Is this enough compensation? Rescued from Spirit’s fare club, but still unhappy

Spirit Airlines’ “$9 Fare Club” is probably one of the most controversial legal travel clubs in the country. Scratch that. It is the most controversial travel club in the country.

The problem isn’t that customers are offered lower fares in exchange for joining the club ($59.95 a year) but that they’re automatically renewed, as per the club’s terms. That’s often a surprise, and it seems to be a scam, at least to some customers. Even scammier: Spirit is reluctant to refund the autorenewed $59.99, even though the customer no longer wants to be part of the club.

Rules, says Spirit, are rules.

Meet Judi Breinin, one of the club’s “victims.” Rather than narrating her story, I’ll just replay the correspondence between her and Spirit.

Here’s her first email to Spirit:

Last year I signed up for the $9 fare club, paid the fee and took my first flight.

It was disastrous. My luggage was lost and the delivery service trekked in mud and dirt into my mother’s home. Since that time I have not flown Spirit.

Imagine my shock when my bank notified me this morning that a charge of $59.95 posted to my account by Spirit. I never authorized this charge and I have instructed the bank to put this in dispute.

I am demanding a credit for this $59.95 debit to my account and an apology for its illegality and dishonesty. What you have done is tantamount to stealing.

And by the way, I have called and waited on the phone for 30 to 40 minutes – then sent to a calling center in India where they say how sorry they are and pass you on to another department, another agent and more and more waiting. What a sorry way to run an airline!

Related: In today’s edition of the smarter consumer, find out how to find any manager’s email address — guaranteed!

Here’s the form response from Spirit:

Thank you for contacting Spirit Airlines about your $9 Fare Club; I’m happy to assist you.

Our records reflect that your membership was not canceled prior to the expiration date, which is why you were automatically charged the annual $59.95 renewal fee. According to the terms and conditions of our $9 Fare Club, which you agreed to when you enrolled, annual fees are non-refundable.

Since I am bound by those conditions you agreed to, I am unable to provide a refund, however, I can issue a credit shell of $59.95 toward a future flight. Please advise, and I’ll be happy to proceed with the credit shell.

Thanks again for contacting Spirit Airlines.

Let me interrupt this little exchange to examine the auto-renew disclosure. It’s in a separate box at the bottom of the sign-up page in small type. You have to scroll down a screen to find it: “Paid memberships will continue and renew based on original membership terms, unless otherwise cancelled.”

That’s the wrong way to do it. Spirit should ask if you want to renew its fare club every year and only do so if specifically asked.

I asked Spirit to take another look at this case.

This is what Spirit sent to Breinin:

Thank you for contacting Spirit Airlines. I regret your disappointment with my response and appreciate the opportunity to address your complaints. Please let this message also serve as a response to your correspondence with travel writer Christopher Elliott, who recently contacted us on your behalf.

I reviewed your booking and I apologize for the inconvenience caused when your luggage was delayed. You received a voucher for $25 toward a future flight that expires on December 21, 2011, and we’d love the chance to serve you again.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer any flexibility regarding the $9 Fare Club renewal fee. It simply wouldn’t be fair to other customers who may have forgotten about the renewal and were correctly charged, as you were. Had you contacted us before August 10th, we would have gladly canceled your membership.

Ms. Breinin, in your response, you state that you never authorized the airline to debit your account for 2011; you allege that we “[stole]” from your account and that this was a “shoddy business dealing.”

I kindly invite you to view the Terms and Conditions you agreed to upon enrollment last year. They’re available online at: and in our “Help” section as well. For your convenience, I’ve cut and pasted portions that specifically address your statements.

In Section 3.5.: “One (1) year after Annual enrollment in the Club, and on each anniversary thereafter [August 10, 2011 in your case], Members will be automatically charged an annual fee of $59.95 for membership in the Club. Annual fees are non-refundable, notwithstanding Member’s cancellation of membership in the Club.”

In Section 3.6.: “Initial or renewal membership fees are subject to change by Spirit at any time without notice to the Member. Any increase in the annual membership fee will take effect upon renewal of a Member’s membership.”

In Section 3.7.: “A Member will not be entitled to any refund of any membership fees upon cancellation of membership in the Club.”

In Section 4.1:. “Memberships will automatically renew upon expiration if Member has not cancelled prior to their renewal date. The renewal charge will be assessed to any credit card on file. Spirit will attempt to, but is not obligated to, notify current Members at the email address provided in the Member’s profile prior to charging annual fees on any of Member’s credit card on file provided that Spirit shall not be responsible for any lost, misdirected, bounced, or late delivery of any email sent by Spirit.”

As you authorized Spirit Airlines to automatically renew your membership and debit your Visa card on file, you can see that this was not a dishonest transaction. Customers may cancel their memberships at any time by logging into their accounts and choosing the option to cancel, as you did at 1:26 p.m. on August 22nd.

Once more, as a courtesy, I’ll issue a reservation credit for $59.95 toward a future flight that you may combine with the aforementioned voucher; however, I cannot uphold your request for a refund.

Thank you for writing to Spirit Airlines.

Breinin says she never received the luggage voucher. Here’s her response to Spirit:

This is totally unacceptable. I didn’t sign on for a lifetime membership for the $9 club – just one year. This one flight to Boston cost me, to purchase seats and baggage more money than to fly JetBlue – a reputable airline which has no secret costs.

I joined and flew Spirit once last August and I vowed never again.

Getting an agent online to cancel membership was an impossibility as agents are taught to espouse the party line and the wait to talk to someone in membership was 30 minutes.

I never authorized you to debit my account for 2011 membership in the amount of $59.95. I agreed to conditions for one year and one year only. You never emailed me that my 2010 membership in the club was about to expire, nor asked whether I wanted to renew. You simply took it upon yourselves to steal $59.95 from my account.

Spirit Airlines has done this to many people – many complaints about your shoddy business dealings are posted on the airline complaint forum.

Your offer of a credit shell of $59.95 credit on a future flight on Spirit is not acceptable. As I said before, I have no desire to fly with Spirit ever again and I certainly am not giving you $60 for donation.

I want the amount of $59.95 credited to my account, and my membership cancelled in the $9 club immediately with a written confirmation of this sent to my email address.

OK. You don’t have to be a consumer advocate to think Spirit is wrong about the fare club. You opt in to a program, not out. If you’re going to do something ethically questionable like auto-renew, you disclose it clearly at the top of the page, not in small type at the bottom. And you obviously don’t want to stick someone with a $60 membership they’ll never use.

Still, the credit offer is better than nothing. Or is it?

Update (Oct. 27, 2011): Breinin got her money back. She reports,

I wanted you to know that Bank of America credited me the $60. I’m sure a lot of it can be attributed to the work you did on my behalf. It was never about the money but about the principle. Thanks so much again for your help!

(Photo: jpmat th/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Jeremy

    I think the credit is the best she can hope for, and is an acceptable response from the company. Spirit appears to have protected their backside with the terms and conditions.  The fact is that “Judi” did authorize the multi-year renewal – just because she didn’t read or understand the terms and conditions, doesn’t make them automatically invalid.  (There is no allegation that they have changed the conditions after the fact or something else shady like that.)   Sure, it’s a raw deal if you don’t cancel in time, but there are plenty of other “clubs” that have similar terms in other industries, so I don’t think it’s horrible.  I do think the credit shows appropriate goodwill given the situation… if Judi has no way of using the credit, then she should simply take satisfaction in knowing that Spirit will never get her business again.

  • Chris Hansen

    Hiding the renewal terms is a common business strategy to get at least one renewal out of everyone before they cancel. 

    The voucher she was offered will not cost the company anything as they have her $59.95 and she is unlikely to use the voucher. 

    I think that the best that can be gotten out of this is bad publicity for Spirit and perhaps if enough people become aware of their “renewal hiding” policy then they will have to revamp their application form.

    My only other comment is that Judi talking about Spirit “stealing” the money from her credit card was probably not helpful in the general run of things. That allowed Spirit to take the moral high ground. It’s always best to be anodyne and factual when taking on such trickery as Spirit engaged in.

  • Cessna Fan

    It appears that Spirit Airlines understands the the ‘letter’ of the law better than they understand the ‘spitit’ of building customer relationships.  Another case of a business ‘scud running’, as we say in the general aviation community.  Spirit Air appears to have a business model built on, well, whatever they can get away with, and the idea that there will always be another unwary customer who will step into their trap built out of the fine print at the bottom of their last page.  Bottom feeding ‘price-sensitive’ air travelers, and the very, very savvy would be their true target market. 

    I vote for NO REFUND.  But I do hope that our reader gets her money back through her credit card dispute.  That way, everybody wins. Your faithful reader gets to pry her $59.99 out of the jaws of a decietful company, and Spirit Air gets the Million Dollars of Bad PR they’ve earned.

  • Carver

    Auto renewals are legal and can be ethically defensible when done right.  It should be prominently displayed, a reminder sent, and a short cancellation period afterwards, so one month after the auto renewal, assuming she didn’t make use of any of the clubs benefits.

  • $16635417

    Expectations. You choose and expect filet mignon and got McDonalds. Are you disapointed? Yes. You choose and expect McDonalds and got McDonalds. Are you disapointed? No.

    Spirit does not care about customer service. This is a well documented admission by their top management.

    You signed up for something and then accuse them of stealing, yet they offer you a $60 credit! Take the credit, cancel your membership and move on. Welcome to Spirit Airlines.

  • $16635417

    I agree with you about the accusatory tone of her letter with regards to stealing. She lost points on that.

    If your think the best she can hope for is the bad publicity, forget that satisfaction. Spirt has publicly stated they do not care about complaints or negative publicity. Passengers constantly complain about their hidden fees and charges, cramped aircraft and surly employees. But guess what? They come back when they think they are saving a buck!

    Take the $60 credit, find a flight to take, CANCEL THE NEXT RENEWAL ON TIME and move on.

  • $16635417

    I wonder if contacting Chris hurt her case? They obviously know his work and probably prefer that the public sees they wont budge from their stance even with him involved. But then again, they weren’t going to budge without him either.

  • Tom

    Auto renewels are used by lots of companies, including newspapers, magazines, charities, cell phone companies,  insurance etc. You can make a lot of money in America if you put inertia on your side.

    The illustrative things about Spirit is that despite all the complaints, especially about charging for carryons, Spirit has a rapidly expanding business. It’s success shows that when it comes to air travel, price rules and all the discussion about good customer service, providing extras etc. is not supported by the marketplace.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    The emotional outbursts in this lady’s emails accomplish absolutely nothing. They serve no purpose, and only discredit the writer. Understandable, of course, but in situations like this, the arguments should be made on the facts of the case, rather than any emotional factors.

    She would’ve been much better off stating that she was not informed of the terms of the original subscription. That they were deceptive and misleading. Spirit argues that she agreed to the terms, but she should argue that she did not, that the terms were not fully disclosed. That they were deceptive and misleading under her state’s consumer protection laws. Something along those lines.

    She still has a chance of winning a credit card dispute; however her dispute had better be 180 degrees to the opposite, in substance; that she did not agree to the terms that Spirit claims she did not agree to.

  • sirwired

    If this were me, I’d be politely requesting the refund from Spirit, not accusing them of theft; unless you have a legal leg to stand on, screaming at people and writing notes accusing them of a crime are likely to have the opposite of the intended effect.

    I don’t like auto-renew either, but the terms of the offer are clear, she just did not choose to read them.  Spirit didn’t make those terms blindingly obvious, but they were there.  Spirit was not required to warn her shortly before renewal, they DID have permission, they did not “steal” money out of her account.

    This is par for the course with Spirit, and I would not expect them to back down.

  • $16635417

    I agree, air travel is a commodity, except for elite level flyers on expense accounts. I can name dozens of people I know who insist on one particular airline for their business travel to get elite level upgrades, then buy the cheapest ticket on any airline when it is their dime.

    If the OP could get a cheaper ticket on Spirit and use the $60 credit on top of that, I bet she would…and she should!

  • emanon256

    I hate these auto-renew scams as much as the next person.  I think they are unethical, and are done by companies on purpose to try to get people to inadvertently pay more.  But I also always read the fine print and when signing up for something like this, write a note in my calendar to cancel before it expires.
    I personally hate Spirit Air, however, I thinks it’s good that they allow someone to cancel on-line.  Its quick and easy, and then they get confirmation that they have canceled.  I have signed up for similar services in the past and they do not allow someone to cancel on-line, you must cancel by phone only.  Sadly, several of these programs where I did cancel by phone (, faxzero, some vitamin company), all charged me after I canceled and stated that I never called.  I think that’s why they require you to cancel by phone, no paper trail.  Fortunately in all cases I disputed and the credit card sided with me.
    Unfortunately for the OP, I think she doesn’t really have an option.  She signed up and the renewal was disclosed.  She didn’t cancel.  I have never heard of such an annual program where someone signs up for just one year, they are all auto-renew programs.  That’s just how companies do business these days.  Its another case of read the fine print.  I always do. 

  • Gopbi

    I tend to agree with the others in that while it may be a less-than consumer friendly way to go about the program, I do also note that it’s not unheard of either.. A number of other business also use the opt-out model.. again, this isn’t to say it’s right… or wrong.. only that it’s one method..   and I would say that from the businesses standpoint I can see a reason why I’d be tempted to do manage it this way..

    I know that I’ve forgotten to renew things– specially things that are on an annual basis.. So from the companies perspective I can see a value in doing an opt-out..

    but… I think to be fair, I’d like to see some form of advance notice to the customer– be that email, auto-call or even snail-mail to say something like “FYI, your annual renewal period is coming up in XX days, if you do not wish to continue it please notify us on or before YY date.”

    As far as do I think Spirit has done enough… I voted yes.. as they did in fact disclose this auto-renew in advance (again, assuming terms weren’t changed) and their program rules are pretty clear about what happens if you miss it..

    Unless the OP had some extenuating circumstance that prevented him/her from making contact to cancel, I think that Spirit handled it correctly and equitably given the Terms and how I suspect they’ve dealt with others in this same scenario.

    The issue of the lost baggage, to me, is a wholly separate issue and not directly related to the Spirit club, the Terms and the timeline of cancellation.

    I agree that the luggage issue might make the OP not want to fly Spirit in the future, but that’s a distinctly different issue– with different ‘rules’ the govern.

    I don’t think contacting Chris hurt or helped her case.. It seems that Spirit is going by ‘the letter’ of the Terms– which they do very well outline– and this is irrespective of what third-parties the OP may wish to engage.

  • cjr001

    Pretty much all of these kinds or programs are ‘opt out’ automatic-renewals, unfortunately.

    That free year of NFL Sunday Ticket I received when I signed up for DirecTV over the summer, along with the 3 free months of channels like HBO? All are automatic renewal, and I will have to go out of my way to cancel them all before the free trials end.

    The problem here, however, is that Spirit is making the OP jump through hoops to cancel the renewal. And Spirit – if they actually had any business sense – should refund her the money since she hadn’t made any flights using the program.

  • cjr001

     Re: Refund. That should say: no flights since the renewal.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    She wasn’t trying to opt out of a free trial before the first 14 days were up.  She joined a club with an annual renewal and wasn’t informed adequately that it would automatically renew after that first year.

    When we signed up for DirecTV this summer, we got the same deal and it was clearly stated to us by the CSR that all the special deals were automatically added to our bill following the free trial period.  They went out of THEIR way to make sure we understood this.

    Spirit Airlines seems to go out of their way to make sure people don’t understand this and then use their verbiage to hide behind.IMHO, whenever anyone starts quoting, chapter and verse, their “legalities” such as Spirit did in this instance, they know they’re wrong they’re just using “corporatese” to stick it to you.

  • mark

    i was a member of the 9.00 club and was aware of the auto renewal and its SOP for all memberships. When they started charging for carry on i canceled it online in about 60 seconds. FYI i used the club to fly from FTL to San Juan so it was wort iand the flight was fine  

  • Mel

    I recently had a similar back and forth (albeit calmer) with Time Warner when they “automagically” renewed me for not  just 1 but 2 more years of a bundled services contract.  I was positive our expiration was June, but when I called they said it had renewed in May and was too late to cancel without a penalty.  I said “Well then I’m cancelling NOW for the next period” and was told I couldn’t until 30 days out. *sigh*  The problem exists when there is there is no reminder from the company 45 days or so out that action must be taken and then there’s no 3-5 days grace period after the transaction, to allow cancellation when the “oops” moment occurs (as there is for most purchases).  In this case, sounds like the OP contacted Spirit as soon as the debit posted and her memory jogged and I think they should have allowed a grace period for change of heart after rather than requiring it be done beforehand.  Yes, she agreed to the terms a YEAR AGO, but if they force auto renewal on their patrons then some of the onus for reminders and grace periods is on Spirit; it shouldn’t all be on the customer to “remember” to cancel in a year.

  • BeenThere

    As many have said, auto-renewal programs like this are common.  Less careful individuals can easily miss the fine print informing them about auto-renewal and their options.  Of course, scrupulous companies strive to inform of your options and will respond promptly to complaints, seeking to gain future business over today’s easy buck, while others (like Spirit) don’t. Those that don’t shouldn’t get your business ever again. 

    With that said, I would never join a “club” via credit card without scrutinizing every bit of the fine print twice. Even then, I invariably use a “virtual” credit card (temporary) number with a strict dollar limit and an expiration date well before the anniversary date so that if the company wants my money again, it has to get in touch with me. 

    At the end of the day, this really is a very easy problem to avoid, and legal threats and verbal histrionics are just likely to make the company stand even firmer–right or wrong.  While others may disagree, this is one where Chris may have diminished his own reputation and standing by getting involved. 

  • Mark K

    I went to the web site and looked at the sign up page for the $9 club.  I don’t see anything wrong with the process or the fact that the club will auto renew.  They have a FAQ page which very clearly states the annual fee will be automatically charged until cancelled.  The Terms & Conditions that you have to click on a box to indicate you read and agree to state in multiple places in clear English that the fee will be automatically charged every year unless you cancel before the renewal date.  Nothing is hidden.  I don’t know what the web page looked like when the OP purchased the membership so I can’t state she saw this exact amount of detail, but knowing Spirit I am sure it was there.

    The OP signed up for the club to save money on flights.  I hope there was real savings on the first flight taken that paid for the first year’s membership.  So what went wrong?  The OP obviously had a bad experience with the airline and because of that chose to never fly them again.  This means the club renewal was probably forgotten about until it appeared on the credit card statement.  The OP should have cancelled the club membership immediately after making the decision to never fly Spirit again before forgetting about it.  Did the OP have a valid email on file with the airline and did the airline actually send a renewal notice?  If so I am sure it went straight into the trash since there were no plans to fly them again.  I know I automatically delete emails from companies I don’t deal with anymore.

    Take the credit offered, find one place to travel to where you don’t need to take a lot of luggage and use the credit.  Maybe find a friend who wants to fly and use the credit to purchase a ticket for them (if the voucher allows). Chalk this up under lessons learned and keep track of other things like this and remember to cancel when you are done.

  • Dave

    I hate auto-renewals, but even Consumer Reports has one.  I used a one-time credit card number when I signed up, and now I receive emails that my credit card has expired.  You’d think that they, of all people, would understand that people don’t want to auto-renew.

  • PB

    Read, Read, Read before you submit!

  • BillC

    Why do people sign up for things without reading the details? I understand that most people don’t want to wade through the details but come on, this is you CC info that you are proving them. The auto- renewal is on the sign up page so there is no reason for complaining now.

    As an aside, the experience of her flight with Spirit had nothing to do with the fare club.

    As far as I am concerned she received exactly what she asked for. I really wish people would stop complaining to Chris because they were too lazy to read the details of something they signed up for.

  • Gopbi


    “it shouldn’t all be on the customer to “remember” to cancel in a year”

    But for arguments sake, does the consumer have any role here in managing their own obligations and such?

    To me, this notion of “… it all shouldn’t be all on the customer…” is somewhat like a recent post from Chris about consumers not checking their own credit card statements for accuracy— then coming back later, after the review period has closed– with an issue..

    Not that I’m saying Spirit is right or wrong in the OP’s matter, only that I think it’s unfair and jsut wrong to take most or all of the personal responsibility off the customer and shifting it to the company… Consumers do have a role here..

    I won’t disagree that an advance notice of “intent to renew” from Spirit would have been nice and perhaps have avoided this whole saga.. or that the terms couldn’t perhaps have been clearer in their disclosure, but again, I don’t think that the OP is entirely off the hook for their own responsibility to manage their own financial affairs, know what is their obligations and long term commitments.

  • Linda Bator

    Go online and cancel anytime before renewal date is NOT “jumping through hoops.”  And she didn’t do so, and now wants to whine — and blame someone else.  Typical!

  • Linda Bator

    Get a calendar and mark it clearly — auto-renewals are ALWAYS your responsibility, so step up to the plate and take it for once!

  • Elmo Clarity

    One of the best ways to sign up for these types of clubs is to us a prepaid, disposable credit card.  One card I had in the past actually created temporary cards for online use.  You give the amount that can be charged to it and how long it is valid, and they give you a credit card number to use.  When you do it this way, even if you forget, they cannot charge you again since the card will not be valid anymore.

    I have had some issues with these types of auto renewals in the past and when I have had to contest them (most places would refund if you called about it within a couple days of posting), I have always won the dispute.  Hopefully it will go her way with her dispute too.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You know, I just got one of those too from Consumer Reports.  I’d been thinking about how aggressive CR is with marketing and auto-renewals in the context of this article.  Glad I’m not alone in my thinking.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Ms. Breinin has my sympathies in trying to navigate the overseas call center hell in regards to her membership.  First thing I thought of:  calling to cancel AOL several years ago.  Still sends shudders of revulsion down my back!

    Speaker phones are a lifesaver when forced to wait on hold to talk to one of those people.  I sincerely believe that the long waits are on purpose, so that the caller hangs up in disgust rather than continue to wait.

  • SoBeSparky

    Two tried and true laws of commerce:
    1.  You generally get what you pay for.  Spirit’s fares are the cheapest you can find.  What do you expect when you pay 1/2 other cheap economy airlines?  You only have to check the Better Business Bureau.  Anything less than A is reason for serious concern at this alleged consumer-friendly agency.  Spirit Airlines = B-
    2.  Read your contract before you sign anything.  It was all there in writing.  If I sign an auto-renew contract to get a great deal, I cancel immediately thereafter so the subscription or membership lasts for only the term paid for. 

  • David

    I agree with Jeremy – this isn’t a ‘Raw Deal’ nor ‘Horrible.’  This is Standard Operating Procedure for Spirit Airlines.  

    Judi – It’s Spirit Airlines, you should nothing from Spirit and that’s exactly what you got.  Sorry about your 60 bucks, but thanks for reinforcing to the rest of us the warning:  Never do business with Spirit Airlines — ever.  Never!  

  • John3

    All her other complaints aside the issue is the automatic renewal.  Even though printed on the initial sign up, not all people post reminders to them self a year ahead.  How many people have next year’s calender to write it on? Spirit is obviously doing everything against their customers:
    1) No notice before hand of something signed up for did a year ago.
    2) It appears she notified them very soon after the charge was posted.
    3) Their response “It simply wouldn’t be fair to other customers who may have forgotten” make that read “other customers who were also screwed.”

  • cjr001

    When she called to talk to somebody about it, it was one hoop after another.

    Canceling after the fact that doesn’t get her her money back, which is what she wanted and what she deserved.

  • ChelseaGirl98

    “Spirit should ask if you want to renew its fare club every year and only do so if specifically asked.” I agree, but I still don’t think this customer is entitled to a refund. I don’t care for this type of business arrangement and don’t do business with companies that operate this way. But, the fact is that many companies do operate this way, automatically renewing membership with the burden on the customer to cancel. Most people don’t read what they are agreeing to. I think people have to learn their lesson the hard way. If you don’t read the agreement, too bad.

  • Mark K

    This would not work with the Spirit club because when you cancel, that’s it, you are out of the club.  This is the only part of their plan I completely object to.

  • Livermorebrianc

    Sorry, even amazon prime is auto-renewed and I would hardly consider amazon a dishonest business. Anytime there is a “membership” program like this I always set a calendar reminder to cancel before my year is up AND if Mrs. Breinin’s experience on her first flight was so horrible and had no intention of flying Spirit again why didn’t she cancel the membership right after her disasterous flight?
    I’m tired of entitlement stories such as this. She received a generous refund and she should be happy. It’s time consumers take some responsibility for their lack of action or lack of attention to rules.

  • Rosered7033

    Until people fight charges and auto-renewals and other anti-consumer fees that are hidden in fine print, companies will continue to use these abhorrent means to take what they feel is “legally” theirs.  State/federal consumer boards should make this an issue to have to opt-in to programs like this, and clearly state actual billing charges (both present and future.)  Apparently Spirit has no interest in CS or improving their image, if they are unwilling to work with their customers.  (As an aside, if you tell a company you will not use their services in the future, they can & often will use that info against you, refusing to work to an amicable solution.)

  • Sershev

    Reading all the horror stories about Spirit Air I wonder why
    people still getting in the traps? I personally boycott this airline just
    because they started checked baggage fees in the industry. Also I think carry
    on fee is a rip off.

  • Carver

    I might agree with you except that companies are banking on the fact that you are highly unlikely to remember an autoremenewal a year later, particularly when you have numerous ones to remember.

  • Charles

    I have a Citibank Visa card. On their account web site you can create a virtual credit card, which is a one-time only use number. I’ve used this for magazine subscriptions before, since they love automatic renewals. Since the number is  only available to use one time, it won’t work when they try to renew. They will probably send you an email, which you can happily ignore.

  • Brooklyn

    No, this is more like ordering a burger at McDonalds and finding a rat’s head in it.  Automatic renewals may (or may not) be legal, but they’re certainly unethical.  If her credit card won’t help her, she should try small claims court and refuse to accept an out-of-court  settlement even if she’s offered one; we need a legal precedent on this kind of thing.

  • Bryan Kilian

    What amazes me is this:
    In Section 3.6.: “Initial or renewal membership fees are subject to change by Spirit at any time without notice to the Member. Any increase in the annual membership fee will take effect upon renewal of a Member’s membership.”

    Notice the “without notice”. They can theoretically, without telling you, double or triple the fee on the day before charging you, charge you, and then not have to refund you at all. Not saying they’ll do that, but I would never in my life agree to a provision like that.

  • Brooklyn

    I use a personal check for AAA and magazine subscriptions; if whatever it is can’t be paid for by check, I don’t sign up.

  • Clare

    How could Chris hurt the OP’s case?  He’s shone a light on a problem which I, for one, never knew existed.  I’ve never flown Spirit Airlines and I don’t even know where they fly; but in the future, if I ever discover that they’re an option for me, they can forget it.  I’ve never heard of an American business treating customers like this, ever!  It reminds me of the govt-run “businesses” that I used to have to deal with, when I lived in the Soviet bloc decades ago! 

    If they care two bits about their reputation, and have half a brain, they’ll realize all the negative publicity they’re getting here and BACK OFF.  They’ll apologize to the OP, refund her money, tell Chris all about it AND inform him that they are “reviewing their existing renewal policy.”  You know, the way that honest businesses are run?

    In the meantime, I’m wondering whether the OP should take the Consumer Protection route, and see whether she can get someone in her state to look into this practice of renewing annual charges automatically?  THAT sort of inquiry might get the attention of these soviet-style thugs over at Spirit…   

  • Rosered7033

    I CANNOT understand people defending Spirit for this kind of BS.

  • Michael K

    Actually, Amazon Prime is not at all comparable.  You can cancel at any time and receive a pro-rated refund.  You can also cancel and receive a full refund *after* you are auto-renewed as long as you didn’t take advantage of your membership benefits in the interim.

    Amazon is a good example of how auto-renewals OUGHT to work.  The OP would have received a full refund if Spirit operated their auto-renewal under Amazon Prime’s terms.

  • Stoyko

    As unfair as it is, the automatic-renewal-if-you-don’t-cancel practice is fairly common among businesses. Probably insurance companies are the only exception, even though once I had a provider that wanted to charge me late fees and claimed that non-payment was not sufficient for cancellation of the policy.
    Credit cards with anual fees, wholesale clubs, credit watch memberships, etc. also renew automatically unless you cancel.
    In fairness to other businesses, I believe many of them do offer some grace period in which you can cancel and get a refund after they renew your membership. But Spirit is unfair – I think we all know that.

  • Dave

    Bad business practice by a company not known for customer service.  But: the OP obviously did not read the contract.  Shut up and take what you can get, and next time read the fine print before agreeing (and if you don’t understand it, don’t sign up).

  • BeenThere

    I don’t think anyone here is defending Spirit Airlines’ practices.  Like most everyone who has posted, I think Spirit’s policies are greedy and ultimately self-defeating, especially compared to how some other companies, like Amazon (as discussed below), handle auto-renewals and cancellations. I don’t and won’t fly Spirit Airlines because I don’t trust them. 

    Such an opinion, however widely shared, does not make Spirit’s practices illegal nor — and this is clearly what most readers have focused on — does it eliminate the consumer’s responsibility to read and understand the agreements they enter into, and to take reasonable precautions (such as using a virtual credit card) to protect him or herself against potential bad practices, especially when dealing with a company that many, including the complainant, knows has an ignominious reputation.  

    Most of us who have dealt with problems like those posted on this blog also know (or have learned the hard way, from experience) that the tone of phone calls, email, and other correspondence often has a significant impact on our ability to achieve a prompt and fair resolution.  The complainant’s tone, while perhaps understandable given the circumstances, clearly put some people off.  Do I think a better tone would have changed Spirit’s response?  Not at all, because Spirit has proven time and again that they don’t care.  Still, the way she approached them through her correspondence did very little to help her cause, then or now. 

  • $16635417

    If this case has enlightened you to Spirit’s well documented poor customer service…how does that help the OP?

    Once again, Spirit does NOT care about customer service complaints or negative publicity. Their CEO is on record to this and makes no apologies to this.

    Is the outrage over auto-renewals in general or just because an airline is doing it?

  • $16635417

    Only if you expect a rats head in your burger at McDonalds. I don’t.

    From Spirit I DO expect poor customer service.

    If it came to a legal case, I would expect Spirit to prevail. They appear to have followed the mutually agreed upon terms.

  • Bodega

    I really can’t add anything different to this discussion.  You want cheap, you sign a contract, you better pay attention and read everything or you have only yourself to blame.  Just yesterday Judge Judy said the same thing. 

    I have no doubt that a law pertaining to the opting policies will come about in the near future but in the meanwhile pay attention to deadlines if you have to let a company know your choice of opting in or out.

  • Gratianus

    The problem is the Opt Out format, which Spirit and everyone else who uses it fully understands, is that it’s designed to snare the unwary. Opt Outs should be forbidden. The funny part of the deal with “Spirit” is its lawyerly recitation of its contract’s letter of the law. Spirit’s spirit is deformed.

  • SoBeSparky

    Did not know that.  Now I do.  So there is no pro rata refund, just denial of benefits after paying $59 upon cancellation.  Now I think some state Attorney General should get involved.  This smacks of something illegal, in addition to being unethical. 

  • Raven_Altosk

    Ugh. Spirit.
    Another company I’ve never had the desire to do business with…

  • Douglas

    Spirit’s method of renewal is not on the up and up as much as the company  likes to insist that it is. The very reason that they have the auto-renew feature hidden is the intent to entrap. There’s no reason why, say 15-30 days before the renewal date send an email advice to this effect and offering the member the opportunity to opt out; it’s almost certain that most  persons would have forgotten about the hidden condition by the time the one-year anniversary rolled around. Spirit is clearly into acting in a very dubious and unethical manner. Just reading this is to me an advertisement to stay away from Spirit. These people must be possessed by spirits, evil ones at that, to treat the public the way it does. I’ve never seen an attitude that seems so focused on driving away customers and making sure  it doesn’t attract new ones.

  • Mel

    “Get a calendar and mark it clearly — auto-renewals are ALWAYS your
    responsibility, so step up to the plate and take it for once!”

    Well, I do take responsibility for MY behavior (hence the reason I’m STILL with TWC and didn’t contact Chris to take them on for MY auto-renewal incident) and, frankly, since you don’t know me or my habits, the “step up….for once” comment is gratuitously personal.  My point, which you obviously chose to ignore in favor of being smug and condescending, was that a contract is TWO sided, and it shouldn’t ALL be on one side to remember. I advocated for a reminder.  Plain and simple.  A belief that they should send a “hey your year is almost up, do you want to renew” isn’t an abdication of responsibility; it’s recognition that some of us have busy lives, and well…shit happens and we aren’t all uber organized, (now don’t take offense, I’m sure YOU are very organized, so that was not intended to imply that in any way shape or form YOU would EVER not be organized or god forbid not have your calendars marked up two years in advance in multiple colors of sharpies; with the previous years’ dates carried over when the new year changes. No, that was referring to us mere mortals). Congratulations on never forgetting a date that was made a year before; some of us do *shrug*. 

  • Anna

    Imagine the outcry if you had to opt-in annually to whatever club/membership-thingy to keep your miles, bonus points and other funny money… “Oh, but I forgot… I didn’t read the contract… someone died… not fair… why don’t they just renew it automatically… what a screwing, stealing evil company!?”.

  • Anna

    The you-must-opt-out clause was displayed on the front page… that’s hardly a hidden-in-the-fine-print situation. She signed without reading (aka her own darn fault), Spirit took her money… cheaper flights for those of us who can read!

  • Linda Loudermilk Tomberlin

    Judi didn’t read the fine print, and her complaint about the flight is ridiculous.  Because the delivery person tracked dirt into the house (Why did you let him in the house??), you’re mad at the airline??

    She got more than I’d have given her.

  • Bodega

    Ah, but you do and it usually is with every 18 months..  If you don’t fly, use a member of their program or use their credit card, you miles will disappear and they don’t often send you a reminder.

    A magazine I use to subscribe to sent me a letter telling me they would continue to send it to my address on file if I didn’t let them know I didn’t want it.  I didn’t want it and I was not about to notify them at my expense.  I paid for a two year subscription and at the end if they didn’t receive a renewal, then stop mailing it.  I continued receiving the magazine for serveral months until they figured out what a stupid idea they had for getting renewals.

  • Susan Porter

    They won’t show in court for $60. She would likely win her case. Collecting might or might not be an additional headache.

  • Luxury Hotels

    Auto re-new membership is a long standing scheme by companies to rip off customers who don’t read the fine print… I sure have been victim of it as well. It goes to show how far some businesses will go to keep your money once they get it.

  • Rosered7033

    “Let me interrupt this little exchange to examine the auto-renew disclosure. It’s in a separate box at the bottom of the sign-up page in small type. You have to scroll down a screen to find it: “Paid memberships will continue and renew based on original membership terms, unless otherwise cancelled.”” Chris Elliott’s words.

  • emanon256

    You always run the risk of getting send to collections for not canceling and having an expired credit card number.  I used an on-line generated one time use credit card once to buy some vitamins once to sign up for a service that had auto renewal thinking I would not have to remember to cancel since I used the one time use number.  After the renewal period I got a bill stating my card was declined and it included a late fee.  I ignored it.  I got a second bill.  Then a collection notice.  I called the agency and explained it, then filed an appeal in writing.  The agency sent me a record of my e-signature and the terms stating that I agree to auto-renew and would be responsible for future charges until I canceled.  I called and asked to cancel, and was told I could not cancel because I was past due.  I finally gave in and paid to get it off my credit report.  I don’t use the one time use cards any more, I make sure to remember to cancel.

  • Anna

    Exactly – the info was right there, on the same page, zero clicks away – how sneaky of them to hide it in plain sight!? And it’s not like Spirit had disabled the scroll feature and made the page half a mile long… that would have been sneaky!

  • MikeZ

    This is how many businesses operate that offer memberships. My Sirius radio will do that when I sign up for 3, 6 month, or one year deals. They renew unless you call and cancel. Even the membership with my bank’s member rewards program auto renews unless I cancel. She should have paid more attention to what she was doing and just called after she signed up and said do not renew. They take you out of the sytem and when the renewal date comes around, you are out of the club. its so freaking easy.

  • Kim

    Spirit did the same auto-renew to me, but I was able to get them to refund the fee since they no longer flew into my home airport, San Antonio, which meant I couldn’t really utilize their services.  Then the next year, they charged me again, even though the membership had been cancelled the previous year.  Luckily, I had saved email correspondence from a manager and so they bounced the fee back to by credit card again.  To say the least, I made sure it was cancelled that time by going on-line and cancelling it personally.

  • Geoff

    A fool and thier money is soon parted. That is what you get for not reading the small print. Auto-renewal is everywhere, your frequent flier credit cards aut-renew, my AX card charges me every year, so what is so wring with Spirit doing it on thier stupid, simple membership. Heck, I look at them for clients daily and just laugh. Good flights on good days are the same price for everybody, but you at least get to baord first. Go to real ASTA travel agents and then your won’t have a major self issues with your intelligence as a self proclaimed travel agent.

  • Cochrantechnology

    Symantec Virus protection does the same thing, you have to go to your account after you buy the product to disenroll from their auto-renew.

  • Joe Raube

    I am a happy member of the $9 club and received an email on August 22 reminding of the renewal a full 30 days in advance.

    “As a member since 09/21/2010 we hope you have enjoyed being a member of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club. Your membership will automatically renew on 09/21/2011 and $59.95 will be billed to your credit card on file. For more information, please see below.”

    the email goes on to say:

    “To cancel your membership: If you do not wish to renew your $9 Fare Club Membership, you must cancel your membership prior to the renewal date of 09/21/2011. To cancel your membership, please login to your FREE SPIRIT account and select the $9 Fare Club link from your Account Profile to update your membership status. Please note that membership cancellations take affect immediately and you will no longer have access to club benefits. All membership fees are non-refundable.”

  • Blue Cloud

    Elliot, are you kidding me? Spirit Airlines acted professionally and in accordance with their terms and conditions which, by the way, were and are accepted by their passengers when they enroll in their $9 Fare Club Membership (which does offer the greatest deals out there among airlines). Rules are rules. If you don’t like the rules, I have an idea for you: don’t fly Spirit!! But don’t write a silly article about something that doesn’t make sense! Cheers.

  • DesrtDrmr

    We use a virtual credit card from our credit card company to sign up for anything with “automatic” renewals.  The card is long outdated and not accepted when the renewal company tries to renew.  They HAVE to contact us for us to renew.  We then have a choice.

  • Cheryl

    What is a virtual credit card?

  • Jbt2

    AMEX takes a dim view of auto-renewable memberships like this.  Last time I had this problem I disputed the charge and AMEX credited me immediately.  No fuss, no muss.

  • Brent Collins

    The fact that many of you are commenting on this story with an accepting attitude is appalling.  Spirit and any other company that auto-renews memberships without explicit customer consent or notification should be found guilty of immoral business practice.  This does not mean they hide it in a long terms and conditions agreement.  They should email, write, or leave a voicemail, giving plenty of advanced notice that the membership is being renewed and the credit card will be charged.

    This reminds me of “free HBO”…for 3 months…from the cable company, or free trial of (insert worthless product here) ads from the radio.  Just because many companies work in this fashion, it does NOT make it right, and personally I feel it should be outlawed.  

    If you are selling a quality product that people want, they will pay for it.  If I watch HBO for 3 months and enjoy it, I’ll gladly pay your $15/mo.  If your vitamins help me feel better, I’ll call and order more.  Consumers shouldn’t have to set outlook reminders, inform their spouse, put a sticky on the refrigerator, and train the dog to bark on the 11th of November to insure they cancel an auto membership.  

    The fact that an airline has picked up on this practice is sickening.  If the $9 fare club was valuable, people would pay for it.  Don’t encourage this behavior from companies simply because Sirius does it, or Directv does it.  It’s really a shame that trusting people are ripped off and accept it because they won’t put up a fight.

  • Roland D Fiedler

    Just wanted to add my 2 cents in, I just got off the phone with Spirit Airlines Support whereas they charged my CC today for their $9.00 Scam Club. I cancelled my account the very same day and they still refused to offer any reversal of the charges for both myself and my wife, 59.95 x2. 
    I recorded the entire call, and of course telling them that at least 3 times, so they were fair warned, to their very hard to understand support center clearly not in the US at all, so at the very least with the job market in the US, Thanks Spirit Airlines for not hiring American jobs… Total Failure! I will be playing the recordings for all to hear or for any attorney with the balls to go after them for “DECEPTIVE BUSINESS PRACTICES”

  • Margery Wilson

    Old article– but Spirit keeps on keeping on. I tried to cancel a $9 Fare club last year when Spirit stopped service from BOS to the cities I was using them to fly. After a grueling phone call to their call center in Dubai (or wherever) I was told I could stop automatic renewal ONLY IF I CANCELED THE REMAINING MONTHS OF MEMBERSHIP. I had already paid $59 for it, I did not want to lose out on possible (even if improbable) savings.

    Today my bank account was charged $59 becaise I forgot to cancel! SPIRIT DOES NOT SEND OUT A REMINDER. This is such an obvious scam. Of course people forget the exact date, and with no recourse available except to cancel the subscription I’m sure most folks opt to stay in until the current membership runs out. Then they count on catching us again. If there is not an especially horrid place in hell reserved for Spirit airlines then I’m going to be massively disappointed.

  • Matt

    I fit the same fact pattern, except for one difference: I recall trying to cancel after my flight, because the flying experience was so poor. I thought I did cancel. The charge was a complete surprise.

    I would not be surprised if these folks are disregarding the cancellation request. That, or they make you cancel twice, or some other acrobatic trick that is very likely to result in failure. The $59.95 is lower than the small-claims cost in most states, which means they can get away with it, and make money at it, following the law of large numbers.

    I disputed the charge, and filed complaints with the BBB and the AG. We’ll see what happens.