One of Southwest’s best semi-known “frills” about to disappear


Southwest Airlines, once known as a no-frills airline, has now become one of the carriers giving travelers the most frills included with their tickets. These days, when even free peanuts are considered a luxury, Southwest will eliminate transferability of tickets.

I think you can call it a “frill” if an airline ticket includes something that most airlines only include for an additional charge. Southwest certainly still has some frills — free bags, peanuts, and no change fees. (Although you do pay the fare difference for changes, and the airline doesn’t allow standby.)

One of my favorite Southwest “frills,” however, is about to become a relic of the past: transferability of airline tickets.

Although many travelers haven’t realized it, Southwest tickets have indeed been transferable. If someone purchased a ticket, and could not use it, they have been able give the credit to someone else. This has meant families and corporations alike aren’t stuck with tickets they can’t use. if someone has planned to visit a friend and can’t travel, they have been able to cancel their ticket and have the fare applied to their Southwest credit. They could then give the credit to the friend to come visit them instead or for any other flight.

Of course, this hasn’t meant that the transferee can use the same original fare, the credit has to be applied to a new ticket. But it’s still been a generous and useful policy.

Starting with tickets purchased January 27, 2011, however, tickets must be reused by the original traveler. On the bright side, Southwest isn’t instituting change fees. Yet.

No word on whether this would have happened anyway, but it’s possible the change has to do with Southwest’s proposed purchase of AirTran airlines. If so, ironically it will be merging with the Atlanta-based carrier that results in this “frill” being “Gone with the Wind.”

  • Bodega

    Remember years ago when you could transfer the funds to someone else with the other carriers? WN kept this ‘frill’ for much longer than I expected. I know there were problems with misuse of funds by others who were not given permission to use them.

  • Kevin M

    Bodega, although I’d never specifically heard of problems with misuse of these credits, it always seemed to me to be a situation ripe for abuse. Under the old system, your reservation got the standard six-character alphanumeric “code” used as a record locator, etc. and if you canceled a flight which was all or partially nonrefundable, the non-refundable portion was issued as a credit to that six-character alphanumeric code.

    In making future reservations, you could apply that code’s credit to the new flight – all you needed was the code. I once bought a ticket for a friend; he had to cancel, and I just saved the credit and used it on a flight of my own in a few months. Had someone discovered that code (digging through papers on my desk, for instance), he could have booked a flight with my credit and I wouldn’t have known about it until I tried to use it.

    So I can understand the need to match up with the original name – sort of. It seems to me a better solution would have been to allow, for those who are Rapid Rewards members, for the credit to be posted as an adjunct to their Rapid Rewards account – meaning that one would have to log in to use the credit, but then it could be used for any flight (for oneself or someone else). It would serve as a motivation to join RR. For those who insisted on not joining, the new rule would kick in and require name-matching.