Demand Your Money Back for All the Free Items You Didn’t Use on Your Last Flight

Spirit Airlines wants you to demand your money back from legacy airlines for all of the ‘free’ stuff you didn’t use on your last flight. Since in Spirit’s view, you were overcharged. (HT: Paul B.)

[M]any passengers skip the complimentary services that they paid for in a bundled price. For example, one in four (25%) passengers didn’t bring a “complimentary” carry-on bag, but likely had to pony up as much as $35 within their ticket price for that amenity. In some cases, customers lost that money because the overhead bin space was full, and they were forced to have their bag checked. With 586 million travelers on major airlines in 2014, Spirit estimates customers spent more than $5 billion on carry-on bags that they didn’t use.

It may seem small, but the costs for those “free” snacks add up too. Twenty percent of passengers skipped the complimentary snacks, but may have been charged up to $3.50 for each one. That’s approximately $410 million of unused snacks that airlines benefited from by charging their customers in the price of their ticket.

Just like Spirit has a fake twitter account that’s supposedly unmanned to save on labor costs…

… they also have fake lawyers to help you with your refund claim.

Here’s what their survey found:

Results of Spirit’s survey of what passengers don’t use:

25% of air travelers did not bring a carry-on
20% skipped the snack (peanuts, chips, etc.)
21% said no to coffee, tea, or soda
40% didn’t read the in-flight magazine
41% didn’t check-in with an agent
52% didn’t use WiFi (however other surveys suggest WiFi usage is below 10%)

I don’t know which airlines offer free wifi (and maybe Virgin America’s San Francisco – Boston and San Francisco – Austin flights are hitting 48% usage…).

And anyone that didn’t read the inflight magazine probably owes the airline money — since they weren’t eyeballs for the airline’s advertisers. (Hint: those magazines aren’t written as a service to you.)

However, the bottom line is that Spirit Airlines can be cheap, and you get what you pay for.

  • That doesn’t work for me because of a lack of a redundant schedule to back up their recent poor on-time performance (and that they don’t let you have TSA PreCheck).

  • But they certainly are cheap transportation.

  • The legroom is awful, but if you buy their “Big Front Seat” it can be better legroom that’s still cheaper than a legacy carrier.

  • But pay attention! You need to do everything Spirit’s way or you’ll hit big fees.

AirTran, in its post-Valuejet pre-Southwest Airlines acquisition days, build it’s model on reversing the traditional legacy hub and spoke system. Legacy airlines used to offer — and are again offering — banked hubs, with flights clustered together to give you the best possible connection times. The airport gets hugely busy, staff bring in planes and get them out, and then sit around for a few hours waiting on the next bank of flights. It’s labor-intensive and expensive, but generally convenient for travelers (when it works). Instead of having planes and staff waiting on people in a banked-hub model, AirTran was early to the idea of people waiting on planes.

Spirit does more than that. They want to make sure you don’t weigh down the plane and cause them extra fuel. They want to make sure they don’t have to have extraneous airport staff, so they put big financial penalties in place to ensure you print out your own boarding pass. Their fees are as much about incentivizing passenger behavior in order to avoid costs as they are about raising revenue.

So instead of being ready to respond to your needs, you fly Spirit and have to fit yourself into their boxes. And if you can do it, they’re cheap.

It’s great that Spirit Airlines exists. They offer a clearly defined product that meets the needs of certain consumers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wish I could get my money back for all the “free” items I didn’t use in Las Vegas hotels, but was charged for in a “Resort Fee”.

  2. Not my kind of travel. I would rather not have to bother with paying for a coke or a seat assignment, although paying for seat assignment at time of booking is annoyingly okay. I don’t want a stripped down airline experience where I have to pay for each individual service. I would rather pay for an “all inclusive” experience.

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