To celebrate hitting 3 million Facebook fans, Southwest Airlines offered via a special e-mail promotion a 50 percent discount on certain air routes for customers who booked their flights last Friday before midnight. The “luv2like” promotion, however, quickly turned into a public-relations fiasco as a computer-related “technology glitch” caused many customers to be billed multiple times for their tickets or to be ticketed (and charged) repeatedly, reported the Associated Press. In at least one instance, a customer was charged 20 times for her $69 ticket, the AP said. KTLA television reported that another customer claimed that he was ticketed and charged for 25 reservations. Other customers complained that they were charged multiple times but never received a booking confirmation.
According to the AP, Southwest first became aware of the problem late Friday afternoon when the airline’s web site slowed due to the high response the promotion. The airline noticed that customers were having to repeatedly refresh their web pages in order to take advantage of the sale. The airline also likely noticed the rise in their Facebook and Twitter traffic complaining of the overcharges as their customers' debit cards were being drained or credit card limits were being exceeded. It was surely aware as well of increasingly long customer service wait times experienced by those trying to rectify their billing problems.
Southwest has stated on its web site that it has now “identified all customers impacted and proactively initiated refunds back to their financial institutions for any erroneous bookings. These refunds are currently being processed, but timing will vary depending on the individual bank.” Some customers have been told it may take 8 to 10 days for their refunds to show up, the AP states, which has not made them real happy, especially if their credit or debit cards were maxed out. I also wonder how many customers are going to have to deal with the response by their credit card company's fraud detectors.
The airline also says that it will honor the original booking at the original advertised fare if the customer still wants it. In addition, Southwest states that 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.” Again, that may take awhile.
Southwest said it was “extremely sorry for the inconvenience.”
Hey Southwest, up to offering another promotion to show how sorry you are?
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.