The Florida-based carrier’s philosophy is to make base fares as cheap as possible and then charge passengers for every extra, and some not-so-extras, such as reservations. Spirit charges a “passenger usage fee” of $16.99 each way. The only way to avoid the fee is to book and buy at the airport.
Want to put a carry-on bag in the overhead bin or check a bag? That will cost $20-$40 a bag. Want an assigned seat? That could cost up to $50. Spirit also charges a $4 round-trip fee that reimburses the airline for “unintended” consequences of a new rule requiring the airline to show government taxes built in to its fares. Spirit has also started breaking fuel costs out of its fare calculations, which further clouds its pricing process.
Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson says the two-decade-old airline has been profitable every quarter since 2007, the year it switched to the fee-driven model. The airline believes consumers like decision-making power, though critics argue that the a la carte pricing serves to mislead consumers, who aren’t hit with the actual price until it is time to pay.
Former Sun Country Airlines Vice President of Marketing Wendy Williams Blackshaw says what travelers do not realize is that once all the fees are added up, they are ultimately paying about the same price, if not more, as they would on Southwest, Sun Country, or even Delta.
Nonetheless, the Metropolitan Airports Commission lobbied Spirit to enter the market for several years. Executive Director Jeff Hamiel believes Spirit will help keep fares down at MSP. He says business travelers who need to book tickets with two or three days’ notice will find Spirit ends up cheaper than the legacy carriers to ORD.
Should the business traveler care about Spirit’s arrival? The airline may offer good value for a Chicago day traveler who doesn’t have bags to check or a use for the overhead bin. (Spirit allows one free bag under the seat in front of each passenger.)
“But it’s not going to be the guy from 3M who travels every week and gets his SkyMiles on Delta,” Blackshaw adds. “It’s going to be the small business that’s really concerned about cost.”