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Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

Dallas, Texas
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Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

Last month I had to travel from DFW to NY with my daughter on a short notice. When I looked for tickets I found two Spirit tickets listed on Orbitz for $756 and they were the most economical choice. Never flown with Spirit before and I assumed it is a normal low-cost airline like Southwest or JetBlue and I went ahead and purchased the two tickets.

I checked the luggage fees a day before the trip and found it $45 for a 40 pounds bag. This got my attention since I usually pay $25 for a 50 pounds bag with the other airlines so I looked further on the airline website and I saw a page titled ‘optional’ fees. I checked those ‘optional’ fees and they had hidden costs for all the travel necessities that other airlines provide for free. At the airport counter they charge $50 for a ‘carry-on’, $5 for a ‘boarding pass’ (increased to $10 this month), $3 for water, and up to $199 to select ‘any’ seat where $199 is for a big front seat.

My excitement about the good deal started to fade and I realized my mistake for not researching this airline before the reservation. Out of curiosity I looked at the online company reviews even it won’t help me at this point. Even I don’t expect much from airline carriers but I was surprised by the enormous negative reviews and horror stories from former Spirit travelers. The most common story was passengers walk to the gate with a carry-on that fits in the overhead bin but they are asked to pay $100 fees for the carry-on (p.s. $100 is not a typo) in order to board. I also found out that the plane seats don’t recline and the legroom between seats is 28 inch; the shortest among all domestic airlines.

We found a workaround the cost which was to forget about the carry-on and each one of us takes one bag and check them in online 24-hours before the trip for $35/bag each way (cheaper than taking carry-on). We printed the boarding passes online and let the system pick whatever seats for us for free. This way we only added $140 to the $756 tickets totaling $896 which was not bad at all (or this we thought).

How little we knew that things wouldn’t work as planned. On the travel day we left home early enough but we had unexpected trouble on our way caused us to be late and accordingly the airline’s counter didn’t let us check-in. I didn’t miss a flight before so I hoped that they would charge me a penalty and fly us on their next available plane as it happened to several friends and family members in a similar situation. The agent told us that the first available flight was after two days and if we wanted to take that flight we would have to buy two new tickets to NY without any credit from Spirit. It wasn’t Spirit’s fault that we were late so I couldn’t complain.

However, we had hotel reservations and obligation to be in NY that day so I had to find two one-way tickets to NY at another airline. I explained that to Spirit agent and I let her know that we will return to Dallas on the scheduled Spirit return flight and asked whether this would be a problem and her answer was this should be ok. Then we found two seats at an AA flight leaving to NY after two hours, bought two one-way tickets, and got to NY on the same day.

While I was in the NY I logged in to Spirit web site 24-hours before the return flight to print the boarding passes but I didn’t find our reservation. I kept calling the Spirit until I succeeded to talk to a live person. The representative said that Spirit canceled our return trip because we didn’t get in the flight from Dallas and that this was the company policy. Never mind that this policy was not in their web site, never mind that I notified the agent in Dallas with our plan, and never mind that the airline didn’t make a phone call, send an email or make any other attempt to let us know that they will not let us on the plane so at least we could find another alternative.

The representative told me that the tickets were non-refundable and no voucher or credit will be offered even for the pre-paid luggage fees. I pointed out that it didn’t make sense that I paid for two seats that they won’t let me use and in the same time they refuse to give me any refund or credit. The only response I got was the standard “so sorry” and an offer for two seats after 4 days if I would purchase two new tickets with the current prices.

Well, I had to purchase another two one-way AA tickets for same-day flight from NY to Dallas. This was on the last day of the Spring break so the cost of a ticket was $894.

That day I filed a formal complaint with the department of Transportation (DOT) Consumer Protection. I am not sure whether Spirit formally violated any DOT regulation or not regarding the cancellation but looking at my bill online I saw some strange fees added; $33.98 passenger usage fee, $9 passenger facility fee, $3.72 Unintended Consequence of DOT regulations fees, $10 exchange fee, …etc. Never mind that the price I paid when I purchased the tickets from Orbitz was presented as “Total due, Taxes and fees included” so I am not sure if that price was a misrepresentation from Orbitz or from Spirit.

I learned an expensive lesson in not researching an airline that I never dealt with and assuming it will be the same as other reputable airlines. I told myself ‘well I got what I paid for’ but this was not even true. After adding fees of all the travel necessities, the tickets will be more expensive than other airlines tickets which offer a better quality flight. There was a pattern of deliberate deception and misleading the consumer. Why didn’t the agent of the outgoing trip mention anything about canceling the return trip especially that we asked her, and why the airline didn’t bother with a simple email notification about the cancellation? What happen to the prepaid bags fees for the outbound and inbound trips?

I recently learned that it is standard for airline carriers to cancel remaining legs if a passenger misses a segment of the flight. This may be a common knowledge for frequent flyers but most people don’t know this fact. I purchased this trip as e-tickets from online travel site, Orbitz in this case, and there was no mention of such a policy or condition. The airline may be within its right to do so but does it have any obligation to refund the customers or credit them for the unused segments? Does it have any obligation to at least notify the passengers of the cancellation? Do the passengers have any right to use the remaining legs if they notify the airline personnel in advance? Just wondering.

Sorry about the long post but I hope by sharing my story to save somebody else from getting into a difficult situation away from home.

Vancouver, Canada
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for London
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1. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

An unfortunate situation in a few respects: not having checked the optional fees page at Spirit's website before booking, and missing the check in time at DFW on departure day.

Thank you, though, for taking the time to give details of your experience, to tell the story in an uncomplicated way, and for having used paragraphs.

To details. The 'strange fees added' should have been built in to the base fare for the flight. The breakdown of the fees and extras can often be found at http://matrix.itasoftware.com Make a dummy booking for a flight, and you will find a detailed description of the fare structure, including Transportation Tax, Security Fee, Facility Fee and more. Small amounts, but they add up.

Most airlines which charge fees for checked bags make it clear that the fees won't be refunded if a sector isn't flown or a bag paid for is not checked. I think it's a bit of a swizz, but the information is clear at the airines' websites, so it's a bit of a buyer beware matter.

It is very much the standard for subsequent sectors to be cancelled if one sector is missed. Most / all airlines' Conditions of Carriage indicate that coupons (terminology left over from the days of paper tickets) must be used in the order they are sold, and if they are not the airline retains the right to cancel remaining sectors.

Some - stress that word - airlines may be able to offer the value of an unused sector for future booking, plus an additional rebooking fee. Spirit is an ultra low cost carrier, and to that end their fare rules are strict about the value of an unused ticket (usually zero, unless they sell flexible or semi flexible fares).

If the agent at DFW knew the rules and told you an untruth about your return flight, that's a matter the airline needs to address. If there would have been a way for you to use the return sector and the agent couldn't be @rsed to ensure you could, that's another thing the airline should consider, as you did ask specifically about the return rather than make an assumption.

Overall an expensive lesson and one you likely would rather have not learnt, but ideally one you will not meet again. Better luck next time!

Portland, Oregon
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for Air Travel
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2. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

ah_dallas,

You have my utmost respect for posting this.

You have basically encountered everything that can go wrong with booking flights because they're **cheap** and then suffered the consequences. And learned the lessons of non-refundable tickets and the consequences of skipping legs.

And you've accepted those consequences and responsibilities with good grace. No rant, you got things wrong and you've learned a (expensive) lesson, and are sharing it. Those of us in the know will say this is nothing new, but respect to you for a good informational post.

ps - This post bookmarked to bring up as an answer to the usual ranters who just want tea and sympathy and don't want to accept any responsibility for their actions.

London, United...
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29 reviews
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3. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

>>The airline may be within its right to do so but does it have any obligation to refund the customers or credit them for the unused segments? Does it have any obligation to at least notify the passengers of the cancellation? Do the passengers have any right to use the remaining legs if they notify the airline personnel in advance? Just wondering.<<

Effectively no, and for all three questions, Im sorry.

You do need to read the terms and conditions of the ticket you purchase, prior to purchase, and you would already know this. Just like most other things in life, assumptions are not really the way to go, as you have learned. When you agree to the T&Cs, then its really important you dont just tick the box as they covers scenarios like this, and of course, Im sorry, but have you read them yet?. If the answer was going to be yes to any, it would be specific to the airline and it would be detailed in the T&Cs normally.

My understanding is spirit is worse than many, I am pretty sure their T&Cs even let them cancel a flight and not give you your money back.

Next time, as you know, read the t&cs before purchase, and leave plenty of time to get to the airport.

The only come back you would have had, is if the agent said you could use the return flight, but of course, you would have had to ask for it to be turned to a single ticket at the time and have documentary evidence, which I am guessing you did not. Looks like the agent made an error but as you did not get it in writing, then I am doubtful you can take this further.

although this airline is poor, the errors were predominantly yours. Will others learn? I doubt it, because the people who tend to make these mistakes, are the ones who dont research first, prior to booking the cheapo ticket. So normally its after the fact, sadly enough.

UK
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4. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

ah_dallsa, yes, what the others said, thanks for not having a rant.

One other lesson to take from this, just book direct with the airline in future. So many assume its cheaper if you book through someone else (and why didnt you book originally direct on Spirits site ?) , usually it isn't once you add all the little extras and booking fees in. And even when it is, usually its only a handful of dollars cheaper which are often exchanged for a bucketful of hassle.

Edited: 11 April 2013, 11:16
NYC/Israel
Destination Expert
for Israel
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5. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

I too wanted to thank you for not ranting and accepting responsibility for your actions. It is a shame, that since you spoke with Spirit people in DFW and they knew you had unintentionally missed the outbound flight that there is no way they could have coded your return to not be cancelled. It is one thing when people play games to with round trip flights to save money, but they knew you weren't playing games.

While it isn't cash, at least try to take comfort from the compliments you are receiving on this page for the mature way you are handling this unfortunate occurrence.

Seattle, Washington
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6. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

Very well written post OP, and true, you did have your share of problems. When you purchase an airline ticket, you enter into a contract with that airline,and this contract is found on the airline's webpage, or you can simply google it. It's usually called something like the "Contract of Carriage". Most people don't bother to read what that contract is, and thus, are quite surprised when they find out the terms. Spirit's Contract of Carriage is here:

https:/…Contract_of_Carriage.pdf

In this, they clearly state check-in cut off times, which is 45 minutes before the flight for DFW (Section 1.3.3). The fees they charged you for everything are allowed, and aren't anything you can really complain to the DOT about, but I am wondering about this section of the Contract of Carriage: 3.3.1.

(a) Changes or cancellations to an itinerary may be made prior to departure for

a per customer service fee, plus any differential in airfare for the alternate

requested date(s) or flight(s) any difference in government taxes and fees, and,

with the exception of fees for carry-on bags and first and second checked bags,

any difference in carrier’s ancillary charges. Certain government taxes and Spirit

fees may be excluded from the residual value.

It appears you DID ask to make a change or cancellation to your trip and that this was before your departure, though I'm not sure. If so, your ticket could have been repriced for just the return and you wouldn't have lost the entire value. You would have had to pay the change fee, but it's better than losing the entire value of the ticket.

You may want to contact Spirit and point this out; that you did request a change as you wanted to use the return portion of your ticket. Good luck, and keep the extraneous details out of your request.

London, United...
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7. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

I'm not sure Gracie boo, I think you are misinterpreting it completely or have misunderstood what has happened.

Yes she could have cancelled / changed before departure. On a return trip, this would mean before departure of the first leg. She did not, she missed her outbound flight, and as per normal procedures, the return was immediately cancelled. Could she argue that departure was when wheels left Tarmac, I doubt it, she missed and forfeited the return at the 45 mins check in close time, when she did not show up and had not requested a change or cancellation.

If she had cancelled before the first leg, yes, of course, or if she had two seperate tickets, also yes. However the key point is this is one ticket, a return ticket and at no stage did she cancel or request a change before missing the flight, She missed the outbound flight. Then asked to keep the return. That's very different.

Edited: 11 April 2013, 15:57
Dallas, Texas
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for Boston, Orlando, Walt Disney World
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8. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

I really enjoyed your post and sorry you flew Spirit they charge you for everything,we fly to Dallas every year and fly JetBlue simply love that airline,i would never fly Spirit i take Amtrak first.

Seattle, Washington
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9. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

I wasn't there. Merely pointing out that OP may have an option. If she was at the counter before the flight left, she could have asked for a change. It's says "prior to departure", not "prior to the cut-off time for check-in". Unclear when OP actually showed up, as this information was not provided.

Also, I find it quite difficult that if Spirit itself cancels a flight, that they are not obligated to refund your money. I am sure that they have to.

Pennsylvania
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10. Re: Our NY Spirit airlines flight - an expensive lesson.

I'm a relatively infrequent flyer who anticipates flying more in the future.

I'm a little confused about what the lesson is in all this. Other than not missing the flight, what could this person have done differently? It looks to me like one glitch and the airline claims the right to cancel the entire trip and not refund the money. Given that jawdropping fact, what can one do to protect oneself? I am particularly concerned about the return trip cancellation. Would one way tickets have solved the problem? Do people now book one ways rather than round trips in case something goes wrong? Book each leg separately? But then you could run into problems by not booking through.

Is it even possible to avoid costly problems when flying these days?

Edited: 11 April 2013, 18:03