Southwest Restricts Unused Tickets, I’d Rather See a Change Fee

It looks like the good folks at Southwest have slipped in a little change to your ability to use ticketless travel funds. As with any change, that has some people unhappy. Instead of being

A friend of mine sent me the news when he saw the story on FlyerTalk. Beginning January 28, 2011, funds that are in your name can only be used when you travel on Southwest. The way it is today, if you have a credit, you can use it for anyone.

Let’s say you booked a ticket to Birmingham, Alabama (not sure why you’d do that, but ok) and then found you couldn’t go at the last minute. We all know that Southwest has no change fees, so the amount you paid for that ticket goes into a credit that you can use on Southwest within one year of ticketing. The beauty of those credits is that you can use them for other travelers and not just you. So if I don’t have a reason to use it, I can offer it to my dad or to a friend. I’ve actually done that before where an expiring credit would have simply disappeared so I gave it up to someone else.

That luxury is going the way of free airline meals. Now you have to be the one traveling to use the credit. That sucks. I think we all understand why Southwest would do this. Without being able to transfer the credit, more people won’t be able to use it and Southwest will get to keep the money. It also eliminates any black market that may have been out there to get some cash for credits that would have gone unused. So this is a revenue-generating move, but I think there are better ones out there than this.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think Southwest should have a change fee. Just put a reasonable $25 fee on there and the airline can start raking in the dough. It can also eliminate a lot of the uncertainty out there. If someone really needs to make a change, that person would pay $25. It would hurt those who just book for the sake of booking a cheap flight and then bank the credits later if they don’t take the flight.

Why do I like this better? I think it’s more flexible and useful. I know there is always an outcry when I mention a Southwest change fee, but if you could share your credit with someone else for only a $25 fee, then it would be better than not being able to share it at all. I know Southwest hates change fees, but there are only so many messages that an airline can promote. It’s been almost entirely about bags flying free lately and that’s a good campaign. Why not keep the focus on that. It’s not a conflict because a $25 fee would be fair.

This, however, isn’t happening anytime soon. And that’s too bad, because I find a change fee to be more palatable than a restriction on credit use.

[Original photo via Flickr user flygraphix]


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