Senator Calls Out Spirit Airlines For Trying To Mislead Public About Airfares

You may recall that earlier this week, bottom-dollar carrier Spirit Airlines launched an e-mail campaign to convince customers that the new FAA regulations requiring truth in airfare advertising was really just a ruse by the federal government to hide taxes and tax hikes in airfares. Well, that didn’t go over well with Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who threw off the gloves and sent a bare-knuckles letter to Spirit in response.

Herewith the text of the letter sent today from Senator Boxer to Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza:

Dear Mr. Baldanza:
I write to you today regarding my concern with Spirit Airlines’ deliberate attempt to deceive the flying public about a new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that will improve the transparency of airfares for consumers.

I have been shocked by the failure of your airline to tell the truth in an email sent to your customers earlier this week as well as warnings posted on that read, “New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the rule says is that you have to tell your customers the full cost of a ticket. It prohibits Spirit or any other airline from advertising fares “that exclude taxes, fees or other charges since the major impact of such presentations is to confuse and deceive consumers.”

And despite Spirit’s claim that the airline must now hide relevant information, the rule “allows carriers to advise the public in their fare solicitations about government taxes and fees…”

Today’s consumers are faced with many options when planning air travel and being able to compare the full price before purchase is both necessary and fair. Your recent statement that “the better form of transparency is to break out costs so that consumers know exactly what they are buying” is exactly what this new DOT rule will help do.

I urge you to immediately send a clarifying email to your customers and remove the misleading information from your website.

Thank you for your attention on this important consumer issue.
Barbara Boxer

As we pointed out in the earlier story, Spirit’s claim to being the “most consumer-friendly airline,” is dubious at best, considering it introduced fees for carry-ons (which they called a “consumer benefit”), thinks you should have to pay to speak to a human being, and believes you should be charged $5 to have your boarding pass printed at the airport.


Edit Your Comment

  1. pop top says:

    Damn Chris, I hate complaining about typos, but that is terrible.

  2. CubeRat says:

    Do we get to nominate them yet for WCIA? Do we? Do we!!!

  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I urge you to immediately send a clarifying email to your customers and remove the misleading information from your website.

    If that actually happens, I’ll eat my hat.

    • PHRoG says:

      I want pics! ;)

      I could definitely see Spirit scurrying away with it’s tail between it’s legs on this one.

    • fsnuffer says:

      Does this clarity also apply to political claims on both sides of the aisle?

    • Kevin411 says:

      Simple answer: New pricing layout online and in ads:
      City X to City Y: $645
      ($303.23 of which is being charged to cover taxes and fees levied by government entities)

  4. Cat says:

    Sounds like Mr. Baldanza hasn’t been making his payments to Senator Boxer.

  5. Velifer says:

    After that typo, I through up.

  6. longfeltwant says:

    Knowledge is ignorance! Truth is mythology! Information is disinformation! Pro-consumer is anti-consumer!

    Spirit Airlines: Our Language Is Newspeak

  7. mikesanerd says:

    I love how a sternly worded letter is considered playing hardball.

  8. deathbecomesme says:

    What about the transparency of campaign finance? How about we pass a rule/bill that clears that up for the rest of us that don’t have a blank check. Make it a “rea” level playing field.

  9. ninjustin says:

    Did a senator just do something worthwhile?

  10. LabanDenter says:

    I agree with the airline.
    Why should taxes be included in the displayed price?
    I can understand fees, charges etc.

    But taxes?

    Just goverments way of hiding how much their take is.

    • smartmuffin says:

      Agreed. The airline is responsible for advertising all fees it chooses to implement and/or which are under their control. Let the government spend the money and resources “informing the consumers” about taxes themselves.

      • Helpful moose is helpful says:

        No, let’s be consumer friendly and show the amount we’ll have to pay. In the end as a consumer it doesn’t matter how the total amount is broken down. It is ridiculous and misleading to see one price, but have to pay something different.

        • LabanDenter says:

          When I go to the store and buy an item, sales tax isn’t shown.

          Why should airlines be different?

          The price of a ticket shown should include all fees, absent the tax.

          • Coffee says:

            If you have any grasp at all of math, you should be able to estimate your total at the grocery store within a dollar or two. With hidden taxes and fees prevalent in the airline industry, that is simply impossible when buying an airline ticket. The situations are not similar at all.

            • rmorin says:

              So assuming we are not talking about fees assessed by the airline, but instead the ones assessed by the government. Doesn’t the phrase: With hidden taxes and fees prevalent in the airline industry, that is simply impossible when buying an airline ticket. make you realize that the government is being the slimey one in this transaction, not the airlines?

              • Coffee says:

                I would only agree if there were a law in place that prevented airlines from breaking out the taxes and showing you what they are, which to my knowledge is not the case. As far as I know, there is nothing stopping Spirit from advertising a flight for $800, then breaking down the costs in terms of fees and taxes when you click on the flight to pay for it.

        • MikeTastic says:

          So why doesn’t this rule apply to all retailers and service providers? Best Buy has signs all over the place advertising TVs for $499 or something, yet that is not the price you pay at the register. I’m all for more transparancy, but it does seem like this rule unfairly singles out airlines.

          • Peacock (Now In Extra Crispy) says:

            Because when you go to Best Buy (and why are you going to Best Buy? Don’t you read this site?) the amount of sales tax you pay will vary by where you make the purchase.

            When you buy an airline ticket, the amount of tax is fixed.

            Don’t make me defend federal taxes. It hurts me.

    • AstroPig7 says:

      Did you actually read this article or the last one? If you did and you still feel this way, then can you read me the routing number from your Spirit Airlines paycheck?

    • soj4life says:

      The point in this change is that when consumers are looking to see how much they are to spend, they get the total cost. When you are buying anything on-line you can search for the total cost of the product with shipping, same should go for airline tickets. The reason that airlines hate this new rule is because they can’t play the teaser rate then fees for existing services game. If the airline is going to charge you $200 for a flight, jsut say it, don’t post the price as $99 and then add on another $101 in fees.

  11. daveinva says:

    Here’s why I’m on Team Smells Like Team Spirit: with 99.9% of the other products we buy, the marked price is the *pre-tax* price. Reasonable people understand this, and they understand that the tax and other fees will then show up at the register or the checkout page. They also expect that those tax and fees will be common across all manufacturers, i.e. if I buy a $200 ticket at Southwest and a $200 ticket at Spirit, I can (should?) expect to pay the same amount in federal taxes and fees.

    The ONLY reason to force a company to roll in the taxes and fees into their advertised price is to trick the consumer into ignoring the presence of those taxes and fees. It makes it *easier* for the government to increase taxes and fees on consumers with less visibility. As others wiser than me have long noted, this is the modus operandi for all manner of “sin” taxes, whether it’s on cigarettes, booze, or gasoline: hide the taxes and people are less likely to complain. (See also: hidden paycheck tax deductions versus actually writing a lump-sum check to the IRS).

    Spirit can be skeevy for a thousand other reasons, but in this case, they’re absolutely right: it’s not the responsibility of a private business to make it easier for the government to hide its tax policies from consumers.

    • Bladerunner says:

      1, no it doesn’t because they can still break it down after giving the full price. 2, what “other fees” are there at other retailers?

      When I buy a book for $10 at zombie Borders, expecting a 7% tax rate which is standard everywhere in town, what happens if after I’ve checked out I find out that ZB has a “secondary processing fee” of 30 cents? I had the same price, but I end up paying more. Airlines have for a long time tried to hide their fees in with the taxes, doing the opposite of what Spirit is claiming the government is doing.

    • Coffee says:

      The problem with your analogy is that when we buy products in a grocery store, there is a fairly constant sales tax rate that varies very little from one location to the next (usually between 8 and 9 percent), so as a customer, I can quickly estimate the cost of my groceries by looking at the base cost of the goods, multiplying by 10% for the tax, and subtracting a buck or two.

      This is not the case at all with airline ticket fees, especially when flying internationally, in which case the cost of fees and taxes can be nearly as much as the cost of the ticket. So when I look at the “base price” of an airline ticket, I have no idea how much it will actually cost. This is compounded when we’re dealing with carriers like Spirit, which add many smaller fees to the base price in order to nickel and dime customers.

    • Chris says:

      I was with you guys until I sat and thought about it.

      There’s a flaw in your reasoning. “… also expect that those tax and fees will be common across all manufacturers [airlines]”. Have you ever tried flying to or through the UK? You’ll see this is nowhere near true.

      Here’s a real example: I just used Orbitz to price a flight from Houston to Sacramento. It says the United/Continental flight and the US Air flight cost the same $759. The United/Continental one is is $190 for the flight + $569 for taxes + fees. The US Air one costs $666 + $93 taxes + fees.

      How confusing. Maybe the flight + fees is about the same for each but Orbitz doesn’t tell us. Maybe because it’s hard to find.

      Would you rather take the $190 flight or the $666 flight?

      I’m of the opinion we modernize ourselves to be similar to the rest of the world – include taxes in the prices of everything. It’s ridiculous that we don’t. On receipts you can include the portion that is taxes and the portion that is the price of the item.

  12. Matthew PK says:

    Airlines should be required to include all fees.
    They should be able to add taxes on their own line item like the majority of other goods sold.

  13. rlmiller007 says:

    Why is she worrying about it? She takes her broom whereever she goes…

  14. Earl Butz says:

    “Hardball”? No, that is not hardball. That is not anything. “Hardball” would be the DOT and FAA shutting them down until Spirit publishes a public retraction and an apology.

    This will not happen, because in the United States we care more about corporate profits than telling the customers that provide those profits to business the truth about what they are purchasing.

  15. BlueHighlighterNextToACoozie says:

    I seriously hope karma comes around on these online idiots who make such a fuss over spelling errors and they’re tombstone has there name mispelled. What a sad life if you’re primary concern is proof reading everything you read and calling people out like a supreme being.

    I no how to spell so I’m sorry I cannot feed you’re addiction!

    Sir Kasm

  16. Lyn Torden says:

    Indeed, the airlines are specifically allowed to reveal government taxes, the pricing. So Spirit Air is definitely the big liar on this one (but Boxer has her own skeletons).

  17. rmorin says:

    There are three parties in a transaction, the consumer, the business, and the government. Anything that the business is voluntarily collecting (i.e. fees not given to the government) should be included in their price. What should not be included is things that they are involuntarily collecting for the government, because you are hiding the third party in your transaction.

    If Spirit Airlines advertises a fare for 9$ and that’s all they receive from the consumer then there is nothing wrong with that. You and Spirit did in fact exchange 9$ for a service, even if the government steps in and charges 50$ in taxes and fees for the privilege to do so. All parties in a financial transaction should be disclosed plain and simple.

  18. Buckus says:

    I absolutely agree with this letter and the truth in airfares. If Spirit is going to charge you $5 for a boarding pass, and you need a boarding pass to get on the plane, include that cost in the ticket price. The law does not instruct the airline to only display one price which is not broken down into taxes and fees and whatnot. And as another person so succintly put it, taxes and fees vary wildy depending on the airline and the destination. A $99 ticket on Southwest, for example, might end up adding $50 in taxes/fees, but on American Airlines, that $99 ticket might need to add on $75 in taxes and fees. The only “real” hardship I see here is that the airlines might need to add some options on their website to pre-select things like number of bags being checked and whether they’ll need other items which they charge extra for.

  19. ronbo97 says:

    Three lines:

    Cost of ticket(includes all supplemental fees): $200.00
    Federal Tax: $20.00
    Grand total: $220.00


  20. teamplur says:

    Spirit is full of BS. This Senator is right. If I buy plane tickets, I don’t give a damn if $1 or $500 is tax. All I care about is paying the least amount total. I wish everything had to show the total cost up front. Sales tax makes shoping a pain in the ass.

    • rmorin says:

      “I don’t give a damn if $1 or $500 is tax”

      So you’d be fine if your pay stub only included your final pay amount? No need to worry about tax, cause it doesn’t matter right? So you wouldn’t care if your pay check suddenly became smaller? After all it doesn’t matter if it is $1 or 500$ taken out of your check.

      • Chris says:

        Not a good comparison.

        1. Incoming vs Outgoing
        2. The taxes taken out of your paycheck are essentially an estimate. The exact amount isn’t known until the end of the year. When you purchase an item you know exactly how much the taxes will be.

        Besides, what’s wrong with an advertised price of $500 and in the small print or on the ticket it says, “$400 flight with fees, $100 taxes”?

        • rmorin says:

          Because myself and Spirit Airlines in your example are only exchanging 400$. Why is advertising that deceptive? The government is a third party in our transaction that is taking money from me, why should Spirit Airlines have to pretend they are the ones getting the money?

  21. gman863 says:

    Spirit’s deceptive advertising has nothing to do with taxes and everything to do with the extra fees they nail customers with.

    At the very least, every airline should be required to post a clear menu of their additional non-tax related fees on their own websites and other online booking sites (Orbitz, Priceline, etc). This chart should be easily accessible from the airline’s main web page (“Click HERE for a list of baggage, cancellation and other fees associated with our service”) and posted in a standard form – similar to the options list on a new car sticker. The fee chart should automatically display again prior to entering a credit card # to officially book the ticket.


    Spirit Airlines’ Service Fees

    * 1st checked bag: $25
    * 2nd checked bag: $35
    * Each additional bag: $50
    * Additional fees may apply for bags over 70 pounds or oversize items such as golf clubs, skis or bicycles. Call us at 1-800-xxx-xxxx or click HERE for these fees.
    * Small carry on item (up to 12″x16″x6″) – one per passenger, no charge.
    * Larger carry on item (up to 40″x”20″x12″) – $25, limit one per passenger.
    * Stroller or wheelchair – no charge
    * Pillow and blanket: $10
    * Soft drinks, bottled water – $3
    * Ticket change fee – $150 plus any fare difference.
    * Cancellation – no refund unless optional trip insurance is purchased.

    Anyone with basic math skills can add up the damage and do an apples-to-apples comparison on true ticket pricing.

  22. AllanG54 says:

    Delta has been showing the taxes and fees for years in their pricing and I don’t know why any other airline wouldn’t. What’s worse to me, is when I go to buy a car and the price is one thing but then they add on “dealer prep” of $595 or some crazy amount. That happened to me on the last car I bought and I ate it because this dealer offers loaner cars when I bring mine for service. I’ve put over 2000 miles on their autos for free in the last four years and I just had one for three weeks while mine was in the shop having a new convertible top put on under warranty.

  23. One-Eyed Jack says:

    Now can we get them to work on disclosure of mandatory hotel resort fees?

  24. unpolloloco says:

    Answer: both are right and both are just out for money….

  25. skakh says:

    Why does anyone fly with Spirit? Use SW and save all the problems.

  26. Robert Nagel says:

    Netflix uses 32.7% of the bandwidth in the US. If Barbara Boxer and her cohorts were to send our emails correcting their misrepresentations Netflix would have to cut back to make room.