Flying High, and Related Fees

I ended 2022 as one of the Southwest Airlines refugees, stranded due to flight cancellations over the holidays.

Of course, there are worse places to be stranded than Central California – this was before the torrential rain, floods and mudslides – so I can’t really complain about being there an extra week.

When I finally got home, I filed my claim promptly for refunds for the extra hotel and flight expenses incurred – that process went fairly smoothly.

And then I got the email message from Southwest, letting me know I can claim my refund.

This involves working with Hyperwallet, the company the airline has apparently contracted to handle the payouts. The company bills itself as “Your Global Payout Solution.” It’s part of PayPal, and its website encourages companies to “Benefit from the Power of Full Stack Payout Capabilities.” Whatever what means.

For an individual like myself, gaining access to this one-time payment involved agreeing to 38 pages of Terms and Conditions, and a 19-page Privacy Policy, as well as providing my name, address, birthdate, and miscellaneous other identifying information.

The Terms and Conditions document mentions “processing fees” several times, and says they can debit them from your account. I looked through the entire 38 pages and never found the possible amount of these fees, but it said they “will take effect immediately unless otherwise stated or as otherwise provided for in these Terms and Conditions.”

So, when I had the option of sending the funds directly to my bank account, I couldn’t see handing over that information, too. Instead, I opted for a paper check. Sure, it’ll take longer to arrive, and chances are fair that some amount will have been deducted for the fees – to a company I don’t intend to have a relationship with, that now knows more about me than I wanted to divulge.

I’ve been doing research into online fraud for an assignment. It seems to me that this type of transaction creates yet another vulnerability for the consumer on the receiving end. Months or years may pass before Hyperwallet gets hacked – as they all seem to, sooner or later – and by then, I might not even remember I’m in their system. I'm already getting email from PayPal, encouraging me to sign up for more of its services. It'll be going into my spam file.

So yes, I’ll get my Southwest Airlines refund. And while I’ll be grateful for it, the whole process is as unsettling as having thousands of flights cancelled in a single day.