Man going to federal prison for defrauding Spirit out of flights you can easily buy for $9

Jan 8, 2021

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A Texas man will spend 30 months in federal prison after defrauding ultra-low-cost Spirit Airlines out of free flights.

Hubbard Bell, a former Mesa Airlines employee who was fired from the regional carrier after just four months, was apparently unwilling to relinquish one of the so-called perks of the job: access to free Spirit Airlines tickets.

Rather than join Spirit’s $9 Fare Club after his termination, Bell conspired to steal information (including the real names, dates of hire and employee identification numbers) from actual Mesa employees to book free Spirit flights for himself and others.

He also manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

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The scheme lasted from February 2016 until November 2017 and resulted in at least 1,953 stolen flights. In addition to a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald also ordered Bell to pay Spirit $150,000 in restitution, clearly not considering the ancillary fees these phony travelers probably paid.

“Bell unlawfully used his Mesa employee information to book … free flights for himself on [Spirit], which allowed him to fly interstate, including into and out of Los Angeles International Airport, despite the fact Mesa Airlines no longer employed him,” said the statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Bell only flew 34 free flights, which, at the average price of $56.19 per ticket during the time of his crimes — and often less than half as much — we can safely say was, well, not worth it.

“After spending that much time jammed up in the seats aboard Spirit,” Bell’s jail cell will feel like an upgrade, joked Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge, in a newsletter to his subscribers.

Five additional defendants will face trial in April. They did not plead guilty to going through way too much work to fly Spirit.

Related: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s worse: Owing Spirit Airlines $150,000 for 34 flights where you can’t even pick your seat, or Mesa Airlines rewarding its employees with free Spirit flights.

If only Bell had been a TPG reader, he would have been able to earn enough points and miles to fly for free on an airline that doesn’t charge travelers for carry-on bags, a printed boarding pass or water. All we can say, Bell, is next time: Please aim higher.

Feature photo by Jetlinerimages/Getty Images.

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