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One of my favorite lines at the Randy Peterson Executive Travel Summit was from a former American Airlines big wig about how people still believe that Southwest is a low-cost airline…even though that hasn’t really been true for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, Southwest does still have great sales from time to time, but their base fares aren’t often much different than anyone else’s. Compare that to Spirit Airlines who almost always has the lowest fare – love them or hate them, Spirit is a true low-cost airline. Continuing on the journey away from being a low cost airline with no fees – Southwest is now introducing a “no show penalty” – though it really isn’t that bad.
Here are some details on this new penalty (bolding mine):
Southwest is implementing a No Show policy that applies to nonrefundable fares that are not canceled or changed by a Customer prior to a flight’s scheduled departure. If a Customer has booked a nonrefundable fare anywhere in his/her itinerary and that portion of the flight is not used and not canceled or changed by the Customer prior to scheduled departure, all unused funds on the full itinerary will be lost, and the remaining reservation will be canceled. The policy applies to reservations made or changed on or after Friday, May 10, 2013, for travel on or after Friday, September 13, 2013. This policy does not apply to military fares, senior fares, or travel during certain irregular operations, including severe weather conditions.
The No Show policy will not impact Customers who simply cancel a Wanna Get Away or DING! fare prior to scheduled departure; in this case, Customers may reuse their funds toward future travel on Southwest, without a change fee, as they have always done. Customers who are traveling on a fully refundable itinerary that does not contain a Wanna Get Away or DING! fare will continue to have the option of either requesting a refund or holding funds for future travel.
A Southwest rep on Flyertalk did weigh in to the conversation and say this does not impact those who “have a flat tire” and arrive to the airport a little too late for their flight. Those situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis. This change is directed at those who book flights on cheap Wanna Get Away or Ding fares, and then don’t show up or bother to cancel before the scheduled departure. In those cases you will forfeit your remaining flights on the reservation, and the money paid for the reservation. As long as you cancel or change before the scheduled departure you will not incur a change fee – you will have that credit to use toward a future flight.
This policy seems totally fair to me, and keeps Southwest light-years beyond many other carriers in respect to not having any real change fees. – which I view as a very big positive for family travelers. American, Delta, US, and United all recently went from $150 change fees to $200 change fees for most domestic flights, and Southwest is still sitting at $0 change fees. Of course, you do have to pay the fare difference which can be quite pricey at the last minute, but there is no specific fee for the change itself. If you are making a change weeks or months out the fare difference could be quite minimal, or even end up in your favor, resulting in a Southwest credit to use on a future flight.
I’m a little worried that Southwest will move toward additional fees that will be a bit more painful in the future, but fortunately this one is pretty benign for most of us.