Can this trip be saved? I paid for the ticket — where’s my credit?

One of the things travelers love about an airline like Southwest is that it goes against the grain. When other airlines charge baggage fees, it doesn’t. When they impose change fees, it doesn’t. When they have assigned seats, Southwest refuses.

So passengers can be forgiven for getting a little upset when Southwest starts acting like … well, other airlines.

Case in point: Linda Tober’s ticket credit problem. Earlier this year, she bought tickets for her daughter and three grandchildren to fly from Baltimore to Manchester, NH.

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I bought the tickets far in advance to be assured that, with children involved, there would be a guarantee that they would all be on the same flight. A couple of months later, I checked to see if there had been a fare reduction and there was. Upon reissuing the tickets, a combined credit of $207 was accrued.

By the way, Southwest is unlike other airlines in that regard, too. Tober didn’t face any “reissuing” fees that would have nullified her fare reduction. (That’s something other airlines do.)

But unknown to her, Southwest had changed its policy. Instead of reissuing the credit to her, it gave the $207 to her kids and grandkids.

The dilemma and frustration about the above is three of the four ticket holders are children and the likelihood that these funds can be used by them within the time limit is remote. I respect that there are sound reasons to support your new policy, however, I personally paid for these tickets, these are youngsters, and the ink on this policy change was not yet dry when I bought the tickets.

Tober made her reservation in February, just a few days after Southwest quietly changed its policy to allow unused travel funds to only be applied to the purchase of future travel for the individual named on the ticket. The switch happened Jan. 28.

She asked Southwest for an exception to its policy, since it had just gone into effect. It refused.

Tober sent a letter to a Southwest supervisor last week, asking it to reconsider.

“My loyalty to Southwest Airlines has been unwavering for many years,” she says. “I look forward to the continuation of our partnership.”

She hasn’t heard back from the airline yet, and wonders what she should do.

I can’t defend Southwest’s latest policy change, which brings it closer to the rest of the airline industry. I think it’s probably just a matter of time before it imposes a ticket change fee or a “reissuing” fee of some kind that would zero out the difference between fares.

If you think about it, the idea that Southwest would issue a refund of any kind is a little odd. Few other businesses issue refunds when the price of their merchandise drops. Apple famously issued a $100 store credit to iPhone customers in 2007 after it lowered prices on its phones, but such a move is highly unusual.

What if the situation was reversed? If Southwest’s fuel expenses suddenly rise (which, coincidentally, they almost certainly did after Tober’s purchase) would it be able to ask her for more money?

Alas, that’s something another airline would like to be able to do. But that’s another discussion.

Should I jump in and mediate this? Or should I stand behind its new policy, even if it means Tober will probably lose $207?

Update (Aug. 16): Tober has a happy ending to report!

I spilled my tale of woe to a very attentive agent. When I was done he asked if my husband and I had any future flights booked on SW.

When I said that we had, he identified himself as a supervisor and proceeded to cancel the flights, re-book the same using the funds I otherwise would have sacrificed and now I can apply the funds accrued from the flights he canceled for travel into 2012.

79 thoughts on “Can this trip be saved? I paid for the ticket — where’s my credit?

  1. I think confining the credit to the person named on the ticket is a bummer, but it’s not an unreasonable change.  Given that the other airlines charge you $150 and up (and USAir requires that payment to be in cash; they won’t use the ticket credit to pay it) Southwest’s policy is still pretty generous.

  2. While I agree that a credit for children isn’t nearly as useful, I can understand the change, it’s matches the non-transferable aspect of the ticket.  But in the end I doubt the OP would have changed anything that she did based on this change in policy.

  3. Rules is rules, and you have to know them.
    It’s a contract that you signed so don’t say you didn’t know.

    1. Rules are rules is NOt the law of the United States.  Rules must meet a host of criteria to be enforceable.

      1. We are not talking about laws of the United States. These are rules and conditions of a contract with a private company that OP signed.

        And how is this rule not enforceable?

        1. Private contracts must adhere to the laws in order to be enforceable.  For example, contracts of adhesion are rarely enforceable as are unconscionable clauses, illusory contracts, illegal contracts, and contracts against public policy.

          The point being is that merely because it’s written doesn’t make it valid or unenforceable.

          1. But again, how does this break the law?
            Everything was fully disclosed (if you bothered to read the terms and conditions) and Southwest is doing everything they promised.

          2. Disclosure is merely one element, i.e. it addresses adhesion contracts.  It doesn’t affect unconscionability, illegality, etc.

            The point is that it is an incorrect statement to say Rules are Rules, touch luck.

    2. rule was not in effect when she purchased the ticket, had she known the new rule was going into effect she may have hesitated on the purchase.  I have the same issue and am very irked about it.

  4. I think legally a contract can not mandate funds where the use can only be elected by children, as children can not legally initiate or be obligated to a contract. The funds or credit should be automatically reverted to the guardian of said child aka the parent who bought the ticket. If it was a case of someone buying a ticket for another adult and only said adult could use the ticket then the policy is understandable, but remember, these are minor kids the ticket was purchased for. In my opinion the contract terms need to be updated to properly accommodate the situation.

    1. But the children never initiated the contract – their parents did. The guardian has full access and control over them, as it was the guardian’s contract and credit card.
      The only difference is that you have to buy a ticket for the same child rather than someone else.

    2. I see nothing above stating the children are minors so the speculation in this pst does not necessarily apply.

      1. The article, quoting her letter, says “these are youngsters” which would seem to indicate that they are minors.

    3. Your statement mis-construes contract law as it applies to minors. If the children had purchased the airline tickets themselves (using cash, a check, a Visa Gift Card, etc.) then your statement might make sense (and indeed such arguments have been made, with success varying by state and circumstances.)  But in this case, an adult purchased the ticket and the contract is with the purchaser.

      Just like an adult buying clothes from CheapoMart for their kids does not magically waive the retailer’s return policies, an adult buying tickets for kids does not make ticket credit rules disappear.

      1. Maybe

        Its not as cut and dry as either of you suggest. To make your hypo analogous, Cheapomart would be saying that the credit voucher belongs to the minor children.  That effectively makes them a party to the contract and now everything just got sticky.

  5. Question : are flyers bound by the contract of carriage in effect when they BUY the ticket or when they FLY? It seems that would be central to which policy should be enforced.

      1. actually, that language had been in SWA’s COC for quite some time, they just started actually *enforcing* it this year.

  6. “When other airlines charge baggage fees, it doesn’t.”
    – – – – – — – – – – – – – –
    Southwest has baggage fees.  Southwest allows two (2) checked pieces of baggage per ticketed Customer without a chargefee…size and weight limitations apply.  The 3rd through 9th bag or item will incur a charge of $50 per piece, and any bag or item thereafter will be $110 per piece. Overweight items from 50 to 100 pounds and oversized items in excess of 62 inches but not more than 80 inches (e.g.; surfboards, bicycles, vaulting poles) will be accepted for a charge of $50 per item.

    The difference is between Southwest and other US-based airlines is that most US-based airlines will charge a fee for the first checked bag and second checked bag.  However, if you have elite status or have an affinity credit card from the airline, you can check bags for free.

    My point is that should have been written “Southwest doesn’t charge for the first and second checked bag” since they do have baggage fees for the third bagitem as well as fees for luggage that is too large and weigh too much.  

    1. That’s the way I meant to write it. I’m not saying Southwest has no baggage fees. I’m saying that where other airlines charge baggage fees (ie, first and second bag) Southwest doesn’t.

    2. Yes, but in the vernacular nowadays, most people mean fees for the first and second bag when they talk about “baggage fees.” I don’t think many people are surprised that you can’t bring a dozen bags with you for free on Southwest. (Some probably are, though).

      1. then you would be amazed when they walk up with 6 oversized 70-lb bags and then get angry at the CSA & yell, “but Southwest says bags fly free!!”

  7. Actually, Airtran will give you a credit towards future travel if the fare decreases.  It will go to the person who booked the tickets.  They make it really easy, it goes with your account and when you book online through their site, you get the credit automatically applied.
    And yes, it goes with the person who booked the tickets.

  8. I have been a big proponant of buying tickets when you feel the time is right and move on. The price may drop, it may go up. It is a game of roulette and if you find a fare you can live with, get it and move on.

    Although the ink was barely dry, the terms were there and available for her when she bought the tickets.

    It is policy. Can her adult daughter reimburse her the $200 since she and her kids may have the benefit of the credit?

    Oh, and most retails stores will indeed issue a credit for merchandise if the price goes down–they have been for a long time and Walmart even has a commercial in my market about matching prices.

    1. “if you find a fare you can live with move on”

      No, I don’t think so.  It depends on how much the dare dropped in relation to the hassle.  IF the fare drops $1.00 I don’t care.  If it drops by hundreds, I’m on the phone.

  9. I’m voting not to mediate for a purely selfish reason – I don’t want Southwest to reevaluate it’s more generous policies in the face of people’s complaints and decide they just aren’t worth continuing. The squeaky wheel might get the oil, but they oftentimes cause the ride to end for everyone.

  10. I’m a fan of Southwest but not of the change in policy that unused funds can only be applied to the same traveler. That being said, they’re still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

    I would say that in this case, it’s appropriate for the customer to contact Southwest and ask if they’ll make an exception in light of the fact that she bought the tickets shortly after the policy changed; I don’t think this is a case worth mediating.

    It’s worth noting (and Chris already did note this) that this is a unique situation in that the only reason the credit exists is because the customer rebooked the flights for a lower price than she initially got; this isn’t a credit that exists because of a cancelled flight or something like that. On the legacy airlines, this wouldn’t happen in the first place because the change fees imposed would outweigh the fare difference 99% of the time.

  11. re: Dropping fares. I must disagree with Chris 

    1.  Most reputable retailers have a time period after purchase usually 30 days when they will match the lowest price.

    2.  The other major travel providerer, hotels and car rentals generally don’t require payment until the day of travel and permit unlimited cancellations/rebookings until then.  If the fare drops, calling customer service usually get you the cheaper fare.

    Why is it fare that dropping prices generate refunds but increases prices don’t generate invoices?  The question is a red herring.  Prices are controlled by the travel suppliers, so there is no parity between the parties.  Therefore the same rules don’t necessarily apply.

    Someone asked the other day why airliness seem to obtain the wrath of consumers more than other travel providers.  That’s easy.  The terms and conditions of booking air travel are infinitely more restrictive than for booking a hotel or rental car.

  12. IMHO, live with the price that you paid. If a price changes you either win or lose. She booked her tickets far in advance to ensure that her family was on the same flight. Mission accomplished. Now sit and wait for the visit rather than chasing a few bucks. I am surprised that the airline would offer anything since the price change came into effect months later.


  14. I voted no, but I want to add that if there is ever a credit given, I do feel it should go to the person who paid for it!

  15. I got a flight credit from United last year that I was never able to use.  It is frustrating, but it is lost money.

  16. The issue here is not whether a credit should be issued or not.  The issue is that the credit WAS issued, but it was issued in the name of the children!!  Shouldn’t the credit be given to the person who paid for the tickets?

    1. Then the answer is simple, No. The policy in force at the time was that credit is given only to the person named on the ticket. If she had been concerned about saving a few bucks down the road she should have made herself familiar with policies for refunds/credits.

      1. The policy is a terrible one.

        It is absurd to issue credit to the name on the ticket, rather than the person who actually purchased the ticket.

      2. Do you re-read all the terms and conditions word for word EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU MAKE A RESERVATION?

        Southwest is absolutely entitled to change it’s policies.  However, I’d like to know more about what (if any) efforts they made to alert their customers (especially their frequent travelers) to the change.

        1. I only do that if people do not yell. No, I do not read it every time but that doesn’t mean that the policy will not apply to me because I didn’t read it.
          However, if I expect that I will be doing something out of the ordinary or might have to try to change the reservation then I make darn sure that I do read the terms and conditions so I am not taken by surprise. This traveller fully intended to search for lower fares while she had the reservation. Who then do you think is responsible for making sure she was aware of the SW policy?   

          1. Do you really believe that searching for lower fares is “something out of the ordinary?”

            Do you believe it’s an unreasonable burden for SW to mail or email its regular customers when something that will affect them and is buried in 30 pages of legalese changes?   Or failing that, to at least publicly highlight which sections of their CofC were recently revised?

            It’s not like airlines are shy about mailing customers when they have new credit card offers, new partner offers, or new destinations to advertise.

            Would you really accept for any company that you do frequent business with to abruptly change it’s policy without notification and without limits?  (Oops, now the policy says I have to give up custody of my first born.  Well a policy is a policy and so it applies to me too… I should have re-read the contractual terms again between my 30th and 31st purchases…).

          2. Yes really. If you are going to keeping checking after you have purchased a ticket I believe it is out of the ordinary.

            Do you really believe that if SW (or any company for that matter) told you that its terms have changed that a person would actually read it? LOL!

            Companies change their policies all the time. As an example Apple changes their iTunes terms several times a year.

            As a last comment, if you really care about something you make it your business to know about it. Whining after the fact shows that a person is just too lazy.

          3. Most of us who are not Hollywood scriptwriters lack the imagination to dream of  (and scan through thick documents for) every possible policy change that might affect us in some way that we care about.

            Would it occur to you to check every time you purchase something that you might be signing away custody of your first born? 😉  Does failure to do so mean you’re lazy and don’t care about your children?

            If you’re arguing that no one reads anything anyway, and even disclosure of changes is not a reasonable expectation, then it sounds to me like you’re arguing that every single human being is a lazy bum who deserves to be fleeced.

  17. Southwest changed its policy because the policy was being abused.  People would sell their unused travel credits on Ebay or Craigslist, which is against SW’s terms and conditions.  If people hadn’t been abusing their previously customer-friendly policy, they wouldn’t have had to tighten the reigns by making a new (SLIGHTLY LESS customer-friendly) policy.  I am not saying that the grandmother in the article was trying to get away with anything, but this is the fallout from the general public abusing a company’s good policy.

    All of that said, in my mind, the “right thing to do” (whether or not it is the letter of the law) is to issue the full amount of the credit to the daughter (the mother of the woman’s three grandchildren), under the premise that a child should not be able to purchase an airline ticket for oneself, and therefore should not have a credit available to purchase an airline ticket for oneself.

    1. So they punish everybody, instead of those who are actually causing a problem. Classy.

      Sounds a lot like TSA in that regard: “One of you could be a terrorist, so we’ll just treat ALL of you like terrorists.”

      No wonder flying is such an awful experience these days with policies like this.

      1. “So they punish everybody, instead of those who are actually causing a problem. Classy.”

        If they went after those who caused the problem, how exactly is that going to stop others from doing the same? Lots of drivers get fined for beating speed limits inspite of drive-under-this-speed signs, and we still see that happening.Now, if you tell all your friends they can’t step on your lawn just because a few messed it up, aren’t you effectively punishing them all as well inspite of that arguably and effectively solving the problem?

        I somewhat get your idea behind that. Only…it goes both ways.

        1. Well, one way this could be avoided is to simply issue refunds, rather than credits. But that would apparently be too easy.

          1. Yup. Depending on how one manages his/her finances, though, one can only refund so much, so often.

            Not that people would care how that one manages that, anyway.

    2. This is a matter of fact in many industries- a good deal for many is stopped due to a few who ruin it/ try to get over.  In Aerospace where I work they no longer sell/give away obsolete tools because of the few who complain and try to sue the company.  As much as I would love for Southwest to continue their old policy I can absolutely undersand why the change was necessary.  Thanks for the info Steve.   

  18. You are looking at SWA turning into one of the other big airlines by the change in their  loyalty program. They don’t charge luggage fees, but they raised the prices to cover that. The new program screws those who were on their way to a free flight on the old program. Not too happy about this. Take the time to figure this out! Also, SWA did not go out of it’s way to announce the change that you can’t use future funds for anyone except the person on the ticket. I talked to SWA on funds that were going to expire and yes they do charge $75 to extend it.

  19. What should Tober do? Let it go, why get an Ombudsman involved?

    “If you think about it, the idea that Southwest would issue a refund of any kind is a little odd.”
    Why is it odd? Since Southwest allows you to cancel a flight and apply 100% of the funds to another reservation, Southwest isn’t really issuing a refund. It is canceling the original reservation, and allowing Tober to buy new tickets using the existing flight credits. The residual credit (in this case $53.50 per person) is not a “refund” per se, rather it is credit that can be used for another reservation. With the so called legacy carriers, the $100-200 change fee would wipe out any potential savings of a fare drop.

    Southwest really has nothing to fear here. If Tober wants to take her business elsewhere, it would be like jumping from a hot tub into a scalding cauldron. Personally, I don’t think Southwest’s new policy is unreasonable.

  20. The problem here is that SW issued *flight credits*, not a full cash refund, which would have gone back to the OP’s credit card (assuming that’s how she paid).  It’s reasonable to issue the flight credits back to the ticket holders.

    1. “It’s reasonable to issue the flight credits back to the ticket holders.”

      Except in the case where someone else paid for that ticket and wasn’t reimbursed because of a fall-out. That was like one of the most common complaints I got in my past travel agency life.

      Only thing we could tell that person was to try disputing the charges. Unfortunately we really couldn’t do anything else other than that, and neither were we willing to cover anything that especially wasn’t our “direct fault”.
      Alas, that doesn’t stop some people from believing you did them wrong for whatever reason. Just pointing out a reality.

  21. It’s unfortunate that she’s not getting the refund she anticipated, but the fact that she’s getting a credit at all (albeit to the passengers) is still a great policy that Southwest has, and to me this feels like she is wanting it all, so to speak. 

  22. Why should payment credit go to passenger .. it should go to credit card that made the purchase .. IF the credit is a ticket to be used later than purchaser is out of luck silly rules are it MUST be in passenger name

  23. Consider a similar situation in which you buy a present for anyone else and the price goes down.  You can’t take the present back and demand the difference (the receiver could however.)  Such is the case here.  SWA has a pretty nice policy in that the ability to cash in for the difference is never ending.  You bought the tickets to ensure the kids were on the same flight, write off the difference as the benefit of that.
    Or use the credit to get them another flight somewhere. As other poster said, SWA did this because it was getting crazy on the ‘nets with people selling credits (real and fake).  Someone spoiled the system for everyone, at least it’s not totally spoiled.

  24. Credit card charges should always go back to the person who owns the card.  I recently has a client who booked airline tickets for two other people her daughter knew to attend a wedding.  The people managed to get a partial refund, when they decided not to go, that went on their credit cards.  My client is now out the money as they refuse to pay her back.  Basically the airlines are potentially aiding and abetting criminal activity when the money doesn’t go back to the person who spent it.

    1. This isn’t a credit card refund — Southwest issues a credit, good on Southwest only, when you cancel or reticket a flight at a lower price (which, as Chris points out, is more generous than the other airlines at this point).  What changed is that I believe you used to be able to pool or reassign the credits, but now they’re only good for the person named on the original ticket.

      While I wish they would have kept the old policy, I understand why they changed it.  However, the change wasn’t that well publicized, and probably wasn’t disclosed explicitly when she bought the tickets (yes, I know you can read the entire contract each time), so I think it would be appropriate for Chris to at least approach them about making a one-time exception.

  25. I have a problem with the airlines issuing the credit to the person named on the ticket.  I think the credit or refund should always go to the person who paid for the ticket.

    1. But then what if she actually wants to use the credits for her children/grandchildren? The credits would be in her name rather than theirs, which makes even less sense.

  26. I wonder in practice if this will even be a big problem.  I booked two tickets (for my husband and me) for a vacation last spring, shortly after the SW policy went into effect.  A few weeks later I had to cancel the vacation, and then a few weeks after that needed to fly alone to somewhere else.  The cost of my new ticket was more than the cost of *my* original vacation ticket, but less than the combined cost of the tickets purchased for my husband and me together, so I wondered if I would have to pay the difference or if the system would give me some of “his” credit (I rebooked online).  It gave me “his” credit as well as mine.  So at least anecdotally it seems possible that the OP might be able to use the credits to book travel for any one of the four passengers alone, even the credits that theoretically belong to the other three, assuming all four were on the same PNR originally.  Unless I got lucky with a glitch/bug in the software that hadn’t been updated to reflect the new policy.  🙂

    1. If you’re nice and get lucky, then yes, they often are willing to bend the rules to work with you.
      But if you are whiny and have this great sense of entitlement (you didn’t expect to use the credits, but got a nice surprise) like OP, then don’t expect any favors.

  27. I do wonder if legally if southwest can since these passengars are under 18.

    The credit should go to the person who purchased the tickets…or to the guardian of the children.

    1. Since they issue the credits back to the ticketed name, they are not concerned with the age of the client, just that the name is the same when rebooked.  Since they are “old” enough to be ticketed, they are old enough to have a credit for their next ticket.

  28. prices fluctuate, and anyone who still thinks that “the earlier they buy the cheaper it is” deserves to get a financial lesson.

  29. I too am sad about the change in their policy (now I no longer can “sell” unused fares!) but rules are rules, no matter who paid. It was just a matter of time before SWA created this policy anyway. And it’s still not unreasonable.

  30. I purchased tickets on SW before the change went into place. I knew the change was happening. The reason they do not issue credit in anyone other than the ticket holders name is due to the fact that they now fly international, not just domestic. This affects tickets being issued with passport info. The credit can only be issued in the original flyer’s names. At least, this is what I was told by SW. I can understand that. Considering how generous SW is compared to other airlines, she should accept the credit in the young flyer’s names. You never know when they may take another trip within the expiration period. Life happens…

  31. Not exactly on topic but here is a reason why a credit should go to the ticket holder as opposed to the ticket buyer.

    I’m traveling on employer paid business. The flight is oversold. I might volunteer if I can keep the compensation. If the compensation goes back to my company then I won’t volunteer and it might be some other company’s president who can’t get on the flight.

  32. I can be mistaken, Chris, but wasn’t Southwest’s changing their policy to become non-transferable tickets discussed here last year? I remember two online discussions about it in other places, though:
    In essence, Southwest gave about six months before that took effect. I’m sure that’s not enough for some people, but giving a six-month leeway to make a major change was an arguably good thing, wasn’t it?

    Now, I’m not entirely sure how much Southwest made this publicly known. If, say, they released print ads or press releases about this exact change, though, I wonder how exactly this would’ve affected them short and/or long term.

    Toyota’s public recall of their vehicles months back surely affected them short-term, though I have no doubt they’d eventually bounce back in the long term if they did a follow up on that. I wonder also how exactly could Southwest have possibly bounced back if they did something similar here.

    1. i was just about to post the same thing. i wish i still had the email, but Southwest indicated that this has long been their written policy, they just were allowing blanket exceptions and letting the purchaser transfer the credits as they saw fit.  now, SWA is adhering to their contract as written.  this wasn’t a secret.  like others have said, it’s because of the unscrupulous folks who were selling their credits that SWA had to end the “exception” standard.  a few rotten apples spoil the barrel…

  33. Bought tix for 3 relatives and now have $22 credit for each.  But, tix are in their names, so it’s unlikely that we’ll recoup the money for future travel.  However, overall, flying Southwest is such a better experience than ANY OTHER airline . . I can forgive this unfortunately policy change.

    1. “so it’s unlikely that we’ll recoup the money for future travel.”

      And this is why the policy is what it is: credit is less likely to be used, therefore, they still get to keep your money.

      1. Thus, all the more reason to use that ASAP, right? It’s unfortunate if you can’t use it by then, but that can make you decide what’s maybe more important by then.

  34. In relate of the minor status of those issued the credit, I think the situation is not much different than minors having mileage accounts, or – say – being issued coupons to use in a theme park.

    Nothing is restricting the ability of M(r)s. Tober to buy tickets for her children with the credit issued to them.

  35. Presumably, she paid by credit card.  This means that Southwest knows who should get the credit.  It also knows that children don’t just hop on a plane by themselves. Maybe they’ll drop their credit policy in the future, but for now the money should go to the person who paid for the tickets.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me!  I’m sorry you won’t be mediating the case, but maybe the bad publicity will make Southwest change its mind.  

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