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When airlines over-book, passengers who volunteer to take a later flight are compensated, usually with a voucher for a future flight, plus meal and lodging vouchers. They, of course, also are re-booked on a flight to their intended destination, either later that same day or the following one.

Spirit (infamous for charging a la carte for everything except toilet paper) sweetens the usual offer. Don’t fall for it! They generously offer two vouchers worth $500 each to each passenger volunteer. But just try to use those vouchers! That is when you fall down Spirit’s rabbit hole.

For the humorists at Spirit Airlines, “free” doesn’t mean free at all. It just means a roughly 10% discount on a future flight! But wait! There is more. Spirit makes booking that barely discounted flight next to impossible anyway.

Earlier this month, we were booked on Spirit’s 8:30 p.m. flight from Fort Lauderdale to Detroit. Around 7:50 p.m., the gate agent asked for volunteers to take a later flight. Being retired, we have flexibility, so we (and 3 other passengers) volunteered. Spirit’s next flight to Detroit was at 8:00 a.m. the next day, so they promised to put us up in a hotel, give us food vouchers and two $500 vouchers each for future flights.

Six hours later, around 2:00 a.m., we finally got to our hotel room! Those bozos would have trouble organizing a one-car funeral. Multiple Spirit employees appeared and disappeared for hours while we waited for our vouchers. No one seemed able to do anything. Finally, we thought we were on our way.

Not so fast! The hotel that Spirit arranged was sold out and had no reservation in our names or in Spirit’s. Ooops! Back to the terminal we went.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”

At last, a supervisor appeared, sorted things out and found another hotel. By this time it was past 1:00 a.m. She was friendly, empowered to make decisions and seemed eager to help. She booked us on a Jet Blue flight for 8:00 p.m. Instead of Spirit’s early morning flight departure, and, as the hotel shuttle ceased operating for the night, gave us a taxi voucher. We also got food vouchers ($7 each) and a second hotel voucher so that we could sleep in the morning without checking out. Things were looking up. We got to the hotel around 1:30 a.m. and to our room about 20 minutes later.

Jet Blue was a great experience, made all the better because we did not have to fly Spirit. Spirit's 8:30 p.m. flight that same day was sold out, which is why they switched us to Jet Blue.

Yesterday, we spent more than 2 hours online and on the phone with Spirit attempting to book one of those “free flights” for travel to and from NYC in May. When we selected our flights and entered the voucher number, Spirit’s website said that the voucher was worth $34 to be applied to about a $350 flight. Incredulous, both of us tried repeatedly, always with the same result. It hardly mattered anyway because the site would not allow us to proceed further.

Surely, Spirit would not have deceived us. Convinced there was some mistake, we called Spirit and, after the usual menu *** and waiting on hold, spoke with an agent who explained that we had a type of voucher that required phone booking and that we could not book online. Of course no one ever told us that. Nor is that critical bit of information on their website.

She went through the entire booking process for our selected flights, then said that the $34 figure for the “free flight of up to$500” was accurate. But it gets worse. There are only two return flights daily from NYC to Detroit and the afternoon flight does not permit use of a voucher! For the agent, this was not a problem because, as she noted, we simply could spend another night in a hotel!

We ended up forgetting the $34 discount. Delta has flights to NYC for those same dates for $360 round-trip. No need to spend another night in a hotel and the booking process online takes maybe two minutes.

Later, we tried random dates in October for a different destination. This time, our Spirit voucher for a “free” flight was worth a $39 discount!

Product or Service Mentioned: Spirit Airlines Free Flight Coupon.

Reason of review: Not as described.

Preferred solution: Deliver product or service ordered.

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