Southwest Airlines Bullies Websites That Try to Help Passengers

Southwest Airlines is customer-friendly in many ways, from no change fees to not hitting customers with checked bag fees. Their employees are friendly and actually seem to like their jobs.

There’s really just one part of the company that seems to hate people, and that’s legal. They’ve been more aggressive than most airlines in going after websites that pull data from and make it more useful to customers.

You can’t check your Rapid Rewards balance with AwardWallet or similar account aggregator sites. Services that set up to automatically check you in 24 hours before your flight to ensure a better boarding position without having to remember to be by your computer have been shut down.

It’s understandable why Southwest wouldn’t want services helping people get a better boarding position, since one of the things they do upsell on is $15 to automatically check you in themselves. They want a monopoly on that service.

Southwest – for the most part – doesn’t pay to have their schedules and fares distributed through third party services. They sell most of their tickets on their own website, and indeed the airline was one of the first companies in the world years ago to cross over a billion dollars in e-commerce sales.

Since Southwest doesn’t have change fees, if there’s a drop in fare you can rebook and save. Airlines like United used to issue you vouchers when fares fell, now you’d have to incur a $200 change fee to take advantage of that. But it’s much more viable with Southwest. And in their revenue-based program if the price of a ticket falls, you can rebook an award and get points back too.

So in the fall a website set up to automate that tracking – The business model was to charge customers $3 if they saved at least $10.

And as I predicted at the time, Southwest got the site shut down and it took only about two weeks.

In the couple weeks that we were on-line, we were able to save customers more than 43,000 points and $550 dollars, and have made $45

Now both sides are suing each other. Southwest is claiming “violation of its trademarks, computer fraud and breach of contract for violating the terms and conditions of its website.” The website is seeking to affirm in court that they did not violate any trademarks, there’s certainly no sense in which customers would confuse their site for Southwest.

Laws in the US have gone way too far in protecting and enforcing company website terms and conditions, given that I’d expect Southwest to prevail with their claim that they do not authorize a third party to access their website for this purpose (without delving into the details of what the site was doing, and what those terms actually say). But I hardly think that’s the right result. They offer a website and make it publicly available for free. They publish information about their flights on that site. Taking that information and using it shouldn’t be against the law just because a company doesn’t like how it’s being used.

“The smooth and secure operation of is a key part of our customer service experience, so we restrict the use of automated scraping tools on,” the Dallas-based carrier said in a statement. “After repeated attempts to resolve issues with the Southwest Monkey website, Southwest is now pursuing claims associated with violations of our website terms and the unauthorized use of our trademarks.”

Perhaps there ought to be limits on bots, said to represent a quarter of all traffic on the internet. There’s almost no chance that traffic from had a material affect on Southwest’s servers.

Southwest says their data is proprietary, and that may be true until they publish it for the world to see on the internet.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I disagree. While I would love to be able to use these sites to save money while flying Southwest, I completely understand why Southwest would want to capture that money for themselves and not allow unauthorized third parties to use their business to be their own cash cow. It is their business, after all. I am not at all offended that the law protects Southwest from putting these freeloaders out of business.

    Putting the freeloaders out of business might actually benefit me as a customer as well. If SWMonkey were allowed to operate, there would be a huge incentive for WN to eliminate their policy of allowing ticket holders to change their tickets for lower fares. Because if the system was automated, many more tickets would be changed. I would submit that, as a thought leader in travel, you might want to think more about these unintended consequences.

  2. This is nothing new. Has been going on for years and years.

    If guys like this were allowed free reign, WN would stop allowing us to refare/cancel for free. In short order. Which would cost me and like-minded people a TON of money.

    If everyone subscribed to a service like this, who knows how many millions of non-revenue hits on its website WN would have to endure and pay for every day?

    I got no problem with what they did.

  3. Hasn’t the average joe realized yet that only trump and their unethical one percenter friends are allowed the entitlement of being freeloaders in this country.

    To make things worse, there are the stupid, uneducated trump deplorable and hillbilly imbeciles that advocate against their own self interests and support ideas that only benefit the one percenters.


  4. When benefits are too easy to reap, companies cut them. Every member of a frequent flyer program should know this by now. Slowing or blocking the bots is therefore friendly to everyone willing to take the time to check for a better deal.

  5. Two thoughts:

    1. WN would have to prove that they were accessing the site in an automated manner. It’s entirely possible that they were checking prices by hand at the beginning and were not actually afoul of WN’s terms and conditions.

    2. I can’t remember 100%, but I think when they first launched, they did have WN’s logo on their site which could give customers the false impression that they were somehow endorsed by WN, or at least that’s what IP attorneys typically say, hence it’s a big no-no. They may have some legal exposure there if WN’s lawyers have screenshots of their logo on

    My prediction is that the result is that both sides end up dropping their respective lawsuits, but it will be interesting to see how things progress. I always like to root for the underdog. 🙂

  6. When the idiots block legit sites like Expedia and Google from even listing their prices so we can compare, it comes back to bite them when their website goes down and there’s no way to book anywhere else without waiting on the phone for an hour before Lee Ann in Dallas twangs at ya.

    Google will likely have the final say about this as they are already linking into the date and flight searches but just don’t give the prices…..yet. Let Southwest try to say No to Google for long and watch them start being erased from the internet.

    Notice how everything anti-consumer is always from the bloated Trumpanzees. Has there ever been a more pathetic lot of blubbery facist rednecks too stupid to know a conman when he’s obvious to the entire world. The world had just realized we had the 30% stupidest people on the planet after Bush, started teaching it in their schools, and now this. These hideous slugs have ruined the US reputation in the world permanently now, have zero place in the modern world so they just want to blow it up.

  7. If it’s a choice between allowing these third party websites to scrape information or Southwest keeping its ticket change policies, I’m for the latter. I don’t know the legalities, and I’m sure the courts will sort them out, but I can see why Southwest wouldn’t be excited about a site that causes their customers to spend less.

  8. I can’t comment on the legal side of things because I don’t have expertise in that area, but I think we’re reaching an inflection point in our society with technology. People have assumed that “freedom” means the ability to do anything you wish with anything and anyone, from nasty twitter comments that essentially rise to defamation/libel to taking a company’s product data and using it for your own commercialization.

    To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is, because it gets messy. However, I will say that I’m tired of those who defend every random person who wants to exploit the masses for his/her own personal gain. If SW owns the data, SW should be able to do what it wants with it without some hacker type coming along and monetizing the situation.

    Here’s the thing: SW has been winning the game exactly because they’ve treated customers right. Their approach has been to give customers better service and more flexibility, assuming that people will be loyal if the product is better. They’ve been right. Every year I fly Delta less and SW more, because Delta always finds a new way to sneak in cost or devalue benefits. Eventually, the free market will reward companies who take better approaches. If SW hoarding their pricing data is truly that bad for the consumer, they’ll feel the pain eventually.

    So, I suppose I’m sort of arguing for a bastardized version of both free market and regulation, but in this way: We need regulation that protects individual people from the ridiculously of the lawless internet. Let people (and companies) make their own decisions about what data they put out there about themselves, and what they choose to do with it. BUT, then let the market hold them accountable for those choices.

  9. Southwest is smart, capable, and treats their customers right.

    You don’t like it because you’re a typical selfish Glibertarian.

    Southwest is smart, capable, and treats their customers right.

    You are the opposite.

  10. VFTW doesn’t like the way SW lets customers change to lowers fares without a fee if fares change. How about the way AA, UA, DL and other carriers handle customers changing to lowers fares with no fee?

    Oh-that’s right. Never mind.

  11. Why should bot be regulated? You provide no reasons.

    And I thought you hated regulations. Or are you just a shill for big business who just hate regulations that are pro-citizens and restrict the way big corporations can abuse us?

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