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Southwest Airlines has an amazing cancellation policy, by far the most generous of any other airline.  With no type of elite status at all, you can change or cancel a flight on Southwest for no cost whatsoever.  If you cancel your Southwest flight, your payment will either be refunded back to your original form of payment or you can choose a travel credit for future Southwest travel.  However, Ooe downside of this awesome cancellation policy is that it affects the Southwest standby policy, which we’ll get to in a second

That’s why whenever we post about a Southwest fare sale, even if you don’t have any travel you’re wanting to book, it’s a good idea to check any EXISTING Southwest reservations.  If the fare goes down, just cancel and rebook – in one easy step you’ve saved yourself some cash or points!

[Southwest just PAID me to take the same flight!]

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Flying on Southwest Airlines with the Southwest standby policy

Recently I was in Chicago to watch my daughter march with her marching band in the Chicago Thanksgiving Day parade.  There were 2 flights back from Midway airport – 1:10pm and 3:50pm.  With the parade going from 8-10 a.m., I wasn’t sure how long the parade would take, how long it would take to meet back up with the band and get through parade traffic to the airport.  I didn’t want to book the earlier flight and then miss it

If you’re wondering how does standby work on Southwest, the Southwest standby policy says that if you book a Wanna Get Away fare (which I’d say 95% of us do), then you can NOT fly standby without paying the difference in fare.  And of course most if not all day-of-travel fares are incredibly expensive.  In my case, it was either 24,000 points or over $300.  So while it’s accurate that Southwest does allow standby for an earlier flight, in practice, Southwest standby on a Wanna Get away fare is not going to be a great option

I think that the reason for this Southwest standby policy is a direct CONSEQUENCE of the Southwest cancellation policy.  If flying standby on Southwest was an easy option, then everybody would just book the cheapest flight of the day, show up to the airport for the flight they wanted, and just do a Southwest standby on an earlier flight of the day

The 3 things I did to get around the Southwest Airlines standby policy

The saga of all I did to get around the Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away standby policy probably merits its own post.  First I called the Southwest Airlines standby phone number, which is just their regular customer service phone number (1-800-IFLYSWA).  The agent quoted the Southwest standby policy and would not budge.  I just hung up, figuring I’d have better luck at the airport

At the airport, first I tried the Southwest ticket counter.  The rep that I spoke to was sympathetic (it WAS Thanksgiving Day after all!) when I explained that I wanted to do a Southwest standby to an earlier flight, but said the last time he tried to circumvent the Southwest Airlines standby policy, he got in trouble.  He did speak to his boss, who “stood by” the stand policy (pun TOTALLY intended).

So then I tried the gate agent.  When I explained again that I wanted to fly standby on Southwest, they again quoted me the policy and asked me for my 24,000 additional points.  I asked to speak to a manager, who was again very sympathetic, but said that there was nothing he could do.

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Running out of options, I called the Southwest Airlines standby phone number again, and after getting denied to fly standby on Southwest Airlines (again), asked to speak to a manager, who DID (after a bit of running around) manage to get around the Southwest Airlines standby policy and get my daughter and I onto the earlier flight, right in time for Thanksgiving dinner!

One alternative to the Southwest standby policy

Now one thing that people have done to get around the (lack of) Southwest standby flights in the past was to just book both flights.  So you’d be essentially booking your own Southwest standby tickets. And since you can cancel them for free, just cancel the one(s) that you weren’t planning on using.  Unfortunately, Southwest has gotten wise to this trick and will now proactively cancel your flight if you try to book overlapping flights.

Another option to get around this Southwest standby policy would have been to just book the earlier flight and count on the fact that if things went south and we were delayed getting to the airport, that they’d have accommodated us onto the later flight for free (it had over 100 seats open on it).

Have you encountered the Southwest standby policy before?  What happened to you?


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