Spirit Adds a Fee for Booking Online

By | March 4, 2009
Spirit Airlines Airbus A319
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The Cranky Flier noted today that Spirit Airlines, known for its lack of taste and ultra-low-fares philosophy is instituing a Passenger Usage Fee of $4.90 per person per sector for anyone who doesn’t book their ticket at a ticket counter.

Spirit tried charging a $7.90 passenger usage fee last year, along with a $2.50 “natural occurrence interruption fee” (to cover storm-related costs) and an $8.50 “international service recovery fee” to pay for some taxes and fees the airline pays to foreign governments. The DOT stepped in on that, because rules require all involuntary airline imposed charges to be included in an advertised fare(This includes fuel surcharges, which Chris Elliott often says are not disclosed to passengers in the advertised fare).

In a statement, the DOT commented:

“We have informed Spirit that they can charge a fee for buying tickets at locations other than ticket counters only if the fee is included in the price advertised on its Web site.”

The fee is not permitted on flights to Colombia and Panama because its not allowed by their governments. It’s nice to know South American advertising regulations are stricter than ours. We agree with Cranky’s advice.

Those who know Spirit will not be surprised by this at all. It’s par for the course for an airline that wants to advertise extremely low fares and then pile on extra charges all around. It’s very much like Ryanair in that way, so just make sure that you understand how they operate when you decide to fly with them. Assume they’ll charge you for everything, and you won’t face any unexpected surprises.

He’s certainly right. A fee for booking is nothing new in Europe. Here’s the Ryanair table of fees. A payment handling fee is five euro per one-way flight. The Airport Check-In fee is another five(ironically as non EU/EEA passport holders, we can’t check-in online and would have to pay. They claim they’ll refund this charge…but try wringing money out of Ryanair).   And now they are getting rid of check-in desks.

The truth is airlines will charge for anything they can get away with, especially since they want to decouple these costs, so the fare will appear lower. The DOT has hardly kept pace with this. But disclosure is a good thing. Here is the Spirit Airlines boilerplate on a fare we pulled from their site. We’ve emphasized the new $4.90 charge.

Individual travel-date specific fares must be booked on spiritair.com by 11:59PM ET on March 4, 2009 for travel on the dates as specified by individual market and by market direction. To be eligible to purchase the lowest of these fares you must be a member of the Spirit Airlines $9 Fare Club — please see spiritair.com for details. Date-specific fares to and from Medellin, Colombia are available for purchase originating ONLY in the United States of America. No other discounts may be applied to these fares. All other fares must be booked on spiritair.com by 11:59PM ET on March 4, 2009 and are valid for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between March 10, 2009 and June 17, 2009. These fares require a 7 day advance purchase. Fares are for coach class travel unless otherwise specified and reflect the spiritair.com discount. Fares are each way based on roundtrip purchase, and roundtrip travel is required, but these fares may be combined with other valid and applicable Spirit Airlines fares on other dates of travel. Not all markets are operated on a daily basis during the travel period, or necessarily for the entire travel period — please see spiritair.com for details. All customers are allowed one free carry-on bag. Fees for bags paid in advance online at www.spiritair.com are $15 each way for the first bag only. The fee for Bag 2 is $25 each way, and items 3 thru 5 are $100.00 per item each way. When paying at the airport, fees for the first and second bags are $25 per bag each way. There is no charge to check wheelchairs, strollers, car seats, or other assistive devices. Items that are overweight or oversized will continue to be weighed and sized at the airport, and fees collected when checking in. Golf club and boxes/containers are acceptable and can be prepaid online provided they meet weight and or size restrictions. Additional bags can be pre-purchased at any time provided inventory is available. (No less than one (1) hour prior to departure). All checked baggage fees are non-refundable. Customers involved in a stop-over flight that involves a connection of over 4 hours will be charged based on point to point travel. All fares listed on spiritair.com are per customer for each way of travel and include the base fare plus a federal excise tax and all fuel surcharges. Fares do not include (a) a segment tax of $3.60 per U.S. domestic flight segment (a flight segment is defined as one takeoff and landing) of a passenger’s itinerary; (b) up to $18 per round trip in local airport charges; (c) a September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 per enplanement originating at a U.S. airport; or (d) a $4.90 Passenger Usage Fee per one way travel. International itineraries do not include governmental taxes and fees (including U.S. government excise tax) of up to $125 per round trip. Additionally, if sold in, or travel originates in a country outside of the U.S., additional taxes may apply (up to 22% of the fare value per country). Fares are subject to availability and may not be available on all flights or on all days, and will be highly restricted around certain holiday periods. Previously purchased tickets may not be exchanged for these new sale fares. Certain restrictions apply. For best results, please book early.

This sort of small print, buried information is not limited to them. Take this American Airlines disclaimer we found on their site.

Additional Fees: Fares do not include (a) a federal excise tax of $3.60 per U.S. domestic flight segment, defined as one takeoff and landing, of a passenger’s itinerary; (b) up to $18 per round trip in local airport charges; and (c) September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 per enplanement originating at a U.S. airport. For international and Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands destinations, government taxes and fees of up to $180.00, varying by destination, are not included and may vary slightly depending on currency exchange rates at the time of purchase. Tickets may also be obtained (and changes may be made to tickets purchased from sources other than American Airlines, such as travel agents, online third-party web sites and other airlines) through an American Airlines Telephone Reservations Office for an additional $20, or at an American Airlines Travel Center or Airport Ticket Office for an additional $30. Customers who purchased domestic economy class tickets on or after June 15, 2008, will be charged $15 each way for the first checked bag and $25 each way for the second checked bag. Customers who purchased domestic economy class tickets May 12, 2008, through June 14, 2008, may check one bag for free and check a second bag for $25 each way. Exceptions to our checked bag policy do apply; click here for complete details. Our carry-on policy of one personal item (such as a purse or laptop bag) plus one bag remains in place.

Some of these rules are standard DOT language though. And much of this is not clearly disclosed during the booking process. We took a sample booking to the end of the process and did not clearly see fees mentioned. Where is the DOT protecting us with demands for clarity? With all these fees…what is the ticket price itself inherently supposed to cover?

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