When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets?

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets?

Million Mile SecretsWhen Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets?Million Mile Secrets Team

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

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.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
Been Waiting to Book That Southwest Award Ticket? It’s Better to Do It Now!

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.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
Keep Your Money! Southwest Doesn’t Charge Change or Cancellation Fees

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.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
You’ll Get a Refund or Travel Credit When You Cancel a Paid Ticket, Depending on the Type of 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).

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
You’ll Get Your Points and Fees Refunded on Award Tickets

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.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
Ouch! Over 25,000 Points for a Round-Trip Domestic Ticket

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.

When Should You Book Southwest Award Tickets
Keep an Eye on Fares, and If They Drop, You Can Re-Book and Pay Less!

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.

Bottom Line

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.

If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 36,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

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! :)

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!


by Newest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

Has something changed with Southwest? I’ve rebooked for lower fares many times, but only recently began booking and rescheduling award tickets. I noticed a sale so went to check on one of my existing trips. However the direct flight – which is cheaper than those with plane changes when booked in dollars, is pricing out as more than those flights when I look at the points. You note in your piece that dollars and points correlate, but right now it doesn’t seem to!

I booked 4 award tix one way for 2,880 points. The fare dropped to 2,000 points per person for 4 people. When I go into my flight itinerary and click “change”, so I can rebook at the New points total, I goes up to 5,800 points per person. Why is that? Again, an independent search for 4 people come back at 2,000 points. Do I need to cancel altogether? Why can’t I just change the itinerary to same flight and bank the difference in miles?

My current points in account will expire on Nov 1. If I use the points to purchase a reward ticket for flight on Oct 1 and then cancel for refund on Sep 30, will the refund of points extend my account points expiration date? or will it still expire on Nov 1?

Another tip for close-in booking: Senior fares are sometimes half of the “Anytime” fare. For example, recently, I needed to change a flight from LGA to DAL on one day’s notice. I was very pleasantly surprised to find the senior fare was $236, even though the Anytime fare was over $500, and WGA fares were not being offered.

One gotcha on reusing non-refundable WGA revenue funds: ALL funds in the new reservation inherit the expiration date of the oldest used funds. For example, if I book a $59 WGA fare on Jan. 1, then cancel, then use the funds to book a $400 WGA fare on December 1, the entire $400 is only good for a month if your plans change again. Sometimes it’s better to let a small fund balance expire than to try to re-use it.