Did you know that the best time to book your Southwest award tickets is right now?
Most airlines, Southwest included, charge much more for tickets booked close to the date of departure, or when the schedule opens for peak travel periods like holidays and spring break.
And on Southwest, the price of an award seat depends on the cash price of the ticket.
Because Southwest does NOT charge change or cancellation fees, you can lock in an award ticket now and change it later for free if the fare (and subsequently the amount of required points) drops. I’ll explain!
What’s the Deal?
Link: Southwest Award Travel
Plane tickets are almost always more expensive close to the date of departure. You’ll get the best prices if you book during a seat sale, or well in advance of your trip.
Southwest tickets are typically most expensive ~7 days prior to departure, or when the schedule 1st opens up for bookings.
But Southwest has the most flexible change and cancellation policy of all domestic airlines. On both paid and award tickets, you can change or cancel your ticket without paying a fee.
Changing a Ticket
If you book a ticket, and the fare later drops, you can cancel the original ticket and re-book at the lower price. If it’s an award ticket, the difference in points is refunded to your account.
For paid tickets, you’ll either get a travel credit valid for a year (for non-refundable, “Wanna Get Away” fares), or you can request a full refund if you bought a refundable fare (like Anytime or Business Select). Then use the credit or refund toward booking the lower fare.
By booking a ticket now, you’re guaranteed a seat at a (hopefully) low fare or number of points. But if the fare drops, you can change your ticket without penalty and save money (or points!).
Cancelling a Ticket
Paid tickets must be canceled at least 10 minutes prior to departure if you want a travel credit for a non-refundable fare, otherwise you’ll lose the funds paid for your whole itinerary. You can still get a refund on refundable fares.
With award tickets, your points will be refunded to your account if you cancel or don’t show up for the flight. And you can request a refund of the fees you paid (~$6 per domestic 1-way).
Let’s look at an example.
Spring Break to Florida
Flights around peak travel periods, like holidays and Spring Break, can be expensive, even when booked in advance.
For example, a round-trip award ticket between Chicago and Fort Lauderdale in March costs 25,330 points and ~$11.
Some folks would balk at spending so many points for a fairly short domestic trip. But if you have the points in your account anyway, there’s no harm in booking this trip now.
Then, continue checking back to see if the fare has dropped. If Southwest has a seat sale (which they do fairly often), you could cancel and re-book the award ticket at no charge! The difference in points just gets refunded to your account.
And if you decide to not keep the ticket at all, you’ll get a full refund of points and fees. Easy!
TIP: For the most flexibility, always try to book Southwest tickets as separate 1-way flights instead of a round-trip ticket. The price is the same either way.
This way, if the fare drops on the outbound leg but not on the return (or vice versa), you only have to cancel and re-book 1 of the legs.
If you’re planning award travel on Southwest, it’s best to book right away. Tickets booked closer to the date of departure generally cost more points (because paid fares go up).
Once you’ve booked, keep checking back to see if the fare has dropped. If it has, you can re-book your ticket for fewer points and get a refund for the difference – and you won’t be charged any fees.
And if you need to cancel, points will be redeposited into your account. You can also get the ~$6 ticket fee refunded.
The same principles (generally) apply to paid tickets, except cheap non-refundable fares. You will lose the value of the ticket if you don’t cancel more than 10 minutes prior to departure.