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There are a lot of ways to save on travel once you hit your golden years. Southwest Airlines offers those in their mid-sixties and older a way to save on air fare but how exactly does this senior discount work and what is the booking and boarding process like? In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Southwest Senior Fare rules and break down how you can take advantage of this discount fare.
What is a Southwest Senior Fare?
A Southwest Senior Fare is a special discounted fare rate available to senior citizens (or those ages 65 and over). But don’t get too excited just yet. While these are discounted fares, they aren’t the cheapest fares available. Instead, these are usually the cheapest refundable rates available. If you’re really interested in finding the cheapest fares, you’ll want to look at Wanna Get Away fares (more on those below).
When you’re purchasing a Senior Fare, you’re basically buying a discounted (or just cheap) refundable rate. So it’s still a good deal. You get to retain flexibility in the event of cancellation but you also get to take advantage of a price that is lower (but just not the lowest).
Southwest Senior Fare cancellation
Southwest Airlines is one of the only airlines that allows you to make free changes to your bookings (the deadline for making changes is 1 hour prior to departure). But Southwest also has a great cancellation policy. When it comes to Senior Fares, as long as you cancel your ticket at least ten minutes prior to departure, you can get a full refund on your ticket in the form of cash.
This is same policy that applies if you purchased an Anytime fare or a Business Select fare. Both of those are the other type of refundable fare types but Business Select tickets have additional perks such as:
- Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
- Fly By lane access
- Free premium drink
- 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
- Fully refundable fare
Note: If for some reason you fail to cancel your Senior Fare ticket and you become a no-show, things are much different. In that case, you’ll be issued something called Travel Funds (more on that below).
Southwest Senior Fare vs Wanna Get Away fares
Wanna Get Away fares are going to be the cheapest type of fares that you can book on Southwest. When you see those crazy-cheap prices of $49 one-way, you’re looking at Wanna Get Away fares. The catch is that these tickets are not fully refundable.
If you end up cancelling a Wanna Get Away fare ten minutes prior to departure you can be issued something called Southwest Travel Funds, however. These are essentially credits that you can use for a future flight within one year of booking (but only the individual named on the original cancelled ticket can use it). There is a workaround known as a LUV Voucher, though.
Basically, once your Travel Funds expire, you can pay a fee and then have them converted into a LUV Voucher and then anybody can use them! If you’re a little bit confused, that’s okay — click here to find out more about Southwest Travel Funds.
Unlike Senior Fares that allow you to receive Travel Funds for being a no-show, if you’re a no show for a Wanna Get Away fare, you lose everything and will not receive travel credits in any form. The exception is when you make a booking with Rapid Rewards — those should be issued back to your account.
How to book a Southwest Senior Fare
It’s very easy to book a Southwest Senior Fare. You can make a booking for a senior fare online whether you are flying on a domestic route or on an international route (read about all of the amazing Southwest international routes here).
You can also make Southwest Senior Fare reservations by contacting a Southwest Airlines Customer Representative at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA or even contact your local travel agent. (Note: you’ll need to verify the age — more on that below).
There is one wrinkle with booking Senior Fares on international travel. Basically, Senior Fares cannot be combined with other types of fares in the same booking. This means that you can’t book one senior on a standard Wanna Get Away Fare and another passenger on a Senior Fare in the same reservation. So for international bookings, Senior Fares must be booked on a separate itinerary.
How to check-in for a Southwest Senior Fare
The check-in procedure for a Senior Fare is a little different than it is for other types of tickets. If you are traveling on a Senior Fare and you are age verified, things will be roughly the same and you can request your boarding pass on Southwest.com or at the airport. Read all about the Southwest check-in procedure here for more.
However, if you are NOT age verified then you will not be able to check in online or at a self-service kiosk. Luckily, it’s not that hard to get age verified and I’ll show how you can do that below.
How to get age verified for a Southwest Senior Fare
There are certain types of fares like Senior Fares that allow you to receive discounts on Southwest tickets but they all require you to show proof of your age.
There are a few ways that you can prove your age including showing:
- Birth certificate
- Driver’s license
- Another government-issued photo ID that indicates the ticketed traveler’s date of birth
- NOTE: A Medicare card is NOT considered valid proof of age.
You can choose to show this information to an agent at the airport during check-in and get age verified right on the spot or you can send in a copy of a valid picture I.D. or birth certificate proving age to:
- Southwest Airlines Customer Relations
- P.O. Box 36662
- Dallas, TX 75235
Don’t forget to indicate the ticketed traveler’s Rapid Rewards account number with your request. Also be sure to submit your request at least two weeks prior to your flight.
Once you submit your information, the date of birth in your Rapid Rewards or Southwest account will be updated to indicate that age has been verified. That will allow the passenger to request a boarding pass online in the future so life should be much easier going forward.
Who gets the senior discount?
Something really important to consider is that only the individual 65 or over gets the discount. For example, if you were traveling with your family and your two parents were over 65 but everybody else is under 40, only your parents would get the discount.
Do Southwest Senior Fares get priority boarding?
You do not automatically get priority boarding for simply booking a Southwest Senior Fare. Here is the pre-boarding policy for Southwest:
Preboarding is available for Customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device. If a Customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the Customer to board before Family Boarding, between the “A” and “B” groups.
So unless you have a special need you won’t get any priority boarding. Also, in case you didn’t know, Southwest has a unique boarding policy. There are no assigned seats. Instead, you are issued a boarding position when you check-in 24 hours prior to departure. This boarding position will determine where you line up for boarding and thus what type of seat that you can get. You can read my full guide on the Southwest boarding policy here.
Do Senior Fares get family boarding?
Family boarding is designed for those traveling as a family with kids ages six or under. So if you were 65 or older and traveling with someone six or under, it’s possible that you could get family boarding. What this allows you to do is to board the plane between the A Groups and the B Groups. Read more about Southwest family boarding here.
Do other ages get discounts?
Southwest does allow discounts for other age groups — you can look into Infant Fares and Child Fares. It’s also possible to get discounts if you are traveling with large groups — I’d look into Southwest Group Travel if I were interested in such a thing.
Other things to note
- If a wheelchair is required for your travel you should request one at curbside checkin or at the “main lobby” ticket counter.
- If you are traveling with your own electrical wheelchair, don’t forget to notify Southwest at least 48 hours in advance.
Senior Fares are great because they can help you save money while also maintaining flexibility with your booking and cancellation policies. They don’t however offer the cheapest rates that you can find with Southwest. In addition, they don’t offer special boarding privileges, unless you fall under a special group. Still, it’s not very difficult to get age-verified with Southwest so I would consider getting that done if I was 65 years or older.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.