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

Jan. 08, 2021
3 min read
Spirit Airlines Airbus A321
Man going to federal prison for defrauding Spirit out of flights you can easily buy for $9
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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.

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"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.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees