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.

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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.)

She writes:

I joined the $9 Fare Club expecting and looking for those low fares advertised. They did advertise the lower fares, but after I join the Fare Club, the very flights I was looking at, as you know, did not exist with the lower fares.

I did read the fine print, and realizing the fares were not guaranteed, did it anyway. However, I was expecting to find something as I search but no, nada. In fact the same destinations roundtrip on Delta were $220; AirTran was $170 — Spirit Air was $295. I was ticked!

Sanford wanted her money back. As you can imagine, the airline wouldn’t budge. (See section 3.3 of its terms, which state, “Enrollment fees are non-refundable, notwithstanding Member’s cancellation of membership in the Club.”) Then she found my site with customer contacts for Spirit.

Searching for a way to contact customer service at Spirit Airlines on their page was a disaster. All the links were working but one, and guess which one did not work? Yes sir, you are correct: the link to “contact customer service.”

Well, thanks to your site you listed all the contacts. I love it! I know you commented about contacting the CEO after no response for 6 to 8 weeks. Out of school, I worked for JC Penney’s, the credit regional office, and people complaining only obtained results when they went straight to the top, the CEO, Regional Office in New York.

I sent an email requesting an immediate refund of my monies and that I was very dissatisfied. I sent and copied the email to all of the above. I received a response the next morning from sales support, saying sorry, no can do, and I can cancel if I like.

I emailed her back with comments that I did not desire to cancel (you get nothing back if you do that), but I was requesting a refund for false leading and advertisement. I copied her email and my response to all the above once again.

Within the hour Tony Lefebvre, the senior vice president for customer service, approved my full refund. So, Mr. Elliott, thanks for the victory.

You’re welcome. (A Spirit insider contacted me after this post appeared to clarify that it was Heather Harvey, not Tony Lefebvre, who green-lighted the refund.)

I’m glad Spirit offered Sanford a full refund, but my opinion of fare clubs — of any travel club, really — remains low.

If Spirit really believed its Fare Club offered superior deals, it would offer a full refund on the enrollment fees. Instead, it pockets your $40, whether the deals are good or not.

That’s not good.

Update (1:30 p.m.): More from my Spirit insider, who mentions that there are sales nearly every week that are only available to $9 Fare Club members. The person notes that the club has a “ton” of members, but if you don’t check email regularly, you’ll miss out and consider the club useless. Also, the prime fares (LGA-FLL, ORD–FLL, etc.) sell out fast, so members have to be quick.

(Photo: vnvlain/Flickr Creative Commons)