Book Round-trip On Southwest As Two One-Way Flights

Southwest N8604K

Southwest Airlines is the largest domestic airline by the number of passengers getting on and off a plane ("enplanements"). Its reasonable prices and consumer-friendly policies make it my number one choice for leisure travel.

I’d like to share a tip about flying Southwest Airlines: book your round-trip travel as two one-way flights.

Southwest prices its tickets as one-way tickets. A round-trip is merely two one-way’s added together. When you book your out and back flights separately, you retain the maximum flexibility for any possible changes.

Making Changes

Say after you book your ticket your plan changed. You want to keep the departure date and change the return. If you book your ticket as a round-trip, you will have to cancel the whole thing and rebook the round-trip. If fares have gone up, you will have to pay the higher fare on both legs. If you booked as two one-way’s, you get to keep the original ticket you are not changing. You only pay the higher fare on one leg.

Fares change after you book, both up and down. Southwest’s no-change-fee policy means if the fare goes down, you can cancel the tickets and rebook the same flights at a lower fare. You keep the fare difference as credit, to be applied toward future travel in 12 months (be sure to write down the old confirmation number).

But fares don’t necessarily go down on both legs. Suppose the fare on one leg goes up and it goes down on the other leg, if you cancel the whole thing and rebook, you only get the net difference from the round-trip. If instead you booked two one-way tickets, you keep one original ticket and only rebook the leg that went down in price.

Group A Boarding Pass

Finally, everyone flying Southwest knows you should check-in at exactly 24 hours before the departure time in order to get a group A boarding pass. If you are taking a quick trip and your return flight is within 24 hours of your outgoing flight, you are not able to check-in to the return flight until the scheduled departure time on your outgoing flight passes.

For instance if you have a round-trip ticket leaving at 2:00pm on Thursday and returning at 1:00pm on Friday, you can’t check-in to the return flight until after 2:00pm on Thursday.

By that time, (a) you are already on the plane; and (b) many people already checked-in at 1:00pm. When you check-in after you get off the plane, you will get a dreaded C boarding pass. If you booked the tickets separately as two one-ways, you can check-in to the return flight at 1:00pm on Thursday.

It’s a little more work to book two one-way tickets. The flexibility makes it worth the effort.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Drewski2112]

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  1. james says

    I think this is incorrect or has changed. Southwest will let you change just one leg of a round trip itinerary and change it for a new flight. without changing the other leg.

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