Always a bridesmaid, never a refund from Southwest Airlines


The rules of logic and reason don’t apply to airlines — not even when weddings are involved.

Jordan Harband found that out the hard way. First, his wedding bells rang, but then alarm bells went off when he found himself stuck with two unusable air tickets.

Harband requested our help in seeking a refund from Southwest Airlines for two tickets he purchased for his wife’s bridesmaids. He paid $1,100 for them to fly from Texas to his destination wedding in Mexico as a gift to his bride, because otherwise neither of the bridesmaids could attend the wedding — and neither did. Nor can either bridesmaid reimburse Harband for the cost of her ticket — and neither has done so.

Before canceling the tickets, Harband called Southwest, only to learn that federal regulations prohibit paid-for tickets from being reissued to anyone other than the original passengers for one year after purchase — after which he’d likely be able to get a voucher from Southwest. Since neither of the two bridesmaids travels, Harband canceled both tickets in the hope of receiving a voucher — only to learn one year later that “while domestic tickets may have their funds extended, international tickets, by policy, never can be.” Harband then turned to our advocacy team to help him get any compensation “so I don’t feel like I set fire to a pile of money.”

Southwest’s Contract of Carriage clearly indicates that:

Tickets are Nontransferable. Tickets, and any travel credit issued for unused Tickets, are nontransferable unless specified explicitly on the Ticket. Carrier is not liable to the holder of a Ticket for use or refund of such Ticket when presented by a person other than the person to whom the Ticket was issued….


(i) General. The fare paid for unused travel by Passengers who purchase restricted, nonrefundable Tickets are not eligible for refunds, except as provided in this Section and Section 9b. Taxes, security fees, and Passenger Facility Charges associated with a nonrefundable fare are also not eligible for refund except as required by applicable regulations….

(ii) Travel Credit. Unless otherwise stated by Carrier, the fare paid for unused nonrefundable Tickets, including taxes, security fees, and Passenger Facility Charges, may be applied toward the purchase of future travel on Carrier for the originally ticketed Passenger only. The new Ticket may be more or less expensive or subject to different terms, conditions, or restrictions from the original Ticket. If the fare is lower, travel credit will be issued for the difference. No cash refund or credit card adjustments will be made for nonrefundable Tickets.

Thing is, nowhere in the Contract of Carriage does Southwest define what constitutes “refundable” or “nonrefundable” tickets. There is no mention that it considers international tickets “nonrefundable.”

And airlines have issued refunds to jilted brides. Maybe that’s why Harband thought we could help him.

But unfortunately, we know of no exemption from any airline’s ticket restrictions on named passengers — which have nothing to do with security and everything to do with profitability — applying to no-show bridesmaids whose tickets were paid for by the bridal couple.

So Harband and his wife are out the $1,100 — an expensive wedding gift and a valuable lesson to future brides and grooms: Before paying for your wedding party to fly to your wedding, make sure their tickets are refundable — and don’t do it for international flights. Otherwise, like Harband, you’ll burn a lot of cash if they don’t come to the wedding.

Should we advocate for Jordan Harband?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Regina Litman

    Wait! We’re talking Southwest here, right? I thought they were the one airline on which all tickets are refundable. Well, I guess that’s no longer true. Please tell me that Southwest still doesn’t charge for the first checked bag!

  • Lindabator

    No – they have nonrefundable fare, just easily changed ones.

  • Mel65

    From the write-up I’ll assume that there was no discussion of the Bridesmaids reimbursing him for purchasing tickets so small claims court is basically out of the question there. It does seem odd that two people whom his wife was so close to that she wanted to pay for them to come to her wedding would both flake out on them like that. I have to say the information you quoted from Southwest contract of carriage above makes it pretty clea,r at least to me, that he was not going to get any consideration for those tickets. So when he called even though the person he spoke to do the tickets were for travel to Mexico they didn’t apprise him of the non-refundable or non-transferable policy for international tickets? I find it hard to believe that they went over everything about possibly being able to get a voucher in a year and failed to mention that really important piece of information….

  • Ben

    Why did the tickets go unused? I guess it doesn’t really matter to the story, but it seems really strange that it’s not explained.

    As for the poll, I’m torn. The airline’s “nontransferable” policy is really dumb, why can’t they allow the person who *paid* for the ticket use the credit themselves? On the other hand, the policy is pretty clearly spelled out.

    I voted yes, but slightly hesitantly.

  • KennyG

    “Thing is, nowhere in the Contract of Carriage does Southwest define what constitutes “refundable” or “nonrefundable” tickets. There is no mention that it considers international tickets “nonrefundable.”. Most people never read the Contract of Carriage until they run into a problem, however, when tickets are purchased on the SOuthwest web site, refundable vs. non-refundable are pretty clearly outlined and explained. Also in regards to the very firsy line in your post, I am not sure what the fact that this was a wedding and for bridesmaids should have to do with the underlying “issue” .

  • Algebralovr

    All tickets generate a system credit call travel funds, in the name of the original ticket holder. To be really refundable, you must pay more.

  • cowboyinbrla

    I think it does matter. Because if this guy bought the tickets without checking with the bridesmaids to see if (a) they were able and (b) willing to travel to the wedding – which is strongly hinted at in the story, though not explicitly stated – it’s all on him. Who the hell buys an airline ticket for someone else as a surprise?

  • MarkKelling

    Well, many of their tickets have always been nonrefundable and they still do not charge a change fee. What has changed in recent years is that travel funds must be used for the same person and cannot be used to buy tickets for someone else.

    I remember many times buying a ticket on Southwest for a friend who might be going on a trip with me only to cancel their ticket because they did not go and then buying myself another ticket with those funds. Made life less stressful in uncertain situations.

  • MarkKelling

    Agree that the reason for buying the tickets has nothing to do with if they are refundable or changeable. Is the airline going to go “Oh, they were for a wedding. Well then here is your money back as a wedding gift!” No, the airline, even Southwest, doesn’t give a flip why you bought the tickets.

  • MarkKelling

    “federal regulations prohibit paid-for tickets from being reissued to anyone other than the original passengers”

    What Federal Regulation? Somebody please point this out to me and quote the regulation.

    It is airline policies that do this, even Southwest, because they know it makes them more money. And I am completely surprised that international tickets are not handled the same way as domestic tickets by Southwest when you cancel and get a travel credit.

  • AAGK

    He bought a gift for his bride. It wasn’t a good gift, I guess if the bridesmaids don’t want to go. Since they were never paying for it anyway, they don’t owe him anything. The gift is the ticket purchase. He would be out the money either way.

  • Inquirer1111

    Southwest has one of the best policies in terms of being able to change flights. So if those bridesmaids didn’t attend the wedding, they should be able to use the tickets to go somewhere else. The groom bought it for them as a gift — read, gift, so that is the gift.

  • flutiefan

    every single “Wanna Get Away” fare is non refundable.
    only the “Anytime” fares are refundable (get it — the name?). and Business Select but idk if they sell many of those.

    all funds are allowed to be used for 1 year for the person whose name is on the ticket. that hasn’t changed.
    just not International tickets (which i’m sure is in the fine print).

  • flutiefan

    you do get a travel credit for International tickets. it’s just in the name of the ticketed passenger. it cannot and will not go back to the purchaser.

  • To be complete, even “Wanna Get Away” fares are fully refundable if you paid using Rapid Reward Points.

  • FQTVLR

    All comments are covering this problem very well, so I am going to ask a question that is puzzling me. Bridesmaids who were not planning to go to the wedding and when given tickets still did not go? Bridesmaids?? Inquiring minds…..

  • pmcw

    There are very few large companies that treat their customers with more respect than Southwest. The only sad thing here is it doesn’t appear that Jordon is willing to write this off as an “educational expense,” by admitting it was his mistake to buy the tickets and his mistake to wait until the year was up before reaching out to Southwest. I’m also guessing he lacked diplomacy when pleading his case to Southwest. In my dealings with Southwest I’ve found they are willing to bend the rules when you are polite and don’t try to feed them a line of BS.

  • Éamon deValera

    This has nothing to do with logic or reason. If the tickets are non-refundable the tickets are non-refundable.

    Refundable, unrestricted tickets are explicitly described in the contract of carriage so they need not describe what a non-refundable restricted ticket is other than to say if it is not refundable unrestricted it is not refundable unrestricted. They are mutually exclusive.

    If there was a concern that the ladies could not have made it refundable tickets, even at a higher cost, should have been purchased.

    It is unfortunate, but we all have to be responsible for our own actions.

  • Annie M

    Southwest most certainly does show what tickets are refundable and not if you simply click on the fare type when you get the 3 different prices :

    https://www.southwest.com/flight/pop_fareCompare.html?airline=WN

    Tired of excuses when a user simply doesn’t bother to click on info that is right in front of their eyes.

    Why someone would buy tickets for anyone before ensuring they were going to go is beyond me. I think he needs to take the bridesmaids to small claims court IF they agreed to go and then backed out. If they never agreed to go before he bought the tickets (which I find hard to believe since he would have needed their personal info to book the tickets) then it’s tough on him.

  • Annie M

    But how would he get the required info he needed (birthdates) if they didn’t give it to him? There is too much to this story that is unexplained. And I hate these stories that don’t give full disclosure to us and then ask for our opinions.

  • C Schwartz

    Wonder if the bridesmaids could not afford the cost of the hotel etc as it was a destination wedding — but seriously who buys tickets for bridesmaids as a gift for the bride without checking that the bridesmaids could and would make the trip. The bridesmaids may not have had vacation time, money for pet sitter, or any of a number of possibilities

  • Blamona

    Why don’t we have all the info here? Strange we don’t know the whole story? Doesn’t add up– did he speak with bridesmaids before buying tickets? Why didn’t they go? It almost comes across as if we don’t get the whole story he has a better case? Like he’s not being forthcoming for a reason?

  • KanExplore

    We get these so often – Oh, terrible, how heartless, they won’t make an exception for this person because (name any circumstance)! First, the airlines don’t have a department dedicated to making refunds to people based on whether they can come up with an interesting enough story to be featured on a blog or not, and if they did it would take lots of expense to find the truth, because once they started up that department, you can be sure that each and every person wanting to change or refund a ticket would come up with a story.

  • Chris_In_NC

    @reg@reginalitman:disqus
    Many fares on Southwest are non-refundable after 24 hours. What Southwest does that is different is there are no change fees, but that doesn’t mean you can just change flights. If you change flights, you are on the hook for the DIFFERENCE IN FARES. If the price goes down, you get a credit. If the price goes up, you pay the difference. They just don’t add a $200 junk fee on top. Another misconception is that you are allowed to change flights on the day of departure. You are, but you will have to pay the difference between your fare and the “full fare” at the time of departure. This can easily double the price you originally paid. Yes, Southwest still allows 2 free checked bags, but even then, the bags have to be under 50 pounds or else there is a fee.

    Having said the above, Southwest has relatively the more consumer friendly policies.

  • Chris_In_NC

    I’m still unclear as to what Harband wants? Even if vouchers are issued, the vouchers are only good for the ticketed passenger. If the bridesmaids don’t travel, then aren’t the tickets still not going to be used? What I sense is Harband wants a refund or the credit to use himself. That shouldn’t happen regardless of whether you advocate.

  • Tanya

    I don’t see that they are out 1,100, he was out that when he decided on purchasing the gift, i.e., money you never intend to see again. It was of no fault of Southwest that the tickets went unused. I wonder, if he waited so long thinking he and new wife would use the ticket credit, so the bridesmaids were asked to not use the credit. Hence, why no one used up the ticket credit. He believed he had credit when bridesmaids cancelled (or could not go, or who knows?) and they, being nice, did not use the credit for other travel all thinking he could. Then, find out otherwise and now it is bad southwest for doing this to them. No, just no. I am still curious as to why the bridesmaids either choose not to go or could not go?

  • Pegtoo

    At least SW didn’t charge an additional $200 change fee per ticket like the other airlines do.

  • jim6555

    Mr. Harband could have purchased two $550 Southwest gift cards and given the card numbers to the bridesmaids. They would been able to use the gift cards at southwest.com or over the phone to purchase air travel. If they chose not to fly, Mr. Harband still would not be able to get a refund, but would be able to use the card for his own travel or that of any other individual. Since Southwest’s site says that gift cards are fully transferable, the cards could even be sold to another person. Also, the gift cards do not expire. I don’t know that I would have thought of this if I were in the same position as Mr. Harband, but In retrospect, it seems to be a good idea.

  • KarlaKatz

    “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.”

    Duh. OP should have discovered this before purchasing tickets. Giving flowers is a nice “surprise” gift; Spending mucho dinero for airline tickets? Not so smart. I’d walk away form this one.

  • KarlaKatz

    tickets went unused because the bridesmaids do not travel… something he did not check out before making the purchase.

  • KarlaKatz

    It is explicitly stated: “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.”

  • KarlaKatz

    It clearly states: “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.”

  • KarlaKatz

    OP didn’t check ahead… “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.” Obviously, a fact he found out later.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    “…federal regulations prohibit paid-for tickets from being reissued to anyone other than the original passengers…”

    Really? There are federal regulations on this? While I don’t know it for a fact, I highly doubt there are regulations prohibiting it.

  • KarlaKatz

    The bridesmaids can’t use the tickets because…. “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.” His bad, for not checking ahead of his purchase.

  • KarlaKatz

    Gift cards won’t do them any use at all… “Since neither of the bridesmaids travels.”

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    And Southwest would very likely require their passports numbers. While it’s plausible he could find out their birthdates from his to-be-wife he would definitely need to talk to them to get passport numbers.

  • cowboyinbrla

    But it doesn’t say he didn’t check this out beforehand. Maybe he knew, and figured they’d make an exception for a free ticket. Maybe he thought the reason they didn’t travel was that they couldn’t afford it. Again, there are lots of details missing.

    And why do you feel the need to post the same response three separate times to three different comments?

  • jim6555

    Currently Mr. Harband cannot recover the $1100 that he spent on Southwest tickets. My point is that if he used gift cards he would still have $1100 of travel on the cards that he could use for future personal travel or he could even sell the gift cards to another traveler.

  • Annie M

    Then it’s tough luck on the groom for booking the tickets for people that don’t travel.

  • Annie M

    Any airline would have done the same thing. Make sure you are able to travel or buy refundable tickets next time. It’s not the airlines fault that people buy tickets and can’t use them. And if you couldn’t use them due to an illness, then travel insurance might have helped.

  • Annie M

    I must have missed this story in what was published.

  • jennj99738

    I agree that this is a very good idea for anyone considering gifts of air tickets in the future. I would not have thought about it either–but will now. Thanks for the idea.

  • pauletteb

    His bride needs two new friends!

  • bpepy

    We heard you the first1000 times you said this!!!

  • judyserienagy

    This is one STRANGE story.

  • KarlaKatz

    My, you seem nice.

  • flutiefan

    i wondered why Chris said that SWA doesn’t explain nonrefundable fares, because i certainly remember seeing the rules on their website. thanks for the link!

  • flutiefan

    then you’ll never travel on any airline again.

  • flutiefan

    no matter what, he had planned and budgeted to be out $1,100. it’s not SWA’s fault he wants it back.

  • Nathan Witt

    If there is, in fact, a federal regulation prohibiting the tickets’ purchaser from using the credit for himself or his family, then SW is simply not legally allowed to transfer the tickets. You can advocate, but it won’t do any good. If SW’s representation that their hands are tied is a falsehood, clearing that up would be helpful. Also, guys (and I know this won’t do any good, but here goes), airline policies are created by the airlines and can be changed by the airlines. The fact that a given customer request runs afoul of a policy does not invalidate the request if it’s a bad policy that shouldn’t be there. Even SW has policies that are bad for its customers and would absolutely not bankrupt the airline if they were adjusted.

  • LFH0

    That’s the same phrase that stood out to me when reading the story. I would like to think that that’s just Mr. Harband’s interpretation of the explanation, but I fear that it may well be the actual phrase used by the carrier’s representative. Too often, employees in a business will resort to using such a phrase–that federal regulations force my hand here–rather than admitting that the business has discretion and has decided to use that discretion to make a profit to the detriment of the customer. Here, Southwest should have simply been honest and tell the customer that the law permits it, and has decided, to keep the customer’s money so that it can make a larger profit.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.