DALLAS – Southwest Airlines' attempt to thank its Facebook friends with a half-price ticket sale backfired when customers were inadvertently billed multiple times for a single flight -- they're not feeling the "luv."
"No, it wasn't a hack, it was just a technology glitch in our system that caused that," duplicate bookings and billings to customers' debit and credit cards, Ashley Dillon, a Southwest spokeswoman said Saturday.
The company became aware of the problem around 5 p.m. Friday, she said, when they experienced website slowdowns and saw that customers were having to repeatedly refresh pages to take advantage of the airlines' one-day "luv2like" promotion.
The special sale designed to celebrate Southwest's reaching the three million mark in Facebook fans was supposed to give customers who booked flights on Friday a 50 percent discount on certain fares.
Instead, hundreds of frustrated would-be fliers wound up posting stories on Facebook about how their credit and debit cards were being repeatedly charged, in some cases 20 or more times for a single flight. They tweeted and blogged about the related financial hassles, which ranged from drained checking accounts and bounced checks to overdrawn credit limits and canceled bank cards.
Several complained of having to wait hours on the telephone when they called to speak to customer service representatives Friday and Saturday.
Suzanne Worrrell, 37, of Virginia Beach said she was just trying to fly down to Georgia to see her dad on a $69.60 ticket but was charged 20 times.
She clicked "purchase the ticket" and Southwest's website froze so she wasn't sure if it went through. Since she didn't get a verifying email, Worrell said she went to her credit card's website and that's when she noticed repeated charges piling up.
The airline's 800-number was busy and she said its website made no mention of the mix-up or suggestions about what to do late Friday, but when she got on Facebook she learned she was not alone.
"They've charged over $1,400 now for a $69 ticket," Worrell said. "Initially I was sympathetic. I get it. Stuff happens. Make it better."
Her attitude changed after finally speaking to a Southwest representative on Saturday. She said she was told it will take 8 to 10 days before she can get her money back.
"Now I'm just mad," Worrell said, worrying about the penalties and interest fees she'll be hit with because the charges knocked her over her spending limit.
On the upside, she said, if it's not resolved, her 20-month-old son is less likely to annoy fellow passengers because mother and child will have a large section on the plane to themselves.
"Essentially I have 20 seats on one flight," she said. "It's just crazy."
Dillon said Southwest did not yet know how many people were affected and doubted they would release that information when they do get it but stressed they are working to fix the problem and refund the erroneous charges as soon as possible.
"We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience it's caused the customers," Dillon said. "We realize that people rely on Southwest for great customer service.
"Yesterday a lot of folks didn't see that so we're working to make it right."
But not everyone was unhappy. One customer said she was grateful she learned about the promotion in an email the company sent her -- at 12:11 a.m. Saturday, when it was a day too late to opt in.
"It looks like it saved me from a ton of frustration & ridiculous charges," she quipped.