Southwest Intros “No Show Fee”, but Still Top Dog in No Change Fees

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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.


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  1. […] Southwest makes a small but meaningful change to its cancelation policy, as detailed by MommyPoints.  It used to be that you could just not show up for a flight and Southwest would give you a travel credit.  Now you have to tell them first.  Not a complicated hurdle to overcome, and still much more generous than the other major US carriers. […]


  1. Southwest has been trying hard to reinvent itself from the quirky airline with fanatically loyal customers, an outstanding safety record, and great fares.

    One has to wonder why Southwest thought changing the original Coke formula was a good thing. 🙂

  2. The increased change fees of the other legacy carriers means Southwest is going to be getting more business from me. Even a small chance of a required change makes it worth it for short or medium haul flights.

  3. This change doesn’t really bother me – I always call to cancel or change and am never a no-show. It seems simple enough for anyone to do if they want those funds credited back. I still opt for Southwest whenever I have the choice because of the generous change policies and no bag fees.

  4. There is one other potential fee they don’t really advertise. If you sign up for advanced boarding, and cancel or even change the reservation in advance, you forfeit the $10 pp per flight advanced boarding fee. We had a sale fare of $100 R/T, and paid for AB, and had to cancel a week in advance. The $20 per person, that’s 20% of our fare, was not refunded. $40 per couple may be cheap compared to $200 each, but it’s still a waste of $40. 🙁

    You can, of course, wait until just over 36 hours before the flight to buy the advanced boarding option. But the CSR pointed out that would place you behind everyone else who chose to pay for it. Frankly, since there are no economy-plus seats anyway, and I just want room for my carry-on, and to sit together with at least one of us on the aisle, I’m not paying this in advance ever again. Just go to the website 37 hours in advance and add it to your reservation.

  5. From what I’ve read, Southwest has started to introduce change fees. They want to double earnings this year, and that won’t happen without more fees. Still the best, but doesn’t really matter for the vast majority of people who never change flights.

  6. Kris, I think your info is incorrect (I believe Southwest had a “mistake press release”. AirTran does have change fees; Southwest does not).

    I think of Southwest as the “flexible airline” – not the “low cost airline”. In addition to “no change fees”, their Rapid Rewards points bookings are fully refundable. So I use a “tactical” mix of Southwest revenue and/or points bookings when there’s any chance I may need to change or cancel my domestic travel.

    There are trade-offs. For example, United allows very flexible same day changes/standby for elites (no cost for Gold & up); Southwest forces you to buy up to full fare for a same day change. So, if my travel is definite, but I want same-day flexibility, I book with United.

  7. “Compare that to Spirit Airlines who almost always has the lowest fare – love them or hate them. Spirit is a true low-cost airline.”

    I strongly disagree that Spirit is a true low-cost airline. In my experience, their initial price has often been lower than the others but by the time I add their fees, they have ALWAYS been higher. The way Spirit advertises it “really low fares” but then later sticks it to you with a ton of fees is just disgusting to me. They are definitely at the bottom of the chain as far as I’m concerned.

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