Why I won’t touch this Southwest Airlines case

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 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.

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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.

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.

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