Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Resources

Leveraging the Southwest cancellation policy for adoption flights

My wife and I are now three weeks into an adoption trip of about 6 weeks in Costa Rica. We are thoroughly enjoying both our 3 kids and their beautiful country.

But it’s definitely a long trip. We can’t wait to head home and get things back to normal, albeit a new normal.

So I couldn’t keep myself from booking our tickets home. It may seem like it’s a bit early since we don’t know when we can come home yet. But with the stellar Southwest cancellation policy, there is no downside to booking now. I’ve actually leveraged their generous policy twice on this trip, so I figured I’d provide a rundown.

The fantastic Southwest cancellation policy

Southwest Airlines has one of the best cancellation policies I’ve ever encountered. Award tickets are completely refundable, up until just minutes before the flight. In a nutshell:

  • Tickets purchased with RapidRewards points are 100% refundable.
  • Tickets can be cancelled up to 10 minutes before the flight.
  • There is no cancellation fee!
  • Even if you “no show” your award ticket, your points are redeposited. Any taxes and fees will be added to your travel funds and usable toward future travel.

The Southwest cancellation policy for revenue tickets is good as well. Here everything depends on which fare type you purchased. For Wanna Get Away fares, the following applies:

  • Fares are non-refundable, but the funds will be saved and can be applied to purchase of future travel for the original ticketed passenger up to one year from the original flight date.
  • There is no cancellation fee!
  • In the event of a “no show”, the fare is forfeited. Note that if you can show up within 2 hours of your original flight time and still fly standby on the next flight as part of the unwritten “flat tire rule”.

Business Select and Anytime awards are completely refundable (or you can choose to keep the reusable travel funds). Even if you “no show” one of these tickets, your travel funds will be deposited in your account and will be usable for future travel.

Southwest cancellation policy - fare rules

Considering that many other airlines sell completely nonrefundable tickets or charge a hefty fee to refund a fare, Southwest’s policy is extremely generous.

Leveraging the policy on our way to Costa Rica

My wife and I flew to Costa Rica on one-way United award tickets. This allows us plenty of flexibility in deciding when to book tickets back. I *really* didn’t want to lock us into a date on United, since their change policy is so bad.

However, I failed to realize that Costa Rica requires proof of return flights. Oops. At the ticket kiosk in Houston we were given a final screen of “please see agent” rather than collecting our tickets. A United employee walked over and informed us that we had to have proof of return flights.

Southwest to the rescue. In only a few minutes I had award flights back to the U.S. booked on Southwest using my wife’s points. I didn’t really care that I’d only booked us back to Houston. We wouldn’t be using them anyway, and I cancelled them two days later. But it was enough to present to the agent and get us through check-in and onto our flight.

Do note that booking a ticket on another airline could have worked as well, but I would have had to cancel within the 24-hour refundable booking window.

Leveraging the Southwest cancellation policy for our return flights

Just a few weeks later I decided to lock in our return flights. By “lock in”, I simply mean locking in a good rate. The tickets are obviously 100% refundable under the Southwest cancellation policy.

Generally, our adoption agency doesn’t suggest that people book flights back until they have their final Visa appointment. This is obviously to save adoptive parents time and headache by avoiding tickets changes. But with the fantastic Southwest cancellation policy, there is no downside to booking now!

There was one more complication, however. Given that we aren’t 100% sure of what our children’s names will be on their passports, booking airfare is problematic. Name changes are typically not allowed.

I reached out to Southwest on Twitter and explained our adoption situation to them. An agent confirmed that we could change the names of the kids once we have their information. I sent our record locator over once I’d booked the tickets, and the agent added a note to our account. I was extremely happy Southwest was this gracious.

I also had to guesstimate our return date. I decided to play it safe and book a bit further out than we hoped to be here. Southwest also (sadly) doesn’t publish a SJO-HOU-OAK fare every day of the schedule, so I had to pick one of the few days this route is available.

If we do end up taking these flights, all five of us will fly home for 62,000 RapidRewards points and $290, which is a deal!

Be aware of the Southwest change policy!

Unlike the Southwest cancellation policy, the Southwest change policy is no longer as friendly as it once was. When changing a fare, you’ll be warned that the fare will become non-refundable! This kinda goes against the grain of the rest of Southwest’s policies, so make sure you keep this in mind.

If you still do want to change a ticket, you still won’t be charged a fee. Unlike most other airlines, change fees don’t fly with Southwest. You will still pay the difference in fare, if applicable.


The Southwest cancellation policy is definitely something to have in your back pocket. It has come in handy for us on multiple occasions, including twice on just this trip.

With Southwest, what’s not to LUV?

Featured image courtesy of BriYYZ under CC 2.0 license

Travel Hacking Resources: My Top 7 Favorite Blogs

Now that the news is out (at least to my Facebook connections) that I have started up a travel blog, I would like to share some of the best resources that I have utilized over the last few years.

Learning the ropes of “travel hacking” doesn’t happen overnight, but there are some great tools for kickstarting your own knowledge on how to easily accrue and best burn miles and points.

These are my top 7 favorite travel blogs that I have found incredibly helpful over the past 4 years:

  1. Travel Is Free – Drew Macomber is the king of exploring the ins and outs out various hotel and frequent flier programs, and he is able to pinpoint the best awards. He and his wife Carrie (who runs her own site, Freakin’ Flyers) lived nomadically for a couple years, stretching their miles and points so that they were able to live out of 4-star hotels on a budget below U.S. poverty level. When I need answers on a specific program, or simply want to explore award options, I head to his resources page. Drew and Carrie’s blogs were my inspiration to launch my own blog.
  2. Mommy Points – Summer Hull is a fantastic writer who covers a variety of topics, from award redemptions and flight deals, to trip reports, shopping deals, and reflection on her own travel experiences. She has written some of the best posts I have ever read from the half dozen bloggers I follow. I also just won an Amex Centurion Lounge Pass in her recent giveaway.
  3. Points With A Crew – Dan Miller has his hands full with SIX children, but somehow carves out time to blog, resell gift cards for both points and profits, and manage a slack channel of travel hackers. He is a great resource for family travel ideas and atypical ways to accrue points for his large family. He likes to not dress up when flying first-class and whines sometimes, but we all still love him.
  4. Miles To Memories – Shawn Coomer is one of the kings of deals. His main forte is manufactured spending, although he does also provide insight on credit card signups and a variety of other topics. Check out his resource section. I especially like his post on debt.
  5. View From The Wing – Gary Leff is the self-proclaimed “thought leader in travel” and has a long history with travel and travel hacking. He covers the news in the travel world extensively. He has some great insight into the airline industry and loyalty programs, as well as credit card deals and general travel tips.
  6. The Points Guy – No collection of blogs would be complete without Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy. Brian took his blog from a daily post and grew it to a full time business that is now owned by a financial services company. While he may write about some of the utterly ridiculous travel he does (that the vast people will never do), his blog does provide some very useful info as well.
  7. Nomadic Matt – I just recently rediscovered his website and blog (via Instagram, oddly enough). He is the author of a NYT best-seller: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Nomadic Matt has a huge collection of resources for purchase, from ebooks, to budget city guides, to full business courses on web-based enterprises. His content (at east what I have read and seen) is all great quality.

I hope you find any or all of these travel hacking resources useful and enjoyable!