Southwest Restricts Unused Tickets, I’d Rather See a Change Fee

It looks like the good folks at Southwest have slipped in a little change to your ability to use ticketless travel funds. As with any change, that has some people unhappy. Instead of being Southwest Funds Rule Changeable to use your funds for anyone to travel, you’ll only be able to use it for yourself. I’m not a fan of this move.

A friend of mine sent me the news when he saw the story on FlyerTalk. Beginning January 28, 2011, funds that are in your name can only be used when you travel on Southwest. The way it is today, if you have a credit, you can use it for anyone.

Let’s say you booked a ticket to Birmingham, Alabama (not sure why you’d do that, but ok) and then found you couldn’t go at the last minute. We all know that Southwest has no change fees, so the amount you paid for that ticket goes into a credit that you can use on Southwest within one year of ticketing. The beauty of those credits is that you can use them for other travelers and not just you. So if I don’t have a reason to use it, I can offer it to my dad or to a friend. I’ve actually done that before where an expiring credit would have simply disappeared so I gave it up to someone else.

That luxury is going the way of free airline meals. Now you have to be the one traveling to use the credit. That sucks. I think we all understand why Southwest would do this. Without being able to transfer the credit, more people won’t be able to use it and Southwest will get to keep the money. It also eliminates any black market that may have been out there to get some cash for credits that would have gone unused. So this is a revenue-generating move, but I think there are better ones out there than this.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think Southwest should have a change fee. Just put a reasonable $25 fee on there and the airline can start raking in the dough. It can also eliminate a lot of the uncertainty out there. If someone really needs to make a change, that person would pay $25. It would hurt those who just book for the sake of booking a cheap flight and then bank the credits later if they don’t take the flight.

Why do I like this better? I think it’s more flexible and useful. I know there is always an outcry when I mention a Southwest change fee, but if you could share your credit with someone else for only a $25 fee, then it would be better than not being able to share it at all. I know Southwest hates change fees, but there are only so many messages that an airline can promote. It’s been almost entirely about bags flying free lately and that’s a good campaign. Why not keep the focus on that. It’s not a conflict because a $25 fee would be fair.

This, however, isn’t happening anytime soon. And that’s too bad, because I find a change fee to be more palatable than a restriction on credit use.

[Original photo via Flickr user flygraphix]

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44 Comments on "Southwest Restricts Unused Tickets, I’d Rather See a Change Fee"

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SW Flyer
Guest

So … it sounds like you would rather incur a transaction fee — maybe you should face reality and see what their competition is doing. Following your logic maybe SW should just decrement the funds by $150, like the other airlines, just for a change with no flexibility on credit use. SW has been generous in allowing the flexibility to change flights without additional fees.

ILUVBHM
Guest

Hey, now, there’s a lot of good reasons to book a ticket to Birmingham, AL.

ILUVBHM2
Guest

Reasons:
1. Dreamland
2. UAB Hospital, Worldwide leader in heart transplants, maybe related to eating at Dreamland to often…

Mike
Guest

I don’t know.. it sounds to me like they’re just leaving a lot of revenue on the table by NOT doing this.

Not to mention, I can’t think of a single airline that still does this practice. I think it makes them more industry standard. I don’t really see a problem with that

frank
Guest

its called REDUCING future DEBT…………………all airlines do it.

Jason Steele
Guest
Airline industry groupthink is all about the fact that you are “leaving money on the table” every time you fail to charge for anything and everything. To attract actual customers, you must think like one. Think like a customer, and you will realize that they will be far less hesitant to part with their money when they know that they can change plans without penalty. Why do you think almost all retailers have return policies on goods when they loose money on each return? It is because retailers understand that the profits earned by customers who will make a purchase… Read more »
Sean S.
Guest
Nonsense. Hardly anyone but business travellers part with their money with the expectation that the ticket is refundable; at this point everyone accepts the lower cost of a non-refundable ticket. Comparing the airline industry to retail is absurd. The comparison would only be logical if retail stores sold the same product to different customers at various price points. they don’t, and thats why airlines are hit so hard by cancelled bookings. That ticket not only could hav ebeen sold to another customer, but it would have also been sold to a customer at a higher PRICE. No sane person would… Read more »
Jason Steele
Guest

Actual customers make decisions based on refundability, whether or not you think it is nonsense. Business or leisure travelers often choose Southwest because of their no change fee policy. Reduce the refundablility of your product or service and you reduce it’s value and you will loose loyal customers. Increase options such as refundability or future flight credit and you increase your product’s value and attract loyal customers. That has obviously been Southwest’s strategy.

You clearly do not think like a customer.

JamesK
Guest
Or is it more like a Super Wal-Mart that sells tobacco and alcohol products as well? Wal-Mart has a pretty generous money-back return policy, but state laws in Georgia forbid the return of alcohol or tobacco products. They have to uphold this draconian policy just like the rest of the retail industry. However, if I accept the fact that some of the items I can buy at Wal-Mart are returnable but others aren’t, would that make me more or less likely to shop there than at a store that allows returns on very few products? Yes, thinking like a customer,… Read more »
JamesK
Guest

Sorry, I meant to say that even if they add an ASC to the new policy, it’s still a whole lot better than the deal you get on the competition.

Joe
Guest

This rule was already on the books. This announcement is not that Southwest is actually changing the rule, it is that will be enforcing the existing rule regarding “nonrefundable tickets” in their Contract of Carriage (pg12). It was nice of them to give everyone ~6 months give their credits to friends and family (or go to the black market).

DGS
Guest

I’m just glad that the endless barrage of “Bags Fly Free” ads have stopped for now.

Although, with football season only about six weeks away, I fear that they’ll be back soon.

David SF eastbay
Member

I see nothing wrong with making the funds only usuable by the person who purchased the ticket in the first place. But it would be nice if they could still use the funds for a spouse/partner and their kids.

Maybe this is just a step towards one day charging a change fee. Baby steps as they say.

Joey
Guest

As soon as Southwest heads down that slippery slope, the sky is not the limit (pat myself on the back for that pun).

SW is the leader in differentiating itself along the lines of customers over fees. However they want to do it is alright, as long as they don’t add fees. The concept/word/PR/marketing of fees, needs to be used very sparingly by Southwest. Let the competition do it.

Steve
Guest

I completely disagree. I find the SW policy the MOST liberal of all! I don’t care that I can’t use the fare for someone else. Let them get their own ticket. I want access to ALL the funds I paid, not minus $150!

Ritz Tours
Guest

I agree with Steve on this. They’ve already got such a liberal policy and if you purchased them before, you’re bound to fly them again so how does this affect you really? As long as I have a year to rebook, I’m happy. No extra fees please.

Larry M.
Guest

For code shares to work, you must have similar policies about ticketing and refunds (and use of unused ticketless funds). It really is that simple.

Also, Joe is correct… WN has been making exceptions to the policy for years.

Code shares and future security measures will force all airlines to be more consistent in how a number of things are done.

N370z
Guest

Security???!!!!! What in this post-911 world does this have anything to do with security?

Security??? We’re talking travel credits here and you’re bringing up security???

Oh, I see, Southwest is changing this policy regarding unused funds out of an overabundance of caution.

Security???? Sheesh.

john96
Member
Crankster, I humbly submit that on this one you are wrong. Change fees are bad (as a flier) I fly WN because they dont have a change fee. I could fly US nonstops out of PHX, but 60% of the time I figure I will have a change, and I wont fly them because of the intense pain of paying them an extra $150 on the change. If WN goes the way of change fees, however small, it will be so very easy to raise the rates until they are like all the rest and then they lose their cachet.… Read more »
IHSW
Guest

“Southwest, keep it up, no bag fees and no change fees (we LUV it!)”

Aren’t you a little embarrassed to be a grown adult (I assume) parroting marketing bullshit? I mean, seriously.

The only thing less tolerable than WalMart Airlines are the psychotic moonies that fly with them.

Mark
Guest

But why would you want to be “industry standard” when the inverse has been what helps you stand out and sell more tickets? IMO, Southwest has been successful as an airline for one reason and one reason only: bucking the tide. SWA has never followed the industry current, and customers have rewarded them with their wallets.

clay
Guest

you’ve got to be kidding… you would rather have a change fee than a reasonable pricing scheme…. i fly them most every week and enjoy the flexibility that their price policies allow.

David
Guest

They could go half way with the change fee thing. Add an option to the new policy: For something like $25 they could allow one to change the name on the unused tickets. It wouldn’t be a change fee in the traditional sense but still would help them retain some of that revenue.

Don
Guest

I agree with — There should never be a change fee — when I give up my “Cheap” ticket and buy another ticket for the going price — the airline will resell that same “Cheap” seat at the then current higher price. Also, there is no human interface when I do it online.

jaybru
Member
Never say never with WN. I see they have decided to participate in the feds’ contract air fare city-pair program. Fixed fares for 1-year peiod (Oct. 1, 2010-Sept. 30, 2011), no blackout periods, last-seat availability, no cancellation fees. 4,299 domestic city-pairs; 1,423 international pairs. WN was the winning bidder in, I believe, 305 city-pairs. For example, BWI to DEN: $149 YCA (no capacity-control)/$119 _CA, (capacity-controlled); to PHX, $370/$229; to LAS $349/no _CA. All 4,299 domestic city-pair fares/1,423 international city-pairs, for the 13 contractor airlines, including new this year, CO (int’l only) and HA, are listed at gsa.gov. Program is said… Read more »
David M
Guest

Southwest hasn’t participated in the past couple of years, but they have in the past. You can access the old awards off the GSA site as well in an Excel spreadsheet. I looked at FY06 and found 328 rows with WN as the carrier. HA had contract awards that year as well.

BW
Guest
Personally I don’t like change fees either but when you really think about it most airline change policies are actually pretty forgiving, and Southwest’s policy is extremely forgiving. The business model is more similar to something like a baseball team than a retail store. If you buy a ticket and you can’t go, they usually don’t give you your money back or let you go to the next game for free. The only difference there is that you can resell your ticket yourself. Why should the airline be expected to eat the cost of an empty seat because you aren’t… Read more »
Left Seater
Guest
I couldn’t disagree more with your blog entry today. There is no reason to start down the fee road for WN. I can’t understand why you would rather pay a $25 fee to give away your money than to keep your money and have to use it on yourself. The thing that makes WN so attractive to so many of us is the fact that we won’t lose any of our money when we make a change. For example let’s say I purchased a ticket from HOU to ABQ and back three months from now and it cost me $250.00.… Read more »
Travel Agent CJ
Guest

I know that as a Travel Agent, a lot of my clients buy personal travel on WN knowing that if, for some reason, they can’t use the tickets, they can always use them later for family to come out to see them if they can’t go home. I think it will be a shame when WN institues this policy. One more of the “good guy airlines” starts down the slippery slope to where all the rest ahave ended up. What a shame!!!!!

Robert S
Guest

I’m personally fairly addicted to WN’s no change fees, and I fly enough that this new nontransferability won’t hurt me. While I think it makes little sense to have a change fee for changes made weeks before departure (since there’s plenty of room for the airline to resell the seat), while a change fee for last minute changes would be more fair because it’s often too late for the airline to resell the seat.

JamesK
Guest

To this point, is passenger A who is changing his ticket back and forth constantly punishing passenger B who doesn’t change her ticket at all, but ends up paying a higher fare because A happened to decide to grab it one day and give it up the next?

Michele
Guest

I understand the policy SWA will implement; and, for the most part, I probably will not be affected by it. I do, however, have a question about using Reward flights.

I used a reward flight to have a friend visit me. The SWA Awards Notifications still say
“GIVE AWAY YOUR AWARD.
“Simply find out the destination, travel dates, and times from your lucky recipient.”

I know we can’t peer reliably into the future; but are there any possible “interpretations” of this new policy that might extend to award flights?

Thank you Cranky.
Love what you do.

David Z
Guest

One other drawback to this policy is if the cardholder paid for someone else’s tickets, then the traveler can’t fly within the ticket’s valid period. Stopped counting how many irate people our company got when told they can’t use tickets they paid for someone else booked with other airlines like DL and UA.

Unless I maybe missed it, so far their blog hasn’t said anything about this.

Scott
Guest
This is a very small change, and I don’t think it will affect the majority of Southwest customers. However I can say I have heard nightmare tales of people with credit offering to book flights for people on craigslist, then cancelling the flights after they get wired the money. The biggest problem was there was no way to secure funds. Anybody who had the record locator had access to the funds. You could literally find a confirmation e-mail on the street, call in and use the funds to book a ticket for yourself. The move is a step toward helping… Read more »
M3Pilot
Guest

We need to be very thankful to “Scott” for I’m very careless with my confirmation e-mails, I leave them at the bar along with my credit cards. And then I troll the gate areas and boarding queues to take note of names and PNR’s….all those stolen TTF’s have been funding my travels over the past few years.

Scott
Guest
Fine. Full disclosure. *I work for Southwest Airlines but the snarky, poorly expression opinions here are only my own.* Revenue is a big part of every decision. We’re not running a charity. I’m not partial to the numbers but I can tell you the decision to limit the transferability of funds is not some sort of underhanded money grab. We’re not behind the curtain cackling that you can’t use your funds anymore because we’ve made them nontransferable. We’re not sitting with bated breath hoping you’ll cancel your flight so we can keep your money without providing service in return. We’re… Read more »
M3Pilot
Guest

“We’re responding to the fact that people get crazy with their funds, and it’s time consuming and costly to deal with.”

Who are you trying to kid? It’s only time consuming for us to track them. Otherwise, they just sit in your system and you cash them in if they sit there for over a year.

What may be costly for you to deal with is the “lost” revenue when we re-use TTF’s for/from other people. However, without that TTF flexibility, WN would not have that money in the first place.

Mika Pyyhkala
Guest
No Change Fees! I hate change fees more than anything else in travel. They are a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale. I mostly travel from BOS to WAS, and one reason I’ve switched to WN is its friendly no change fee policy. Change fees are a slippery slope. In 5 years your $25 fee will be $50, $75, $150, or what? Remember the legacy carriers started out at one point with a $25 change fee that became $35, $50, $100, $150. I agree the new TTF rule isn’t good. I would say 8 out of 10 TTF’s… Read more »
FamilyMan
Guest
As a husband and father who HAS TO LIVE in another state for his job, to help support his family while his wife lives and works in other state, too far away to drive to/from, I can FULLY attest that THIS SUCKS ROYALLY! Often, if I can’t make a trip for some godforsaken reason, I can at least get my family out to me later, or get my family out to see other family, or something similarly decent. I book my travel FULLY in advance (as far as is available), so if I can’t take a flight for some reason,… Read more »
Nick
Guest
I agree with the poster! I purchased a ticket for my Father to visit me while my Mother watched my sister’s pets. Dad eventually got the flu and I wanted to reuse the funds to purchase a new ticket for my Mother to visit instead (same flight). Southwest said No! Then I asked, since its MY money charged to MY credit card can I use those funds for a ticket for MYSELF. Again, SOUTHWEST SAID NO!! Not very flexible at all. That money was eventually lost (I feel robbed!) and since then I’ve only flown on Southwest when my company… Read more »
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