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Southwest is one of the most popular airlines to fly in the U.S., partially because it offers a generous cancellation and flight change policy. However, depending upon the ticket you buy, you may receive travel funds instead of a cash refund in the event your flight plans change.
Here's how to use travel funds on Southwest, plus what you need to know about their relevant policies, including when they expire.
Things to know before you use travel funds on Southwest
How do you get travel funds?
Thanks to its no-fee change policy, Southwest issues travel funds if you cancel your flight or when you rebook your cash flight to one that costs less. Cancellations must be at least 10 minutes before your flight's departure. The refund policy varies based on the category of ticket that you purchased — Business Select, Anytime or Wanna Get Away.
Business Select and Anytime fares offer the most flexibility, but they also cost more than Wanna Get Away fares. When you book a Business Select or Anytime fare tickets, you have the option to receive travel funds (a canceled-flight credit) or a cash refund to your original form of payment.
Wanna Get Away fares, on the other hand, offer the lowest prices. But if you need to cancel or choose to rebook to a lower-priced flight, your only choice is to receive travel funds — cash refunds aren't on the table.
When canceling a ticket paid for with points rather than cash, your points are returned to your account without penalty. The taxes and fees paid for the award ticket are also refunded, but you have the option of receiving travel funds or returning them to the original form of payment.
Where can you see what travel funds you have?
Southwest used to require travelers to keep track of the travel funds via their old confirmation numbers. Now, when you log into your Rapid Rewards loyalty account, your travel funds appear at the top of the "My Account" screen.
This shows the total available travel funds that you have, but it does not provide the details. You need to click on "View Details" to see the balance of the individual travel fund reservations. Here, you find the expiration date and balance for each reservation.
If you don't have a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards account, booked a flight that didn't have your loyalty number attached to it or have travel funds from a special purchase ticket, then you'll need to track them manually. Signing up for a Rapid Rewards account is free to do.
Unfortunately, you cannot manually add travel funds to your profile. To track your travel funds manually, visit the "Check Travel Funds" page on Southwest's website. You'll need to provide the passenger's first and last name plus the confirmation number from the reservation. On this page, you can also check the balance of Southwest LUV vouchers and gift cards.
Do Southwest travel funds expire?
Southwest travel funds don't last forever — they typically expire 12 months from the original booking date.
When you book a new reservation with your travel funds, the original expiration date still applies to the portion used on the new flight. If you cancel the new flight after the original expiration date, that portion of your original travel fund will be expired and no longer available to be used. In other words, the expiration clock on your travel fund does not reset when you use them to book a new flight.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many travel funds were extended to Sept. 7, 2022. If you use any of the travel funds with that expiration date, then cancel or change a flight, the refund of travel funds will now have an expiration date of 12 months from the purchase of the new ticket.
When using multiple forms of payment (e.g., different travel funds reservations, Southwest LUV voucher), the earliest expiration date from all forms of payment will be the new expiration date of the new travel funds.
What can I do if my travel funds have expired?
If you have travel funds that have expired, according to the Southwest Community message boards, your one hope is to call customer service within six months of the expiration and ask them to reinstate your travel funds as a LUV voucher. The LUV voucher will be good for another six months from the date of your call. Southwest charges $100 for this one-time extension and it comes out of your travel funds.
» Learn more: Southwest Airlines sweet spots
What can travel funds be used for?
Travel funds from Southwest can be used to book any available cash flight or to pay for the taxes and fees on award flights. They are treated like cash and can be used to pay for some or all of the amount owed. If you don't use all of the travel funds for the reservation, any remaining balance remains for future use.
Who can use Southwest travel funds?
You might be wondering: "Are Southwest travel funds transferable?" Unfortunately, no. Only the person who booked the original reservation may use the travel funds. You may not book a flight for anyone else with your travel funds, nor can they book a flight for you.
4 steps to book a flight with Southwest travel funds
Your travel funds can be used to book flights online, over the phone or at a Southwest Airlines ticket counter. For this illustration, we'll focus on booking a reservation online.
1. Have your original ticket confirmation number handy
Before booking a reservation, print out or write down the travel funds reservation number(s) that you'd like to use. Southwest's website does not allow you to choose from a list during booking.
2. Browse and select your flights
During the booking process, you'll select your travel dates, cities and times as normal.
3. Pay with travel funds
When you arrive at the "Passenger & Payment Info" page, click to expand the "Apply Travel Funds, LUV Vouchers and gift cards" section. Here is where you'll enter your travel funds' confirmation number and your first and last name before clicking "Apply funds." Then, continue the booking process as normal and pay any remaining balance owed with your preferred form of payment, such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.
Again, you may use your travel funds for cash fares or to pay the taxes and fees on award tickets.
Remember, travel funds from other passengers may not be applied to your ticket.
4. Get confirmation, check expirations
Now that you've filled out all of the necessary information and remitted payment with your travel fund, you should see a confirmation email pop up in your inbox.
If you didn't use the entire value of your travel fund, keep an eye on the expiration date — you will have limited time to use what's left. Don't make the mistake of letting any unused funds go to waste.
The bottom line
Southwest travel funds are typically created when you cancel or change a Wanna Get Away reservation, and they are automatically added to your account when you attach your Rapid Rewards number to the reservation before it is canceled. Most of these funds have a 12-month expiration date, but some have been extended to Sept. 7, 2022, due to COVID-19. These funds can be used to book cash or award travel, and any unused amount from your new reservation can be used on a future flight before they expire.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
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Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card