Southwest has extended the expiration date on travel funds created or set to expire between March 1 and September 7, 2020. If you have canceled or want to cancel a flight within this time period due to the coronavirus pandemic, your travel funds will be valid for travel through September 7, 2022. That’s a full 2 years or more to decide when you want to fly again.
Travel Funds Won’t Expire Until 2022 and Can Become Points
While Southwest has always allowed you to cancel your flight up to 10 minutes before departure and keep any ticket value as a credit, it has had an expiration date of one year from the original date of purchase. To add even more flexibility in this uncertain time, Southwest is now extending these vouchers through September 7, 2022.
However, once you use some of these new travel funds to book a flight, your new confirmation will create a new set of travel funds that will expire one year from the booking date. For example, let’s say you decide to cancel a flight in June 2020. Those funds will now be available to use through September 2022. If in October 2020, you book a new flight for December travel with those funds and later decide to change or cancel again, your new credit will only be valid through October 2021.
Of course, this policy could be changed again in the future, but airlines are starting to adjust to the new normal and could start to implement more permanent policies going forward.
How Do I Transfer Travel Funds to Rapid Rewards Points?
Possibly the best news from Southwest’s customer update is that it is also allowing these select travel funds, created or set to expire between March 1 and September 7, 2020, to be converted into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate that you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today. The technology team at Southwest is currently building this capability so it’s not immediately available, but this is great news for Rapid Rewards members who want an even more flexible way to use their ticket value.
How Many Rapid Rewards Points Will I Get for My Travel Funds?
It’s not entirely clear what the exact conversion rate will be, but since Southwest states that it will be the “same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today,” we can take an educated guess. A $49 nonstop flight from Atlanta to Orlando is converting to 2,964 points, while a $49 connecting flight from Orlando to Charlotte is converting to 2,652 points. The difference in value is due to the $49 nonstop flight having a slightly higher “base fare” than the $49 connecting flight, which has an extra Airport Facility Charge.
Since Southwest’s point values roughly correlate to the base fare, you’ll get slightly different rates when looking at the total tax-inclusive price. Due to a tax holiday as part of the CARES Act, the total price you see for domestic flights is now mostly the base fare.
Looking at just the base fare, the Orlando to Charlotte flight is $34.38 and the Atlanta to Orlando flight is $38.88. This would indicate that you’ll get roughly 77 points for every $1 in base fare. Hopefully, Southwest will clarify this soon when it builds the transfer capability. Check for updates here.
Why Would I Want to Transfer Travel Funds into Points?
Getting points back instead of a travel credit is almost as good as a refund. Obviously, a cash refund is the most flexible way to get your value returned since you can spend it anywhere you like. If an airline cancels your flight, you are entitled to a refund. Period. But, if your flight has yet to be canceled, and you just want peace of mind to keep the value of a ticket for a flight you know you won’t be taking — without the need to keep checking your flight status — transferring that value to points is the next best thing.
If you’re a fan of flexibility and still plan to fly Southwest in the future, booking flights with points is essentially like booking refundable fares at non-refundable prices. Any flight you book with points can be canceled up to 10 minutes before departure. Instead of receiving travel funds like you do for cash paid tickets, the points just go back into your account without any fees and points never expire. Any necessary taxes you may have paid also get refunded to your credit card. Another reason to transfer travel funds to points is that you’ll be able to book a new ticket for any friends or family, whereas travel funds must be used by the original passenger ticketed.
Are There any Drawbacks?
It’s not a complete no-brainer to transfer travel funds to points. The biggest thing to consider is that award travel does not earn any points. So, if you book a flight with points, you will not earn any more points from taking that flight. Points are earned based on the type of fare purchased and the base fare of your ticket. You’ll earn 6 points per dollar on Wanna Get Away fares, 10 points per dollar on Anytime fares and 12 points per dollar on Business Select fares.
Essentially, if you transfer travel funds to points, you are giving up some earned points in the future, but have more flexibility. And if you keep travel funds, you have less flexibility, but will earn more points. What’s best for you might not seem like the best option for another. Either way, the extended validity of travel funds and the option to transfer them into points is great news for Southwest flyers. The choice is yours.