Did Spirit Airlines pull a bait-and-switch on a credit card application?

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

Before having the ticket issued, I called reservations to ensure the discount was applied correctly.

I was assured that the credit application was approved, the discount was applied and I could use the card to pay for my ticket. I was also assured that the 15,000 bonus miles would be credited to my free Spirit frequent flyer account on my statement following completion of my trip.

But Spirit only added 5,000 miles to the account. The remaining 10,000 points? Missing in action, apparently.

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I was finally told that I was not issued a Free Spirit Onyx World MasterCard but rather a Free Spirit World MasterCard which only offered 5,000 miles.

At no time during my conversation with the Spirit Airlines reservation agent on that day was I told that my card would not be the Onyx World MasterCard. It was my understanding that I was getting the Onyx World MasterCard.

I feel that I was duped by this bait-and-switch practice. I wouldn’t have applied for another credit card had I known this would happen.

This is an easy one. If Fancsali applied for the card that offered 15,000 bonus miles, then Spirit should honor the agreement. (Related: A bait-and-switch on my airline ticket?)

My advocacy team and I contacted Spirit on Fancsali’s behalf. But it didn’t make any changes to its customer’s account. (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

It did, however, make a change to its website, according to Fancsali.

Under credit card offers, the site used to say:

1. Bonus Miles: World MasterCard Cardmembers will receive 15,000 bonus miles and Platinum Cardmembers will receive 5,000 bonus miles after first use of your account for a Purchase or Balance Transfer (that are not later returned or rescinded) in the first 60 days after account opening.

Now it says,

1. See Terms and Conditions. Must be an Active Member by having account activity each month, i.e., using your FREE SPIRIT Onyx World MasterCard credit card each month for at least one purchase, cash advance or balance transfer. First use bonus award for World MasterCard Cardmember is earned in the form of 15,000 bonus miles, which is enough for 3 roundtrip Off-peak award tickets. First use bonus award for Platinum MasterCard Cardmember is earned in the form of 5,000 bonus miles, which is enough for 1 roundtrip off-peak award ticket.. To qualify, a purchase transaction must be made in the first 60 days of account opening.

A-ha. So there had been some missing fine print that wasn’t fully disclosed at the time of Fancsali’s application.

The terms and conditions now refers to the Free Spirit Onyx World MasterCard but they do not specifically define it as (“World MasterCard”). Therefore, I don’t believe they should use World MasterCard in reference to the 15,000 bonus miles if that is not the card they mean. The language is way too ambiguous.

Will Spirit sell as many credit cards with this ambiguous language as before? You bet. Does it care if Fancsali is upset with the way it handled this case? Apparently not, and why should it be, anyway? Fancsali is flying to Fort Myers on Spirit and will probably fly on the airline again soon, thanks to the card.

Is this good customer service? Well, what do you think?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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