It seems like every year airlines concoct more erroneous fees and plug their most exploited loop-holes. Well I found, at least for myself, a useful loop-hole for Southwest award tickets.
An award ticket is a ticket you book with points or miles. Isn’t that nice, the airlines are “awarding” you for spending hundreds, if that not thousands, of dollars with them every year.
Enough griping, here is the loop-hole:
Typically when you want to change your flight with Southwest Airlines you simply pay the difference in the fare. Obviously if you are changing the day of the flight it could be pretty pricey. This is how Southwest can brag that they have “no change fees”. Most other airlines charge you $150-$250 just as a change fee. In addition to that fee you will have to pay the increase in the fare.
Here is where the fun begins. With no change fee on Southwest and using a ticket booked with points, how are you supposed to “pay the cash difference” when you request to change your flight. See where I am going with this?
The back story:
Coming home from Niagara Falls we had a layover in Las Vegas. I normally don’t mind a layover in Las Vegas thanks to the exceptional Amex Centurion Lounge, which is free for Platinum Card holders. In this case however, my wife and I were tired and worked the following morning. Southwest flies between Phoenix and Vegas roughly 10 times a day, usually every 90 minutes. Our initial layover was set for three hours. I checked the flights between Vegas and Phoenix on the Southwest app and noticed there was flight leaving 2 hours earlier. That would leave us 45 minutes to run over to the Amex lounge and grab a quick bite and drink.
I found the gate where the earlier Phoenix flight was departing from and noticed a lighter passenger load so I figured I’d take a crack. I walked up to the nice gal behind the counter and asked if there are any earlier flights to Phoenix. All this while she had the word “Phoenix 9:15PM” about 4 feet behind her head on the monitor. She asked for my confirmation number and said, “I believe there is room, give me a second and I will let you know what the fare difference will be”. I had no intention of actually paying for an earlier flight but I went along with it.
After about 20 seconds the agent said, “It looks like you are on an award ticket so I don’t know how this will work, give me a second”. I waited patiently and she informed me that normally a screen will pop up with a calculation of the fare difference and would require payment before she could proceed. After about 30 more seconds she said, “Well it looks like it is going to let me bypass the fare difference screen since it can not come up with a calculated difference”. I said, “wow, that would be so great if you could do that for us”.
Ten seconds later, my wife and I were holding paper boarding passes for a flight that was two hours earlier. I could have booked this “earlier” flight when I initially booked our trip, however, Southwest wanted an additional 5,500 points so I opted for the later flight. After all, wasting time in a Centurion Lounge isn’t all that rough. Score!
This isn’t the first time I was able to change my Southwest flight and not pay any fare difference. Flying home, from Phoenix to Nor Cal, my wife and I had a layover in Burbank. We were actually going to land in Oakland, Ca even though we were actually heading to Sacramento. I opt’ed to fly into Oakland because it was way cheaper than flying into Sacramento, this was before I had a bundle of points to blow.
As we were waiting in the gate area at Burbank airport the gate agent got on the loud speaker and said, “flight blah blah blah to Oakland has been moved to 8:30pm”. Well dang, that is over an hour delay, what gives! I immediately walked up to agent counter and said this delay was going to cause some issues. My parents were picking us up and I really didn’t want them to have to sit in the cell phone lot for hours. (Since they had already left the house) I said to the agent, “is there any way we can switch flights to Sacramento since this delay is pretty long?”
The gate agent punched some things into the computer machine and she said, “Since your flight is delayed for more than 50 minutes I am able to change your flight to an airport within 100 miles without charging a fare difference”. I tried to hide my excitement and responded, “Okay, Sacramento leaving in 30 minutes…. I suppose that works”. There we go, we got on the flight we originally wanted to for the price of Oakland (which was three times cheaper).
What I take away from these instances… Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want! I try not to make a habit out of it but it never hurts to ask if it makes things more convenient for you.
If you know of any Southwest loop-holes for free ticket changes, please let us know if the comments!