Southwest Airlines revoked bonus points offered to Hawaii residents. Here’s how to get them back.
The arrival of Southwest Airlines in Hawaii was huge news, and the company seemed to be just as excited as Hawaii residents were over its new service to and within Hawaii. Even today, the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages proclaim, “Hawaii here we come.”
As exciting as lower fares to Hawaii were for people on the mainland, locals were especially happy to see Southwest challenge Hawaiian Airlines in the interisland travel market. And on this front, Southwest didn’t disappoint, with introductory one-way fares as low as $29 and discount fares as low as $49. “Thanks for having us, Hawaii,” Southwest says. “We’re showing our love with this sale.”
How did Hawaiian Airlines respond? As far as I can tell, the same week Southwest started service, Hawaiian Airlines massively raised their reward travel rates, requiring as much as three times as many frequent flier miles to book reward travel.
All is this to say that Southwest was already the talk of the town when word came of a special offer for Hawaii residents: join the airlines’ Rapid Rewards frequent fliers program, and get 5,000 free “bonus” points just for signing up.
Interestingly, the offer wasn’t published anywhere, instead apparently emailed to blogs like this one and this one. But it took off like wildfire on social media. Because of the airline’s concurrent Hawaii launch discounts, those 5,000 points were more than enough for a round-trip interisland flight. That made it a pretty powerful incentive to become a Rapid Rewards member.
And while it sounded too good to be true, people giddily reported getting their 5,000 points in their new Southwest Airlines accounts within a day or two. (People who were already members, however, were left disappointed.) When I got my 5,000 points, I frankly slobbered all over myself promoting the deal on Twitter and on Facebook.
Free points for free travel turned tons of skeptics into Southwest fans overnight. Even people loyal to Hawaiian Airlines couldn’t resist.
The flurry of posts eventually subsided, though, and I was probably among hundreds or thousands of Hawaii residents daydreaming of where they’d fly for their free flight. When Southwest announced that they would be adding service to Hilo, my travel plans were set.
Or so I thought.
Last week, I checked my Rapid Rewards account, looking to figure out exactly how many points it would take to get from HNL to ITO. But what I found was a points balance of zero, and on the recent activity page, a “customer service adjustment” on May 23 removing the bonus points I’d been awarded less than a month earlier.
A quick scan of Facebook found others had been making the same discovery. And they were not happy. Since Southwest Airlines had responded to my initial tweet of love, I decided to see if I could get answers about the take-back.
Meanwhile, a friend had received a message back from Southwest Airlines, indicating that they required proof of residency… a requirement that didn’t seem to be a part of the initial promotion:
“You can send documentation (i.e. a copy of your driver’s license, utility bill, etc.) to us by mail (Southwest Airlines-1CR; P.O. Box 36647; Dallas, TX, 75235) or by email Subject: Hawaii 5K Enrollment to SWACR@wnco.com.”
The consensus seemed to be that people were claiming the bonus miles fraudulently, prompting Southwest Airlines to cancel them for some, most, or all people who signed up to get them. And I say “some, most, or all” because I don’t know, and that’s because there was no notification from the company that the points had been removed, let alone that getting them back would require an extra step (and the disclosure of more personal information).
My Facebook post about the removed points got far more amplification than the one thanking Southwest for coming to Hawaii.
“I get trying to start off by making a good impression in Hawaii but they don’t realize that doing what they’re doing now will backfire big time,” wrote Andrew. Asked Ken: “Is their Hawaii-resident customer base so small that this somehow makes bean-counter sense to them? Airline miles are basically Monopoly money anyway, what would it really cost them to honor their commitment?”
On Twitter, I told the company, “Seeing a lot of backlash that should have been avoidable… I strongly suggest you get ahead of this firestorm and send notifications to everyone whose miles you’re revoked. You’re burning a lot of short-lived goodwill.”
“Please believe me when I say, we understand your frustration and have taken your feedback to heart,” Tayler replied.
“That’s nice and all, but are you going to send out any communication regarding this decision?” I asked. “Or is the hope that most people won’t even notice?”
The reply: “While I can’t speak to a proactive communication, any customers who see their points reduced from their account are welcome to contact us here on Twitter or Facebook so we can assist them the best we can.”
The bottom line?
If you signed up for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards to get 5,000 bonus points, you may have lost them, and to get them back, you have to contact them via mail, email, Twitter, or Facebook Messenger. (Facebook Messenger appears to be the fastest route.)
Perhaps it’s not a big deal, since the original promotion already seemed to rely on word of mouth, but from the limited metrics I have, there are far more people who were willing to believe Southwest Airlines acted in bad faith than there were people who believed they could get free points in the first place.
Fortunately, contacting Southwest on Facebook via Messenger was relatively painless, and my points were restored within a day. And by the way, the 5,000 bonus point offer is supposedly still available, through July 31, 2019. Just make sure you’re prepared to prove your Hawaii residency.