The Airline Canceled My Backup Plan — Reader Mistake Story

Nov 9, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Mina, who double booked herself on Southwest when her schedule was uncertain:

My husband recently moved to Los Angeles and I’m in medical school in Kansas City, and we made a plan to visit each other every few weeks during this transition. We have mostly been flying Southwest so we have the flexibility to change our tickets at the last minute if needed.

One of the reservations I made was on the day of my residency interview. I was unsure what time the interview would end, so I reserved two tickets for the same day at different times with plans to cancel one after I confirmed my schedule. The system allowed me to make both reservations, and there was no written indication that it wasn’t allowed. Unfortunately, about a week later I got an email that one of my reservations was canceled — there was no warning or request for me to cancel it on my own; they just did it for me.

Sadly, the canceled flight turned out to be the one that worked for my schedule, and rebooking it would have cost $250 more than I had originally paid. I called Southwest and they said it was their policy, and they would not be able to rebook my canceled flight for the original price or switch it with the other flight I still had earlier in the day. In the end I had to cancel the second flight too, but thankfully I still got to see my husband by booking a Spirit flight for $50 more than what I had paid on Southwest.

Lesson learned: even though Southwest’s policy does not prevent you from making a reservation, you shouldn’t book two tickets from the same origin city on the same day — it’s not worth the risk!

When Southwest switched to its new reservation system last spring, the transition had several consequences beyond more efficient schedules. One was that refundable fares became non-refundable after being modified, which turned out to be an error that was recently corrected. Another was that passengers with duplicate bookings (such as conflicting itineraries or multiple departures from the same city in one day) found one of those bookings would be canceled automatically as Mina’s was. Unlike the issue with refundable fares, these cancellations appear to be fully intentional.

Mina got one important point wrong: Southwest’s reservation system allows it, but booking duplicate flights is a violation of the airline’s contract of carriage. The terms (in section 2.a.2-iii-f) entitle Southwest to “cancel such reservations, or any other reservations that it believes, in its sole discretion, were made without intent to travel.” So while there’s nothing illegal about double booking when your schedule is uncertain, Southwest is within its rights to cancel your reservation(s) as it sees fit. If you’re already booked on another airline, however, you could still book a Southwest flight as a backup plan. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, but there should be no repercussions so long as you cancel in time.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Mina a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Garry Lopater via Unsplash

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