Did Southwest Airlines do enough for fare glitch victims?

It was a weekend that Maryrose Solis would rather forget.

On Friday, Aug. 3, she took advantage of a Southwest Airlines fare sale to book a round-trip ticket from Atlanta to San Diego for just $196, about half the regular fare. The discount airline was running a one-day sale to celebrate its 3 millionth Facebook fan.

Solis, who lives in Smyrna, Ga., wanted to visit her sister, who’s expecting a baby, and since she’s between jobs, money is a little tight. The Southwest ticket price met her budget.

But when she checked her credit card account a few hours later, she found more than $5,000 in charges from Southwest. A software hiccup had generated multiple bookings for her, maxing out her credit card. “It was a fiasco,” she says.

Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Thousands of other Southwest customers experienced the same billing glitch, with bargain-hunters being overbilled — in some instances dramatically so — for what they thought would be a fare deal.

In a statement on its Web site, Southwest admitted to “website performance issues” that triggered multiple unwanted reservations. “We realize that some customers were charged more than once for the same reservation and we want to ensure you that we have all hands on deck, actively working to process refunds for any duplicate charges incurred,” the airline promised.

Teresa Laraba, Southwest’s senior vice president for customer services, declined to say what exactly went wrong, describing it only as a “technological issue and challenge.”

“I’m glad to say, our teams worked hard to find and fix it within hours of this problem surfacing,” she told me.

This fare-sale foul-up and its eventual resolution raise several important questions for travelers who book their airline tickets online, particularly during times of peak demand. Chief among them: Is there a way to prevent an airline, or any business, from inadvertently billing your card until you’ve reached your credit limit? The short answer: No.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers like Solis are afforded some protection, but it’s an imperfect remedy. Solis has 60 days to report the incorrect billing, and her financial institution is required by law to acknowledge her dispute within 30 days and take action within three months. By then, the overcharge would have wreaked havoc on her finances.

Some payment systems offer additional safeguards. For example, MasterCard has what it calls a “zero liability” policy under which it agrees not to hold customers responsible for unauthorized transactions. “MasterCard provides issuers with the ability to address many cardholder disputes, including the ability to address duplicate billings,” company spokeswoman Robyn Cottelli says.

Financial institutions also deploy fraud-detection systems that might be tripped when a Web site tries to make repeated reservations, but banks are tight-lipped about what could trigger such action, which would render a credit card or debit card unusable. (My card stopped working last month because I committed the unpardonable sin of crossing a state line without first informing my bank.)

None of those safeguards helped Jill Atkinson, who paid $156 with her debit card for a half-price flight from Houston to Kansas City on Aug. 3. But her bank was considerate enough to send her a barrage of text messages, because the balance in her account had dropped below a certain threshold.

“I called Southwest first, and was told there was a three-hour wait just to speak to someone,” she told me. “I waited and waited and never spoke to anyone. So I called the bank. They said I would have to file a fraud claim — which is exactly what this is.”

By the time the dust had settled on her transactions, Southwest had charged her 15 times for the same ticket, for a total of $2,353.

The day after Southwest’s sale was supposed to be a quiet Saturday for me. I planned to drive from Chicago to the Wisconsin Dells with my family, with a stopover at the Mustard Festival in Middleton, Wis. But then readers like Atkinson and Solis started calling me, exasperated by having to wait in a long “hold” queue to get their billing errors fixed. I spent the afternoon with a hot dog in one hand and an iPhone in the other, advocating for passengers’ refunds.

Southwest says that it called in all its available employees, and they began to void each erroneous transaction manually. I contacted Southwest on behalf of Solis, Atkinson and several other passengers who had alerted me to the problem transactions, and by Saturday evening, all their money had been refunded. By Monday, the airline said, it had found every erroneous booking and was reversing the charges. It also agreed to pay any overdraft fees on debit card purchases and offered affected customers a $150 flight voucher.

But for Solis, it was too little, too late. She rebooked her flight to San Diego on Delta Air Lines, paying $100 more than the original sale price.

“I just didn’t feel confident with Southwest,” she says.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    I’m not sure what else Southwest could have done? It is regrettable they made the mistake to begin with, yes. It looks like they pulled out all the stops to make things right once they discovered the problem.

    Was this very disruptive to some people? Yes. But that’s more due to the nature of debit cards, and not anything specific to Southwest’s blunder. When you tie an easy-to-debit form of electronic payment direct to your checking account, you are open to such problems, by Southwest or anybody.

    I absolutely refuse to carry a debit card. Unless you have no ability whatsoever to obtain a credit card with a reasonable limit, there is ZERO reason to ever even possess, much less use, a debit card. If a credit card is subject to a glitch like this, or gets lost or stolen, usually the worst that happens is that it’s maxed out while you argue with the bank about THEIR money. If your debit card gets hit by something, you get to argue with the bank about YOUR money. In the meantime your mortgage is bouncing, your utilities are unpaid, you can’t buy groceries, etc.

    When it comes to the BANK’S money vs. YOUR money, which do you suppose receives more attention and care from the bank?

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I voted “no” because Southwest should have some kind of oversight in place to determine when their “technological issue and challenge” goes haywire. Having to wait 3 hours or more on the phone to speak to someone at Southwest just shows how unresponsive Southwest is to any sort of computer glitch. Couldn’t they have called more people into work just to answer the phone?
    Using a debit card is not the best way to purchase an airline ticket. But some folks may not have the option of using a credit card for whatever reason. If all your money disappeared out of your checking account because of this fiasco, you may not have had the money to buy food, gas, etc. And dealing with your bank, with the overdraft and non-sufficient funds’ charges, would be a nightmare.

  • jane4321

    I have to agree. I have never been able to understand why anyone would use a debit card. You have no protection at all, and the responsibility to fix these disasters is in your hands rather than the bank’s. If you are afraid to carry cash, then why not carry a real credit card? It seems to me that the risk of a debit card is even worse than that of losing cash. At least with cash, you can only be robbed of what happens to be in your wallet–not your entire bank account!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I would have been happier with a clear explanation of what went wrong and how Southwest plans to ensure it never happens again. Their vague explanation does little to assure me that this hiccup won’t repeat itself.

  • Fishplate

    Once they’ve called in every available employee, who do you suggest they call in?

    Sounds like it took a little over 24 hours to refund all the excess charges. That’s tough, but not unbearable.

  • S363

    First thing I wanted to comment on was the use of a debit card, but others beat me to it. Let me repeat, for emphasis: NEVER use a debit card for online purchases. The only reason I carry one is to occasionally get cash back with a purchase when I don’t want to pay outrageous ATM fees.

  • SoBeSparky

    This was an egregious mistake, one which should have had many safeguards from happening. I have never heard of any company the size of Southwest mistakenly charging up to the limits of its customers’ credit and debit cards.

    Southwest owes these people far more than a $150 voucher for the time, worry and simple aggravation. Southwest deserves to be seriously penalized for having such lax controls over many millions of their customers dollars.

    Come on. Done enough? I don’t think so. They deserve to be levied serious punitive damages above and beyond a $150 voucher. If a vendor mishandled $3,000, $5,000 or more of my money, why would I want to do business with them again?

  • severnwatcher

    Its important for some of the commentors to know that after Congress passed the CARD Act, banks were forced to contact customers and offer options for debit cards which included telling the bank whether or not you wanted them to pay (IE, advance monies to clear) overdraft transactions. Thus, you can call your bank and set it up so that transactions are not processed when there are no funds in the account. This will not prevent thieves and technical glitches from exhausing the monies in the account, but it will stop the payment of charges in excess of that, and NSF fees. On the whole, though, like the other posters, I would use a credit card, and not a debit card for such transaction, but I am aware that some consumers in our credit-strapped economic reality do not have access to ‘credit’ cards, other than logo branded debit cards that are accepted as such.
    And, I think that SW did a pretty good job af righting the mistake. Like Chris, though, I wonder what they will do to prevent futures instances. Unless a thorough explanation wold reveal other security features and expose them to fraud, I’m not sure they have adequately explained how they would avoid a repeat performance.

  • Rosered7033

    Chris, you seem to be forever “on call” for us, and I appreciate what you do! I talk about your columns so much my SO refers to you as “Saint Christopher”! Thanks for constantly coming to bat for us!

  • Cathy_Disqus

    I think SW did the best they could do in this situation. They are doing their best to repay their customers any extra expenses they incurred.

    I’m curious why the credit card companies’ fraud systems didn’t kick in and recognize the duplicate transactions though. My card has been declined when buying too many eBooks that have the same price from Amazon because they put through each charge separately.

  • Michael__K

    I wouldn’t buy a plane ticket with a debit card, but there are a few situations where possessing one can come in very handy (money orders, some gas stations, ATMs, some overseas merchants).

  • bodega3

    But for Solis, it was too little, too late. She rebooked her flight to San Diego on Delta Air Lines, paying $100 more than the original sale price.
    “I just didn’t feel confident with Southwest,” she says.
    This was a computer glitch on the ticketing, nothing to do with the flights. Too bad, as WN was on top of this immediately.

  • bodega3

    (My card stopped working last month because I committed the unpardonable sin of crossing a state line without first informing my bank.)
    Yes, notifiying them of your trip plans is an extra step, but since they are trying to help protect you, why the put down?

  • Raven_Altosk

    I still say SWA handled this with class.

    Had this been UA, we all would still be on hold with an outsourced call center while SMI/J and his friends sat around and laughed about a new “lavatory fee” or something.


  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    It could be that they discovered a software flaw that was a big vulnerability into their finance system. If that’s the case, the less said the better until they get it fixed. I’ve seen that happen several times where the company is terrified of a software vulnerabilty being exploited. You won’t find out about the details until after it is fixed.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    My husband and I got rid of our credit cards long ago and now use a pre-paid card to buy tickets online. The debit card is for daily life (or cash, we’re big proponents of cash) and online purchases DON’T use our debit card. One error like this one and our bank account is wiped out.

  • emanon256

    All joking aside, I have been trying to get both a fee from a paid upgrade where I was downgraded due to an equipment swap for over a month now; and a certificate back that I used to upgrade and never cleared the waitlist for 2 months now. I will soon be disputing the charge, not sure what I can do with the certificate. The so called “Premier Desk” has told me some wild stories so far. Like on the paid upgrade, I bought up from a Q fare, but was re-booked in Y when I was downgraded. Since Y costs more than Q, I owe them money, but their supervisor has allowed them to waive to fee for me. Last time I pay for an upgrade. Heck, WN sounds really good to me now, especially since they were on this problem and fixed it.

  • bodega3

    And when that prepaid credit is empty, don’t throw it out if you purchased tickets with it unitl well after you travel. The carrier needs to return any funds to the original card used.

  • Fishplate

    ” They deserve to be levied serious punitive damages above and beyond a
    $150 voucher. If a vendor mishandled $3,000, $5,000 or more of my
    money, why would I want to do business with them again?”

    There’s your punitive damages.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    “I would have been happier with a clear explanation of what went wrong
    and how Southwest plans to ensure it never happens again. Their vague
    explanation does little to assure me that this hiccup won’t repeat

    While I understand where you’re coming from, this isn’t as easy or practical as it sounds. There may be very good reasons for being tight-lipped about the reason for a technical software glitch. With all the hackers out there these days, TMI could give potential thieves the keys to the store (and a smart hacker doesn’t need a whole heck of a lot of information about a company’s IT system to cause trouble).

  • ExplorationTravMag

    It’s rechargeable… No throwing it out. We only have money on it when we know we’re doing a charge online and only put on it what’s needed.

  • SoBeSparky

    Get a new dictionary. Punitive damages: Damages awarded by a court against a defendant as a deterrent or punishment to redress an egregious wrong perpetrated by the defendant.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    Primarily because the banks have taken “for your protection” to a completely asinine, nonsensical, illogical level. B of A does this to me all the time. By their logic, if you took the PATH train from Manhattan to Newark and used your credit card there, they would put a fraud alert on the transaction because you crossed a state line without notifying them first. On the other hand, it’s 634 miles from Dallas to El Paso – but because I didn’t leave the state to get there, it doesn’t trigger anything.

    And to take the cake, I once even notified B of A that I was taking a road trip to Florida for a week. Once I got there, and started using my card, I kept getting repeated phone messages at my home (remember, I wasn’t home, so it’s not like I could check them) to “call immediately” to verify suspicious transactions – because my card was being used in Florida!! When I called to complain, I was basically told that “putting a travel notification on your card doesn’t really mean anything”. Needless to say, I’ve never used a B of A card on vacation since then.

  • bodega3

    That’s good. Many traveler’s don’t realize that when they use a credit card of any type to purchase an airline ticket, even a package through a tour company, that if a refund of some sort might come due, it has to go on the card that was used for the original purchase. I have had dealing with this with clients and it is a PITA.

  • Ann Lamoy

    I think SW handled this in the best way they could., Once the issue was identified, it was all hands on deck to get the erroneous charges reversed. In addition, they are covering any overdraft fees this caused and giving out a $150 voucher to all affected customers? (Chris-can you confirm that this voucher is for all customers and not just those that used debit cards) With all extra charges reversed within 24 hours, I think this was handled in the most expeditious manner possible.

    Many other companies would take more time to refund these excess charges, And they may not have offered to cover any overdraft fees to debit card customers either.

  • Fishplate

    Fine. As soon as you’ve proved it’s egregious and intentional or negligent, then we can talk damages.

  • JenniferFinger

    I think Southwest did do everything it could to straighten out the problem. Yes, I’m sure the telephone lines were tied up with thousands of customers demanding explanations and refunds. But they did whatever it took to get the bad charges reversed-even if it took some time.

  • JenniferFinger

    To answer your question about why people choose not to carry credit cards,

    1) Because credit cards have interest charges that revolve until you’re broke if you can’t pay them off.
    2) Because that affects one’s credit rating.
    3) Because other people, when they get hold of an account number, can use them to plunder one’s resources whether they are debit or credit card numbers or bank accounts without cards.
    4) Because whether debit or credit, people make mistakes and the accounts get charged improperly and it takes time to fix the problems.

    Those reasons are why some people prefer not to carry credit cards. And I think that at least in some cases, those are rational reasons (and I don’t care to carry that much cash myself). I use a debit card because sometimes I need to pay for things and an ATM or branch of my bank is not readily accessible, nor will the vendor accept a check.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sassie.byrdleonard Sassie Byrd-Leonard

    I did not use a debit card. In fact, I had bought a ticket just before the sale was announced, so I canceled it (you have 24 hours to do so) and requested a refund, then bought a new ticket at the sale price. I was only charged once for each ticket, got the refund on the canceled one, and recieved the e-mail and the $150 voucher. So I am pretty happy.

  • Charles Owen

    “1) Because credit cards have interest charges that revolve until you’re broke if you can’t pay them off.”

    We use credit cards for everything we possibly can and have not paid any interest in years. In fact, with the rewards, they are paying us to use the cards. You just have to pay off the balance every month, but you are comparing to debit cards, which take the money out right away, so you should be able to do this.

    “2) Because that affects one’s credit rating.”

    In a negative way only if you fail to pay your bills.

    “3) Because other people, when they get hold of an account number, can use them to plunder one’s resources whether they are debit or credit card numbers or bank accounts without cards.”

    Not with credit cards. My cards all have zero liability in the case of theft or fraud, so they will cost me nothing. Debit cards, on the other hand…

    “4) Because whether debit or credit, people make mistakes and the accounts get charged improperly and it takes time to fix the problems.”

    But, it’s a lot easier to handle a mistake that charges against against your credit limit than a mistake that cleans out your checking account so your mortgage payment bounces.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree. That’s just an invitation for some pimply faced kid to try to hack Southwest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow


    You misunderstand the nature and purpose of punitive damages. The mere fact that something bad happens is not a justification in itself for punitive damages. You generally need either a willful and malicious act, or a wanton and reckless disregard for the consequences of your actions. All we know is that that SW made a mistake. There is no evidence that this mistake was the result of any nefarious actions.

  • TonyA_says

    Jane and Michael,

    Those who bought with DEBIT cards did no wrong. Southwest DID wrong them.

  • SoBeSparky

    If falsely charging many millions of dollars is not wanton and reckless, what is? No other company has ever done this to this extent. (That by itself is the definition of egregious, extraordinary, glaring, flagrant.) There are many IT controls and systems to prevent this. There are large and successful businesses built on this type of financial security programming.

    Obviously, holding all the charge and debit card numbers, Southwest showed it had absolutely no control over security to prevent this. A court can decide if that is reckless and wanton. Seems quite plausible to me.

    I am not a lawyer, but i am certain Southwest will be hearing from expert lawyers. Thousands of customers were affected and the examples are in the $1,000s. So let’s say conservatively 5,000 people were suffered unauthorized charges of $5,000 each. That is $25 million in unauthorized charges.

    Every lawsuit starts with somebody’s mistake, either real or perceived. So calling it a mistake is no absolution. Companies every day must accept responsibility and pay damages for “mistakes.”

    Air France pilots made a mistake over the Atlantic Ocean. That does not remove the airline from financial liability, both compensatory, and perhaps punitive depending on circumstances of pilot training, aircraft controls and other issues.

    The question is, where were the system controls and fail-safe measures to prevent computers from repeatedly charging customers for nonexistent tickets? I can see hundreds of expert witnesses lining up right now, all well versed in systems to prevent this very “mistake.” Apparently, Southwest made a “mistake” in not hiring them, or if they did, not hiring a competent firm.

    If like many Americans, about 1,000 of the wrongly charged customers also have their homes in foreclosure or are behind in payments, then what happens to their already shaky credit? Credit rating agencies are notorious in quickly applying information to an account and taking a very long time to remove it. What are the personal ramifications to the credit and debit card holders? What anguish and stress will many suffer from this “mistake?”

    I can see the effects on credit for years in the future. Countless letters and legal objections to credit rating notations. All because of a “mistake.” Mistakes have consequences. If Southwest thinks a flight voucher for $150 is going to solve this, they are eating magic mushrooms, the same meal their computer programmers or contractors were eating..

  • Cybrsk8r

    Southwest’s failure occurred BEFORE the fact. Their failure was in putting an offer out there that they should have known would slam their computer systems like never before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Unlike you I am an experienced attorney focusing on business transactions and business litigation. I make no moral judgment about the situation, only a dispassionate legal analysis.

    Unfortunately, your understanding of punitive damages and law in general remains incorrect. You are looking primarily at the outcome of the error. That’s not the main legal issue. Its not the erroneous charging of millions that is dispositive but rather what lapses allowed the erroneous charges to happen. Did SW use industry standard computer systems, was SW was warned that it computer systems were vulnerable and inadequate for processing credit card payments? These are the types of inquiries that are relevant.

    Unless an attorney can allege with specificity that SW failed to take reasonable steps to maintain the integrity of its payment processing, a claim for punitive damages won’t get past the pleading stages.

    There are also a host of other problems with trying to get punitives from SW. Of course, some bottom feeder attorney may try to extort some money from SW, but again, that’s PR.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Excellent points were made in your post.

  • flutiefan

    exactly. what did a computer glitch have to do with feeling “confident” about the flight? and the fact that it was fixed so quickly should bolster her confidence. smh.

  • flutiefan

    agree with the others. who really cares why it happened. it happened, they figured it out, and fixed it within a day. kudos to them for being on top of it when it was discovered.

  • flutiefan

    boo hoo. they got their money back. they got all the fees refunded. they got a bonus $150 credit. these people are out NOTHING. they had a day of headaches, that’s all. and those headaches were fixed asap.
    with people being shot in movie theaters, is this really that big of a deal?

  • flutiefan

    so let me get this straight:
    ~everyone affected got back their money in a day.
    ~everyone affected was reimbursed for any bank fees.
    ~everyone affected was given a bonus $150 credit as a gesture of goodwill.

    what exactly more do you want? a $300 travel voucher?
    these people are out NOTHING. they had a day of headaches, sure. what a pain in the @$$. but it was all remedied and taken care of and they were given an additional $150 to say “we’re sorry”. people were on top of this problem as soon as it was discovered. not good enough?

    people are being shot in movie theaters, for pete’s sake. let this go.

  • sirwired

    1) If you TREAT a credit card like a debit card, there are no interest charges, as you’ll be paying it off in full every month. I haven’t paid a dime of interest in 13 years, despite running thousands a month through my cards. (And I even get 5% back on Gas/Groceries and 1.25% back on everything else… so I’m actually making money vs. cash or checks.)
    2) I suppose it can affect your credit rating; but having one or two cards that you pay off in full every month can only help it. A whole wallet of maxed-out cards is bad, but not a couple used judiciously.
    3) If somebody gets a hold of your credit card number, they’ll be plundering the BANK’s resources, not yours. You, personally, won’t owe a single penny of it.
    4) Yes, that’s true, but when mistakes are made with a credit card, it’s the BANK’s money that is missing, not yours. That means your rent/mortgage can still be paid, your utility bills covered, you can still get groceries, etc.

    And as far as not wanting to carry cash goes? I can sympathize with that. That’s why I carry an ATM card. You can still get those from banks if you specifically request one. That gives you access to your cash (or merchants that don’t take credit cards), but you receive the protection of the PIN, since the card itself is a worthless piece of plastic without it.

  • sirwired

    But why use a debit card for those things? Why not simply use an ATM card instead? (You can still get an ATM card from most banks if you specifically request one.)

  • SoBeSparky

    Thank you for stating far more concisely what I have been trying to consistently assert since my first post on this subject:
    “Unless an attorney can allege with specificity that SW failed to take reasonable steps to maintain the integrity of its payment processing, a claim for punitive damages won’t get
    past the pleading stages.”

    I am just a simple layman who can recognize gross incompetence. I have alleged in every post that this mistake was egregious in its nature, and, being in the many millions of dollars of thousands of customers, on face value being serious enough to be reckless and wanton. Bottom line: By virtue of its unprecedented nature, this Southwest Airlines “mistake” could have been foreseen and prevented. Over 99.99% of businesses have successfully avoided such an outcome.

    If we take your approach, this becomes tantamount to establishing a new, lower threshold of competency on financial system security. Systems in the future will not necessarily be expected to prevent wiping out the bank accounts of customers. “Crap happens” will eventually be a valid excuse for cutting off credit and cash bank balances of thousands of customers. “Oh, a just a understandable mistake!”

    Rather than having computers establish higher levels of reliability and fail-safe security, we will have the new business legal defense that computers naturally result in mediocrity in financial systems.

  • SoBeSparky

    I reserve my response until you sit down one night and find out your bank account is $5,000 lighter and a mortgage payment is due the next day, or when you have $100 of groceries checked out at the store but your debit card is rejected. No cash, no valid debit card=deadbeat flutiefan, I guess.

    This is my money, and Southwest has no legal right to touch it, even for a few moments, without a valid transaction. Period. No exceptions, ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I appreciate your position, legally incorrect though it is. Despite my best efforts, you insist on focusing on the outcome, not the cause. You assume that the injury somehow gives us insight into the mental state of SW officials. It does not.

    Let me give you a real life albeit criminal law example. An old man drove into a Santa Monica Farmer’s Market killing 8 people. Initially, it appeared that no charges would be filed. The injury, 10 dead people and 63 hurt, tragic as it was, by itself didn’t justify punitive action against the driver. However, law enforcement later learned that the drive hadn’t attempted to brake, and showed a complete and callous indifference towards life, casually asked how many people he had hit; and stating, “If you saw me coming, why didn’t you get out of the way?” This evidence of his callousness justified criminal charges.

    If you are interested in better understand why your position is legally wrong, you may want to look up BAJI 3940-3949. The terms and what is required for a finding of punitive damages is explained fuller than in a simple dictionary.

    Similarly, as I previously stated, despite your strong desires, the law will not support a finding of willful and wanton by merely examining the result of the error, but will require an examination of specific underlying actions by Southwest and its officials.

    If you don’t like the law you are free to petition the government to change the law. I take no position regarding the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of the law, merely explaining how the law works under these circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t think you’ve really thought this through. If you have other sources of cash or credit available then it may not be a big deal. But if you do not, you might find yourself in a very bad position.

    I remember once being out of town and losing my ATM card on a Saturday night. It was more of an annoyance for me because I have credit cards and could still check into my hotel. But suppose I didn’t. What would I have done? Sleep in my rental car? How would I eat?

    Fortunately, even though the next day was Sunday, my bank had an open grocery story branch about 30 miles away so I was able to withdraw a few hundred dollars to tide me over until I got home.

  • http://thestockhome.com/ Josh S

    “Is there a way to prevent an airline, or any business, from inadvertently billing your card until you’ve reached your credit limit? The short answer: No.”

    Actually, there is. Some cards/issuing institutions offer one-time use/virtual cards that generate a credit card number. Once it’s used/authorized a single time, it cannot be charged again. I use them for every online transaction I make. Look it up to see if your credit card/issuer offers them.

  • Michael__K

    I’m pretty sure an ATM-only card (no MC, VI, etc. logo) will work only at ATM’s and not in the other situations I mentioned (e.g. money orders, gas stations, overseas merchants).

  • sirwired

    An ATM-only card will generally work at anything that has a PIN pad.

  • MarkKelling

    ATM-only cards without a network logo work perfectly at gas stations, grocery stores, practically everywhere the credit cards work. In fact, these cards were around and worked at those places long before the Visa MasterCard ones were invented. You just don’t have the option of signing for the purchase, you always have to use a PIN.

  • MarkKelling

    ” No other company has ever done this to this extent”

    Yes, they have. One major pre paid card issuer accidentally credited all of their card holders 22 BILLION dollars each. Why? Some new computer software was installed and a field that should have been filled with binary zeros ended up filled with spaces. The spaces were interpreted as a dollar value. This issue was also fixed within 24 hours.

    So, using your logic, should this company be fined and penalized? After all, if I looked at my pre paid card balance and saw a $22 BILLION available balance, I think I would possibly have a heart attack. Should I then be compensated for the anguish I suffered?

  • BMG4ME

    I was one of the victims. It was previous obvious that something was wrong when the system hang for a couple of minutes before giving an error, then when I tried again the same thing happened. I thought I had lost my chance but I started to see confirmation notices come into my inbox one by one until I had twenty. I posted a warning on their facebook page and also a tweet, just to make sure they knew what was happening. I called American Express and they said they would not allow multiple bookings like this to post. This was a lie. Although they did not show up for a few days, they did indeed show up, and I had to account for everyone one of these on my corporate expense account (since this was used for a business trip). Having said this, I would have been much more annoyed had I not got the $130 round trip that I was trying to get. I got through to Southwest after about 20 mins (probably helped that I am A list). Southwest cleared up the mess while I was on the phone although they would have done so anyway. They also gave me a $150 coupon. As a computer specialist I was able to see the funny side and actually laughed about it afterwards. I bear no grudge, these things happen and I hope they continue to make offers like this in the future.

  • BMG4ME

    Well said Charles

  • lorcha

    “I have never been able to understand why anyone would use a debit card.”

    People have their reasons, but most of them are misunderstandings of how credit and debit cards work. There are only three good reasons to use a debit card instead of a credit card:
    1. Ineligible for a credit card (poor/no credit, here on a temporary visa, etc.)
    2. Inability to resist buying things that the cardholder cannot afford. If you are the type to spend more money than you have, it’s better to limit your access to credit and stick with a debit card. It’ll cut you off when you lack the self-control to cut yourself off.
    3. If the debit card provides superior rewards to what your credit card would provide. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen for special promotions, to avoid a minimum balance fee, etc.

  • lorcha

    “Yes, notifiying them of your trip plans is an extra step, but since they are trying to help protect you, why the put down?”

    They’re trying to protect themselves, not you. You are not responsible for unauthorized transactions on your account.

    And yes, the banks have gotten completely out of hand with cutting off people’s accounts. MBNA was in the habit of cutting me off once a month when I paid my kids’ daycare bill via credit card. I’d have to call in, and they’d tell me that my charge was out of character for me, so they cut me off. I’d tell them that I made the same transaction every month for 2 years, which is the very definition of in-character, and that they were really irritating me by cutting me off each month. I eventually told them that I would close my account if they ever cut me off due to the daycare charge again. Wouldn’t you know it, the very next month they cut me off. So I cut them off.

  • Karen Freeman

    It is worth noting that using a credit card every month, even if you pay it off, CAN negatively affect your credit. For example, if you run up a $2,000 bill on a card with a $2,500 limit, even if it’s paid off every month when the bill comes in, on the last day of your billing cycle it’s reported to the credit agencies that you’re using 80% of your available credit. I don’t disagree with your main points on credit card use, but this is one of the pitfalls. It can be avoiding by making your payment prior to the last day of your billing cycle, at which time you’re reported to the credit agencies as having a zero balance.

  • Ben

    Computer glitches has put companies out of business in matter of seconds over at wall street where fraction of a second could make all the difference…

    All that is reversible and that makes my heart beat less frantically. That’s all that counts..