How to change or cancel your Southwest flight

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There are a number of reasons our readers (and the MMS team!) love to fly Southwest – their generous free checked baggage policy and the Southwest Companion Pass, to name a few. But the airline’s policies surrounding flight changes and cancellations is at the top of our list. It makes it less stressful to book an upcoming flight knowing you won’t be hit with huge fees.

Southwest has also made some policy exceptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what you need to know. 

Changing or canceling a flight on Southwest with no fees could save you thousands of points. (Bruno Ismael Silva Alves/Shutterstock)

Southwest’s COVID-19 changes

Let’s look at each step you need to take to change or cancel a flight on Southwest and the details of these temporary changes.

Flight changes

Southwest’s change and cancellation policies are notoriously customer friendly. Even prior to COVID, you could change a flight without paying a fee (aside from any difference in fare).

But their policy changes since the pandemic have made it even easier to save on your next Southwest flight. Here are the details about how to get Southwest to give you a cheap fare (Hint: It requires booking and then changing your flight — and you’ll have to book when the appropriate promo is available).

Flight cancellations

As a result of COVID, Southwest has extended the expiration date of any travel funds, which normally expire one year from the date of purchase. 

The validity of any existing travel funds that were set to expire between March 1 and Sept. 7, 2020, was extended until Sept. 7, 2022. And any new credits issued as of Sept. 8, 2020, can be used up to one year from the original purchase date.

In addition, those with travel funds that have an expiration date of Sept. 7, 2022, can convert those funds into Southwest Points at the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today. You must request the conversion by Dec. 15, 2020, and the conversion is non-reversible. 

We haven’t heard anything about whether or not Southwest plans to make adjustments in regards to the Companion Pass, but sign-up for our newsletter and we’ll let you know if anything changes.

What are Southwest’s fees and penalties?

Flight changes

Southwest makes a big deal about not charging its customers change fees. Some airlines charge as much as $150. It’s especially family-friendly to have the built-in flexibility of knowing you can change your flight when you’re traveling with kids. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have gotten sick right before a trip.

If you book with Southwest points and need to cancel, no problem. Your points are instantly credited to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account. But, because you had to pay the ~$6 mandatory government security fee with cash/credit, that refund will come in the form of travel funds. Be sure you note the confirmation number and the person’s name for each set of travel funds so you can reuse them later. We’ll discuss how to redeem travel funds below.

Flight cancellations

If you want to cancel your flight, whether or not you will get a full refund depends on the type of fare you purchased. Most travelers try to book Wanna Get Away fares because they’re the cheapest, but a Wanna Get Away fare is the only fares type that is not fully refundable if you paid in cash or with a credit card.

The type of refund you receive depends on the fare you purchased.

Although you will not get cash back or a credit to your card with Wanna Get Away fares, you will receive what Southwest calls “Travel Funds.” These funds, which include taxes and fees, can be used toward any purchase with Southwest, but they come with an expiration date that is typically one year from the date issued.

You can change or cancel a flight up to 10 minutes prior to your departure time and receive either a full refund for refundable fares or travel funds for Wanna Get Away fares.

How to change or cancel your Southwest flight

Step 1.  Sign in to your Southwest account

It’s easy to change or cancel a flight on Southwest. To start, go to Southwest.com and click “Log in” at the top right.

Enter your account number or username and your case-sensitive password.

Step 2.  Manage your reservation

After you log in, click the “Flight” tab and you’ll see a dropdown menu. From there, you can click “Manage Reservations” and you’ll be able to click through to either the change or cancel reservation screen.

Alternatively, if you’re trying to change a flight, you can click “Change Flight” and skip the next step.

Step 3.  Select your self-service option

Next, click either “Change reservation” or “Cancel reservation.”

Regardless of which you choose, you’ll be asked to enter your confirmation number, first and last name. Then click “Continue.”

Step 4.  Complete the change or cancelation

From there, you’ll be able to either change or cancel your flight.

FAQ about changing and canceling Southwest flights 

Can you change or cancel a flight on the same day?

It depends on what type of fare you booked. If you booked a refundable fare, you have up until 10 minutes before your flight’s scheduled departure to cancel your fare. In comparison, nonrefundable fares need to be canceled at least 24 hours before departure. 

That said, if you did book a nonrefundable (i.e. Wanna Get Away) fare, you can reuse the fare as long as you cancel your reservation at least 10 minutes prior to departure (which will result in available Travel Funds) and complete your travel within one year of the original date you purchased your ticket. 

Can a flight be changed to another location?

Yes, you can change your flight to another location. But you’ll be responsible for any difference in fare. On the flip side, you’ll get a credit, in the form of Travel Funds, if the new ticket costs less. 

Can it be changed for an indefinite amount of times?

Yes, a Southwest ticket can be changed an indefinite number of times. But be aware that you’ll be responsible for any difference in fare. So, if your original ticket only cost $200 and the ticket you want costs $300, you’ll have to pony up the extra $100.

Also, if you’re rebooking using Travel Funds, once the funds are used to make a purchase, the expiration date of the travel funds will then follow our normal ticketing rules and will expire 12 months from the original purchase date.

Do you get your rewards back if the flight was booked with points?

Yes. If you book a ticket with points and then cancel it, your points will be refunded to the account from which they were booked. You’ll also get a refund for any taxes and fees you may have paid for using cash.

Tips for managing a Southwest flight

After you enter your confirmation number and name, Southwest will find your reservation. Review the information to make 100% sure this is the flight and reservation you want to change or cancel. If you’re canceling your flight, you will be asked if you’d like a refund credited back to your card or if you’d like a Southwest credit in the form of travel funds.

If you have a refundable Southwest fare (which includes Business Select or Anytime fares) and want to change your flight, you should cancel the ticket first, request a refund (which you will be prompted to do online or can do by phone) and then book your new reservation. Changing your refundable reservation turns a refundable fare into a nonrefundable fare, according to Southwest.

If you cancel a non-refundable ticket, you will not get a refund on your card. Instead, you’ll receive a credit in the form of Southwest Travel Funds. The Travel Funds expire one year after they are issued unless there are travel funds from an older ticket associated with this reservation — the new reservation inherits the earliest expiration date from any of those funds. The expiration date will be in the confirmation email you receive.

If you’re changing your flight reservation, you’ll be able to search for alternate flights, review the new flights and prices and finally, purchase the ticket you want.

How to redeem travel funds

You will get travel funds if you cancel a non-refundable reservation that you paid for in cash or credit. You will get travel funds for the ~$6 security fee portion of a canceled nonrefundable ticket booked with Southwest points. These funds are great to use in the future on tickets booked with points to cover the cost of the security fee for the same person.

To redeem travel funds when booking a flight on Southwest, you’ll see an option for using them on the purchase page. You must have the confirmation number of the funds and the name of the person they are associated with. You can only redeem them for that same person.

Again, they expire within one year of the date of issue, but you will receive an email that clearly states the expiration date.

Ways to earn Southwest points

There are a variety of ways to earn Southwest points, but the fastest way to rack up points is by earning a nice welcome bonus from Southwest credit cards:

Currently, the three personal cards have the following welcome bonus:

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

You can only hold one Southwest personal credit card at a time, but you can have one or more business Southwest cards, in addition to a personal card. And when you hold a Southwest credit card, your points will never expire.

If you need help deciding among the cards, read our Southwest credit card comparison guide. Once you’ve racked up some points, you’ll want to dig into the ways to redeem points on the carrier’s dynamic award chart.

Bottom line

The ability to change or cancel a reservation with Southwest is a huge benefit when unforeseen circumstances force you to alter travel plans or when you find a fare at a lower cash or points price.

It’s a simple process that can be completed online in just a few steps, and could potentially save you thousands of points.

Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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