change?

  7. AndyB Says:

    I know this is an old post, but it is a recent issue for me as I just re-booked four tickets using the anniversary sale prices. I now have a refund in my two children’s names (8 and 5 years old) and unless they accompany me on a trip in the next 12 months the $200 credit will be lost and in Southwest’s pocket.

  8. jh Says:

    Southwest sucks

  9. AnotherJH Says:

    Southwest’s policy change is not customer friendly anymore. Life does happen. Times are tough; money isn’t growing on trees. I paid Southwest $427 to go on a trip to begin tomorrow. Life happened – a death in my spouse’s family. Lots of extra cash in the bank? No. I canceled my ticket expecting to use my credit on his fare instead. On the cancel screen, does it tell you the travel funds have to be used by the same person? NO. So I canceled and didn’t know their policy changed until I was trying to apply the funds to his ticket. So… now I’m out the $427 AND another $387 for his ticket! Yes, I have a credit I can use in the future. But that’s not as valuable to me and our family budget at this time. I’d prefer using my credit on his ticket and would gladly pay a $25 fee to do it! I am no longer such a big fan of Southwest.

  10. Fon Galien Says:

    A friend of the family was stranded in California, and I offered to get him a ticket. He ended up driving back, the ticket was not used. He has a gift of over $200 that he can not use, since I paid for the ticket and can not give my money back. This is an outrage.

  11. Lon Malieu Says:

    This new policy is very annoying! I fly (flew) SW because they are easy to deal with. If I wanted this kind of hassle, I’d be flying American or Delta. I agree with Mongo, if I’m changing the name to a family member OR way in advance, I should be able to use the funds for a ticket for someone else. I have poor-student-kids, too.
    I can understand (kind of) about vouchers, but cold hard cash??? Since when does CASH expire? Especially when SW has gotten a year’s interest on it…

  12. Rick Says:

    It’s absurd. I paid for the tickets, they dropped their price while using my funds for all that time prior to me flying, then I rebook to save a few bucks, and the $400 credit that I paid well ahead of time in excess of the actual fare when I traveled I can not be used by me THE purchaser. So to me they stole my money. Since my 17 year old doesn’t even hold a job, she would never pay that money. IMO, they should at least allow the person who’s name appears on the payment method should have use of those funds. But hey, what do I know!

  13. Jennifer Says:

    Having just called for clarification, the Southwest agent explained to me that though the policy did not really “change” but rather travel funds were never “transferable” but that “the system” had previously allowed a traveler to designate a different traveler when using the travel credits. Whatever the semantics, my husband had purchased his ticket prior to this “system” change, with the prior experience that if he did NOT go, Southwest “system” would allow another one of us in the family to use the travel credit. That was why we made the purchase with Southwest and not some competitor.

    Since my husband will not be traveling before the funds expire, the Southwest agent said that for a $50 FEE, but ONLY AFTER the travel funds expire, my husband can have the funds converted to a voucher, which can be used by another individual BUT the voucher expires in 6 MONTHS.

    Unfortunately, since my son also has travel funds due to expire, we have definitely decided to choose another carrier in the future.

  14. Alan Says:

    I too have a daughter that could not use the ticket and therefore has a credit. A second daughter needs a flight and they simply will not back up on their “Policy” — I told her my “Policy” was to not waste money and so I would need to continue to annoy Southwest for a viable solution. I even offered to pay a $50.00 transfer fee.

    My “Policy” requires that I share this in hopes that we all waste enough of Southwest time, money and people power that they allow some type of escape clause – I will pay $50 to save the $300 (well it would be $250) but you get the point. Customer relations is (214) 932-0333 7am to 8pm Central.

    Nothing will change without customers voicing their opinion

  15. Lloyd Says:

    Hello Alan,

    I had a similar situation. I immediately started tweeting about it and the problem was remedied in less than an hour. Calling is private, Tweeting is public. When you call it’s just between you and the company. When you tweet, it’s like discussing the issue on the news. Everyone is listening and fear that they could end up in the same situation. Companies don’t like bad publicity. Always Tweet the good and bad in your dealings with companies as this will shape their behavior.

    It makes no sense for Southwest to attach the funds to a child. The funds should belong to the purchaser to do as they see fit, as it is their money.

  16. class 2 driver Says:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  17. Mich Says:

    I have someone that want to sell me r/t tickets on SW and says they are transferrable. But reading this site, I am afraid to. What should I look out for. I believe it should say “transferable” right on the coupon, right?


  18. Frank Says:

    How do we tell the CEO at Southwest: You’re losing customers!….Better rethink!

    Like others (a pretty common situation…you’d think good business/marketing sense would see an opportunity and provide an option/solution for this – not an obstacle), I have an “inadequately financed” son in college on West Coast and live on East Coast. Visits from me that I’ve had to cancel cannot now be used for him though he flys regularly and we could certainly use. And these trips are suddenly also getting very expensive – deals over last few years no longer appear. But no!

    Also, double miles program for college students (another no-brainer useful program for college parents with kids a plane ride away) was cancelled two weeks after I signed him up hoping to give all my business to SW because of benefical terms. Would have given SW steady flights 8 times a year for 4 years and made a confirmed future SW traveler of my son and immediate devotees of us. Instead…pissed me off and pissed me away after two weeks.
    Not such great business decisions after all. Penny-wise and pound foolish. Who would’ve thunk it? Now I just find myself increasingly annoyed at SW. Lowest online prices going up like rockets, small fees creeping in (Early Bird means all tix are $10 more to get decent boarding position), wasted money on involuntarily unused tickets (yes, life happens) that cannot be transferred to needy college offspring, etc. etc. How to design your business program so that it *doesn’t* help or serve customer needs! Go back to B-school, Gary!

  19. Deb Feinberg Says:

    Found out it’s a $75 fee to transfer the unused funds from my son’s name (ticket holder) to my name (purchaser of the ticket). My money bought the ticket; I should be able to use it. It’s that plain and simple.

  20. Frank 2 Says:

    As Southwest becomes more and more restrictive regarding its policies, there is less and less that differentiates it from the other airlines. They screwed the regular business short haul fliers with Rapid Rewards 2.0. My wife recently purchased a ticket for an upcoming flight that she found out she cannot use. Imagine my surprise when I found out I could not use the funds from my wife’s ticket. We didn’t transfer funds a lot in the past but it was nice to know that you could do so…in the past. Since implementation of Rapid Rewards 2.0, I’ve been less inclined to purchase tickets from Southwest unless the price is significantly less than its competitors. This is just another reason to fly another airline. My loyalty to Southwest doesn’t get me anything except a seat that’s not a middle seat.

  21. Nunna Says:

    Pay attention when you buy a ticket on SWA website. They let you use combination of unused voucher and the rest of the fare using credit card. But the only problem is if *** life happens *** and you end up cancelling the ticket, they give you a new voucher. The expiry on the new voucher will be the expiry date on the voucher you used previously. IT WILL NOT BE ONE YEAR FROM THE DATE OF PURCHASE. Supposing that you used a $5 voucher that expires in a week to buy a $200 ticket by paying $195 using credit card. And you end up cancelling the ticket. They give you a new voucher for $200 which will expire in week. If you want to reinstate the voucher you lose $75 as fee and you only have one month to do the renewal. The $75 will extend the expiry date by 6 months.

    All in all it is an inflexible policy…

  22. Bob Says:

    It would seem to me that the best compromise would be that the purchaser can use the credits on another future purchase. If I book a family trip and later able to rebook that trip at a lower price, I should be able to use those credits later for another trip I book, regardless if my whole family is going or not. I can understand that SW is already more lenient than other airlines, and that is great, but it would be a nice perk to have that option.

  23. Don Says:

    As long as you don’t apply any of the funds in an unused reservation, just call SWA and have the full unused reservation refunded to your credit card. You get all the $$ back.

    IF however you apply ANY amount of the unused reservation to a new reservation you can no longer request the refund to your credit card (the unused $ balance). The ONLY way to use up these funds is to apply them to a future flight reservation, or let the credit expire, and then get a voucher. Minus the admin fee, of course.

    What I do now is for any canceled/changed reservation, I always make a NEW reservation (not a CHANGE), and then submit the old reservation for a full credit card refund. I don’t bank travel funds at all.

    I also make separate reservations for each person and each direction, so that all legs of a trip are separable and can be refunded individually without affecting other legs.

  24. Mike Says:

    In reply to Don

    So, I had a scheduled flight this past January. Because of family matters, I had to cancel the flight, which I did, the previous December. I haven’t applied the unused reservation to a new reservation; I have until October 19. I don’t anticipate any traveling around that time. Are you saying I can just call SWA and request a refund of the unused balance, back to my CC? Keep in my these tickets were purchased at Wanna Get Away prices.

  25. Charles Dobbs Says:

    Being an employer I used Southwest all of the time. Booking flights for my employees for business trips. And on occasion had employees at the last minute not be able to make the trip. I could still use the credit from the non used ticket for a later trip, for any employee. Now I have to use the unused ticket credit for the same employee that missed the last trip. This really hurts a small business.

Leave a Reply