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Southwest is Refunding & Reimbursing Travelers, How to Get What You Can

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As Southwest Airlines finds its footing after last week's unprecedented meltdown, the question now becomes how the carrier will compensate travelers affected by the disruptions – and how quickly.

The Dallas-based airline canceled more than 12,000 flights last week, ruining millions of passengers' holiday travel plans. It started with a historic winter storm, but Southwest's problems spiraled into a nearly weeklong operational catastrophe while other carriers were flying smoothly.

Southwest has committed to refunding travelers whose flights were canceled between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 as well as reimbursing customers for extra costs like last-minute flights on other carriers, rental cars, hotels, and meals. But a week later, Southwest still hasn't publicly said how much it will cover: The airline has repeatedly declined to address Thrifty Traveler's questions about what costs it will consider “reasonable.”

Timing is a big question, too. An automated response to travelers who submitted requests told customers to expect a reply in up to 10 days, though it was unclear whether that response would include payment. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told Southwest in a letter last week he expects refunds to be issued within seven days to travelers who booked with a credit card.

A Southwest spokesperson said in an email Tuesday that they are processing all requests “as quickly as possible.” As it chips away at that mountain of lost bags and requests for money, the airline proactively emailed an apology to customers Tuesday, offering 25,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points.

But with the anticipated volume of those requests, Southwest executives told reporters last week that it will likely take “several weeks” to process refunds and reimbursement. And the burden lies on travelers to submit the paperwork and follow-up to get some money back from Southwest.

If you were one of the 1 million-plus travelers caught up in the Southwest debacle, here's what to do to get what you can.


Claim Your Refund Now

Getting a refund is one of the few rights travelers in the U.S. have when airlines cancel flights.

Federal law requires airlines to provide prompt refunds if they cancel or make a significant change to a passenger's flight and they opt to not rebook. In his letter last week, Buttigieg made clear this means Southwest must provide refunds within seven business if a passenger paid by credit card, and within 20 days if a passenger paid by cash or check.

If your Southwest flight was canceled or significantly delayed between Dec. 24, 2022 and Jan. 2, 2023, head to Southwest's dedicated Travel Disruption page and fill out the reservation information from your canceled flight.


southwest refund request


Submit Your Receipts for Additional Expenses

Other than getting a refund for a canceled flight, travelers in the U.S. aren't guaranteed much. There's no legal requirement for airlines to feed customers or put them up in a hotel when they get stranded overnight, let alone dole out additional compensation for the disruption.

It's all up to Southwest, and Southwest has said it will “honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation.” But what's considered “reasonable” is left to the airline to decide.

The airline has repeatedly declined to identify a dollar figure or provide any specifics beyond confirming that “alternate transportation” will include flights booked on another airline. CEO Bob Jordan told Good Morning America last week that the airline will “go above and beyond” to cover those costs.

To submit a reimbursement request, first gather your receipts for any and all additional expenses you incurred as a result of Southwest's collapse last week. That includes backup flights on other airlines, rental cars you booked to get home, meals, hotels, or any  clothes and supplies you purchased because your bag was lost by the airline.

Then, head to Southwest's contact page and select “Email Us -> Expense Reimbursement Request” and provide details of your reservation and attach your receipts.


southwest reimbursement


Lost Luggage? File a Baggage Report

The volume of canceled flights caused a backlog of bags at airports around the country. Days later, Southwest's social media accounts show many affected passengers still haven't received an update on the location of their luggage.

Southwest said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it's on track to deliver “nearly all baggage” lost during the meltdown by midweek.

Still waiting on your bag? Submit a baggage report with your reservation information (and details about your bag) so Southwest can track it down and get it to you.

Federal regulations require airlines like Southwest to compensate passengers for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage, up to a limit. For domestic flights, that can be up to $3,800, according to the DOT.

How Long Will it Take to Receive Refunds & Reimbursement?

Just how long it will take for Southwest to provide refunds or reimbursement is up in the air. Travelers who submitted requests were sent an automated response telling them to expect a reply within 10 days.

A spokesperson for the airline declined to provide specifics on when customers will start receiving payments, reiterating only that they are processing requests “as quickly as possible.” But the pressure is on to move quickly.

Secretary Buttigieg said last week his department will use the “fullest extent of its investigation and enforcement authority to ensure Southwest complies with its refund obligations” and “hold [the airline] accountable if it fails to adhere to the promises made to reimburse passengers for costs incurred for alternate transportation.”

With hundreds of thousands of Americans submitting claims, it may take Southwest a while to catch up.


Didn't Get What You Expected from Southwest?

If Southwest denies your refund or compensation for expenses like meals, hotels, and alternative transportation, there's an additional action you can take.

File a complaint against Southwest directly with the DOT. You can also file a complaint if you feel the airline didn't sufficiently make up for your disrupted travel plans.


Southwest Extends 2022 Companion Pass & Status

Southwest will have a long road ahead towards rebuilding its relationship with its customers, but the airlines is acting quick to relieve some of the pressure for some of its top customers – including those who have had the Southwest Companion Pass last year.

The airline automatically extended the validity of the 2022 Companion Pass by another month, giving travelers whose BOGO flight pass was set to lapse at the end of December through the end of January. Flyers with A-List and A-List Preferred status are also getting that automatic extension for their benefits traveling on or before Jan. 31.


southwest plane


Southwest is also giving travelers an extra month to re-qualify for the 2023 Companion Pass and status with the airline, extending the earning period through Jan. 31. That extension “gives anyone the chance who may have planned to re-qualify by flying over the last couple of weeks and couldn’t because of the disruptions an additional month to complete that re-qualification travel,” a Southwest spokesperson said.

Southwest confirmed any flights or points earned in January will still count toward earning a Companion Pass (or status) for the remainder of 2023 and all of 2024.

Bottom Line

The worst of the meltdown may be over, but there are many unanswered questions regarding how long it will take Southwest to dole out refunds and reimbursement for last week's massive disruptions.

Will the airline go “above and beyond” as they've promised? Until that money actually starts flowing, it's a mystery.

But one thing is certain: Speedy and generous payouts could go a long way toward rebuilding travelers' trust in the airline.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

30 Responses

  • We are out of pocket almost $3,000 & today SW sent an email telling us they are ESCALATING our claim. We think this is code for yet another DELAY! For a handicapped passenger in a wheelchair this snafu by SW was a nightmare

  • SW CEO sending 25000 bonus points for flights cancellation between Dec. 24, 2022, and Jan. 2, 2023, do we still get a refund or any other option?

    • Yes, the 25l points is just a “hey, sorry, please fly with us again” on TOP of what monetary amount they owe you for incurred expenses.

      • I deleted my email from him, but we were affected, sched to fly out Dec 26. Where do I go to claim that?

  • The statement is not correct. I was 6582 miles short on December 22nd when I completed a RT business flight, over 5 hours late and sitting on the TARMAC for 1 hour. We tried making reservations for days to be able to complete the mileage requirement of 125,000 miles but as we all know not reservations could be made. Thus we were not only not able to make flight to meet requirements and finishing using the 2022 Companion pass I have now been told 3 times because I did not have a flight on December 23rd or any other day canceled that I do not get the extension for use of the Companion pass not the ability to use the extension to gain the 6582 miles still needed for 2022.

    Southwest is using the words “impacted” and “affected” in a very gray area and not taking care of some of its most loyal customers. I travel 95% of the year and 99.9% of my flights have been on Southwest since 2011. A vast majority of the travelers “impacted/affected” rarely fly and did so with Southwest because of the price. So much for Southwest caring for is most loyal customers as they state. Its easy to see who’s business they value more.

  • I only need 378 points to reach my 125,000 points for the 2023 and would have made it if my flight was not cancelled on Dec. 23. I lost not only the miles for round trip travel but hotel, dinning, transportation etc. Nevertheless, i read this on thriftytraveler.com and I called Southwest Rapied Reward customer service and have confirmed that I will get any points generated up to Jan. 31st 2023 towards companion pass. I hope it is true because i have had companion pass for the last 4 years.

    Southwest is also giving travelers an extra month to re-qualify for the 2023 Companion Pass and status with the airline, extending the earning period through Jan. 31. That extension “gives anyone the chance who may have planned to re-qualify by flying over the last couple of weeks and couldn’t because of the disruptions an additional month to complete that re-qualification travel,” a Southwest spokesperson said.

    Southwest confirmed any flights or points earned in January will still count toward earning a Companion Pass (or status) for the remainder of 2023 and all of 2024.

  • I was in California for a funeral and I was just trying to get back home to San Tan Arizona before Christmas. I was so hurt that I spent my holiday by myself and away from my family. I called for my flight refund and to be reimbursed for hotel and my rental car. I was told they will reimburse my flight that was canceled twice. Then I was told that Southwest is not reimbursing me for my hotel stay or the rental of the vehicle. I had to borrow money for my hotel and my rental car. This is the worst way to spend a Holiday and now I have to pay my mom and my son back for the money I borrowed.

  • How long do customers have to send in receipts for reimbursement? Is there a cut off date? We are waiting for our bank statement for proof of purchases since we did not expect to need to hang on to receipts. We have some receipts but not all.

  • Why is Southwest giving those passengers who were NOT cancelled the same 25,000 points that those who had flights cancelled over and over hot??? So sad

  • My flight was December 24th and was canceled. Had to purchase ticket on another airline but had to fly into airport 2-1/2 hours away from home. Submitted claim. Have not received apology email yet.

  • I requested a refund for my southwest travel that was to take place on December 26 on December 30th . I haven’t received any automated response or anything! Just when I submitted the Chaim it said thank you. What can I do next. I have been a loyal customer with southwest for years

    • I just got mine today, 2/3, but it’s not for the full amount. Now I’m starting over with them yet again. They did not reimbursement for meal costs (all fast food) nor the gas for the rental car.

  • Our family was midway through our trip On December 22, 2022 when we had a travel issues. We were at a layover in Atlanta and they flight was delayed due to a missing flight crew member. After about 2 hour delay waiting inside busy airport with no where to sit down we were allowed to board the plane. Once on the plane we had to continue to wait for the crew member. The crew member got on the plane and everyone clapped. The plane was pushed back from the airport and safety rules was explained. The plane then stopped. We had to wait for approval for runway. No problem right? WRONG. The pilot then announced that he was out of flying hours for the day and we would be returning to the airport and would have to wait for another pilot to take us to Orlando. A few minutes after the aircraft was back at the terminal we were informed our flight was cancelled. No flights for our family until Dec 24th. We were stuck with no ride, no hotel, no food. We had to get a rental car. Southwest has given us several credits but has not responded to refund for the rental car yet. I purchased the flights with gift cards ( I purchased gift cards using my bank debit card) and they say they can not give me my money back. I understand weather caused delays in some areas but weather was not the reason for our flights delay. This was our first time to fly. Our trip did not turn out well sadly.

  • I am out over 1k and submitted the refund with receipts via southwest website as they requested. I got a response that they will pay me $19.91! What? I haven’t even received the credit for the cancelled flights. I am unable to find anything on their web site about those flights. As if they never existed.

  • We took our kids to Disney World 12/18-22. Return flight delayed til 12/24. Canceled. Rescheduled for 12/27. Canceled. Rescheduled for 12/31. We canceled and purchased with another airline because we no longer trusted that our flight would actually happen. Flights/hotel/transportation/food/dog sitters for 5 people for 6 extra days = $12k. My kids missed Christmas. Have been waiting ten days since submission of receipts and . . No word yet.

  • I received an email today with a refund amount, which over $1,041.37 less than submitted. Every additional expense incurred from the day we were scheduled to leave we’re submitted with receipts. We had to purchase more clothes, food, additional hotel stay, etc. How do I dispute the refund amount? A family of four in NY City for Christmas was not cheap.

  • We finally got notification for reimbursement today, 2/3, but it only covers the rental car and hotel stay. (according to the dollar amount). They are not reimbursing for reasonable meals (McDonald’s, Domino’s, etc.) nor the gas for the rental car. I have written them yet AGAIN as this is not acceptable.

  • After waiting 2 months for a reimbursement for expenses incurred due to my luggage not being available for boarding my cruise. I was out of expenses for everything clothes, hotel, rental car, etc. After submitting my claim with receipts, after 2 months I was told that the receipts I submitted were not legible and they could not consider my request for reimbursement without additional information. BS!!! I don’t believe this.

  • I was affected by the cluster @@@@ of southwest. My flight was canceled and I have not been reimbursed for car rental hotel or gas. They did reimburse the flights. Is anyone making a small claims? Can we all do a class action suit together? I need my money back, they cannot get away with this. Jean Hawk can you tell us how you got reimbursed for the hotel and rental???? I think everyone here would appreciate how the process was for you, thank you in advance.

  • My husband contacted Southwest about our refund for the disaster that occurred back in December and each time he called a representative told him something different each time. 1. Dec call: I see you submitted your complaint and it has been escalated 2. Jan Call: Mr. Gray I will escalate for you again sir. 3. Feb Call: you never submitted receipts sir (Lie). 4. I noticed it was escalated and no you cant talk to anyone other that myself. There’s no one to speak with higher than customer service. FIle a complaint online (Us: Filed one back in December with all receipts attached! Each Time we get a different response with no justice. Its rediculous and I am not flying Southwest Ever again after this!!!!

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