Apparently the back end support system that serves up Surface hardware recovery images was not working correctly this past weekend and today it is receiving an upgrade to get the service back online according to Microsoft
However, the unavailability of recovery image downloads is resulting in some users being re-directed to paid support when they try to access those free downloads.
Any users who went in search of a recovery image download over the last few days were being met with this result from the Surface Support site:
As you can see in the red letters right under the fuchsia Important alert the image is showing up as not available and to contact us for help.
Clicking on that contact us link brings you to this support page:
The two Surface devices on my support profile that are out of warranty are both showing that I need paid tech support to assist with the inability to download the recovery image.
I have confirmed with Microsoft that out of warranty devices do not need paid support just to get these recovery images and that they should always be available at no cost to device owners.
However, everything gets confused when the recovery image support service is unavailable and instead of getting an alert to come back later to grab the download a customer with an expired warranty gets re-directed to paid support.
I would suggest that customers who may have entered paid tech support under these circumstances should contact Microsoft about a refund for that tech support session since the recovery images are unavailable due to an apparent issue on Microsoft's side.
If you are in need of a recovery image download I also recommend you hold off until that download support service is back online and then you can go grab it through normal channels.
I am waiting on Microsoft Support to notify me once the recovery image downloads are once again online so I will update this article when I hear back from them.
Update (20 June 2016 at 4:30 PM EDT): The recovery image downloads are once again available to everyone. I will still leave this article in place because it is good advice to not go looking for a free download through paid support.
H/T to Barb Bowman (@barbbowman) for the heads up about the issue.