There’s a hurricane coming, but Spirit Airlines has a hand out

With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on South Carolina, Brenda Williams has to cancel her vacation. Why won’t Spirit Airlines offer her a full refund?

Question: I need your help getting a full refund from Spirit Airlines. I was recently scheduled to fly from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, S.C., I had made the reservation through Hotwire Vacations.

On the day I was supposed to fly to South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew struck the area. The governor declared a state of emergency. The hotel I was supposed to stay at was closed, and a manager advised me to request a refund from Hotwire Vacations.

I received a refund for the hotel. But when I asked about getting my airfare back, a Hotwire Vacations representative told me to contact Spirit directly. Spirit told me that if I canceled over the phone, it would cost me $200, so I should go online to cancel, where I would pay $180.

I called Hotwire Vacations and told them I would do neither, since I was not voluntarily canceling. They said I could reschedule my flights and use my flight credit, but that isn’t possible. I’m a nurse and I can’t rearrange my life to travel next week.

I emailed Spirit, asking for a full refund, and I waited for reply. I received an email that said, “Sorry, but the inbox you sent your concerns to is not monitored.” I want all of my $800 back. I’m so frustrated. — Brenda Williams, Riverdale, Ill.

Answer: When I saw the words “Spirit Airlines” and “full refund” in the same sentence, I almost choked on my fifth cup of espresso.

But there’s something about this case that your letter doesn’t reveal: Half of our advocacy team on the East Coast was in the dark, ourselves victims of the hurricane, and we knew this wasn’t a laughing matter — or a frivolous request.

Airlines must offer a full and immediate refund if they cancel a flight. But Spirit hadn’t canceled your flight — yet.

For uncanceled flights, Spirit offered to waive its modification charge or fare differences through Oct. 14. What it didn’t make clear through its site — but should have — was that refunds must be issued when flights are canceled. Not credits. Full refunds.

Spirit’s policy was clear, but you had booked the package through Hotwire Vacations. Hotwire could have advocated for a refund. A large tour operator can exert pressure on an airline (yes, even Spirit) to offer a one-time refund, particularly at a time like this.

Our advocates recommended that you put your grievance in writing. You did, but it didn’t really help. We shared executive contacts at Spirit. Ditto.

I think Spirit’s fees are ridiculous. But that’s a topic for another story.

In the end, our advocates used the last of their cell phone battery to call Spirit on your behalf. The airline agreed to issue a full refund. The email you received makes it look as if it was a goodwill gesture. Spirit Airlines’ site shows your flight was canceled.

Why did Spirit refund Brenda Williams' flight?

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