How Southwest Flight Delay Compensation Works

Southwest isn't obligated to provide compensation in case of a delay, so use a credit card with trip delay insurance.
Anya Kartashova
By Anya Kartashova 
Edited by Meg Lee

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These days, it’s common to see posts about flight delays on social media or in the news. And if you fly often, it’s only a matter of time until you’re one of the unlucky ones trying to figure out how to handle a delayed flight. If you flew (or tried to fly) with Southwest during the 2022 holidays, flight delays were practically inevitable. During that meltdown, Southwest was fairly generous about its approach to compensating passengers, including offering out Rapid Rewards points and even promising to reimburse some non-Southwest expenses.

But what about other delayed flights? Whether it's due to inclement weather, staff shortages or mechanical problems, are you entitled to compensation from Southwest for other delays?

Here's how Southwest handles delays and how to get refunded or receive additional compensation for a delayed flight on Southwest:

Southwest notifies you of delays longer than 30 minutes

If your flight is delayed by 30 minutes or more, you’ll be notified by email, phone or text within half an hour of Southwest being aware of the delay.

If your flight happens to be delayed on the tarmac because of gate-space limitations, mechanical problems or air traffic control requirements, Southwest will provide snacks and drinking water for delays nearing two hours. You’ll also have access to restrooms.

Few laws protect you in this scenario

Unfortunately, there aren’t any U.S. laws or Department of Transportation rules that protect flyers against flight delays, except when they’re involuntarily denied boarding.

Additionally, Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe, so its routes don’t qualify for Europe-specific regulations such as Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, more commonly known as EC261.

You may be entitled to compensation, including vouchers for lodging and food

Southwest might provide you with some compensation if, as the carrier, it is responsible for the delay.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Weather delays are considered outside of the airline’s control.

There’s no guarantee, but depending on how long the delay is and the reason, Southwest could rebook you on the next flight or offer a LUV voucher that you can use toward future Southwest flight purchases. If you miss a connection because of a plane swap and must stay overnight, you can request a hotel voucher and transportation to your accommodation.

You can also ask for a refund of the unused portion of the ticket, but be aware that you’ll have to find an alternative flight to your destination on your own.

You can request compensation after the flight

To request Southwest flight delay compensation or provide other feedback after the flight, you can contact the airline by phone or email.

Your travel card may include travel insurance benefits

Many travel rewards cards — such as the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express — come with trip protections for cardholders. Terms apply. If you pay for all or a portion of your delayed Southwest flight with a travel card that offers trip delay insurance, you can claim reimbursement on some of your expenses.

Trip delay insurance typically covers meals, lodging and transportation costs incurred due to a delayed flight, so make sure to save your receipts to submit a claim later.

For example, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® both offer trip delay protection for delays of at least six hours or delays that require an overnight stay. You’re covered for up to $500 per ticket whether you pay for all or a portion of the flight with the card. Equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes and hijacking are covered.

The Platinum Card® from American Express also reimburses up to $500 per covered trip that’s delayed six hours or more. But the coverage extends to loss of passport or other travel documents, as well as inclement weather, terrorism and equipment failure. Terms apply.

Note that all of these cards offer supplemental coverage. So, if Southwest covered your expenses or you had purchased a separate trip insurance policy, you can claim only what hasn’t already been reimbursed.

Travel insurance can also protect you from expensive delays

If you need more trip delay coverage than what’s provided by your credit card, you can also look into purchasing a travel insurance policy. More often than not, a comprehensive plan will offer higher coverage limits than travel credit cards.

We recommend Squaremouth, a travel insurance marketplace, to search for plans and compare policy quotes. More than a dozen travel insurance providers are listed on Squaremouth, and you can filter results by the coverage features you need most.

On top of trip delay, a comprehensive travel insurance plan will include several other protections, such as trip cancellation and interruption coverage, baggage delay, emergency medical insurance and emergency medical evacuation coverage.

If your Southwest flight is delayed

Even though there aren’t official regulations protecting passengers in case of flight delays, you can still request compensation from Southwest, especially if the delay is several hours long or overnight.

And if your efforts come up short, you may be eligible for coverage through the credit card you used to pay for the flight or your travel insurance provider.

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 2023, including those best for:

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