On the Tuesday after Christmas, I woke up and realized that my New Year's break was in danger. The weather in Washington, D.C. had been nice and we were headed south. The storms in the Midwest and Christmas-week air travel problems were in the past.

I was shocked when I read on my computer that Southwest Airlines had not recovered from the air travel disruptions of the previous week and had canceled nearly two-thirds of its flights. I booked a hotel in Baltimore for the night before my flight on December 29th.

I was wondering if Southwest would cancel my flight before I got to the airport. Is it better to cancel my plans and lose money than to gamble on my current vacation?

Lessons learned that all holiday travelers may find useful helped me save my winter vacation.

I paid attention

I'm one of those people who don't use the internet much. I don't check social media as often as I used to, and I don't read the news as much. I probably wouldn't have known my flight was in danger if I hadn't worked the Tuesday before my trip.

If you keep an eye on travel news in the days leading up to your trip, you will know if there are any issues on your day of travel.

I did my research

I did my own research to find out if my travel plans would be ruined because of Southwest's cancellation of my flight.

The flight status tool was the first thing I looked at. It only showed my flight's status on Tuesday. I didn't know if my flight from Baltimore to Georgia was canceled on Thursday. The same flight had been canceled each day.

Baltimore was one of the harder-hit airports when it came to the airline's meltdown. I was not able to find out how many flights would be canceled on Thursday and Friday, but I was able to find out that the airline was expecting more cancelations.

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If my flight was canceled, I wouldn't be able to rebook for the next day.

I couldn't afford to wait until wednesday to change my plans I booked a hotel near the airport for Wednesday night because I live close to it and my flight was late. We wouldn't have to drive to Baltimore in the early hours of the morning and leave our car at the hotel for the entire trip.

I had to cancel the hotel reservation by Tuesday so I wouldn't have to pay the full hotel rate.

This is where I came up with the idea. FlightAware is a flight- tracking app. The free online version showed me that Southwest has a flight that goes on to Nashville, Denver and Buffalo, meaning that planes and crew on this route could be stuck somewhere due to the storms. I was told that my flight was canceled.


The flight was canceled when Southwest didn't send me an email or update its app. I was able to make a one-time reservation change for free if my flight was disrupted by winter storms.

The entire flight was not available when I tried to make a fake booking on Southwest's website.

I was nervous and sent a text to my friend, who has a paid version of FlightAware. On the app, she double-confirmed that my flight was canceled and on another paid air travel information service.

Don't wait for the airline to tell you that your flight is canceled If your flight is at risk, conduct your own research.

I was proactive

If I canceled my flight before Southwest did, I wouldn't be able to get a refund. I didn't know when Southwest would let me know my flight was canceled. Some Christmas flyers didn't find out about the cancelations until they got to the airport and checked their bags.

We agreed that peace of mind and saving our vacation were the most important considerations. We went ahead with Plan B because we wanted to take a road trip.

We told my brother-in-law that we wouldn't be able to meet him on Wednesday.

We decided to complete the drive in one day since we didn't want to see anything along I-95 in North Carolina or South Carolina. I found a retro-chic motel on Tybee Island that was available the next night at the right price. It would be better if we spent the day at the beach before we checked in.


You can cancel a Southwest flight up until 10 minutes before departure, and still get flight credit. I was able to play chicken with the airline for a while longer if they didn't cancel first.

My flight was canceled when I woke up on Wednesday. The cancellation was shown when I brought up the reservation on my app. It wouldn't allow me to request a refund, so I filled out the online form and am waiting.

It may be too late to act on a Plan B if your flight is canceled.

I was lucky

I was fortunate that I was able to take a break. I may or may not have been able to find and afford four tickets on another airline if my destination had not been close. I might have missed days of work if I had been stranded mid-trip and not able to get home. I found out about the possible cancelation before I arrived at the airport.

If I didn't show, I would have lost the entire sum, but I didn't need to cancel my reservation.

We didn't meet family or friends at our destination. We had a chance to go to grandma's birthday celebration or wedding. Others who were impacted by Southwest lost out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Sometimes it's not possible to save a vacation disrupted by weather, airline troubles or other world events.

What I learned about winter travel

My family had a great time in SAVANNAH despite my pre-vacation panic. It was a good idea to have a car so that you could explore Tybee Island and the Wormsloe Historic site outside the city center. It was convenient for us to store our luggage in the car so that we could check into our vacation rental when we needed to.

It was a wake-up call to all that can go wrong and ruin a planned vacation in the winter. My take is here.

There are travel plans that can be used for refunds. I look for the cheapest options because I don't know why I would want to cancel my plans. Sometimes you need that flexibility when your plans are canceled. I may be willing to pay more in the future.

The value of peace of mind is higher. It is not fun to think about whether your trip will take place when you can spend more money on something else. One colleague canceled her Southwest flight back home and re booked on another airline, but she didn't worry about it because her original flight took off as planned. Money spent on the new flight was worth it.

Be ready to change. Sometimes vacations don't work out as expected. Take a different approach if you can. Should your plans change, you will be satisfied with the trip you get rather than sad that you didn't experience it as much.

There's a backup plan. If their flight is delayed or canceled, many of my coworkers research alternative flights so they can rebook. If your flight is disrupted, think about what you would do, so you don't get stressed out.

Travel insurance may be worth considering. Purchase travel insurance that will reimburse you when unforeseen circumstances prevent you from taking your trip, if you are booking nonrefundable accommodations, flights, tours or other trip components

Bottom line

I saved my winter vacation through smart planning and research. My heart goes out to the Southwest customers who lost their vacations or were stressed out this December.

I hope the lessons I learned help you plan better for your upcoming trips.

Travelers who were affected by the Southwest debacle are reporting success in requesting refunds through the form I linked to.

"A message from Southwest CEO Bob Jordan" is the subject line. There is a code for 25,000 RapidRewards points in the package. I can't complain because I got a wonderful vacation even though my flight was canceled.