A ghost reservation on Spirit


Q: My best friend’s daughter is getting married in Detroit next week. My gift to her is to bring my daughter to the wedding. The two young ladies have not seen each other for over seven years and were inseparable for 12 years while growing up.

Here’s my problem: I bought my ticket through Spirit Airlines for $178. Then I tried to book a ticket for my daughter, for $208 (her fare went up because I tried to purchase it later).

My credit card was declined twice when I tried to buy my daughter’s ticket. So I called the credit card company, and was told that there was a $208 charge pending, but not yet approved. I called Spirit directly. It offered me a $218 seat for my daughter, and tried to book that for me over the phone.

But I was declined again, because I have a credit-card with a $250 limit.

After about five hours of phone calls, Spirit agreed to hold the reservation for me and guaranteed my daughter’s fare, and my credit-card company assured me that the $208 would “drop off” my record since no ticket was ever issued. Instead, my credit-card company charged me $208, but Spirit told me a ticket had never been issued.

I don’t think my daughter is going to get to Detroit unless you can help us.

— Cathy Baar

A: When you hit the “buy” button on an airline Web site, you expect it to actually book a ticket. But the technology is far from perfect, and sometimes between your PC, the airline and your credit-card company, things don’t always work right.

Normally, double-billing a customer wouldn’t be a problem because most credit cards have a higher spending limit. But the cap on your card tripped a series of events that ultimately led to this modern-day “Catch 22”: no tickets without money; no money for tickets.

Neither Spirit nor your credit-card company could correct your problem, despite your patience and repeated requests. Each seemed to spend more time pointing the proverbial finger at the other instead of trying to secure a ticket for your daughter. That’s highly unusual for Spirit, which has a better-than-average reputation for customer service. As for your credit-card company, I wouldn’t know if this is how it handles problems with customers. I hope it isn’t.

You contacted me with your back against the wall, literally hours before your flight was to leave. I contacted Spirit to see if we could sort things out. A vice president of marketing at Spirit responded to you almost immediately. He quickly diagnosed your problem as a “ghost reservation” – a booking that was paid for but never showed up.

If Spirit had just taken the time to look into your daughter’s reservation – all it took was a walk to the airline’s accounting department – then it could have fixed this a long time ago. It’s also unclear why your credit-card company insisted you hadn’t been charged when, in fact, you had. Nor is it obvious to me why it couldn’t temporarily raise your spending limit to compensate for the error.

Not only did Spirit make sure that your daughter made her flight, but it also upgraded both of you to Spirit Plus, its business class cabin. You made it to the wedding on time.

I love a happy ending.

I’m not so happy about the way in which your original request was handled – or not handled – by Spirit. It really let this one fall between the cracks, and I believe that if I hadn’t jumped in, your daughter might have missed her flight and been billed $218. What a mess that would have been.

As for you, I really don’t know why you would try to buy two airline tickets on a credit card with a $250 spending limit. It’s time to either raise the spending ceiling (something that can usually be accomplished with a phone call to your bank) or, if your banks says “no,” a new credit card. In fact, I’d really reconsider your choice in credit cards after the way you were treated. I think you deserve better.