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Southwest Airlines Community

Change is a Beautiful Thing...

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..unless you're changing your airline reservation in which case change is a pain in rear...not to mention costly. That's why I was really surprised and pleased when I stumbled on a recent post to Flyertalk.com about Southwest's lack of change fees. This person states that they specifically try to concentrate their business with Southwest Airlines out of Denver (where competition is alive and well) due to our lack of change fees. I found this surprising because I assume that most of our Customers don't recognize this point-of-difference between us and the other guys. Southwest is well known for great Customer Service, low fares, flight frequency, efficiency of operations, etc., etc., etc., but I wouldn't rank "lack of change fees" up there with something we get credit for...but maybe I'm wrong (?). Special thanks to "FCfree" on Flyertalk for making some really interesting points about our "change fee free" policy!
26 Comments
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This is probably one of the sole reasons I fly Southwest. I'm spontaneous and whimsical, yet hard-working and change my plans often. The lack of change fees, allow me a jet-setting lifestyle at a fraction of the cost of any other carrier!
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Angela, not that's there is anything wrong with your customer service, fares, flight frequency, or efficiency of operations....but none of those are reasons for flying Southwest for me. You guys aren't particularly cheap (except for last minute fares) and operations are roughly equivalent to most others. Your customer service is better when there is a problem, but in normal operations, it's pretty much the same as the others. The big reasons why I fly Southwest are (1) no change fees, (2) no assigned seating, and (3) the Companion Pass. Note that these are the things that are unique to Southwest. Every other airline has customer service, fares, flights and operations, and every other airline thinks they have good customer service, good fares, lots of flights, and efficient operations. Some are right, others are not :-) Don't lose the things that are unique!
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I need to agree with Loren on 2 points (I don't fly enough to get a companion ticket). I like that I can make a reservations and, if something causes me to have to change the reservations then I'm not out even one thin dime. And open seating! I can't say enough about that! I love it today, loved it ever since I took my first flight on SWA decades ago, and will always love it in the future.
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Southwest got my Thanksgiving ticket from Lubbock-Houston this year because of no change fees since I may have to change my ticket that week to return early. Even though IAH is more convenient for me, I do not want to put myself at risk of having to pay Continental's change fee. On another note, Southwest is generally the most reliable airline in Lubbock, so they also get my business for that. I can handle a weather delay, but the weather meltdowns that the other airlines here can have sometimes helps to keep me on Southwest whenever possible.
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I had an incident back in October '06 where my travel plans changed during my outbound layover and it was then that I first realized how amazing Southwest customer service is. Having been hit with change fees from other airlines for even the most far off dates, it has been refreshing to be able to make summer travel plans and have the flexibility to change them on a whim (which I have). It's one more reason why I like to fly on Southwest when I can and why I suggest it to my friends. I am an Emergency Medical Services provider at my university and I helped plan a group trip to a conference in Baltimore. Southwest was a great fit for our group because of the price, but also because I knew if someone had to cancel, the credit could still be used towards future travel without penalty.
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Let me start with "I love SWA". Then tell the story of my flight from Phoenix to Vegas last month, the one where I got to the Phoenix airport 30 minutes before the prior Vegas flight, with only a carryon, to be told that "since your flight is on time and you got an internet fare, it'll cost you $75 to get on the earlier (not full) flight". Yep, my flight, an hour later, ended up being delayed nearly 2 hours, as although the equipment was arriving in Phoenix on time, the crew who was to take it to Vegas was coming from elsewhere, and were delayed, WHICH SWA SHOULD ALREADY HAVE KNOWN. OK, maybe they didn't know. But where the harm lies in letting passengers fly earlier on non-full flights (maybe SWA could have resold my seat on the later flight, they certainly weren't selling the empty seat on the earlier one that left unfull) even if their flight seems to be on time is beyond me. Rant over. I love SWA.
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L2K there is a lot to do in getting a flt ready for takeoff, one is you have to know how much wieght is on board so you know how much fuel you need. By boarding passengers at the last minute you add wieght, and if the fuel truck has left, now you have to call it back to add more fuel,and wait,now the flights late. And if you add the fuel ahead of time and you do not add passengers, you use more fuel to fly the added wieght of the fuel you did not need, which adds cost to company which they in turn pass to the passengers in higher fares. So to help keep cost down they don't change without a charge. Although 1 or 2 people won't hurt, 5 or more will make a difference. Thats only one reason to not move people. not enough room to explain the others.
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Thanks for the comments guys...it's great to see that our "no change fee policy" is recognized and actually drives purchase decision. As part of my job, I look at a lot of market research and try to figure out and what motivates travelers to choose us (or not choose us!) when making travel plans. You're feedback is appreciated!
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Angela - I'm surprised that you are surprised that the lack of change fees is a huge factor in purchase decisions. The top three reasons people espouse over and over again about their preferences for SWA are: 1 - Open Seating 2 - Lower Prices 3 - Lack of gouging over change fees. Actually, the number one reason is the Employees - it is just more pleasant to fly SWA than anybody else. Personally, the lack of change fees is not a factor for me - I think I've had to change my flight maybe five times in the last 20 years (though last month I did miss my most important flight ever - and the next flight to Dallas would cause me to arrive too late). And Southwest is facing new challenges, Mr. Kelly has already stated that some kind of change is coming to the boarding process, and it isn't an automatic given that SWA will have the lowest fares. Since there is a cost to SWA for changing a flight, it would not be surprising to see some sort of penalty imposed at some point. If/when this happens, all we ask is that you don't gouge the Customer. it would be great to have no fee up to 96 hours in advance, then maybe $5 or $10 in the four days prior to departure. Since hotels can somehow manage inventory control by allowing changes or even complete cancellations (with full refunds) as little as 24 hours in advance, surely airlines could too. Since you didn't ask, the three biggest negative factors people mention about Southwest seem to be: 1 - The devaluation of the Rapid Rewards program. 2 - Standby requires upgrading to full rack rate. 3 - Open Seating. 1 - It used to be that somebody with a Rapid Reward ticket had the same privileges as the person paying full fare. It seems like SWA considered RR tickets as well earned and treated RR pass flyers accordingly. Any flight, any time, any day (except four or five near-holiday days). Now SWA claims no blackout dates, but in reality many flights are blacked out. And - earning Rewards is still unbalanced. If I take a $30 Ding flight from El Paso to Albuquerque, I receive the same reward benefit as the person as a person taking a $350 flight from Baltimore to Phoenix. 2 - The standby issue is well known and well discussed, and I absolutely understand Southwest's reasons. But is in in essence a one-day-only change fee. Maybe increased revenue from an across the board change fee would offset revenue from the "standby requires upgrading to full fare" policy. 3 - And of course, please ignore anybody who lists the open seating policy as one of their reasons for not liking Southwest - they know not of what they speak. And (this is just me personally, but I'm sure many others would feel the same way), even if SWA eliminated their Rapid Rewards program, always sold seats at or slightly above the competitors price, and added change fees - they would still be my first airline of choice. Why? It's simple - the people of Southwest are just the best to be around. From reservations, to check in agents, to gate agents, to flight attendants, and all the way to the (rarely needed) person who is in the baggage claim booth. The number of positive interactions between Customers and Employees at Southwest is light years above that of any other airline - and probably any other business too!
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WOW... FCFree here! I was surfing around on Flyertalk and found a link back to this page. Thank you for reading my post. The 'no change fee' feature really is a huge advantage. The change fee is just a really annoying thing with those 'other guys' in Denver. More people than you might think know about the no change fee feature. Where I found this page from back at flyertalk, they are all talking about it. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?p=8079770&posted=1#post8079770 Thanks again for reading my post!
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I think it may be true you haven't done enough to let people know about the lack of change fees. With other airlines going to insane levels ($200?!) this is a big differentiator for SWA, and certainly many of my friends have been unaware of it. The beauty of your system is if one flies enough on SWA (and I do) one can consider all fares fully refundable! I just have to leave the cash in the "SWA bank" for a little while and use it for next time. However, I do wish you made it easier to use funds from previous tickets--it seems like you could keep track of them rather than me. I wouldn't mind a non-zero change fee for the days leading up to a flight if it's causing problems. Just keep it super reasonable (under $20) and I'll feel almost as good about it.
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I love that SWA doesn't charge any change fees..Not that I change my flights a lot but there have been times that after I booked a flight I found out that my grandchildren could take the trip with me and if there weren't any seats available for my original flight then I can change it to another so we can all fly together .. Thats really BIG to me!! I am not a travel agent but I am known to all of my friends and family as the travel whiz and for all the reasons mentioned above I have booked more friends, family and even friends of friends on SWA flights because I always know that I can trust all of you with anyone I recommend to fly with you.. Oh, and it sure doesn't hurt that I can find those low fares that seem to always surprise everyone.. :o) Your no change fee policy is a big plus when I tell people about it, if I help someone that doesn't travel much with a flight on Southwest, they are shocked when I tell them that they can change their flight without cost if something comes up.. Well, gotta go, its storming here in the midwest!
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Angela, Another great post! To add to some of the examples above, about eighteen months ago, my college-age son was scheduled to attend a conference in Arkansas with several other students from UT. They had booked on aanother, unnaamed aairline because it was a group package, and therefore got pretty good fares. About a week out, one of the other students had to be hospitalized and my son tried to convince someone else to go with them in his place, and since the ticket was already purchased, he assumed the alternate could just reimburse the hospitalized fellow and use his ticket. The other student was very enthused about going until he called thaat other aairline and found out that it was going to cost him $100 to change the name on the $125 ticket. Guess who wound up not going to the conference? Right -- TWO people -- the one in the hospital who just forfeited $125 and the other one who would have gone but couldn't justify spending $225. I told him in the future, their group should book with the airline that LUVs its passengers! Kim External Blog Boy 🙂
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I think that Southwest does not do NEARLY enough to advertise their lack of change fees as a reason to fly with them. I am in a long-distance relationship and I fly every 2-4 weeks. My boyfriend and I are both graduate students with very busy schedules and we often aren't sure when we'll be able to fly. Southwest's AWESOME policy allows us the FREEDOM to buy cheap tickets when they are available and without worry. If we can't fly on a certain weekend, oh well we cancel and use the money for the next trip. We also keep our eye out for price drops on flights we've already booked and we switch to save the extra money for next time. I have told some of my friends about this policy and they were truly shocked. They have flown Southwest before and had no idea. In fact, one of them didn't believe me and when I finally proved to her it was true she said "YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE!" Even if another airline is a few dollars (or even $20 or $30) cheaper on a particular date, which does occasionally happen, I will NEVER pick them. I want that peace of mind that if my plans change I'm not going to lose any money, and for that reason Southwest has been my EXCLUSIVE airline for the past 2 years. Lack of change fees is my NUMBER 1 reason for always choosing Southwest! I LUV SWA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Angela "And (this is just me personally, but IÃ
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Pay nothing extra to change your travel plans. Why are you not advertising this more? If another airline has a lower promotional fare, but charges a hefty fee to change a reservation, that low fare is booby-trapped and I will really hesitate to book it. I won't make that reservation until I am absolutely sure that my plans are firm. But with Southwest, I can book whenever and know that I have a year to use the funds and it won't cost me a dime more than the actual fare. I was originally going to make a trip last January. It was put off THREE TIMES (circumstances beyond my control each time) and I finally made it in May. On some other carriers, the change fees alone would have been as much as the fare I finally paid to fly from Oakland to San Diego. My comments on potential changes to Rapid Rewards and seating: Tampering with Rapid Rewards would be a major negative. The current RR program keeps me on Southwest even if I could fly to a more convenient airport or pay a few dollars less for someone else's promotional fare, because it's easy to earn awards before your credits expire. I can even live with the capacity controls. I'll choose WN to BWI over B6 to IAD every time. BUT - if you go to a mileage- or point-based system, and it becomes more difficult for a leisure traveler to earn a free flight before credits expire, there will be far less incentive for me to choose Southwest over another carrier offering a comparable fare. If I know I'm not going to get a free flight with either carrier, then I won't be particularly loyal to either. Open seating versus online seat selection is 50/50 for me. I do like open seating, and if you know the way it works, you can get in group A easily. And I'm a great believer in checked baggage, so group C doesn't scare me. But I'd also like the certainty of *knowing* I've got that window seat I like. The main concern I have with assigned seating is whether it will slow the boarding process. We all get aboard pretty quickly the way it is now and quick turnaround means on-time departure and helps keep fares low.
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The rationale for Southwest's idiosyncratic standby policy is fully explained (from an outsider's perspective) at http://flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Standby_rules_%28SWA%29 Back on topic, freedom from change fees has a quantifiable value. I recently booked international vacation flights and a hotel room, in both cases choosing a refundable rate over a slightly (10% or so) less expensive nonrefundable and nonchangeable option. If Southwest would trumpet this feature louder it could charge higher fares and/or win market share. Southwest's current policy also helps lock in customers for repeat business as we become accustomed to having some uncommitted ticketless funds hanging around most of the time. It ain't broke, so don't fix it. Just promote the heck out of it. FT's full outsider FAQ on SWA is at http://flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Category:Southwest_Rapid_Rewards
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I've been a frequent Southwest flyer for the past 7 or 8 years - my travel on Southwest increased exponentially once I was responsible for paying for my own travel. Why? Because if my plans changed (and they do more than I'd like them to), I know I won't "lose" any money. I currently have nearly $300 in Ticketless Travel Funds because I had three separate flights this month that I unfortunately had to cancel. If Southwest were to ever institute a change fee similar to a legacy carrier's, you can count on my business then going to the airline on that route who offers the absolute lowest fare - and that's not Southwest as often as it used to be! So I agree with a poster earlier who questions the wisdom of possibly adopting more of the legacies' business practices when Southwest's have worked for them for so long!
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Lack of change fee is possibly the number one reason I fly WN. You need to spend more time at Flyertalk learning what your customers like and don't like. Much better than trying to wing it, or whatever you've been doing.
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This is quite a Southwest lovefest here. I assume that's because it's owned by SWA themselves. I just found out about this misnamed "no change fee" policy. I wanted to fly standby on an earlier flight on the same day as my current reservation. The "no change fee" fee was over 200 dollars. I do realize this is the difference between my discounted fare and full fare but had no idea this was their policy. I know why SWA would not push this sleight of hand...because most people would find it a negative and not a positive. I'm definitely not flying SWA again. This policy makes no sense whatsoever.
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I am a devoted SWA customer because of the great customer service they have given me over the years. I won't fly any other airline unless I'm traveling to a place that SWA doesn't fly. I recently had to cancel a flight ticketed to my husband and was able to book my daughter on that ticket/fare without any hassles. I want to thank Sandy in Customer Relations for making this happen. She was so helpful and made it all come together in a matter of days. I have no complaints with SWA and recommend them to everyone I know.
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I agree with other posters-- no change fee is a key reason for us to fly SWA. A couple of times we have rebooked when the prices on our flights went down. Usually when buying tickets it's a huge decision-- buy now in case fares rise or wait and hope they fall. With SWA you can buy and have peace of mind that you won't be ripped off.
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When booking flights, I used to just look for lowest cost and best flight times. But, I will now look to book with Southwest every time. We just booked a flight to Denver in Feb, 2010, and then had something important come up and couldn't fly on those dates. Couldn't believe how easy it was to change the reservation and at NO cost!! We've even bought flight insurance on other airline tix in the past to ensure we could change flights if an emergency arose. Now with Southwest we could save that cost. I am spreading the word about this terrific customer service. Thank you Southwest! This is a huge stress reliever.
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I LUV SWA! Please come to Wichita, KS!!!! We are a three hour drive from Kansas City, MO, Tulsa, OK and Oklahoma City, OK. My son lives in San Diego and if Southwest came to Wichita my life would definitely change for the better. I just tried to change my reservation on another airline and they wanted to charge me a $150 change fee, plus $30 for Travelocity. I was able to find a one-way return flight (on the SAME AIRLINE!) on the day I wanted to change to for $144. To change my reservation to this same flight they wanted to charge me over $300. I don't get it. I remembered my son changing his Southwest flight for $50--I think he wanted to take an earlier flight. Southwest's Customer Service is kicking the other airlines all over the continent! I am sending this message in a "Letter to the Editor" addressed to our city fathers--Bring Southwest to Wichita. Are we the Air Capital in name only?
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It's unfortunate that this is no longer the case. I went and looked at changing a flight recently so I could spend some more time with my grandfather at my uncle's wedding and the cost to change it is more than the original leg of the trip cost. Too bad Southwest, I do remember the days when you were freedom in the skies.
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Since recently moving to Texas (Dallas area) I have enjoyed flying SWA almost exclusively. Unfortunately on my last flight I ran headlong into the SWA no change fee. I booked online at a discounted price (not as cheap as competition but worth it to fly SWA) and when my business meeting ended early I decided to try to fly standby on an earlier flight. OOPS the no change fee came to $158. In order to fly standby you must buy a full fare walk up ticket. So the "no change fees" is a lesson in semantics as it is still expensive to change to an earlier flight (or even fly standby) on the day of the flight. I do get it that SWA does not have a specific charge called "change fee" however in many situations the result is the same, you pay a lot more to get on an earlier flight. I still like SWA but I will no longer fly them exclusively without consideration to other options on competing airlines. It will depend on whether there is any likely hood I could need to get on an earlier flight, short notice. SWA - Reconsider your "no standby without exorbitant up charges" policy. Either increase fares a little or charge a reasonable ($10-$20) standby fee. I would like to again be confident that SWA is the best alternative. I would again like to be able to trust that even though SWA is not always the "cheapest" fare, they are always a reasonable fare and provide the very best customer service.