Southwest Fined for Playing Hard to Get With Valentine's Day Sale Fares

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D60579 Las Vegas, Nevada - Southwest Airlines planes on the ground at McCarran International Airport.
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Southwest (LUV) was hit with a $200,000 fine from the Department of Transportation for advertising low airfares that practically nobody could get.

Earlier this year, the airline ran its "Luv a Fare Sale," offering one-way tickets under $100 for travel on Valentine's Day. But the government said that the advertised prices were vanishingly difficult to get a hold of. For instance, on flights between Atlanta and Las Vegas, just 2 percent of seats could be had at that the advertised sale fare; between Minneapolis and Phoenix, just 1 percent of seats qualified.

Another sale held by Southwest in January advertised a $66 fare between the country music mecca of Branson, Mo. and Dallas, but the government found that Southwest didn't offer a single seat at that fare between the two airports.
Unfortunately for Southwest, federal rules hold that "failure to have a reasonable number of seats available at the advertised fare" is a violation of the law, and constitutes unfair and deceptive practices.

In it defense, Southwest argued that despite the low rates in certain city-pair markets, in total less than 10 percent of all routes advertised in the sale actually sold out. It also said that the nonexistent Branson-Dallas fare was due to a technical screw-up. Nevertheless, the Department of Transportation rules that the airline must pay $200,000 for its transgressions.

That's a slap on the wrist for Southwest, which last week reported $10 billion in revenue for the second quarter. But the ruling should be a reminder to travelers that fare sales aren't always as generous as they might appear. If you see a great limited-time fare out of your city, jump on it before the few seats the carrier has available at that price are sold out. And if the fare disappears suspiciously fast, consider sending a tip to the DOT that the airline might be up to something fishy.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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13 Comments

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btowngal

Well it is about time the airlines pay something for screwing the customers. Many airlines pull this crap maybe they will be fined or will stop raping the customer,, but I doubt it.

August 01 2013 at 12:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wuzzupall

"Technical Glitch" eh? some how miraculously these glitches never favor the passenger and they always make these scumbags more money.

August 01 2013 at 9:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
runswthscisors40

Southwest also won't let you sit where you want if you book your tickets through a 3rd party site......p ricks...........

August 01 2013 at 12:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to runswthscisors40's comment
runswthscisors40

10 billion made, 200K fine......why doesnt DOT send them to bed without any supper??........

August 01 2013 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to runswthscisors40's comment
Steve

Negative publicity is worth far more than the $200,000. It will cost the airline much more for their actions than the fine represents. Do you doubt it? Look at your own comments as proof!

August 01 2013 at 12:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Bill

Or with only airline food.

August 01 2013 at 10:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
teapotparty11

WELL AT LEAST THEY ALMOST GOT AWAY WITH IT. WHAT A CLEVER MARKETING IDEA TO OFFER ONE OR TWO SEATS AT THE SALES PRICE OR NONE AT ALL. THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO STAY OUT OF THE WAY OF BUSINESS SO THEY CAN DO THEIR JOB OF MAXIMIZING PROFITS FOR THE SHAREHOLDERS EVEN IF THE PRACTICE IS QUESTIONABLE. TO MUCH REGULATION ALREADY, THE BUSINESSES WILL POLICE THEMSELVES.

July 31 2013 at 9:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to teapotparty11's comment
btowngal

Wow you are either very rich or do not fly commercial your comments are not relivent to most of us. I hate being taken by airline or anyone and that is the way of america, are you proud?.

August 01 2013 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jrbailey225

Shame on Southwest Airlines.

July 31 2013 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jcduyal

Another such offender is Spirit Airlines. They also play games with the fee structure and final pricing.

July 31 2013 at 7:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jcduyal's comment
garryangel

Don't be so niave ... All the aitlines play that game, however, there is plenty of competition, and much to choose from.

August 01 2013 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RouteUS66Busload

"Play Hard to Get" always lose.

July 31 2013 at 5:07 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Dave

So, the gov't is going to get 200k for doing basically its job? If they felt it wasn't "fair" to those who wished to purchase tix why not give the money to those people?

July 31 2013 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply