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.
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Ridiculous or not? I arrived at the airport on time, but I missed my flight

Getting to the airport on time doesn’t cut it anymore. Just ask Mayura Hooper, who missed her Spirit Airlines flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands during the holidays.

She and her two children showed up 1 ½ hours before the departure, but she says only two Spirit representatives were staffing the counter.

“The line barely moved, and several people missed the flight,” she says. Hooper was among them.

Spirit denies it was responsible. It claims its counters were adequately staffed and blames the Transportation Security Administration for a bottleneck at the security screening area, which made Hooper late.

“Delays at TSA are completely out of Spirit’s control,” Spirit told her in an email. “We held the flight as long as we could.”

All of which brings us to today’s question: Is it right for airlines to hold passengers accountable for what amounts to their own staffing problems?
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Spirit Airlines tells passenger who can’t fit into seat to stand

Katie Anderson’s son, Brooks, is 6′ 7″. The average economy class seat “pitch” on a Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 — the distance between seats on an aircraft — is between 30 and 31 inches, hardly enough room for a big guy.

When he flew between Chicago and Fort Myers, Fla., before Christmas, he squeezed his XL frame into one of Spirit’s tiny seats for takeoff, but was asked to stand for more than two hours, according to his mother.

Says Anderson,

They would not give him a bulkhead or exit row seat. He does not fit in a regular seat. His height prohibits this.

He is not overweight. It wouldn’t help to have two seats like an overweight person. This is more like a handicap. He can’t lose height.

Asking a passenger to stand for the whole flight is highly unusual, but not illegal.
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Did Spirit Airlines pull a bait-and-switch on a credit card application?

It’s no secret that airlines make a bundle by upselling customers on extras when they buy tickets, and one huge moneymaker is the affinity credit card. While you’re booking a ticket, a pop-up asks you if you want to save a little money by applying for a credit card. (What they often don’t tell you is that certain, highly-restrictive terms may apply.)

So when Pat Fancsali saw the offer for a free credit card — well, that offer looked too good to pass up.

Here are the details, as shown on the Spirit site:

FREE SPIRIT Onyx World Cardholder exclusive benefits include:
Get 15,000 bonus miles after your first purchase – which is enough for 3 roundtrip off-peak awards
Annual fee waived for the first year
Complimentary $9 Fare Club membership
Priority boarding and domestic priority check-in

Fancsali checked “apply now” and booked a ticket from Chicago to Fort Myers, Fla. And that’s when the trouble started.
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Spirit Airlines: “Negative publicity” on customer service could hurt business

Spirit Airlines, as you might have heard, is trying to raise $300 million in a public stock offering. Here’s the Form S-1 it filed last Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It’s worth a read. Companies are required to disclose any risks to potential investors. And although this one seems obvious, it’s interesting to see how Spirit characterizes its own reputation, when it comes to customer service.
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And the next airline to charge for carry-on bags is …

We don’t know — yet. But a majority of airline passengers believe it will happen, and probably soon. A new mobile poll by Predicto says 72 percent of users think another airline will follow Spirit Airlines’ lead this year.

Does it matter that American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue Airways promised Sen. Charles Schumer a few months ago that they’d never do it?

Probably not.

Assuming those airlines honor their commitment, though, who does that leave? Among the major airlines, Continental and Southwest. And a variety of smaller ones, including the likeliest to try this stunt, Allegiant Air.
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Spirit’s Baldanza: Oil ad meant to combat “media confusion”

I‘ve lost count of the emails I’ve gotten about Spirit Airlines controversial new ad campaign, which urges travelers to “Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches” — an obvious reference to the tragic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

I didn’t want to do a “me too” post after every other blog picked up on this (including our friends at Consumerist and Talking Points).

But then I wondered: What were they thinking when they greenlighted that campaign?
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Spirit Airlines strike update: Bad news … and more bad news

When it comes to Spirit Airlines’ strike, there’s bad news — and more bad news. First, the bad news: All of the airline’s flight are canceled through Wednesday as the company tries to hammer out an agreement with its pilots union.

And the other bad news? Despite suggestions that it might refund your money if your flight’s canceled, the airline apparently wants to keep all of it. Even if you don’t fly.
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“We must act now to stop overhead baggage fees before they become commonplace”

It was just a matter of time before the government got involved in the carry-on fee fight. You’ll recall that last week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-ons this summer. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood panned the idea, while Spirit’s president, Ben Baldanza, defended it as being customer-friendly.

Yesterday, five U.S. Senators weighed in by introducing the Block Airlines’ Gratuitous Fees (BAG Fees) Act of 2010. Cute, huh?
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Spirit’s Baldanza: “The basis for this new fee was founded in improved customer service”

Earlier this week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on luggage. That drew criticism from the Secretary of Transportation, who I interviewed on Wednesday. I wanted to give Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s chief executive, an opportunity to respond — and to explain the rationale behind charging for carry-on bags. Here’s our interview:

Why did you decide to start charging for carry-on luggage?

Last fall, we identified excessive carry-on baggage as the number-one controllable reason that our planes were being delayed at the gate. We challenged ourselves to eliminate these delays without raising customer prices or Spirit’s costs, and to make the boarding process quicker and easier for our customers.
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Spirit Airlines to charge for carry-on bags

Calling it the “next phase” of unbundling, Spirit Airlines a few hours ago announced that it would begin charging passengers for carry-on luggage. Seriously.

From the release:

In order to continue reducing fares even further and offering customers the option of paying only for the services they want and use rather than subsidizing the choices of others, the low fare industry innovator is … progressing to the next phase of unbundling with the introduction of a charge to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane.

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Good customer service from Spirit Airlines? “I must say, I was really shocked”

Because it charges for pretty much everything that isn’t bolted down on the plane, Spirit Airlines is a favorite target of this site’s readers. So when Spirit does right by one of its customers, it’s got all the makings of a man-bites-dog story.

Christina Conte is the man — actually, the woman — doing the biting. Here’s her story:

When Conte’s mother’s flight was canceled last year, Spirit offered her a $200 voucher toward a future trip. That in itself is extraordinary. Usually, an airline gives passengers the option of a full refund or a flight of its choosing. But when she tried to use the voucher, she found it was impossible to redeem for the flight she wanted.
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Is Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club worth the money? Can I get my money back if it isn’t?

I take a dim view of travel clubs that charge an annual fee for access to special prices. Typically, these schemes only benefit the company offering them. But is Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club in the same category?

Without even reading the online discussions about Spirit’s Fare Club, which costs $39.95 a year, I have to admit my bias: this certainly looks like a rip-off. I mean, joining a “club” to get low fares? In a market that’s already flooded by discount tickets? You’ve gotta be kidding.

And yet, people fall for it. People like Sheryl Sanford, who believed Spirit’s come-on about having access to “incredibly low, member-only fares, sometimes even as low as a penny.” (Offers like that just confuse well-meaning passengers, as we saw yesterday.)
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