The fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t been all dangerous for airline passengers.

However because the pandemic upended journey, some airways began to supply passengers one thing lacking for years: flexibility. It began with the elimination of these onerous fees to alter a nonrefundable ticket. And final week,

Southwest Airlines Co.

went a step additional, eradicating expiration dates on journey credit.

“These two objects are a paradigm shift which are very, very constructive for the traveler,” mentioned Steve Glenn, founder and chairman of Govt Journey in Lincoln, Neb.

Airways aren’t freely giving the shop. Vacationers with nonrefundable tickets nonetheless aren’t eligible for a refund in the event that they cancel the flight, regardless of the motive. (Passengers are due a refund if the airline cancels the flight.) And main airways’ basic economy tickets, these no-frills tickets that always pop up first when trying to find flights, are nonetheless loaded with restrictions that restrict flexibility.

Southwest passengers in San Francisco utilizing automated kiosks to examine in. The airline is a pacesetter in customer-friendly insurance policies.


David Paul Morris/Bloomberg Information

Southwest, the nation’s largest home provider by passengers and a pacesetter in customer-friendly insurance policies, upped the ante on account of classes realized through the pandemic.

The Dallas-based airline calls its credit journey funds. These have historically expired a yr from the acquisition date of the unique ticket. However Southwest and others have repeatedly prolonged the validity of those funds through the pandemic to provide passengers extra time to make use of the credit.

Southwest’s Covid credit score waiver was on account of expire in early September. Relatively than merely prolong it once more, as different main airways together with

Delta Air Lines Inc.


American Airlines Group Inc.


United Airlines Holdings Inc.

have finished this yr, Southwest determined to make the coverage change everlasting. Beginning now, there aren’t any expiration dates on journey credit that passengers obtain after they cancel a flight. It’s the first main airline to take action. 

The change applies to pandemic credit on account of expire in addition to all new ticket purchases. Simply ensure you cancel the flight a minimum of 10 minutes earlier than departure or no credit will likely be issued. (It doesn’t apply to already expired credit or these LUV vouchers Southwest doles out when issues go improper on a flight. The latter should nonetheless be used inside a yr of issuance.)

Southwest executives say a number of components got here into play. The overarching one: Vacationers are searching for extra flexibility than ever given the canceled plans and uncertainty Covid created. The phrase flexibility got here up seven occasions on the airline’s quarterly earnings convention name final Thursday, the day the brand new coverage was disclosed.


How essential to you is flexibility when reserving a flight? Be a part of the dialog beneath.

“Our clients are telling us that peace of thoughts across the capability to alter is basically, actually essential,” Southwest Chief Govt

Bob Jordan

mentioned on the decision.

Then there’s the matter of clogged cellphone traces. Journey credit score questions are the “primary name driver” to Southwest’s customer-relations division, mentioned

Andrew Watterson,

Southwest’s chief industrial officer, on the decision.

No expiration date means no calls asking about soon-to-expire or lately expired credit and associated points. Southwest for years has allowed passengers with expired credit to reinstate them, for a price of $100.

Mr. Watterson mentioned the $100 price was extra of a one-time exemption than a coverage and famous that the airline additionally prolonged credit to some clients free of charge previously.

Southwest additionally has monetary motivations behind the brand new coverage, after all. Search for Southwest to usually tout its never-expiring tickets, because it does with its no change charges and bags-fly-free coverage.

Photos: How to Pack a Carry-On Bag Like a Pro, Step by Step

“Not solely are we going to retain clients due to this coverage change, we’re going to win new clients, similar to we did with bag charges,” Mr. Jordan mentioned.

No airline instantly matched Southwest’s no-expiration-date coverage. That’s in distinction to fast matching by opponents when United introduced the elimination of change charges on home tickets in August 2020. American, Delta and others shortly ditched change charges that began at $200 a ticket and infrequently worn out the worth of low cost tickets.

William McGee, a former editor and shopper advocate for Shopper Studies who’s now senior fellow for aviation at progressive coverage group American Financial Liberties Undertaking, praised Southwest’s transfer however mentioned it might be higher for vacationers if one other main airline had initiated it.

“I don’t suppose the large three take a look at Southwest and say ‘we’ve got to match that’ essentially,” he mentioned. “Southwest does a whole lot of issues which are good for shoppers that others don’t match on. Take a look at luggage.”

It’s wanting like a chaotic and costly journey season. WSJ journey columnist Daybreak Gilbertson shares recommendation on easy methods to save time at airport safety, rebook flights sooner and discover one of the best costs for airfares and gasoline. Illustration: Adele Morgan

Then once more, Southwest by no means charged change charges and now no main airways do—a minimum of for normal financial system tickets.

Representatives for American, Delta and United mentioned that they had no touch upon Southwest’s transfer. Every pointed to their present insurance policies for prolonged ticket expiration.

In January, Delta extended the expiration date on journey credit by the tip of 2023, for journey by the tip of 2024. 

The headline on the announcement had a well-known F-word: “Unmatched journey flexibility.”

Write to Daybreak Gilbertson at dawn.gilbertson@wsj.com

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