Southwest Bills Customers Multiple Times In Failed Facebook Promotion

To celebrate its 3 millionth Facebook like — perhaps the most useless metric in social media — Southwest Airlines announced a half-price fare sale. But when some people tried to take advantage of the deal, they ended up having their credit and debit cards dinged with multiple charges.

One woman tells the AP she was billed twenty (20!) times for a $69.60 ticket. She said the Southwest website froze up when she went to finish her purchase of the ticket. And when she didn’t get a confirmation e-mail, she looked at her credit card account and saw the many, many charges from Southwest.

She, along with lots of others, tried contacting Southwest by phone but could not get through.

Earlier today, the airline, which tells the AP it wasn’t a hack but a “technology glitch in our system,” released a statement on its Facebook page:

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.
The airline’s 800-number was busy and she said its website made no mention of the mix-up or suggestions about what to do late Friday, but when she got on Facebook she learned she was not alone.

While many debit card customers are understandably angry it can take 8-10 business days for the incorrectly debited funds to be put back in their bank accounts, it should be noted that Southwest can not really do anything about this delay.

This is not airline policy, but is instead a stipulation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, which states that, upon being told of a possibly erroneous transfer, banks have 10 business days to provisionally credit customers’ accounts.

It’s possible the funds could be returned sooner, but unfortunately that is up to the financial institution and not Southwest.


Edit Your Comment

  1. DoodlestheGreat says:

    And if they used Paypal, there’s no telling when the correction will show up.

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      Never had the slightest problem with PayPal and I buy things through it all
      the time and the charges to my credit card or debit card post within 48 hours.
      But of course I use a credit union and not one of the “too big to fail” banks
      with their millions of lines of bad software.

    • lee says:

      as paypal process the payment not the company that gets the money this issue would not happen with paypal as you you have to re-open the payment page again and if you have payed it not let you pay again unless the company that wants the money issues an new sale ID (you also get instant emails with paypal as well when you buy or sell something)

  2. meltingcube says:

    Goes to show again that using a credit card for all of your purchases is the best way to go. If a company screws up and charges you too much then it’s the bank’s money that is tied up rather than your own.

    • SnoopyFish says:

      This is why I started using a credit card for all purchases a few months ago.

    • synimatik says:

      I don’t understand why anyone uses their debit card to pay for things. The risks are way too high. Yet people insist on doing it. A buddy of mine had his card skimmed, didn’t realize until 3 weeks later, and by then they had stolen 16k from his account. It took 2 months to get it back. He no longer uses his debit rare for purchases.

      • Vegetius says:

        The money gurus were spreading this one around a few years ago. The idea behind using a debit card is that you only spend money you actually have, and thus avoid accumulating debt.

        • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

          I totally get that point, that you don’t spend money you don’t have, as you’re just not able to. BUT it leaves the consumer open to a myriad of problems.

          My debit card sits unused in my purse most of the time, unless I’m depositing or withdrawing funds at my credit union’s ATM. I pay for everything with my credit cards and pay them from my bank account when the charges post. I know how much money I can spend, and I don’t go over that amount.

          I know what the money advisers say, but in my mind, the risk of using a debit card for purchases like this is just too great.

        • Blueskylaw says:

          I would bet good money that these money “gurus” received some kind of financial remuneration from debit card companies to spread the word on how using debit cards are to your benefit.

          Here’s a link to an example from the drug industry:

        • Sad Sam says:

          People use debit cards because they want to avoid debt but also want to track purchases or don’t like the risk of using cash.

          • CheritaChen says:

            You don’t have to have debt just because you use a credit card. If you have one, use it only for items you have to buy anyway and pay it off immediately. That’s not a particularly good reason not to use a credit card, if you know what you’re doing.

          • AtlantaCPA says:

            “don’t like the risk of using cash” is the only valid argument in there.

      • CheritaChen says:

        Because they don’t have a credit card? Yes, these people do exist, and they do still occasionally have the need to *gasp*! buy things.

        • AzCatz07 says:

          Well, if you can’t qualify for a credit card, you don’t deserve to have nice things. /s

          Another issue for some people is they know they can’t control themselves, so it’s not a good idea for them to have credit cards. I had an ex who would run up a card as soon as she got one. So she eventually ended up not using credit cards anymore at all.

  3. Rob says:

    And… as I have said over and over, that ten days for the bank to provide a provisional credit per the EFTA starts after the bank receives a written dispute.

  4. Geekjoe says:

    Happened to me charged 20 times. That’s why I booked with a credit card. I spoke with a csr and apparently they have canceled the duplicates and my reservations are confirmed. I was just disappointed it took an hour of my time to rectify.

  5. cheviot says:

    Umm…no. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act doesn’t apply here. That provision applies when you complain to your bank about an error and they have 10 days to give you a credit while they work things out with the vendor.

    It has nothing to do with when you complain to a merchant who has overcharged and then refunded you.

  6. prismatist says:

    Oh, I do not see this getting any better any time soon. We’re going to be seeing plenty of people who still have multiple billings that mysteriously can’t be resolved, flight bookings completely cancelled, etc…

    I can’t watch. Someone poke me when it’s over (just not a Facebork poke, mkay?)

  7. goodfellow_puck says:

    I read about one person who sat on hold with Southwest for FIVE HOURS before giving up. Another who was charged 24 times. That’s insane.

  8. apasserby says:

    So while people await refunds Southwest will earn interest on the funds. Will they pass on the interest? Of course to an individual the amount will be small, but to Southwest it’s a nice chunk of change.

    • thesupremeaj says:

      Southwest does not earn interest on unposted “authorizations.”

      • apasserby says:

        In the case of a credit card I can understand. But for those using a debit card I see it differently. The funds were taken out as soon as purchase(s) were made. Before the funds are restored they are sitting somewhere.

        • Bsamm09 says:

          Most likely it wouldn’t be in an interest bearing account.

        • JJFIII says:

          Actually, they do not sit anywhere. They DEDUCT that amount from yoru balance, but do not add them to SWA’s account until processed. That means it is just out of your account, but not in theirs. To say there is no interest is flat out wrong, but admittedly VERY small in a credit union account. If you earned 5% a year (nobody is getting that) you would earn about 10 cents on a $70 transaction for 10 days, so less than a penny a day.

  9. PupJet says:

    Leave it to the fact that BANKS have control of that type of thing! Why didn’t the bank(s) notify the people of this situation?

    “Hi, this is [insert bank name]. We see that you have X amount of charges from Southwest Airlines. Was this intentional? No, okay, we’ll put a temporary amount of $X in your account until this is resolved.”

    Oh wait, that’s just too easy.

    • JJFIII says:

      why is SWA fuck ups the fault of the bank? Maybe SWA should immediately send refund money through western union and bear that cost, instead of putting it on the bank or the consumer

    • AzCatz07 says:

      I wouldn’t even wait for Southwest to credit the money back. One call to USAA, they’d see the multiple charges and immediately reverse them.

      I know it’s not the bank’s fault, but it’s easier to straighten it out from the bank’s side than it is from Southwest’s side.

  10. Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

    Classic blame the op here. “It didn’t work, honey!” “Well, just keep clicking the Buy button until it goes through.” Twenty clicks later, the website catches up and, boom, you just bought 20 tickets!

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      It wasn’t a user error or multiple clicks.

      “She clicked “purchase the ticket” and Southwest’s website froze so she wasn’t sure if it went through. Since she didn’t get a verifying email, Worrell said she went to her credit card’s website and that’s when she noticed repeated charges piling up.”

    • AzCatz07 says:

      Do you know how I can tell you didn’t bother to read the article?

      I know for some folks blaming the OP is a part-time job, but if you’re going to do it at least read the dang article. Geez.

  11. O-Dog says:

    I’m going to side with Jeff here and say that it was multiple clicks that == multiple buys. Unless you see the transaction failed screen then you should wait or try again later.

    • sqlrob says:

      I’ve had a site charge even with the “transaction failed” screen before.

      They did promptly refund that problem.

    • JJFIII says:

      Enter text…

    • JJFIII says:

      Except it was not jus tone customer, so unless you plan to blame EVERY person, you are assuming facts not in evidence. And also you are a giant douche iif you think SWA can not develop a purchasing system that does not double bill based on clicking buy or submit.

  12. spartan says:

    If Southwest charged my credit card 20 times, I would dispute 19 of the charges and let American express issue 19 charge backs at $45.00 (or so) a piece.

  13. Press1forDialTone says:

    Well, that programming team will be shown the door.

  14. OldSchool says:

    The way it should be is that Southwest or any company that causes this sort of thing should be forced to issue immediate Cash Refunds. Then if and when the matter is resolved they can wait for their customers to refund them ion any cases of double recovery. The onus is being placed on the wrong party here, on the innocent party rather then the wrongdoer.

    • AzCatz07 says:

      If the charges are on my card, the last thing I want is a cash refund. What the heck am I going to do with cash? I bank at USAA and don’t even have the ability to deposit cash.

  15. Blueskylaw says:

    Seriously, does Facebook need to have their greasy fingers in every transaction nowadays? Pretty soon you won’t be able to borrow money from the mafia without them forcing you to “Like” them on Facebook.

  16. Lyn Torden says:

    Bad programming that cannot handle concurrent processes updating the database. The variables get mixed up between users. I’ve seen this error many times done by inexperienced programmers.

  17. Lyn Torden says:

    The 10 day delay does NOT apply to the CC merchant applying an account credit.

  18. dush says:

    That’s great the law says the banks have up to 10 days and the banks read it as hey we can put it off for 10 days.

  19. anna1287 says:

    I made my original purchase using a credit card, but SW indicated it had been refunded, so I then used my debit card so I could get the sale price before it expired. My credit card has yet to receive more than a partial refund. I was charged 28 times for $457 on my debit card and they were reversed the following business day. Two days later, I was AGAIN charged 54 times for $228, overdrafting my checking account by over $12k. When I called SW, they indicated they had no record of the second round of charges, yet repeatedly stated they had been reversed. Eventually my checking account was credited, but my credit card refund is still in limbo. To top it off, after all that, SW has indicated no tickets were ever reserved.