Southwest Airlines promo glitch charges customers for flights aplenty
August 4th, 2012
03:13 PM ET

Southwest Airlines promo glitch charges customers for flights aplenty

[Update: 4:40 p.m. ET] Southwest Airlines has updated their Facebook page with information for customers affected by a computer glitch that has caused excessive credit card charges for countless people taking part in a 24-hour deal on Friday, and according to our readers writing in, during normal transactions as well .

"Information and update for Customers who recently experienced multiple bookings in error:

The overwhelming response from Customers who took advantage of our August 3 limited time offer launched to celebrate three million Fans on Facebook, created website performance issues at various times during the day. We realize that some Customers were charged more than once for the same reservation and we want to ensure you that we have all hands on deck, actively working to process refunds for any duplicate charges incurred.

Here is a status of those efforts:

First, we want you to know that we are working to identify duplicate bookings and charges and are proactively cancelling those additional reservations, actively processing refunds to the Customer. In order to process the refunds as quickly as possible, we have called in additional staff to support these efforts.

For those Customers who used debit cards and have received overdraft fees as a result of the additional charges, we will process a reimbursement for all overdraft fees that were caused by duplicate charges from Southwest for a single purchase. If you incurred overdraft fees, please fax documentation of those fees via a letter from your bank or a copy of your account showing the fees to 877-506-0154.

Southwest Airlines is committed to providing Customers with exceptional service both online and onboard. It is our goal to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and minimize any inconvenience to you, our valued Customers."

When Southwest Airlines offered a limited-time promotion on Friday to celebrate reaching three million fans on Facebook, it seems they accidentally racked up duplicate charges on the credit cards of their loyal customers.

The LUZ2LIKE promo code was meant to offer customers 50% off when booking a round-trip with their "Wanna Get Away" fares during seven specific travel dates in the fall. The promo, which arrived by e-mail to customers, only lasted until midnight on Friday.

On Saturday, their Facebook page was flooded with differing stories describing the trials, unresolved issues and even a few happy endings for customers trying to shake off the excess charges. Some lucky folks even posted that they sailed on through the process without a glitch.

When Southwest became aware of the problem, they offered a statement on Twitter, and a similar, expanded version on their Facebook page.

"Thank you for your excitement in taking advantage of the limited-time offer we shared today in celebration of reaching three million Fans on Facebook. Due to the overwhelming response, we experienced some site performance issues at various times throughout the day. We apologize to our Customers for any inconvenience and are proactively cancelling any duplicate itineraries that may have occurred."

Bobi Fox, a customer who wanted to take advantage of the promo code, shared her experience with CNN. She purchased directly off of Southwest's website.

"Customers who purchased tonight got no tickets, no confirmation, and many, like me, were charged on their credit cards repeatedly until credit card companies stopped the purchase process – some customers say they have been called by their credit card companies questioning fraud purchases," she said. " My credit card might be typical, my purchase was repeated 9 times (cost in excess of $2300 for a one pair of round trip tickets from STL to SLC).  This is not unlike what everyone else is experiencing.  Current wait time hold with Southwest customer service:  More than two hours."

Southwest interacted with commenters to let them know that customer service representatives were working around the clock to help reverse the transactions and cancel the excess flights.

But that didn't soothe all of the complaints, and it seems that people are doing a lot of waiting - waiting for charges to be erased, flights to be cancelled and even ticket confirmations for the flights they want.

"I had $4000 limit on my card, I now have zero available because of 25 confirmations," John Seymour wrote on the airline's Facebook page. "I called when I was having errors, and the CS rep told me the website was slammed, and to keep hitting purchase and it would eventually go through. Looks like all of them went through.

"I waited almost three hours last night to speak to someone. Finally got someone on the phone, and I had to remember which specific flights I had picked so that she could look up the flights and cancel the duplicates. She had to send the confirmation for the one flight I did want twice before it ever made it to me. I woke up this morning to 25 or so confirmations, and 25 or so cancellation emails. The charges remain pending on my credit card, so I can't use that card to book my hotel room in Vegas for my trip. Thanks for ruining my Friday night. Wish I had never seen this deal. And I was so glad when you came to Atlanta...."

‎"36 confirmations," Bella Ventresca shared. "Over $7,000.00 in charges to my account, and 2 hours on the phone with SWA. I thought that this was just me, but apparently SOMEONE really dropped the ball here. PLUS it will take 7-10 days to process returns? Unacceptable."

One of the common threads of discord? Waiting on the phone for hours to speak with a customer service rep, and then being cut off the phone call when a human voice finally answered. The comments even spread to other activity on the page, like when Southwest changed their Facebook cover photo from the promotion to a banner showing the airline.

"The Flash Sale made a nightmare out of my day," June Wood wrote. "It just happened to be on a day that I needed to make arrangements but not one of the Flash dates. I was on hold the first time for 3 1/2 hours; then someone picked up the phone and click it was gone again. I tried numerous times throughout the day and evening I was put on hold again for 45 minutes. I was working on the booking from 6pm 8/3 until 2am 8/4. The reps seemed to be exhausted and not able to think clearly. Nice try but don't repeat."

Others were not amused when some Southwest fans began posting comments in support of the airline, such as "Best airline out there," and "I love Southwest."

"More disturbing than being charged $5000 dollars for a flight to Cleveland and waiting to see if I'm charged over limit fees as a result, is the number of people who are posting pointless "I love Southwest" comments or telling people not to be upset," Steve Kafkas wrote on the Facebook page."

"I'm a loyal Southwest customer, but at the moment I don't know that I would risk buying another ticket from Southwest. How about a statement with a few more specifics than "we're working on it" and that hours after the fact. For example, can people really cancel their flights online and get refunds? If so, why not post that here or on your website? If not, then tell people, because there are people suggesting it on this page."

Because of being charged multiple times, sometimes upwards of 30 separate occasions, customers complained that the strain on their credit cards for the unexpected charges had a domino effect on their finances.

"I was sympathic [sic] to the situation before I actually spoke with a rep from Southwest who said, there is nothing she can do...southwest will refund the charges when they get to it and it will take 8 -10 business days before I get my money back and now I have to call customer relations to get the overlimit fees back, and I was charged interest on the $1400 on the duplicate charges and I have to pay for the long distance fees to call customer relations as they do not have a 1-800 number...SERIOUSLY?!?!? Are you freaking kidding me?" Suzanne Worrell wrote in a blazing post.

"You guys screwed up, took MY money through no fault of my own and now you are telling me I have to work to get it back and I am gonna be out more money??? For a company that prides itself on customer service you guys are falling on your face!! I spent over 5 hours last night on hold just to be disconnected, I can't buy groceries or gas because you guys have taken all of my money and there is nothing you can do about it??? This is CRIMINAL!!! I get there was a glitch but compensate me, fix it, don't tell me I have to call someone else on Monday to get it fixed! I am so disappointed and angry at Southwest!"

People also complained in their comments about not receiving the LUZ2LIKE email promotion to even know about the sale, and that because of the glitch, Southwest should extend the promotion. Others immediately responded by saying they were lucky they didn't receive the promotion because of the charge errors that resulted for many of them.

Teri Landrum shared her experience on the Facebook page for how to try cancelling the flights online, but other users said that the site hasn't been working for them.

"Hopefully this will help someone – Go to southwest.com, log in to RR Account, click My Account link under "Hello Teri", click View All next to Upcoming Trips, click Cancel Reservation, Under Travel Funds, it should say "Refundable" and the $ amount." Landrum wrote. "Select "Request a Refund", then click Yes, Cancel. When you go to cancel the next one, make sure you select the next one in the list because the list doesn't remove your cancelled ones and when you have 17 to cancel, it can get confusing."

Perhaps the complaint that resonates the most is how Southwest's customers felt punished, rather than rewarded, for being fans of the airline.

"I appreciate your generous sale but this is the last time I will ever fly southwest," Christine Ylan Ho wrote. "Maybe you've made this mistake yesterday but the lesson here is how you've dealt with it, which is poorly. Good intentions but you should have been prepared to deal with the ramifications of charging thousands of dollars, especially to those who need access to that money to survive. Egregious really. IMPROVE YOUR RESPONSE TO THIS KIND OF CRISIS. I do not like your facebook page."

Readers have also written in, telling CNN that the problem is not solely aligned with the promotion.

"I bought a one-way ticket at the regular price, and got 14 confirmations and 14 charges on my credit card," Cathy Gallagher commented. "SWA hung up on me after a 3 hour wait. I am much more concerned about the national security implications of the problem than the overcharges. What kind of computer system can confirm me 14 times on the same flight? How do they know who is actually on those planes?"

Are you having issues with the Southwest promo? Let us know in the comments below. And if you are with Southwest and want to add to the conversation, our audience would like to hear what you have to say, too.

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soundoff (406 Responses)
  1. Marty's Happy

    Yeah, I got caught up in the multiple flight confirmations and multiple charges on my credit card but Southwest made it right! I've got my flight for a good price, albeit an hour or so on the phone but suck it up people, where you gonna get a deal like this.

    August 7, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Corey

    Sounds like people need a reason to complain.... the only way this is inconvenient is if you would spend $7000 in the next couple days. Which no one does....

    They are fixing the problem...

    PS. To all the people that sit here and complain... im sure I'll see you on a future southwest flight. Cus when it comes down to it... they have the best deals and save you the most money. Be thankful for that....

    August 8, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • ski

      Or file a lawsuit because they clearly committed fraud and grand larceny, glitch or no glitch, over internet possibly over state lines FBI should look into this.

      August 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kevin

    I had this same issue, I had 48 flights booked to the tune of $8,740.80. Not only did I spend an hour on the phone on Friday canceling them (besides one) I was told that no charges would happen. Monday comes around and I was billed for all 48 which put me severely in the red in my checking account. I now have no money to my name while SW has not responded to me or refunded my money. That in my opinion, is nothing short of criminal. I have not been able to pay several bills such as car insurance and have had a personal check bounce. I also have had several late fees. I have been flying almost exclusively with Southwest Airlines since 2003 and greatly appreciated their $150 credit towards future flights, but that was before they still went ahead and took all the money I have. My bank said that it may take several weeks to receive money back from the Bank of America claims department as well. I have no idea when SW will decide to give me back what they have stolen.

    August 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. James

    To all the people that say stop complaining. Open your wallet and count how much money you have. Then look at your family. Then ask yourself can you and your family survive until the next payday. That is what is happening to people. Try to buy groceries, gas or pay bills with your voucher see what happens. Seriously what the hell is wrong with you people.

    August 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ciscoheat

    The good news is, they'll lose so many Facebook fans they can have the sale when they reach 3 million all over again! ; ) Sorry...just too easy...

    August 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Antwon C

    Regardless of how great of an airline Southwest is, there are a LOT of people who are temporarily out of a SUBSTANTIAL amount of money! If you can't feel bad for the masses of people (for some insensitive reason), at least feel bad for someone individually. If that was my money from my account, I literally don't know how I would make it until it was refunded. And to refuse to sympathize with someone because they are legitimately upset at a situation they were haphazardly placed into, simply because you are "Brand Loyal", is dumb.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sandynkc

    I booked 2 flights total of $370.20 and was charged $8884.80, my bank account was $-7183.33 from Friday to Thursday. They credited me back 46 times $185.10. Gave me a $150.00 voucher for a future flights??

    August 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Anna Franklin

    I was initially charged 28 times for $457 after the glitch. The following business day, they were all reversed. Two days later, my account was drafted for a different amount, $228, a whopping 54 times. When I called SW, they said they had no record of the second set of charges, yet adamantly stated the charges had been reversed and put it on the bank to process the reversals. I contacted Bank of America and was told they would not dispute the unauthorized charges because SW had already acknowlesged the problem. My account was overdrawn by over $12k for several days and I had 21 bounced transactions. Southwest has since refunded the second set of transactions, but sent them through as deposits, not reversals. I still don't have a flight booked and although they did provide a voucher code for $150 after the first set of charges, they have yet to apologize for having charged the second time and no other incentive has been offered.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. D. Bush

    We had over $13k in charges and about 39 airline tickets. We were lucky enough to have the funds in our account to cover the charges. But had to change our family vacation plans. Try explaining to four kids that yes we are in Orlando and yes we are not going to any parks or anything like them, we are looking for a hotel where we can cook our own food for the next seven days until we can fly home! We paid a little over $2000 to travel to Orlando and cook our own meals in a hotel far away from the theme parks! Somehow that $150 voucher we have coming doesn't quite cut it!

    August 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. KIM MASAS

    First, congratulations to Southwest company form their communication ...In Spain, airlines never inform passengers in this way.

    Second, it's obiously that security payment on internet has to involved all worldwide banks and credit card companies.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Carol S

    I was not looking for a bargain ticket, just thought it was a regular Friday night. I also ended up with over 15 tickets for my 3 family members with excess charges of $ 4K. On Saturday, three hours on hold and 45 minutes with CSR to cancel 12 tickets. All appears corrected. But then on Monday, received a call from SWA representative stating "This is Peggy from Southwest Airlines and we have reviewed your account and decided that there are so many errors that we have cancelled ALL YOUR FLIGHTS. We want you to call reservations and we will assist you in rebooking your flights. Why in the world was THIS necessary? The CSR that helped me rebook all my flights, taking me almost one hour of time, could not explain to me why this was necessary. Salt in the wound?

    August 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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