A Southwest Airlines fare promotion turned into a public relations fiasco Saturday as customers buying plane tickets found their credit cards maxed out by erroneous charges for multiple bookings.
The computer glitch occurred during Southwest's LUV2LIKE promotion celebrating its 3 million fans on Facebook. It ran for about 18 hours on Friday and offered 50 percent discounts on Southwest's lowest fares.
By the time the promotion ended at midnight Friday, some accounts were charged for so many duplicate bookings that credit limits were reached, triggering automatic charges.
Southwest posted an apology on its Facebook page, which was swamped by complaints. Southwest customer service was overwhelmed Saturday with hold times of up to three hours to speak to a representative.
Sara Speights of Austin said Saturday that she was charged 26 times for two tickets to fly to Baltimore.
"It maxed out my credit card. I started calling Southwest about 7 this morning and finally got through after 10," she said. Her credit card company knew about the billing problem and removed the charges from her account, Speights said.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Ashley Dillon said the company is "working around the clock" to make sure that all erroneous charges, including bank overdraft fees, are refunded. It will be able to identify the charges without customers having to report them to Southwest, she added.
"We're working through the weekend to respond to customers and proactively reach out to anyone that we see has a duplicate booking on their account," said Dillon. "Hopefully it will be fixed by Monday."
Southwest has experienced website problems due to high volumes of customer traffic during other fare sales, Dillon said, but this is the first time the airline has been hit with a massive billing snafu.
Asked how many customers have been affected, Dillon said she didn't know, and that the airline won't be publicizing that figure.
"We may not have as many fans on Facebook anymore," she said. "We won't be having any big sales until we can be sure this is fixed. This just won't happen again."
Contact Brenda Bell at 445-3634
(c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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