Southwest’s Problematic Ticketing Logic

Distribution, Southwest

I really should avoid booking flights at all costs, because if I can’t do it online, it ends up being incredibly difficult. This time, it was Southwest making my life difficult, and man, do they have a problem in the way they process unused credits.

We were looking at a simple one way flight in June that was going to cost us just shy of $98. I had two Southwest's Confusing Policiesdifferent confirmation numbers on unused tickets that I wanted to apply to cover the total cost of the ticket. Of course, Southwest lets you do this online, and I’ve always found that they’ve made this easier than anyone else. Not this time.

One of the credits had about $90 from one ticket and it expires in September. The other one had about $115 and expires next April. Naturally, I wanted to use up all the funds that expire in September and pull the remaining $8 or so out of the one that wouldn’t expire for a year. But when I went online, it didn’t let me. I put the $90 credit in first and that worked. But then when I went in to put the other confirmation #, it then pulled all the credit from the newer one and wouldn’t let me use the one that expire soon.

I tried it a few different ways, so I called Southwest for help. They weren’t very helpful. It’s not that they didn’t try, but the system apparently has some screwy logic that wouldn’t let them help me. Here’s how it works, according to the reservation agents I spoke with.

The $90 credit that expires in September is a partial credit. It used to be around $200, but we had used the balance for another set of flights previously. So the system views that as a partial credit which is a lower class of credit in the hierarchy. The $115 credit was actually two credits. There was one full ticket intact for $111 and then another $3 or $4 as a partial credit from a second ticket on the same itinerary. The full ticket is a higher class of credit, for some reason. Confused? Me too. I just wanted to use my f*&(ing credits.

Here’s the bottom line. The system will force you to use full credits that are on a ticket before you can use partial credits. So I had a choice. I could either pull the full amount out of the $111 or I could combine the $90 credit with the $3 credit and pay the rest on my credit card. I opted for the latter because I didn’t want to take a chance that we wouldn’t use that credit before it expired. Yes, it only cost me $4 or $5 on my credit card, but that’s not the point.

Clearly, this is a very bad setup. Southwest should let you choose which credits you want to apply instead of forcing some arbitrary logic that makes no sense for the customer.

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16 comments on “Southwest’s Problematic Ticketing Logic

  1. huh ? what ? you have a long list of credits and partial credits and merged tickets and then are surprised you found an edge case ? I agree with the principal that you should be able to use whichever credits you want but your case is so convoluted that I am not surprised you ran into issues.

  2. Hey Cranky, Not sure if you’ve been over to the RR Flyertalk forum, but they have lengthy discussions about these types of things. There are actually a couple of WN employees who chime in when we have questions like “WTF?” Something you’re basically saying now. This is what WN says on their website:

    “Funds must be entered one at a time and may be applied to this reservation in the following way. Up to two unused Ticketless Travel tickets per passenger (always applied first) and up to four of the following in any combination: southwestgiftcards, Southwest LUV Vouchers, Ticketless Travel Funds (left over funds not previously used) and one credit card.”

    And I say……WTF? To get a better understanding (or to be more confused) the is a FAQ wiki covering a multitude of things that the regulars at Flyertalk update when they find those little “gotchas!” Good, if confusing, reading.

  3. Eh, this isn’t a hard edge case to program against.

    Use the oldest credit first. Always. Always. Always. Its not that hard.

    If a customer wants you to do it differently, tell them they’re idiots and should fly United.

  4. Cranky, were you just curious what the reason for this problem was, or why did you call WN?

    I probably would have applied the old $90 credit online and paid the remaining $8 with my credit card instead of spending/wasting time trying to make sense of this. Of course, if it had been the other way around ($8 credit, $98 credit card), I would have called…

  5. Asad – I’ve received a couple private notes saying that same thing. This is an edge case and shouldn’t be a big deal, but I would argue that it may be an edge case on most airlines but not on Southwest. Southwest’s no change fee policy means that I (and others I assume) book earlier and more often than they would on another carrier. I never would have booked these tickets on another airline because the trips were up in the air, but on Southwest I knew that I could apply these without penalty to future flights so I wanted to lock the fare in. For that reason, I don’t think this is an edge case.

    Jay – Thanks for the link. This seems like a very convoluted way of setting it up. As Nick says, just use the oldest credits first. Of course, we know that Southwest has always had technological problems thanks to old technology that is only getting fixed now.

    Oliver – I actually simplified the issue here to avoid confusion. As you can see, it’s still not simple at all, so here’s the rest of the story. When I went to book originally on Saturday, the fare was $159.20. So I wanted to use the $90 and then the balance from the other credit. I called Southwest after I couldn’t do it online and they had problems even getting my original credit to pull up at all. I ran out of time and told them I’d call back later. When I called back on Sunday, the fare had dropped down to the point where it wasn’t as big of a deal but I was already on the phone with them.

    Though to be fair, I probably would have still gone through the motions even for a few bucks because I’m always curious to understand the inner-workings.

  6. A smart airline would have a banking system that any credit on a ticket would be moved to a general fund in your name (well some acct number natually for you). With all credit amounts in one bank when you purchased a ticket funds in that credit bank would be used until it was all used up. Simple!

    A smart airline would allow you to chose if you wanted to use the funds or just pay outright. You wouldn’t want to use personal funds to buy a ticket that your employer would repay on an expense report.

    Also a smart airline would have this fund set up so you decide which credits were personal and which were business so as to use them correctly when purchasing tickets.

    The smart airline is the one in my head which would be a lot more on the ball then current real airlines…….hahaha.

  7. I don’t see what the issue is. How is this different to attempting to pay for the fare with a few $ each from several bank accounts or credit cards? I wouldn’t expect to be able to do that, and nor would I expect to combine multiple credits together.

    Indeed, most airlines credits are non-combinable, any excess credit value gets lost if you use on a cheaper fare, and they may also have a fee on top just to use the credit.

  8. Global Traveller – But the point is that you CAN do that on Southwest, so they should at least give it the proper logic to use the oldest credit first. If they want to go with a less customer-friendly policy that prohibits combining credits, then they’re welcome to do it, but they don’t do that.

    By the way, who makes you lose your excess credit value if you use a cheaper fare? I’ve never seen that before. United sent me the difference in fare in a voucher most recently.

  9. Southwest suffers from the fact that they actually try to be customer friendly, and so we actually expect them to have this sort of thing figured out. When they don’t; it’s surprising and frustrating. They are the best IMHO and are thus held to a higher standard. Can’t wait to hear their response.

  10. As I wrote to Brett, even if all this had been lost, it is worth a little time on the phone and hassle to never have to be the exhorbitant $150 change fee!! Let us all give thanks for WN and their customer friendly policy while recognizing that no one is perfect, and some airlines are so far from perfect that it is scary. WN is not so scary.

  11. CF I understand your point, I used to fly SW for the exact same reason when I lived in LA and covered the SW of the US. I used to change my flights multiple times a day but even that had limits, it turns out you can only change your flight over the phone 3 times, after that you had to go to the airport.

  12. Yeah, Southwest’s online system is generally good, but I’ve run into a few annoying glitches. The one I’m up against now (and which mysteriously appeared within the last year) is that the SW site simply will NOT allow me to enter my FF# when I book tickets, even though I’m logged in under that account. Says the name doesn’t match that on the account. However, when I go to check-in online, it lets me add the FF# with no problem. Weird and annoying. Haven’t taken the time to deal with customer service phone calls, as I’ve discovered a work around.

  13. Every Asian, Pacific or European airline which I’ve had credits with (admittedly only small number of airlines) has had much more restrictive policies than you describe. Like a lot of things in air travel, it seems US-based airlines have a different set of rules & processes when it comes to credits.

  14. I am sorry for the expierence you had. I would like to let you know that Southwest has (shortly after your call) made changes to the system. When you have a partial credit (rtf) and a full credit (eticket), the computers will take an Eticket first.
    We now have a way to change the type from an Eticket to an RTF. It does not change the ammount of the credit or the expiration date.
    When you are paying with all RTF’s in a reservation, the computer will take the soonest to expire ticket first.
    Keep in mind, when you apply old funds to a new reservation, the new reservation takes the soonest exiration date. (you have funds expiring in may and one in june, your new ticket will expire in may)
    Also, Asad, I have never seen a reservation that has a restriction to the number of changes to a reservation, but there are limits.
    1- if you are changing online, after you fly your outbound flight, you can make one change to your return online, then all other changes to the same reservation have to be made over the phone.
    2- if you make any changes over the phone, all future changes will have to be made there.
    Yesterday, i changed a reservation for the 8th time. There were changes to the time, cities and dates of travel.
    We are still getting the kinks out of our booking system, and sometimes we do run into errors. We are doing updates and working to make the necessary changes, but remember everything costs time and money so it will most certainly not be an over night process. The point is that we are working on it, and we are trying to make things better.

  15. nina wrote:

    I am sorry for the expierence you had. I would like to let you know that Southwest has (shortly after your call) made changes to the system.

    Very glad to hear it. Thanks for chiming in Nina.

  16. It’s nice that we live in the day and age when we can do things on line. Not that everything is perfect online, but things have a way of getting ironed out in the long run when you can bypass the frivolous human element.

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