I have read a lot of horror stories about Spirit on this forum and here goes one more. My brother-in-law hasn't even had the flight yet but here's what happened to him (as referenced in a letter to the CEO of Spirit):
Let me preface this email with a little back round of who I am and the unfortunate situation that I encountered last night (12/15/08). I fly to various locations mostly for vacations, not normally for business. I fly on average once or twice a year and usually fly with only my wife. I, like most non-business travelers, tend to fly the cheapest flight available. This being said, I put more emphasis on the flight time and the number of connections than I do the price. I want to fly when I want to fly without changing plans, and I will pay for it.
Unfortunately, as everyone knows, the economy has taken a turn for the worse and services which used to be included in one low price no longer can be. I understand this. I am, at heart, a pure capitalist. I believe that a company has the right to charge whatever they want for what ever service they want and it is up to the consumer to decide if they want to purchase the product at that price. I also believe that all “HIDDEN FEES” should be disclosed before a purchase is made. Let me define the term “HIDDEN FEES” as it is used by the average consumer. The term “HIDDEN FEES” means any fee, “service”, tax (other than sales tax), or any additional cost added to the price advertised by the selling agent, in this case Spirit Airlines.
Now the realist in me will say his part. I know that there are fees, taxes, and or services that are standard to the airline industry. Some examples of these are the 911 tax, booking fees, in some cases credit card fees, and in this day and age even checked bag fees. As I said earlier, I believe that a company has the right to charge for what ever they want.
Now, the unfortunate experience had last night. My wife and I are planning on taking a family trip to Disney World in March. The whole family is taking her Grandmother for her 75th birthday. This is 9 fares at 229 dollars per passenger for a total of $2,061. This is the “Base Fare”. I also expected 15 dollars for the first checked bag for each passenger, no problem. This 229 round trip fare was the same as Southwest airlines which does not charge for checked bags, but we wanted to fly at an earlier time so we decided to fly with Spirit Air.
At this point the experience goes down hill. After I choose the flights that I wanted the website asked for a credit card. I fill out the payment info and click “continue”. I fully expected to pay for baggage but just figured that this fee would be applied at the airport when the bag was checked, not the case. Great!! I can pay up front, which I did. After I clicked “Continue” once again I was brought to a screen to pick my seats, great “where does everyone want to sit”, as I begin picking seats I see charges accruing at that bottom. Wait a second!!! What are these charges? I wasn’t told that I had to pay extra for assigned seats. I didn’t know that it was going to cost me on average 9 dollars more per flight.
Like I said earlier, you can charge what ever you want; it is up to me to buy it. At this point I decided that the extra fees were getting too much and I need to rethink flying Spirit Air. Nope, too late!!!! At this point my blackberry rings with a confirmation email that my credit card has already been charged. Wait, how is that possible, I am still in the process of picking my flights? My wife immediately gets on the phone with customer service.
Now it starts to get good (that’s sarcasm). The representative that she speaks to said that there is nothing that can be done. “Non-Refundable” tickets were purchased and the only thing that he was able to do “as a courtesy” would be cancel the flight with a 90 dollar cancellation fee. This fee would total 810 dollars. Keep in mind I am still logged on the website and a total of 10 minutes has passed from when I picked my flights. My wife finally escalates the situation to a “Floor Manager”. Her name is Ashley Miller. I spoke to Ms.Miller directly and she told me that the best that could happen would is she could give me a “Credit Shell” for all the passengers that could be used at any time within the next year. First of all, what is a “Credit Shell”? “No, I was not informed of the true cost and all fees before I made the purchase, I just want my charge to be cancelled.” Now, we are a whole 20 min from when the flights were picked. I let her know about the timing of the situation and was told, once again that “Non-Refundable” tickets were purchased.
Ok, I understand the term “Non-Refundable”. I did not purchase these tickets months, weeks, days, or even hours before. We are talking about 10 minutes. There is no way you cannot tell me you cannot refund my money and have just a good a chance in reselling those seats. So, I ask Ms. Miller who her boss was. She told me “I don’t have a direct boss.” Oh, I didn’t know I was speaking to the CEO. She then proceeded to tell me that she reports directly to “Spirit Air Corporate”. Good, “Who, and how can I get in touch with them?” She then tells me that she does not have a name, telephone number, or email address. All she has is a mailing address. At this point I know she is lying to me, What great customer service!!! (more sarcasm).
After taking all the information that would be given to me, I “Googled” the address and came up with a corporate phone number in less than one minute. This phone did one of two things each time I called it. Either I got hung up on, or sent back to India. After a little more research on the internet I came up with your email address. And this is where we stand. All I wanted was to back out of a purchase that I didn’t even know I had made.
Mr. Baldanza, I have read all the blogs and reports about your airline. We both know that you do not need any more bad press. As I write this letter to you I honestly do not expect a reply especially after reading how you decided to handle another customer situation.
I am giving you the opportunity to do the right thing. I am giving you the opportunity to refund the 2,101 dollars that was billed to my credit card. Since I do not expect a response to this letter Thursday morning I am planning on posting this letter on every blog that I can find. Sending it to every news organization, the Better Business Bureau, the FCC, The HTSB, my Federal Representative, my Senator, my Governor, all the way to the President if I have to. I will send this to any one and every one that will listen. I will update the status of the situation every week. But, on the other hand, if this situation is resolved in a timely manner, I will go out of my way to dispel the rumors of poor customer service. I will share with everyone just how my situation was handled, promptly and properly.
AND HERE WAS THEIR RESPONSE:
Thank you for your letter to our President and Chief Executive Officer. We read and research all correspondence and use both positive and negative situations to improve our service and develop training.
Let me apologize for any inconveniences you may have encounter with our reservation call center, your concern will also be shared with our Director of reservations for training purposes. We understand the importance of having accurate information concerning all of our policies which are illustrated on our web site, spiritair.com, for review prior to making a reservation. For the latest information, we recommend that you log onto our web site, spiritair.com; click on "Travel Tools", then " Travel Policies", which is updated regularly to keep our valued customers informed.
Regarding our new baggage and pre-assign seat fees, Spirit Airlines has chosen to keep our airfares at an all time low. We believe our customers will gain more by purchasing Spirit Airlines low fares and lose less by paying a service charge for checked luggage as well as for seats.
All passengers are welcome to wait until their travel dates to select a seat and receive a Boarding Pass without charge at our airport ticket counter or using our kiosk, where available. A variety of seats are available for assignment at the airport within the 40% that are held for customers at check-in.
I apologize if you feel that the services given were less than satisfactory; however our employees must uphold the terms and conditions you agreed to upon booking. Because of this, we are not able to uphold your request for a refund of your non-refundable ticket.
Thank you for contacting Spirit Airlines.
Corporate Consumer Relations
Ultra-low-cost airline Spirit will likely have the cheapest base fares on any route it flies, but the carrier's pre-flight and onboard penny-pinching may cut into those savings. Here's what to expect (and how to make sure you're getting the best prices for your route) when flying with Spirit.
$9 Fare Club Actually Costs $60
The cheapest fares available via Spirit's airfare promotions are exclusively for members of the airline's $9 Fare Club. The Fare Club gives access not only to cheaper fares but also reduced bag fees.
But hold on to your wallet, because membership to Spirit's famed $9 Fare Club actually costs $59.95 for the first year. A 60-day trial membership (which once cost $9, hence the outdated name) goes for $19.95—and unless Spirit receives a written cancellation notice, it automatically rolls over into an annual membership.
Here's another stinger: Trial memberships may only be purchased with airfare and aren't valid until the next reservation.
Be forewarned that annual membership renewals cost $69.95, carry over annually unless canceled before the expiration date, and are nonrefundable after they've been charged.
Still, despite all of the dodgy bait-and-switch pricing, plus the fact that you can't access the members-only fares until after the initial reservation, the program may still be worthwhile for frequent travelers who fly through Spirit's hubs, in particular Ft. Lauderdale, its main hub.
Related:9 Free Travel Deals That Aren't Really Free
Carry-Ons Will Cost You
Heft won't be the only hardship you experience when you bring a carry-on bag aboard a Spirit flight. Depending on your affiliation with Spirit's Fare Club program, you can either be outright robbed or simply gouged—either way, you're paying for your carry-on.
Fare Club members pay between $26 and $100 to bring a carry-on bag onboard; the $26 rate applies when members select the option during the booking stage. A $36 rate applies to members who select the option during online check-in. It costs $50 for members who wait until check-in at the airport to declare a carry-on bag. And it'll set everyone back (members and nonmembers alike) a whopping $100 to declare any bag at the gate—even if it's a carry-on.
Nonmembers are subjected to a $35, $45, or $50 fee for every bag they bring into the cabin. Again, it's cheapest when you select the option during the flight-booking process, mid-range during online check-in, and costliest at the airport reservation desk.
Checking bags won't save the wallet either: Fare Club members and nonmembers alike pay $45 for the first bag if they select the option at the airport reservation desk, and as much as $100 each for bags three through five. In comparison, most other airlines permit one free carry-on and average about $25 for the first checked bag. (Check out our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees for more details.)
Related:8 Carry-on Packing Tips That Will Change How You Travel
There's Only One Way to Avoid Bag Fees
The cheapest checked-bag option is to declare a single bag when booking your flight as a member of the Fare Club. That will cost you "just" $21. The absolute only way to avoid bag fees altogether, however, is to pack a single personal item such as a small backpack or purse with dimensions smaller than the seat in front of you (16 x 14 x 12 or smaller).
If you must travel with more luggage, add up Spirit's cheap airfare plus its bag fees and use that total to compare to other airlines. (Keep in mind that Southwest, for example, will check up to two bags for free and doesn't charge for carry-ons.)
Related:1 Easy Way to Fit It All in a Carry-on
Seat Assignments Cost as Much as $199
Here's how Spirit's clever marketing team disguises the obscene idea of charging for seat selections: "If you don't select a seat, we'll assign random seats at check-in for free, but we can't guarantee that you will get to sit with your friends or family." Select to sit next to a companion (child, spouse, anyone) and it'll cost $1 to $50.
Wider seats with extra legroom cost from $12 to $199 in advance and from $25 to $75 for onboard upgrades, depending on the flight's length.
Related:When Spending a Little More Is a Good Idea
Frequent-Flyer Miles Expire Quickly
Spirit's use 'em or lose 'em policy puts on quite the pressure. Members of Spirit's Free Spirit loyalty program have 90 days after accrual to redeem their miles, otherwise it's bye-bye, miles. Card-carrying members, who pay an annual rate of $59 for a Spirit Airlines World MasterCard, are exempt from the three-month expiration rule.
Related:The Sneaky Way Airlines Are Raising Fares
Drinks and Snacks Will Cost You, Too
Spirit is proud of its "ultra-low Bare Fares that get you from A to B" concept. They're not exaggerating about bare fares, either—expect no cup of water, no pretzels, no peanuts with your flight. At least the use of the lavatory is still free. For now.
Related:10 Things You Should Never Say to a Flight Attendant
No In-Flight Entertainment
There's nothing. No seatback monitor, nothing. Good thing we're in an age where all the entertainment you need fits in a bag.
Related:9 Things Not to Wear on a Plane
Read the original story: What You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines by Patricia Magaña, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.
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