Spirit Airlines Beats Ryanair at Bottom Feeding – Charges for Carry-Ons

By | April 7, 2010
Spirit Airlines Airbus 319-132 N506NK
Image via Wikipedia

Effective July 1st, for travel beginning August 1st, Spirit Airlines will now charge for carry-on bags. You will still be able to take your small personal item onboard, but if you wish a carryon bag in the overhead, that will be $30 before departure. If you are member of their $9 Fare Club(which oddly enough costs $39.95 a year), you get to pay only $20. And if you forget or miss notice of this new rule, you can pay $45 at the gate.

The first bag on domestic flights costs $25, $15 for $9 fare club members, and $45 at the airport. The second is $30, $15 and won’t be accepted at the gate. The third, fourth, or fifth bag costs $85, $75 for members.

It is time to bring the outrage. US Airways tried to charge for drinks and finally abandoned the practice. Spirit has some low fares, but it is hardly the cheapest consistently. Blogger Flying with Fish, picking some random dates, showed a scenario where Spirit was over $300 more than American on the same route. And American doesn’t charge for carry-on or beverages.

Spirit Airlines begins their press release that announced carry-on fees by talking about how they are lowering fares even further, reducing its average fare by over $40 each way.

In order to continue reducing fares even further and offering customers the option of paying only for the services they want and use rather than subsidizing the choices of others, the low fare industry innovator is also progressing to the next phase of unbundling with the introduction of a charge to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane.

Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie boiled it down to: “Bring less; pay less. It’s simple.

It isn’t that simple. So we tried Fish’s experiment. We picked September 7-11, from LaGuardia to Ft. Lauderdale. Spirit offered a base fare one way of $95.49, $86.49 if you were a member. That is $9 off for paying $39.95 a year. Maybe that is where the name comes from? Then, it tried to give us $30 off in exchange for subscribing to a magazine, and then we had to opt out of $12 worth of insurance. They made the Fare Club opt-in due to massive complaints. They defaultly set us up to apply for a Spirit credit card. That is about as far as we could get without actually buying a ticket, so we didn’t get to bag selection and payment. JetBlue, who also flies the route, offers a fare of $93 base, which includes the first bag and a carry-on, snacks, and a beverage.

We chose JetBlue because they took a shot at the new Spirit policy on their own blog, by suggesting passengers on Spirit buy the Extrago Sherpa Suit, a suit for people which is shaped like a roller bag(not actually a real product).

JetBlue poking fun aside, where is this great deal we were promised? And what percentage of passengers, if it does exist, are getting it? Is it one seat per flight? Spirit Airlines did put in one thing that makes the $39.95 a year club a bit less of a ripoff. Members get to pay less in bag fees. So if you fly a few flights a year, plus the minor fare savings, it could be worth it.

As Dan Webb of Things in the Sky pointed out, Spirit operates its A321s with 218 seats, 35 more than a US Airways A321. Overhead space on these planes may be at more of a premium for Spirit, increasing the number of bags that must be gate checked when the overheads fill up, which puts this move in a different light. Spirit is losing potential revenue every time they gate check a bag they could have charged for.

And it may very well streamline the boarding process…once you get past the agents charged with checking your boarding pass for your allowance and then taking aside anyone trying to sneak on with an extra bag, which will likely slow things down.

The fact that we understand it aside, we think it is a pretty unpleasant thing to do. We’ve proposed in the past that airlines should allow each passenger to transport one bag free of charge. We would find it more reasonable than what is being done now if an airline said the first bag could be on or under the plane, and after that you pay. At least it establishes your right to fly with more than the clothes on your back.