There’s no way we’re taking this Southwest Airlines case. No way, no how. Nuh-uh.


Mary Irwin’s husband booked tickets on Southwest Airlines. Unfortunately, he had to cancel the flights, but his wife was promised a voucher as credit. When the voucher arrived, it was for considerably less than the amount Irwin thought it would be.

The Irwins contacted us because they wanted Southwest to honor what it initially offered, provide them with compensation and ensure the same thing did not happen to other customers.

So what really happened to the Irwins, and why was the voucher for less than they were promised?

Before we get to that let’s talk about what this site does.

As my colleague Michelle Couch-Friedman recently wrote, we’re here to facilitate fair and reasonable resolutions that satisfy both sides of the consumer/business equation.

What we’re not here to do is to try to take advantage of “gotcha moments” with companies.

Sadly, this case falls into the latter category.

I’ll let the Irwins explain what happened.

My husband had booked, paid for and then canceled his flights. Southwest Airlines gives one year from the date of the booking to use the funds from the canceled flights.

The one year booking date had passed. Southwest Airlines then allows a passengers to receive the expired travel funds, minus a $100 processing fee, in the form of a voucher. The voucher must be used within 6 months.

Before we go further with the Irwins’ story it’s fair to say that Southwest Airlines does have some of the most customer-friendly policies of any airline — and allowing someone to obtain a credit for unused flights after the one year deadline had passed is very generous.

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The Irwins wanted to take advantage of that generosity, so Mary Irwin called the airline. As she reports the conversation:

My call was taken by a representative named Tamika. She located the expired funds and confirmed at least twice during the call that the voucher would be for $245.90 which was the $345.90 expired travel funds minus the $100 processing fee.

The voucher arrived for $80.58.


Many of our readers will have realized that we don’t normally include such specific amounts in our stories. On this occasion, however, I wanted you to see what I saw.

When I looked at the case, what stood out was the difference between what the Irwins were promised and what they received. As both amounts were so specific, it seemed to suggest that there was a reason behind the discrepancy.

So I asked the Irwins if they knew how Southwest had calculated the value of the voucher.

Here’s what they told me.

Southwest Airlines explained that my husband had used $165.32 of the unused travel funds for a flight before they expired.

The airline admitted that the agent, Tamika, did not have all the information when she ordered the voucher for $245.90. But that was not communicated by Tamika during the call.

What policy allows the agents to perform a transaction over the phone and quote a false voucher amount without all the documentation being present?

Tamika confirmed at least three times during the call that the voucher would be in the amount of $245.90. The airline has acknowledged this during our phone conversations. Southwest needs to stand behind the information their employees publicly release to customers.

After I read this, it was clear this wasn’t a case I could — or would — want to advocate. The Irwins received a voucher for exactly what they were entitled to. They wanted me to overlook the fact that they had spent part of the travel funds before the voucher was issued. I wouldn’t do that.

True, they had been promised more than they were due, but in my view that was just a mistake, rather than a dishonest act, as the Irwins thought. I don’t advocate for mistakes that don’t result in a loss, and I certainly don’t advocate for “compensation for my family’s time and trouble in making this right for us and other customers,” as the Irwins wanted me to.

I explained to the Irwins why I could not advocate the case and filed this under Case Dismissed.

Editors note: This is one of our most visited columns of 2017. We’re republishing some of our best stories this week.


John Galbraith

John is a UK based lawyer and writer. He loves to travel and can be frequently found in remote locations in a suit and cravat. Read more of John's articles here.

  • Dutchess

    Wow! This is borderline scam territory!! Mary Irwin knew her husband had used a portion of the credit on a previous flight and wants them to refund more then she’s entitled to? Then she has the temerity to ask a consumer advocate to assist in her fraud? That takes some gall! I agree, don’t touch this with a 10 foot pole.

  • KennyG

    It is people like this that over time have caused the airlines to put into place some of the more unfriendly rules, or abandon things like bereavement fares. There was no malice on the part of Southwest Airlines. All of the malice was on the part of the PAX. ALthough they won’t, Southwest should put them on the banned flyer list.

  • finance_tony

    VERY glad you dismissed this, but many, MANY posts on this site refer verbal words spoken by a customer service agent as “promises.” For example, “..if the agent said you’d get a free cruise, they should stand behind their promise.”

    I bet a lot of cases with such a verbal element (maybe the majority, maybe not, but quite a few) fall in the same category.

  • Mel65

    Additionally, Elliott should start a list of “banned consumers” for whom he won’t advocate due to blatant fraud or chicanery, and they should be on that, too.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I generally take the position that we should be able to rely on the promises made to us by customer service reps. If someone says I’m getting a refund, I should be getting a refund. In this case, though, they knew for a FACT that the rep was wrong. That’s just an attempt to steal from Southwest.

  • Annie M

    Glad you didn’t get involved. These people were scammers!

  • Annie M

    Like this woman tried to take advantage. Perhaps the agent actually said the TICKET was $245 not the voucher.

  • joycexyz

    What gall! She tries to pull a fast one by getting the agent to agree to something based on false or missing info…and then tries to make Elliott complicit! Some people have no shame.

  • Anonymous

    I find this rather common. I see many passengers/customers trying to get “something for nothing” because they feel entitled. Perhaps they didn’t like a fare, or a policy/rule, or being told something that they did not want to hear. It’s quite obvious that people love to hate the airlines and this is how they try to get back.
    I work for a major airline, fortunately not in Reservations, but in a department that oversees fares, policies/rules and regulations over my long tenure. Occasionally, when Reservations gets busy, I assist them by taking calls so I know what goes on and I can tell you it’s not pleasant! People screaming, name calling using very vulgar 4-letter words, threatening us, telling us how horrible we are etc. etc. etc., and telling us that they hope that our planes crash (yes, you read that correctly).
    Customers lie. They lie like dirty rugs on the floor! Nothing that we do ever satisfies them, they always want more!
    Customers will say that airlines are lying to them when in actuality it is they who do not understand what is being explained to them. They twist the airline’s policies into what THEY want to hear and then believe it, and then accuse the airline of lying or not telling them something.
    Because customers don’t always agree with a policy or feel that it shouldn’t apply to them, they’ll say that they don’t have to comply and actually believe it! “Oh no! Not me!”
    Customers lie (embellish/exaggerate) about their situations in hopes that the airline will compensate them handsomely, and get angry and belligerent when the airline won’t. I can tell you that reservation agents are well aware of all the different stories that are being told as they have heard it all before.
    Customers berate and try to bully agents in getting their own way. They make stupid remarks like, “I’ll never fly your airline again!” I say to that, “Good riddance, we don’t need customers like you who are constantly giving us verbal abuse, and who try to bully us. It’s your choice!”
    In the long run, airlines know that when they offer a good fare or product to your destination that you’ll be the first one in line to get it, no matter what you say.
    All in all, reservations agents do want to sincerely help customers, but when faced with the verbal onslaught, or childish behavior and demands that some people exhibit, as well as the clear intent to defraud, it lessens that desire to assist. After all, the customer is almost never appreciative and believes that their behavior justifies their actions.
    Remember, just because you’re a customer doesn’t mean that you are always right!
    That said, luckily not every customer behaves in that manner, but the ones that do ruin it for everyone.
    It is sickening to see how much fraud and deception goes on because customers feel that they are entitled–its a lot, so much so that the airline’s have had to institute policies to protect their interests.
    And yes, I do enjoy my job (thankfully not in Reservations) so no need to post nasty comments about that! I just don’t like nor will put up with those that try to take advantage–it hurts everyone in the long run.
    If you are unhappy with an airline’s fares, policy or rule, just remember that it probably came about because of those who are dishonest and try to game the system!

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