What is the value of a Spirit Airlines voucher if I can never use it?

Jill King-Fernandez and her family voluntarily give up their seats on a Spirit Airlines flight. In exchange, they’re offered flight vouchers. But the vouchers are unusable. Now what?

Question: We recently took our two young boys on their first plane trip to Colorado for my 40th birthday. My husband wanted to do something special to celebrate and take a family trip, so we booked tickets with Spirit Airlines.

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Our overall experience with the airline went well. The planes were on time, not too terribly uncomfortable, and staff were pleasant. However, on our return flight home, the plane from Denver to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was full. When we checked in at the counter, the ticket agent asked us if we would be willing to give up our seats and take the next flight. As an incentive, the airline offered us a flight out the next day, a hotel for the night, a $28 voucher for dinner at the airport, and the most exciting incentive: a free flight for all of us, anywhere that Spirit flies, as long as we book the flight within 60 days of issuance of the vouchers.

My husband and I were so thrilled to be offered a free flight, considering how expensive travel is with a family and how this trip was indeed a trip of a lifetime for us. We accepted with no hesitation and returned home the next day.

Between me and my husband, we have contacted the airline on at least six occasions on the telephone and even have gone to the airport to try to utilize our vouchers. The most recent attempt, I was on the phone with an agent for two hours trying to book a date and a destination.

Needless to say, every date and destination that was worth a trip, given the children’s school schedules, was blacked out. We tried everything. The only opportunity was a short trip to Boston for the weekend, and then when I went to book it, the taxes were over $600. I was so upset and felt completely duped by these supposed “free” tickets.

I wrote a letter to Spirit explaining our situation, and the airline responded with new vouchers with an extension on the booking date. Excited and hopeful, I once again attempted to plan a trip for us. I was met with the same limitations and frustrations as before, and have had no resolution. We were basically fooled.

I don’t feel that the airline should have told us that we got free tickets anywhere it flies and then not honor them. The saddest part is that my children were so excited for another family trip, and having to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen was really hard. Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated. — Jill King-Fernandez, Fort Lauderdale, Fl.

Answer: Spirit should have warned you that seats were subject to availability, that you would have to pay taxes on the fare and that the vouchers expired in two months. By your account, the airline cautioned you only on the last item, which you didn’t seem to think would be a problem. But it was.

Most airline vouchers last a full year, not two months, which means Spirit’s vouchers may be difficult to use. That’s something you should have carefully considered before accepting the offer.

Let’s talk about overbooking for a second — also not a Spirit-specific problem. Virtually every airline sells more seats than it has available, expecting that some passengers won’t show up. But when everyone does, airlines have to start asking for volunteers.

Here’s a tip: Don’t take the first offer. Under federal law, if you’re involuntarily denied boarding, you’re entitled to cash and a seat on the next available flight. And that cash can easily be turned into an airline ticket.

By the way, Spirit should never use the word “free” to describe the vouchers you received. If you have to pay money to use it, then it isn’t free.

After you contacted Spirit, it agreed to issue less-restrictive vouchers — a reasonable response from the airline. Even then, you say you couldn’t find an available flight. That’s when you turned to me.

I think a brief, polite email to an executive at Spirit might have helped fix this. I list their names, numbers and emails on my consumer-advocacy site: Spirit Airlines.

I contacted Spirit on your behalf, and it worked with you to find an available flight for your family.

14 thoughts on “What is the value of a Spirit Airlines voucher if I can never use it?

  1. How on earth could taxes on four round-trip plane tickets in the US be $600? Even if there was a connection each way, they shouldn’t have been more than about $200.

    1. Even flying into Logan that seems extremely excessive. Does Spirit service Manchester Nh or Providence, RI? Those are the two closest regionals and should have been offer to help lower cost.

    2. I think the person was combining taxes with the fees. The flight was “free”, but all of the other Spirit goodies were not.

  2. I am glad that Chris and team were able to help them get Spirit to work with Jill King-Fernandez and find her family flights where they could use the vouchers that Spirit had given them for volunteering to give up their seats on an oversold flight.
    I don’t think I would ever accept a voucher or vouchers with a two month expiration; especially during peak travel season.

    1. If the CEO of Spirit is serious about making service improvements, changing the time limit on vouchers from two months to one year is a positive (and tangible) step in the right direction.

  3. I’m sorry, but it just needs to be said. Anyone who flies Spirit should just forget about complaining about anything. It’s a bargain basement scam factory. Expect crappy service, ridiculous restrictions, additional charges for just about everything, and lie upon lie. This is not a secret – if you know about Elliott.org you’ve read it all. So WHY book with them? Let the buyer beware – if you chose to fly Spirit then your issues are your problem.

    1. Amen to that. You get what you pay for (and I’m not so sure Spirit is all that cheap anyway when you factor in luggage and other charges). The first and last time I flew them, I felt like I was sitting on a bus to a mental hospital, among other things. They are a scam, disguised as an airline.

  4. The OP has to pay for bags (including carry ons) and the taxes, and the flights were subject to serious blackouts. I imagine the actual ticket ended up costing about what the same flight on Southwest would cost out of FLL. For comparison, you can fly FLL-BOS for around $200 round trip including tax and bags; I just looked. My mom and I routinely fly ATL-MDW and vice versa on Southwest for around $150 (sometimes like mid-January or late September, we’ve found flights for $100 and even a little less) per person round trip.

    Considering the vouchers are subject to an insane amount of blackouts, the taxes and fees the OP is going to have to pay, and the hours and hours she spent attempting to use them, it’s just not worth it. I’d be willing to bet she could have purchased the same flight on Southwest (or another airline for that matter) and spent <$50/person more than she ended up spending with the vouchers. Which means her time was worth less than minimum wage, because searching an aggregate site and Southwest takes all of a few minutes. I'm 100% sure the OP's time is worth more than that. Hopefully next time she doesn't fly Spirit.

  5. Spirit Airlines and their antics never fail to amaze me. I avoid them like the plague, my one experience was less than pleasant, I felt like I was on a bus to a mental hospital (don’t really want to get into the details). To convince a family to get bumped for vouchers entitling them to free tickets in the future and them preventing them from using them in the future is just plain criminal. However, most families with young children typically take vacations once a year at most anyway, taking two vacations less than 60 days apart is pretty rare for most middle class families with children, unless their most recent vacation happened to be close to a holiday, and they needed to fly to Grandma’s for that holiday. I wouldn’t have been interested in vouchers that I could only use up to 60 days later, even without restrictions.

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