I just want a refund for my flight. Can you do that, Spirit?

When James Shapiro’s flight is delayed and then canceled, Spirit emails him an offer of a free replacement ticket — but doesn’t follow through on its promise. Can our advocates shake loose from Spirit a refund for Shapiro’s substitute flight?

Question: My wife and I recently flew from Chicago-O’Hare Airport to Fort Lauderdale for a vacation in Boca Raton on Spirit Airlines. I’m a surgeon and had an operation scheduled for 7:30 a.m. the day after our return flight to Chicago.

Although we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport with plenty of time in advance of our scheduled departure time, we learned at check-in that our flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Then it was delayed for another two hours “because Chicago was supposedly overwhelmed.” (There wasn’t any inclement weather in Chicago and we never heard what this meant.) Then the flight was canceled altogether. The passengers were told to go to Spirit’s ticket counter for rebooking on the next available flight, “first come first serve.”

At the same time, I received an email from Spirit offering me replacement tickets “at no charge” by clicking on a hyperlink. Since my wife had gone to a recharging station to repower her smartphone, I couldn’t race the other passengers to the ticket counter. I clicked on the hyperlink in the email, which took me to Spirit’s website, but not at a page that offered free ticket rebooking.

As I needed to get home urgently and couldn’t find any way to rebook our flights for free as promised, I booked new seats for us on the next flight, which departed two hours later, for $576. I then spent an hour on the phone with Spirit’s customer service agents, in which I requested a refund for our canceled tickets as well as our replacement tickets — to no avail. The agents agreed to refund the canceled flights, but not to honor the email’s promise of replacement airfares “at no charge.”

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I’ve since emailed Spirit customer service executives, asking for a refund of the replacement ticket costs, but all my emails were ignored. Can you help me get the replacement tickets refunded? — James Shapiro, Kenosha, Wis.

Answer: You definitely didn’t need this kind of trouble the night before performing a surgery.

But Spirit actually wasn’t contractually obligated to both fly you to your destination and refund your airfare. Its contract of carriage, the legal document that spells out the obligations it owes its customers, provides that in the event of flight cancellations,

When a customer holding a confirmed reservation on a Spirit flight which is delayed because of a schedule irregularity (including but not limited to, a missed connection, flight cancellation, omission of a scheduled stop, substitution of equipment, or schedule change), Spirit may rebook the customer on Spirit’s first flight on which seats are available to the customer’s original destination without additional charge. [italics ours] Our staff will focus on rebooking as many customers as possible on alternate flights, either direct to the destination or via connections through other airports to best accommodate the customer’s needs.

So its agents’ refusal to refund you the cost of your replacement tickets doesn’t violate its contract of carriage.

But assuming Spirit had a valid reason for canceling your flight to O’Hare, its agents should have upheld the promise it made in the email rather than leaving you to scramble and pay for a replacement flight.

When its agents ignored your emails, you might have escalated your complaint using the executive contacts for Spirit Airlines on our website. Instead, you turned to our advocacy team.

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Our advocates reached out to Spirit Airlines on your behalf. Spirit has agreed to issue you a refund for the replacement tickets.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Rebecca

    In the future, the OP should look into flying through Milwaukee. My brother lives near Kenosha, and it’s significantly easier – less traffic, way cheaper parking, barely any security lines – to fly in and out of Mitchell airport. Southwest has great deals in and out of the Milwaukee airport, we fly there sometimes instead of to ORD or MDW.

  • Joe Blasi

    what about not flying on spirit!

  • Rebecca

    Yes – that too!!!

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    A surgeon? Flying Spirit? Assuming he’s not a tree surgeon, if he has to be back on a certain day for an operation that someone is presumably paying a six figure sum for, he’d be better off with a private plane.

  • sirwired

    Yeah, I’m not sure why there was an expectation for BOTH a refund and the replacement tickets. (Obviously, since they probably cost more, what you want is a refund for the replacements.)

  • Jeff W.

    Even with Southwest, the glory days of Mitchell are gone with the death of Midwest Express. Miss the cookie…

    But Southwest flies direct to FLL from MKE, so I would take that in a heartbeat over Spirit and flying ORD to FLL. Unless the schedule was not optimal. Wouldn’t think a surgeon was that price sensitive to flight costs.

  • Steve Rabin

    wait a minute–isn’t an e-mail stating they will provide a ticket “at no charge” a smoking gun?

  • Annie M

    Why didn’t he just go to the desk with everyone else? If they had rebooked him this wouldn’t have happened.

  • Bill___A

    I dont know why he feels entitled to what amounts to a double refund from what I can see and I also don’t really understand why he got help doing it. Yes, things were not done perfectly by the airline. Would have been better if they had run things more smoothly.

  • Kerr

    Waiting for his wife while she recharged her phone?

  • Rebecca

    I am originally from the south side of Chicago, so we always flew out of MDW. I remember that also – when you had to go into an actual travel agency to buy tickets. And I’ll always pay extra for a direct flight. I did that before kids, now it’s unthinkable to have to deal with a layover to fly domestically.

  • sirwired

    Hey, if somebody wants to save some coin by flying a ULCC, I won’t judge…

    Now, if he had arrived a day late and been demanding Spirit pay him for his lost day of work? That’d be the time to wonder what on earth he was doing on Spirit.

  • Alan Gore

    Why would a surgeon book on Spirit? If you really have to get there on time, use a carrier that has frequent flights not just on your preferred routing but on the alternatives that you might have to use if trouble develops. Spirit is for people who don’t mind if their one daily flight is canceled and they have to come back the next day.

  • Sue

    Why is an important surgeon even flying on Spirit airlines?

  • John Baker

    Seriously … Someone that has a hard deadline to get home and they fly Spirit of all carriers? Not only that but they think the airline is going essentially fly them home for free (refund both the cancelled and flown flights). The email didn’t promise that. It was allowing them to rebook without additional cost.

    Glad this one worked out for him.

  • Pegtoo

    If you’re job has critical scheduling, an extra day for cushion is definitely in order. But I don’t understand the shock to see a surgeon trying to save money… Any income bracket should/can do that. BUT you need to shop wisely and know what you’re getting (losing) with those savings.

  • Tigger57

    Maybe this surgeon should not be flying Spirit Airlines or not schedule his flight home the night before surgery! I am glad I was not the one on the operating table that mornig.

  • El Dorado Hills

    Would you please tell me what ULCC means. I am trying to learn these acronyms but this one I can’t figure out. Thank you.

  • sirwired

    Certainly… Ultra Low Cost Carrier; Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant are the largest US examples of this model. (No-frills and everything except a seat at some undetermined location on the crowded plane is included in the base price.)

  • El Dorado Hills

    Thank you. Appreciate it.

  • Annie M

    Oh come on – can she not be 10 feet away from him while she is charging her phone? It isn’t like he was leaving the building, all he had to do was go back after or tell her to meet him. Not buying the excuse.

  • cscasi

    Or at least coming back a day early, just to ensure something like what happened to him does not cause him to have to go through what he did.

  • Mel65

    I’m baffled. The OP wanted Spirit to refund BOTH sets of tickets? One or the other, dude! That’s kind of greedy. The “rebook tickets at no charge” clearly meant “for what you’ve already paid,” and it’s supremely disingenuous to think they meant “we’ll give you new tickets for free AND give you back what you paid for you old tickets because we’re just that awesome.”

  • Mel65

    And he shouldn’t have been charged for the replacement tickets. But, he shouldn’t have ALSO gotten his original tickets refunded.

  • Mel65

    If they can’t be apart for a few minutes or whatever for something this important… I assume she was aware of the ticketing issue. Seriously, how hard is: “Hey honey I’m heading to the ticket counter, you can wait here since it’s apparently IMPERATIVE that you charge your phone RIGHT NOW…”

  • Mel65

    As soon as I saw, “I had surgery scheduled for 7:30 am …” i knew what was coming. Even if I were flying “Ultra-Reliable, Almost Always on Time” Airlines, I wouldn’t schedule something for that early the next day. Maybe not even at ALL the very next day. Murphy’s Law, Sh*t happens, Bad things happen to good people, If something can go wrong it will, Man plan, God laughs… pick an aphorism; they exist for a reason!

  • DepartureLevel

    LOL, I wish I had a dollar for every doctor that has stood in front of me with a delayed or canceled flight and said they had “surgery in the morning”. Really?, do ALL doctors travel less than 12 hours before surgery ? This is a just another case of wanting his way, when he wanted it and exactly how he wanted it to go down. He impetuously forged ahead and did a new booking (all because of waiting for cell phones to charge and didn’t want to leave his wife to do that by herself?). Then he embellishes the story with his supposed early morning surgery to not only get back his original fare but the new (higher) one as well? Like others have already stated, what doctor books on Spirit ? I guess it’s safe to say this guy is not a brain surgeon.

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