Southwest Airlines Wins One Round In Lawsuit Over Free Drink Coupons

Southwest Airlines had a small triumph in the lawsuit against it over free drink coupons for alcoholic drinks with no expiration dates printed on them. A judge ruled that federal airline law pre-empts claims against Southwest of unjust enrichment and violating state consumer fraud laws.

Still on the table? A breach of contract claim filed by the two plaintiffs, reports the Chicago Tribune. They’re suing Southwest over an August 2010 decision that said passengers in the “Business Select” program had to use free drinks coupons on the day they were printed, instead of willy nilly whenever they wanted. Those coupons are otherwise $5.

“The court’s ruling has now liberated us to aggressively prosecute this case, which is exactly what we intend,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

The two were upset after having amassed 45 and 12 coupons each, which turned into worthless pieces of paper after Southwest announced the change in policy.

Southwest said at the time that they owe it to their “employees, customers, and shareholders to find ways to operate smarter.”

Part of suit against Southwest over free drinks dismissed [Chicago Tribune]


Edit Your Comment

  1. bluline says:

    Seems to me that if SWA wanted to “operate smarter” they would have printed expiration dates on the coupons in the first place. By failing to do so, they implied, at the least, that the coupons could be used at any time.

    • The Happy Homeowner says:

      So true! They also should have considered the ramifications of their actions before changing the policy without having a solution for those with outstanding coupons. It seems like they’re going to be paying far more in legal fees, bad publicity, and negative customer satisfaction reports than it’s worth.

    • jiubreyn says:

      I absolutely agree with you, if they feel they “owe it to their employees, customers, and shareholders to find ways to operate smarter” they should have taken into consideration those who already had tickets and given them a timeline in which they had to use them before they expire. IE – 60 days from the date of the announcement.

      Some businesses don’t care about the ramifications their decisions have on their consumers. Netflix, for one, comes to mind.

  2. Nasty Dan was a Nasty Man says:

    When it’s all said and done I’d like to see the breakout of legal costs vs. the costs of changing the policy (begin printing expiration dates) but grandfathering in old tickets.

  3. Marlin says:

    Agreed, why not just update the new coupons and let the old ones get used up.

    Probably cheaper than the lawsuits let alone bad PR.

    • DonnieZ says:

      Exactly. Especially with what an airline pays for booze in the volumes they buy?

      Sheesh. Let people have their free drink.

    • bhr says:

      From what I remember in the original story they did that, but put a time limit on the old ones of a couple years. These folks held on to them.

      The reason, again from memory, that they changed the policy was that people were able to duplicate the coupons and bring multiples, since there was no way of telling when they were issued or what flight they were attached to. With same-day coupons one person can only use one, so no threat of duplications.

  4. PhiTauBill says:

    What would really be helpful to know is an estimate of about many of these coupons are outstanding. Not knowing whether discovery has occurred, however, I guess only Southwest may know that at this time.

  5. timp says:

    Southwest was one of my favorite airlines. They were customer oriented, pleasant to deal with and had good airfare rates.

    But over time, they seem to be devolving into just another one of the pack.

    They refuse to honor drink coupons, they dramatically tightened the rules of their frequent flyer program to such an extent it is nearly impossible for the casual traveler to use it, and their flight crews seem to have become more surly and unfriendly.

    Soon, they won’t be discernable from AA, Delta etc….

    It’s a shame.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “Soon, they won’t be discernable from AA, Delta etc….”

      Sure they will. They’ll still have no first class or international networks.

    • Coles_Law says:

      I actually like how the new program works, and I’m a casual traveler. I never could geet a free flight before the points expired on the old one. I’ll agree that it would probably have been better for them to grandfather in the drink coupons though.

  6. kcvaliant says:

    I don’t see the problem. Why would you amass so many and not use?

    Another person mentioned people copying the coupons and also that they have had years to use them?

    Unless I am understanding wrong, why keep coupons you don’t use? Especially in that quanity.

  7. kcvaliant says:

    I don’t see the problem. Why would you amass so many and not use?

    Another person mentioned people copying the coupons and also that they have had years to use them?

    Unless I am understanding wrong, why keep coupons you don’t use? Especially in that quanity.

  8. Lucky225 says:

    Does federal law also then pre-empt State law, and thus they can serve alcohol to underage drinkers? I’m just saying, there’s no federal law requiring you to be 21 to drink, there is a federal law requiring States to mandate you be 21 or loose federal highway funding, but there is no statute at the federal level requiring you to be 21 to drink.

  9. SunsetKid says:

    I don’t know if it applies here but California law states that gift certificates can’t have an expiration date. Southwest does business in this state.

  10. Robert Nagel says:

    Southwest is the most decent airline out there. The bend over backwards to not screw the customer. For example, if you book a reward flight and miss the flight the credit your account back with the miles used instead of laughing at you like the other airlines. While they did tighten up their rewards program they let you continue to accumulate any partial rewards after the change date. In addition under the old program if you let a reward flight lapse you had 6 months to renew the reward for an additional year for $50.00. The best reward they have is if you accumulate 100,000 miles in a year you get a companion pass that lets your wife, or someone else you designate, fly for free with you anywhere with no exceptions. This has the effect of doubling the bonus. Gaining 100,000 miles in a year isn’t very hard if you use the SW credit card for business.
    If you cancel a restricted ticket you get a credit against a new flight good for one year. All in all, Southwest is very customer oriented. Their inflight jokes are pretty bad though.