Is Spirit Airlines' Refund Policy Heartless?

We recently received two very different stories of people who had booked tickets on discount carrier Spirit Airlines. One involves a terrible family tragedy and the other occurred when a fading formality turned into a red tape nightmare, but in the end they both ended up facing the stone-faced (and possibly stone-hearted) Spirit refund policy.

The first incident comes from reader Mari. Her brother and parents had booked a trip on Spirit to Florida later this year, but then tragedy intervened. Mari’s brother was involved in a horrible car accident that left him in Intensive Care.

Writes Mari:

We tried to cancel the flight but were informed there would be a $330 cancellation charge. Due to the medical bills and this extreme circumstance, we asked them to waive the fees. They told us there was nothing they were willing to do, even with the severity of the situation and the fact that our parents are both Free Spirit Card holders (the rewards card for Spirit Airlines). Various executives were copied on the emails, so I know they are aware of our situation, yet no one at Spirit is willing to help us. They could easily, and should, make an exception to their cancellation fee policy in this extremely tragic situation.

When Consumerist attempted to contact Spirit, we were directed to the terms and conditions posted on its website (FYI, the Spirit rep managed to get that URL wrong in her reply e-mail) and told that Mari’s family should have purchased the optional flight insurance when they booked their tickets.

The second story comes from Suzie, whose 70-year-old grandmother made the mistake of being overly traditional when she booked her ticket.

Seems she booked her ticket to her flight to Chicago as “Mrs. Donald [Redacted]” which is her husband’s name, as is customary for people her age to refer to themselves as. When she arrived at the airport, the airline refused to let her board the plane. This upset my grandmother so much as she’s been looking forward to this trip for sometime, and my cousin had taken time off from work to travel with her.

The airline offered to let her buy a ticket in her own name, at almost three times the cost. This is a huge deal for someone on such a fixed income. They refused to sell her a ticket at the same rate she booked at, and refused to refund the “mistake” ticket.

This is an awful way to treat a long time customer, a senior citizen who was just confused by the ways of the old days versus the modern age. Calls to Spirit offered little sympathy, just a canned script in a barely intelligible accent. I’d like some help in getting my grandmother’s money back- she should only be charged the price of the original ticket.

What — if anything — do you think Spirit should have done differently in either situation?