I canceled my Spirit Airlines flight — can I get a refund for my prepaid bags?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Sandra Parker decides to cancel her flight to Florida on Spirit Airlines. She knows her $80 flights aren’t refundable. But what about the $160 pre-paid baggage fees?

Question: My husband and I had tickets to fly to Florida in early September. Because of Hurricane Irma, Spirit allowed us to change the dates of our flight without penalty. We switched to a late September flight. Later we decided to cancel the flight altogether because our condo still had no power or water.

I called to have our baggage fees refunded since we didn’t go and none of our baggage was ever touched. Spirit refused and said they are using the fee as a cancellation fee.

Unbelievable!! We are talking about $160 for my husband and me for one bag each — round trip. I expect this fee to be refunded since we didn’t go. For Spirit to keep it doesn’t seem fair. If I hadn’t paid it in advance, I wouldn’t be penalized.

It is wrong not to refund unused baggage fees. Let me know what you think about my situation. Thank you. Sandra Parker, Greensburg, Pa.

Answer: What do I think? I think that if you paid for a service that you no longer are going to use, the airline should refund your money.

This would seem to make common sense and would be consumer friendly.

However, airline policy is often anything but consumer friendly. And since I don’t write airline policies, my opinion of what is fair will not help your case.

All of the major players in the airline industry have adopted the same pre-paid baggage formula. You, as the passenger, receive a discount on your baggage fees if you reserve and pay before heading to the airport. The airline receives the benefit of having your money up front.

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Unfortunately, as you found out, if you don’t take the flight, these fees are not refundable.

Increasingly the airlines have been adding a variety of amenities that are offered for pre-purchase: seating assignments, pre-boarding, priority check-in and so on. While many passengers may appreciate these options, it’s important to note that, once purchased, most are nonrefundable — whether you take the flight or not.

Before you reached out directly to us, you already had used our company contacts for Spirit Airlines and attempted to resolve the case on your own — unsuccessfully. The representative that you spoke to simply repeated the policy that pre-paid bags are nonrefundable.

While that is true, I thought, because of the hurricane, your case was atypical. I contacted Spirit on your behalf and asked for consideration of the refund for the baggage fees.

Spirit agreed that because of the circumstances it would refund these fees. Our executive contact clarified:

When a customer cancels a flight, baggage charges are not typically refunded, however, we would certainly waive them for a hurricane-related cancellation. In addition, if Spirit needs to cancel a flight for a mechanical or weather issue, we would also automatically reimburse baggage charges.

So why weren’t the fees automatically refunded in your case?

Well, there was one important piece of your story that you had left out. You had never canceled your flight. You were considered a no-show. If you had called beforehand and cited the reason for your cancellation the baggage fees would have been refunded automatically. Because you were considered a no-show, you lost the value of the ticket and the chance at an easy baggage fee refund.

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And even though your ticket was nonrefundable and the modification fee would have exceeded the value of the ticket, there was another reason why you should have pre-canceled this flight.

Spirit Airlines offers its passengers small flight vouchers when a non-refundable flight is canceled online by the passenger and the value of the ticket is less than the modification fee of $90:

As an added benefit to our guests canceling a reservation online, we will provide you with a $10 per one way (maximum $20) voucher to be applied toward future travel if the value of the reservation is less than the cancellation charge. We like it when you do things online.

Because you were a no-show, you were ineligible to retrieve any value for the flight. But you are pleased with the return of your pre-paid baggage fees; and in the future, should you find yourself in a similar circumstance, you will be sure to cancel before the flight leaves the ground.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    This was very generous on Spirit’s part. I have to say that I would not ordinarily think pre-paid luggage fees for a non-refundable ticket would be refundable either. If you accept the idea of a fare not being refunded despite not taking the flight, what makes baggage fees fundamentally different?

    Now, I do think that if you DID re-schedule your flight (and paid the change fee), your baggage (and other ancilliary fees) should follow along with the new reservation. No idea if Spirit does this or not; with their reputation, probably not.

  • Alan Gore

    LW should have just canceled the first flight for a refund in response to the hurricane offer, rather than rescheduling. When you’re sure of having a destination to go to, you can always book again, whether or not on Spirit.

  • cscasi

    Probably would have been the best course of action. I guess they thought things would be back to more normalcy by the time they had rebooked for late September. Sometimes things do not work out and it did cost them the value of their tickets

  • fshaff

    The LW wrote, ” Later we decided to cancel the flight altogether because our condo still had no power or water.” If they canceled the flight, how were they deemed no-shows?

  • Blamona

    So which one? Cancel or no show? Did that flight fly? Flying has nothing to do with her condo unless bought as package and got insurance. Sorry but this flight flew so no refund should be given. (Where she goes after Southwest got her there has nothing to do with Southwest). I feel terrible for hurricane victims (I’m one myself) but this shouldn’t qualify— she got lucky you got involved

  • fairmont1955

    Sometimes I wonder how people can manage to get through every day, given how little attention they seem to pay to significant life details.

  • fairmont1955

    Because they probably never actually went through the steps to cancel.

  • jmj

    Lesson for spirit travelers: prepay for luggage the night before flying.

  • Michael__K

    Then how did they get a refund for the base fare?
    There’s a disconnect here… The “No Show” explanation doesn’t completely add up.

  • Kevin Nash

    Lesson for travelers: avoid flying Spirit airlines.

  • Kevin Nash

    Where in the story does it say that OP received the refund for the base fare?

  • Michael__K

    It doesn’t explicitly say, but Spirit’s executive contact refers to this as a “hurricane-related cancellation” which implies that the base fare should have been available as a refund or credit. It’s possible that the OP wrote off the base fare as a lost/sunk cost.

  • Kevin Nash

    The second sentence at the top says OP “knows her $80 flights aren’t refundable.”

    What that means to me is that OP likely ate the base fares because she knew they were non-refundable and then forgot to formally cancel the flight causing her to appear as a “no show.”

  • Chris Johnson

    Amen to that. Never mind all those non-refundable fees they charge, their planes are like flying asylums with the inmates running everything. It’s not worth the money you save.

  • Marc

    Out of principle, I could never share the words “generous” and “Spirit Airlines” in the same sentence.

  • Annie M

    Why do these consumers deliberately leave out important details like they were no shows!

  • Annie M

    It seems they canceled the second flight they changed the original from.

  • Annie M

    There was no refund on the base fare. They changed the dates on the original flight with no penalties. It appears they were no shows for the second re-scheduled flight. No where does it say anything about them getting a refund of the base fares.

  • Annie M

    It says Spirit “allowed them to change their flights to another date with no penalties” but they were apparently no shows for the re-scheduled flight.
    (That’s the one they claimed they canceled but actually didn’t)

  • Jim

    Sadly my mother in law uses this airline often. The prices for luggage go up in three stages. One price when you buy tickets, increases immediately after until you check in online, then another price if you pay at the airport.

    So buy waiting it costs more, but you are absolutely right to wait or fly another airline.

    I will never defend this airline, but after booking tickets for my mother in law so many times, I have to admit they disclose everything up front rather well.

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