To celebrate hitting 3 million friends on Facebook, Southwest Airlines announced a 50 percent discount on flights Friday. By entering the code "luv2lik," customers could book fares as low as $29 each way. Response was, apparently, overwhelming—at least for the airline's online booking system. Several customers who booked the discounted flights ended up being charged multiple times.
According to Southwest, the unexpected volume of responses to the flash sale caused the airline's computer system to malfunction and multiply the purchases of the discounted flights.
One woman in Santa Cruz reported six extra charges, for a total of $1,900, according to the Los Angeles Times. Others have reported as many as 20 charges for the same flight. The airline has promised to cancel all duplicate charges.
Over the weekend, Twitter, Facebook, and a smattering of blogs were abuzz with reports of credit and debit cards being cancelled and checking accounts overdrawn after purchasing the sale fares. The airline immediately began refunding extraneous charges and covering overdraft fees. Unfortunately, several customers say, the original sale flights were cancelled in the process. Southwest promises to restore these as well.
Instead of a promotional coup, Southwest ended up with a public relations nightmare. Ironically, the Facebook page the airline was trying to promote quickly became a public flogging post, with customers flooding the page with complaints about mistaken charges. Posts about the sale have elicited hundreds of comments from customers. As of Monday, however, Southwest has more than 3.1 million "likes" on Facebook.
This news comes only three weeks after United Airlines' online booking system mistakenly awarded round-trip flights to Hong Kong for four frequent flyer miles each, due to a programming error. United caught the mistake within hours and announced they would not honor the four-mile fares.
Fodors.com contributor Cathleen McCarthy is the rewards expert for CreditCards.com and covers entertainment and travel deals on her own network, Save on Cities. Her stories have appeared in The Washington Post, WSJ, Amtrak ARRIVE, Town & Country, and inflight magazines.
Photo credits: Southwest Airlines via Shutterstock