Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

complaintsSpirit Airlines’ wacky new marketing campaign encourages you to hate on them. The ironic thing is that I never had an issue with Spirit until I tested out their Hate Thousand Miles campaign.

Log onto HateThousandMiles.com and you’re greeted by an assaulting yellow screen and an intimidating blonde woman hurling expletives into a cartoon cloud. The video is something you would see on a comedy site like Funny or Die — a man strums a guitar while the blonde woman explains the campaign and encourages one and all to hate on any airline of their choice. They then go on to share some laughable tweet-length complaints about Spirit in the “spirit” of fun and humility. All you have to do is complain, and you will receive 8,000 FREE SPIRIT frequent flier miles within 10 days. You start to think, “Hey, what’s the catch?”

I don’t have much experience with Spirit, but inspired by my recent carry-on conundrum I took the bait of a potentially free flight and vented about the now-uselessness of my carry-on in 140 characters. The first catch is the required fields — the very first of which takes your email, home address and phone number for a free account with Spirit. There’s already enough information about me floating in the Internet ether, so fair enough.

Now equipped with a member number, I submitted the grievance and was greeted by a few expected pages of terms and conditions. Spirit can modify or terminate the program at any time, flight cancellations won’t be credited, I can unsubscribe thusly, yadda yadda. I accepted my fate, still holding out hope for a flight to anywhere (okay, somewhere). Spirit congratulated me for getting my beef with an airline off my chest, and ensured that within 10 days I would receive an email with my miles.

10 Ways Air Travel Has Gone Downhill

I started dreaming about all the places 8,000 miles could bring me from New Jersey. After much investigation I found a chart that explains which destinations I’d be eligible for. Standard flights are out to any region — those start at 10,000 miles. But an array of “off-peak” journeys in regions one through three (up to 24,999 physical miles) came in at 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 FREE SPIRIT miles. Perfect!

Perfect until I realized I had no idea exactly what qualifies as “off-peak”… and still haven’t had any luck finding it (if you do, let me know). In theory, the nearby Philadelphia airport could whisk me to all but two locations on the chart during off-peak times. I headed back to the terms and conditions for any semblance of sense and I came across an unwelcome surprise: “For members redeeming Off-Peak awards, the Award Redemption Fee must be paid with a Spirit MasterCard.”

Wait, what redemption fee? I don’t even have a MasterCard.

“Members will need a credit card at time of booking and are responsible for paying any and all applicable taxes and fees (including, but not limited to: Customs, inspection, immigration, security, agriculture, facility and departure/arrival charges, any administrative fees and the September 11th U.S. Security Fee of up to $10 USD roundtrip).” Okay, I can handle $10, but how much is all that other stuff? I couldn’t pay it anyway because I don’t have the right card.

In the end, I giggled at the crude comments in the video, I submitted my complaint, I bought into the hype — but if your campaign is to be transparent about what your airline is offering customers, perhaps the same standard should also apply to your campaign.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane viewToday we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including a viral image of a flight attendant flipping the bird, the possible end of airline fees and an attempt to make airline loyalty programs “sustainable.”

Middle Seat, Middle Finger
The image, taken from a flight attendant’s rear cabin point of view, shows an outstretched arm with a certain finger aimed skyward. The sentiment is directed towards the fliers. Now Tatiana Kozlenko, an Aeroflot flight attendant said to have posted the pic on her Vkontakte page (Vkontakte is a social network in Russia), has been deplaned from the company. Russia-based news and TV outfit RT.com reports that the pic was posted back in October 2011 and had been languishing in relative obscurity until a popular Russian blogger reposted it on Twitter.

Kozlenko says it’s 1) not her in the photo, 2) not an Aeroflot plane and 3) not something she posted herself (she says she just tagged herself to it). Regardless, the airline has still laid down the long finger of the law. Aeroflot tweeted Monday morning that the firing was justified: “The fact of posting a photo shows Tatiana’s attitude towards passengers and her duties. She acknowledged her fault when she spoke to the leadership of the company.”

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Airlines Running out of Fee Ideas?
Around the globe, airlines charged an estimate $36 billion in ancillary fees in 2012. But on Time.com, Brad Tuttle ponders whether a la carte pricing may have reached maximum altitude. Simply put, there’s almost nothing left to charge fliers for. What gave him that idea? The CEO of Spirit Airlines, the undisputed czar of deconstruction, recently told American Media Public Marketplace that the wellspring of added-fee innovations is starting to run dry. We’re not convinced. (Still left on the docket are a fee to talk to a human, fines for in-flight flatulence and an up-charge for armrest dominion.)

In the end, Tuttle doesn’t buy it either. He argues that any dearth of new ideas would be outweighed by ascending fees for baggage, onboard meals and the like.

An Airline Fee We Might Actually Want to Pay

Loyalty Pays Less
Veteran travel writer Chris Elliott reports that Delta is the first legacy airline to bind the value of its frequent-flier program not only to the number of miles passengers fly but also to the amount they spend. From January 1, 2014, loyalists will reach new echelons through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights. The key downside, among others: Snagging a great deal will help you less in the loyalty program game.

Naturally, Delta’s new program will help the airline’s bottom line. In the airline’s mind, too many undeserving fliers were benefiting. For Elliott, “As painful as these changes are, they make sense.” JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America already have programs that reward fliers based on how much they spend, he says. “Air travelers tempted to give their loyalty to an airline like Delta now won’t cling to an empty promise that they can reach elite status any other way than by spending their way there. Some will refuse to participate and will instead purchase a ticket that makes sense for them, and not for their loyalty program.”

Frequent Flier Miles: How to Use ‘Em, Not Lose ‘em

– written by Dan Askin

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.


If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?

But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.

In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.

According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.

Got a Complaint? Take It to Twitter — Even if Airlines Say Not to

When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:

“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”

Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”

O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.

In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”

He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.

Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airline baggage feesWhen Delta first began charging for a second checked bag internationally about four years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never fly them again. My husband is European and every time we go over we bring loads of stuff with us. Eventually we simply got used to the $50 fee. But then it went up to $75 and that was it for us — no more second checked bag. And then it went up again!

Unfortunately, the airline is no longer alone in charging a truly hefty fee for that second bag. United just announced that it too is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $75 to $100 for international flights.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

I can’t help but wonder why the airlines are doing this. Do they really hope to make more money from folks who either don’t know how to trim their luggage down or are visiting relatives and therefore expected to lug over boatloads of gifts?

Or maybe they’re aiming for the point of no return at which most fliers will simply throw up their hands and say no more. Are too many second checked bags weighing the airlines down?

Some say this is what Spirit was aiming for when it recently began charging folks up to $100 for putting carry-on bags in the overhead bin. Cranky Flier, for one, said the airlines are penalizing passenger behavior they want to discourage. In Spirit’s case they’re hoping to cut down the number of people who wait until they’re at the gate to inform the airline they’ll be using overhead bin space.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

With fuel prices what they are and airlines trying to save every penny, perhaps it’s in their interest to cut down on the number of second checked bags. And for those who aren’t getting the message — or don’t care — I guess the $100 fee covers the extra fuel.

What do you think? Would you pay $100 for a second checked bag?



– written by Dori Saltzman

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

A Vietnam War veteran dying of cancer recently had insult added to injury when Spirit Airlines refused to refund his plane ticket, reports FoxNews.com. Jerry Meekins, 76, booked a flight last month with the ultra-low-cost carrier to visit his daughter, who was undergoing surgery. But a couple of weeks later, his doctor told him that the cancer he’d been battling for two years was terminal and that he was simply too ill to fly.

Meekins’ ticket was nonrefundable, so the airline refused to give him back the $197 he’d paid, or to allow him to transfer the ticket to his daughter. Instead, Spirit has offered only a credit for a future flight — one that Meekins will likely never be able to take.




Spirit’s stance on nonrefundable tickets isn’t unusual in the industry. On most airlines, the cheapest available fares are “nonrefundable and nontransferable”; if you want the option to change or cancel your plans, you’ll have to pay a premium for more flexible fares. But it’s not unheard of for airlines to make exceptions to their policies based on extenuating circumstances such as Meekins’. Take this example from consumer advocate Chris Elliott, who successfully got US Airways to give a refund to a traveler suffering from from liver disease. Sure, we understand that rules are rules for a reason. But isn’t there any room for a little compassion?

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Apparently not at Spirit, where things seem to be business as usual. The airline’s home page is currently advertising its latest summer sale fares, illustrated by a woman in a bikini holding a couple of provocatively positioned beach balls:

spirit airlines home page



Stay classy, Spirit.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.

If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”

But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

spirit galacticHere at IndependentTraveler.com, we got through yesterday without slipping on any well-placed banana peels. (Whew.) But we did get a chuckle at some of the April Fool’s Day gags offered up by the airline industry this year.

Ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines extended its famous $9 fares to space travel with Spirit Galactic. Members of the carrier’s $9 Fare Club can enjoy ultra-cheap prices to the moon, but as always with Spirit, the devil’s in the details; additional “optional” fees include a million-dollar space suit and $1,200,000,000.99 for rocket fuel (“Hey, this stuff ain’t cheap”).

Spirit vs. Ryanair: Who’s the Ugliest Airline of Them All?

Skyscanner.net, an airfare search site, announced the launch of AirFair, a fare-free, “pay what you wish” airline that would allow passengers to give a donation based on what they think their flight was worth. “In order to ensure donations are sufficient to keep the airline profitable, AirFair has carried out extensive studies and plan[s] to offer flights only on routes most likely to generate high revenues,” reads the press release. “London City to St. Tropez, Monaco and Zurich are the first to be launched, whereas no flights to or from Scotland have been announced.” Zing!

Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.co.nz also trumpeted a splashy new product: Straight Up Fares, or standing-room-only tickets for full flights. Standing passengers, who can cling to hand straps dangling from the ceiling, will enjoy deep discounts “as consideration for the reduced inflight comfort, and the involuntary stranger-touching during turbulence,” according to the press release. For seniors who can’t easily reach the hand straps, says grabaseat manager Duane Perott, “We’ve modified a couple of Jolly Jumpers and hung them in the gap between the aft toilets. … We wanted to offer our elderly customers a solution with dignity, and I’m proud to say we’ve achieved that.”

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel

Finally, Canadian airline WestJet offers an innovative option for parents who don’t want to fly with their children any more than the rest of us do:



Did WestJet top last year’s effort, which called for airplanes filled with helium? Take a look:



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Spirit Airlines wants your help. Proving that there’s more than one way to view just about everything, Spirit is asking consumers to pressure their government representatives to end consumer protections.

Spirit Airlines has been having a rather public hissy fit, ever since the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new regulations took effect last week that require airlines and ticket agents to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their advertised airfares, and to disclose baggage fees.

Some airlines complained; most just changed their advertised prices to include taxes and fees and also changed the asterisk next to the airfares to reflect that change. Consumers now know the actual price of their purchase, just as they do when they buy a gallon of gasoline or a pack of cigarettes.

Spirit, however, dug in its heels. Perhaps distracted by its campaign to overturn the regulations, the airline simply didn’t advertise prices on its site for several days. The dollar signs and asterisks were still there, just no numbers. Instead, Spirit.com greets prospective passengers with a bold warning graphic next to the statement: “New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares. More info here.”

warning graphic


Clicking on “more info” takes you to a “say no to hidden taxes!” petition with links to representatives and senators. In the appeal, Spirit claims that by “hiding” taxes in airfare, the government can then “quietly increase their taxes.” And as “the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline,” Spirit doesn’t support the new DOT regs and asks consumers to help “stop this injustice.”

Yet the DOT’s mandate to show actual costs isn’t what really got Spirit’s knickers in a knot. The new regs also allow consumers to hold a reservation without payment or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours — provided the reservation is made one week or more prior to the departure date. In a press release dated January 31, 2012, Spirit posits that the new regulations regarding the 24-hour hold and no cancellation penalties will result in “unintended consequences” and cost consumers “millions” by forcing the airline to hold seat inventory for those who may not pay for it, leading to unfilled seats, and, somehow, lost American jobs. Spirit maintains that the 24-hour hold rule is consumer-friendly, “but comes at a cost all must bear.” And when Spirit says “all” it apparently means its customers.

Despite the fact that the new rules have only been in effect for a week and it’s unlikely there is hard data yet on costs to the airlines, Spirit is being proactive and has introduced the “DOTUC (Department of Transportation Unintended Consequences) fee,” a $2 each-way surcharge on the consumer.

When we tried booking a flight on Spirit, we did not see this fee listed with the rest of the taxes and fees. (Perhaps because it’s not a government-mandated fee, Spirit doesn’t have to disclose it?) Ironically, of all the extra charges that applied to our ticket, the highest by far was Spirit’s own “Passenger Usage Fee,” which you can only avoid by purchasing your ticket at the airport.

passenger usage fees


Gotta love such a consumer-friendly airline.

– written by Jodi Thompson

airport travelersAfter another year of covering the highs and lows of the travel world, we’re taking a look back at the stories that really got our readers talking — or ranting, as the case may be. Below, we count down our five most popular blog posts of 2011.

5. It’s no secret: The airlines are one segment of the travel industry that our readers love to hate. But which ones are truly the bottom of the barrel? Earlier this year, Consumer Reports put out a list of the Best and Worst Airlines. More than a dozen readers responded, including a wry Matt Leonard: “The worst airline to me is generally whatever airline I last flew.”

4. We polled our readers back in April to discover The Hotel Amenity Travelers Want Most. (Hint: The answer is something you’re more likely to find at cheap hotels than at luxury properties.) If you missed the initial vote, it’s not too late to weigh in with your own preferences in our poll.

3. Readers were up in arms over European carrier Ryanair’s plan to remove all but one toilet from its planes, which carry up to 189 people. (Can you imagine the line?) “I wonder if they will be selling ‘piddle paks’ or just ‘Depends’ in the in-flight boutique? Anything to make a profit,” quipped reader Debra in the comments. Reader Jackie said simply, “I will be voting with my feet — which will carry me to a different airline check-in.”

2. More than 550 comments poured in for our post about The Suitcase That Beats Baggage Fees. This petite powerhouse of a suitcase is sized specifically to help travelers avoid Spirit Airlines’ fee for carry-on bags (up to $40), and we gave one away to one lucky commenter. Didn’t win? You can still check out our Five Ways to Beat “A La Carte” Airline Fees.

1. Readers sick of paying big bucks for bland chain hotels flocked to Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay, in which we suggested creative alternatives like monasteries in Italy and farmstays in New Zealand. Reader nassautravellers chimed in to agree with our vacation rental suggestion: “We travel a lot around the Caribbean and most often rent vacation properties — condos, villas etc. We find this to be the most cost-effective way. Usually, the rates are cheaper per night than hotels and we can get our own groceries saving on restaurant meals (and the waistline!!).”

Which topics will get us talking in 2012? Check out our Nine Predictions for Travel in 2012.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

We’ve found a carry-on bag that does more than, er, carry. It’s a $66 bag that could pay for itself in just one flight (depending on which airline you choose) — a bag that was designed in direct response to ever-evolving airline fees and bag-size restrictions.

On most airlines, there’s an easy way to avoid baggage fees: restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only. But on ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (one of those airlines we love to hate), you’ll have to break out your wallet no matter how efficiently you pack. The airline charges up to $45 each way for checked bags and up to $40 for carry-ons. (Even joining Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will merely reduce the fees, not waive them.) The only thing you can bring for free is a single personal item small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Before all you Spirit fliers start trying to jam a week’s worth of clothes into your purse, check out the luggage at CarryOn Free. Smaller than a standard carry-on bag, the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase is specifically designed to meet Spirit’s size restrictions for personal items (16″ x 14″ x 12″). Two zipper pockets help travelers stay organized and make the most of limited packing space.

carryon free



At $65.99, the bag pays for itself the first time you avoid Spirit’s carry-on fee (up to $80 roundtrip). But even better, you can win one for free. We’re giving away a tan and copper carry-on to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Just share your smartest packing tip in the comments by Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET for a chance to win.

Editor’s Note: This giveaway has ended. Check out the winning packing tip — and get an exclusive discount to buy the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase — in Travel Tip of the Week: Why You Should Always Pack a Hat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter