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.