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Those $59 fares were too good to be true: Southwest Airlines fined for false advertising

Southwest Airlines
Southwest said it immediately pulled the ads when it realized its mistake. Southwest/Businessweek

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $200,000 fine against Southwest Airlines for violating federal rules on truthful advertising. Because it is a repeat offender, Southwest was fined an additional $100,000.

“DOT’s full-fare advertising rules were put into place to ensure that consumers are not deceived when they search for plane tickets,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.  “Consumers have rights, and DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.”

 “As soon as we became aware of our mistake, we pulled all incorrect advertisements off the air,” reads a statement from Southwest.

The incident in question occurred in October 2013 when Southwest ran television ads for $59 flights from Atlanta to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. As DOT investigators would discover, no such tickets were available.

“By advertising fares for which no seats were available at all, Southwest violated the full-fare advertising rule and engaged in prohibited unfair and deceptive practices,” the DOT said.

In a statement, Southwest said the $59 fares were incorrectly and accidently applied to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. “As soon as we became aware of our mistake, we pulled all incorrect advertisements off the air,” the statement reads.

In addition, Southwest said it honored the erroneous $59 fares when customers inquired about the lack of tickets available at that price to those locations.

This marks the second such violation by Southwest in one year. In February 2013, Southwest promoted $100 one-way tickets for a Valentine’s Day “Luv A Fare Sale.” The DOT requires that “a reasonable number of seats be available as advertised,” and officials determined that only between 1 and 2 percent of flights actually cost $100 at the time the ads ran.

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