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Southwest Starts Issuing Refunds, Reimbursement as Pressure Mounts

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Two weeks after its historic meltdown and with the Department of Transportation ratcheting up pressure, Southwest says it is processing refunds and reimbursements from the 1 million-plus Americans whose flights were delayed or canceled late last month.

Southwest has vowed to go “above and beyond” for the passengers affected after it canceled more than 15,000 flights over a weeklong span after a brutal winter storm last month. They're budgeting to take a hit of up to $825 million by issuing refunds, reimbursement for travelers' additional expenses, and doling out 25,000 Rapid Rewards points as an apology. As complaints to federal regulators from frustrated passengers begin to pile up, Southwest is now issuing some of those payments – finally providing some insight into how generous they'll be to make things right with customers and how long it will take.

In a statement this week, Southwest said it was processing “tens of thousands of requests for refunds and reimbursements per day” with a heavy emphasis on handling refunds first. The airline told Thrifty Traveler it was turning around refund requests within three days, on average, while steadily shifting its focus to covering passengers' unexpected payments for backup flights, hotels, meals, and rental cars during the disruptions.

“Southwest intends to, and is making every effort, to initiate refunds and reimbursements as we’ve stated in our Customer Service Plan – which is in alignment with the corresponding regulations. We appreciate our customers’ patience as we continue this all-hands effort to assist those affected by the recent travel disruption,” Southwest said in a statement.

But what does that mean for customers? How much will they get, and how soon will it come? It's still blurry, but that picture is starting to come together.
 

southwest airlines plane touching down 

What are Southwest Passengers Getting?

Southwest has left its customers largely in the dark about just how much in additional expenses they'll cover from last month's meltdown.

The airline said it will honor “reasonable requests” for reimbursement but repeatedly declined to explain what it will consider reasonable, saying only that it will review claims on a case-by-base basis. Is a $1,600 flight on Delta or United reasonable when it was the only option after a last-minute cancellation? Will Southwest cover all of that cost? Just part? The airline has never said.

We've heard from a handful of readers who have recently received payouts from Southwest – and others who are still waiting weeks later. That includes:

  • One traveler who requested in late December $750 to cover the costs of a one-way rental car, gas, meals, and hotels for a last-minute drive from Seattle to Phoenix. Roughly a week later, he received a payout for $1,000 – more than requested
  • Reader Michael L. said he submitted a request for reimbursement on Dec. 29 for the costs of a one-way rental car from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis plus gasoline, a night in a hotel, and meals. On Monday, Jan. 9, a payment came through to cover the entire request.
  • One reader said she received her refund within about a week of requesting it, but Southwest shorted her request for reimbursement recently by about $37 – the amount she paid to fill up a rental car with gas
  • Reader Nancy N. is still waiting to hear from Southwest about her Dec. 29 request that the airline cover a last-minute $1,570 flight on another airline, plus a week's worth of wages at a new job she missed starting due to Southwest canceling her flight
  • Another reader who said he hasn't yet heard back about a request submitted Jan. 4 to cover $2,300 in last-minute roundtrip flights for two, travel insurance, hotel, meals, and a rental car to reach his final destination
  • One reader has only received several automatic responses from Southwest after submitting a request on Dec. 28 to cover approximately $725 for a rental car, gas, meals, and a hotel
  • Several travelers who submitted requests for reimbursement – be it for $400 or $2,500-plus – told us they recently received a response from Southwest that the airline was “escalating” their cases for additional review

 

southwest automated message 

It's far from definitive, but it's the first look we've had at just how far Southwest might go. While payments are trickling through, many travelers are still waiting for answers.

Southwest has set up a dedicated page for customers to submit these requests. Earlier this week, the airline added more information on how travelers will get their money once a reimbursement is approved. Southwest is working with a company called Hyperwallet, which will process payment to customers via their choice of Paypal, Venmo, direct deposit, a bank card, a check, or Moneygram.
 

southwest payout faq 

It may not happen overnight, but Southwest is under some serious pressure to get payments out the door. Members of Congress have reintroduced bills to require additional compensation for lengthy delays and cancellations and the U.S. Senate is planning a hearing focused on Southwest.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has repeatedly called on Southwest to cover travelers' costs and promptly issue refunds. In a statement earlier this week, a spokesperson said the department had forwarded all complaints against Southwest to the airline and laid out its demands, including:

  • Process refund requests within seven days if paid by credit card, or within 20 days for other payment methods
  • Reimburse travelers for alternate flights, rental cars, hotels, or meals – with no mention of costs that the airline may or may not consider “reasonable”
  • Respond to all consumer complaints within 60 days

 

How to Get Paid Back by Southwest

If your flights were canceled or delayed by Southwest last month but you haven't requested a refund or reimbursement, the time is now.

It's up to you to ask for what Southwest owes you. Southwest won't pay you a dime on its own. Fortunately, there's a fairly easy process to get started.

So long as you were on a Southwest flight that was delayed or canceled between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2, you can:

  • Head to Southwest's Travel Disruption page and enter your first name, last name, and confirmation number to submit your request for a refund. If you and your family or friends were booked under one reservation, you only need to submit one request.
  • Pay for another flight, rental car, hotels, or meals? Gather your receipts, then head to Southwest's contact page and select the option to submit a reimbursement report.
  • Want 25,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points? If your flight was canceled or delayed by three-plus hours, look through your inbox for an email from Southwest titled “A message from Southwest CEO Bob Jordan” with a link and code to claim the miles. If you don't already have a Rapid Rewards account, sign up here for free.
  • Didn't get what you expected (or deserve) from Southwest? File a complaint against Southwest directly with the Department of Transportation.

Read our entire guide to getting refunds & reimbursement from Southwest!

 

Bottom Line

Payouts for refunds and reimbursements are starting to go out the door two weeks after Southwest's historic collapse that left more than 1 million Americans stranded over the holidays.

Is Southwest going “above and beyond” to make things right with flyers who were affected? It's too early to say. But within a matter of weeks (or maybe just days), Southwest customers should have their answers.

 

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.

5 Responses

  • Southwest reimbursed us fully earlier this week for our request of approximately $360 for rental car, meals and gas from our drive from Minneapolis to Denver after our flight was cancelled on 12/28/22. This is a small amount requested so might be a different story if the amount was more. While it was a big inconvenience (but what is life without that?), I think Southwest did everything right to try to amend and this will not prevent me from flying with Southwest again.

  • I’m still not sure why my reimbursement claim was “escalated” – 18 days after the request was made. I made a separate refund request and got my points/fees back that I used to book, although that’s supposed to be done within 7 days by law, plus the apology points. I didn’t try getting greedy. I got a ride home from a family member and didn’t have any restaurant meals. But I did replace the flight with an Amtrak ticket for a mere $63 and sent an image of the ticket and receipt. Not sure what the holdup is. I couldn’t get hold of a real person (airport lines were at least 3-4 hours long) and I couldn’t get through to phone customer service) but online cancellation was a breeze and a no-brainer after I’d already traveled on Amtrak. I wonder if they question if my ticket and receipt were real.

    The 25,000 points was pretty generous though. I actually booked my flight with points during a fare sale for less than 2000.

  • I filed for reimbursement for expenses to get home when my Southwest flight from KC to Dallas was cancelled on Dec. 28, 2022. While I was refunded the flight and Early Bird cost to my credit card, I heard nothing back on my request for reimbursement on the car rental, gas, toll and extra parking for my car left at Love Field. When I called SW Customer Service with my case number, I was told my request had been closed and resolved. It was not resolved and if I hadn’t checked, I would have no idea that SW had punted on the valid expenses I incurred trying to get home. I was reasonable and searched for the lowest cost for a car rental, passing on other options of $400 – $600 for a one-way rental and ended up with $300 rental. My advice, don’t assume they’re still working on your case. Call Customer Service and escalate!

  • Larry MacNeil;
    My wife and I were abandoned by Southwest in MPS 12/19. We filed our request 2/12/2023 but have been stonewalled by SWA! We requested roughly $4000.00 to make us whole for our out of pocket costs of a four day delay. We get strange offers for a lesser amount without explanation. I have failed miserably in my efforts to talk to somebody in authority. I’m elderly and “airline speak” is not a reasonable way to deal with a customer. My sense is that people that should be acting for the folks are just carrying water for SWA. Very simple. I read much of the Sen. Cantwell and the DOD realeases, – – just blithering! Not serious people!

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