Spirit Airlines math: $1,764 divided by two is $492

Malcolm Woolf is no mathematician, but you don’t have to be one to know that half of $1,764 isn’t $492. Unless you’re Spirit Airlines, in which case it is — and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what we call Spirit Airlines math.

Woolf wants me to help the airline with its arithmetic skills, and if I can’t, he says he’d settle for a “public shaming” of the airline. (Ah, but he doesn’t know Spirit like we do. Spirit loves to be publicly shamed. Twisted, but true.)

Woolf and his family, flying from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale during the holidays, had their flights canceled because the crew didn’t show up. A Spirit representative promised him they would refund “half of our roundtrip fare.”

Spirit Airlines math sure is fuzzy!

The average consumer — and bear in mind, this site serves the average consumer — would take the representative at his word. The average consumer wouldn’t worry about fare classes and categories, which have been created by an industry in order to squeeze more money from them. They’d just assume that half means half.

But some of you know better, my friends. You know about airline math.

“Our full fare was $1764, so I was led to expect a refund of $882,” he says.

Instead, Spirit sent him $492.

“Spirit is refusing to honor their promise to refund us half of our fare, stating that we are entitled only to the amount of the affected travel leg,” he says.

Sigh.

The airline explains

It’s not too hard to explain this one, of course. The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore cost more than the flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale.

I’ll let Spirit break it down. Here’s how the airline responded to his request for a more equitable reimbursement:

I took a look at your reservation, and I see that you were refunded for the full amount of the affected leg of travel.

This included the fare for each customer ($93.09 each) and the bag charges totaling $120.00. This brought you to the grand total.

Please keep in mind that refunding the affected half of your booking does not equal splitting the entire fare in half. I definitely understand how that may be confused.

Yes, so can I.

Fuzzy math across the airline industry

And the question isn’t so much why Spirit and the rest of the industry does it. (Because they can? Because everyone else does it? And because it makes them profitable? Who knows?)

No, the question is: Why would a Spirit employee promise half the fare back, knowing full well the numbers game Spirit plays?

Did a Spirit ticket agent really promise half of Woolf’s money back, or was this just a misunderstanding?

Whether Woolf made an assumption or not, it doesn’t matter. He was left with the impression he’d get more of his money back, and no business should leave its customer with that kind of impression.

I can go after Spirit, but I know what it will do. Absolutely nothing. At best, Woolf will receive a form apology.

Making matters worse, Woolf had to spend $1,150 for a walk-up fare to Fort Lauderdale on another carrier and lost a day of vacation because Spirit’s pilots didn’t show up for work, an event Spirit said was “beyond our control.” (It blames air traffic, which led to their delayed arrival.)

“Do I have any recourse?” he asks.

I wish he did.

Should I take Malcolm Woolf's case?

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