I Just Learned Something Crazy About Southwest’s Cancellation Policy – On Accident

It’s no secret, I have a special place in my heart for Southwest. Everything about their “no fee” policy makes me a happy flyer. I don’t expect a first class flying experience, but it is very predictable.

Alyssa and I have Companion Pass, which means we fly 2 for 1. I will put up with a lot if it means 2 for 1 travel, fortunately Southwest doesn’t put me to the test.

Don’t wait, book

Since Southwest has the most generous cancellation policy of domestic carriers, I take full advantage. We travel on Southwest every 2-3 weeks so I am booking flights rather often. I typically have a flight booked each weekend in the immediate 8 weeks, to varying cities.

If we can’t make a weekend work, no problem, we just cancel and our points are returned instantly. Plus we love the flexibility of being able to head somewhere or not head somewhere without any risk.

My best advice when booking on Southwest is; BOOK. If you see a price you like, go for it. If you book with cash, you can cancel at anytime and receive 100% of your money back as future flight credit. Just keep in mind that future flight credit can only be used under YOUR passenger name.

If you see a good deal on a Southwest flight and you are using points, BOOK immediately. If you need to cancel or change the flight, you will have your points returned automatically. If your flight becomes cheaper, you can get the points difference back without rebooking. Learn more here.

Oh crap

A few days ago, I had a one-way flight booked from Phoenix to San Francisco. The flight had a stop in San Diego, which is actually where I was headed. The same flight from Phoenix to San Diego was TWICE the number of points, so I booked to SFO with a SAN layover. This is called a hidden-city flight which Southwest actually ‘allows’. Another reason I LUV them.

Having over 10+ flights booked in advance, I am constantly cancelling flights that we can’t make work. This particular week I was busy and wasn’t paying attention to my upcoming flights. My flight was set to leave around 6:30PM, I received an email from Southwest about 9:00PM telling me my flight was cancelled.

I immediately knew that I screwed up, I simply forgot to cancel a flight I wasn’t planning on taking.


Automatic refund after I missed my Southwest flight


Generally, Southwest has a “10 minute rule”, which put simply means your seat is given-up 10 minutes before departure, treated as a cancellation.  Whether your flight is paid with points or cash, if you aren’t at your gate 10 minutes before departure they will give your seat to a standby flyer.

At this point I assumed I was out 3,626 points and I had learned a good lesson. To my surprise, Southwest refunded my points 24 hours later. I didn’t even call, email, or reach out on FaceBook. I was just going to eat my mistake and not let it happen again.


The best around

In a nutshell, I booked a flight with points, didn’t show up for the flight, and Southwest returned ALL my points without asking. For comparison, United, American, and Delta have strict award cancellation rules (refund only within 24 hours of booking, at best).

The one stand out benefit is with American award flights. They allow you to change the flight date and routings, you just can’t change the start or end point. United and American charge $75 if you book an award flight within 21 days of departure. (most of my Southwest flights are booked within 21 days)

Sorry, but I am not willing to try this “test” with a paid Southwest flight, so if you have any experience missing your Southwest flight, please share. I have a feeling that if you miss a “cash” Southwest flight you will lose your funds. I certainly hope I am wrong.

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