Spirit Adds a PUF When You Buy a Ticket

A piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday noted that Spirit is planning to start charging a PUF, or Passenger Usage Fee, for anyone who doesn’t book their tickets at the airport ticket counter. Even though the author said it was coming in the future, it looks like they didn’t waste any time, because it’s already out there. The article makes it sound like this is a new invention, but Allegiant has been doing it for quite some time, as those who read the comments on this blog would already know. . . .

From the checks I did, it appears that this fee is $4.90 each way per person. So, for a family of four traveling roundtrip, this could be a nice chunk of change. The fee will be attached to any booking that’s not made at the airport ticket counter. This is the same scheme as the “convenience fee” that Allegiant tacks on to its tickets. It makes no sense from a cost reduction standpoint so it’s frustrating. But, it does make sense from a revenue standpoint – people aren’t going to go to the airport and wait in line for something like this. And that’s why this kind of fee will stick with carriers like this.

It’s my understanding that they couldn’t put this on every single itinerary. It’s actually not on flights to Colombia and Panama because it’s not allowed by the governments down there! But the rest of you will get stuck with it unless you head on in to an airport to buy.

It’s very interesting that the Journal article notes that Spirit had to come to terms with the feds on using the fee, because the first attempt to use it was considered deceptive. I haven’t heard that Allegiant has had any trouble with it, so I assume that they’re being more upfront about it than Spirit here. But the result is the same – another fee.

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.

My guess is that we’ll see even more of these types of fees if they can get away with it. Maybe they’ll start charging a fee to use a jet bridge to board? Or perhaps they’ll charge a fee for not being subject to a body cavity search at security. The opportunities are endless.


19 Responses to Spirit Adds a PUF When You Buy a Ticket

  1. Feldspar Goldstein says:

    These kind of fees kill me. Do they really want people to come to the airport to buy tickets? Of course not. So they will charge a fee for booking online but not for a transaction with an actual person? This is the definition of ripoff.

  2. David says:

    Allegiant and Spirit want to be a little bit careful on this – although this applies more to JetBlue and Southwest. A few years back, Internet use for leisure purposes tended to be based around a fixed telephone line so anything online was done solely from home, the office or an Internet cafe. Now everyone and their dog seems to have a WiFi laptop, with good coverage in all urban areas.

    There are quite a few people travelling for leisure who carry a laptop with them on a flight and who are using WiFi either on the way to the airport or at the airport. Yes, Allegiant cater mainly for people who fly relatively infrequently, but there is nothing to stop them making a booking for the next trip when already at the airport.

  3. Voyager0927 says:

    The key to imposing junk fees without running afoul of regulators is that they must be incurred for something that is theoretically optional. You can impose an internet booking fee, since it is theoretically possible that people could go to the airport itself to buy a ticket. But you can’t, for example, impose a jet bridge fee unless you give passengers the option to walk outside and up the stairs. My predictions for the next junk fees are for carry-on luggage (since you could theoretically walk onto the plane with nothing except the clothes on your back) and airport check-in (though there would have to exemptions for people who couldn’t check in online because of security issues or unaccompanied minors, etc., for whom airport check-in is an unavoidable requirement).

  4. CF says:

    David – It’s also important to remember the kind of people that often fly Spirit. This airline is heavily leisure, and a lot of their business is full of people going back home to the Caribbean or Latin America. A lot of these people travel once a year, and you’re not getting a frequent traveler here. So while an airline like United could seriously get itself into trouble with long airport lines, Spirit has a much lower chance of that happening.

    Voyager0927 – Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Give people the option to walk up and down a bunch of stairs or allow them to use the jet bridge for $1. I bet a lot of people would just pay the $1. I think you may be right about some of those fees.

  5. Paul says:

    I understand all the fuss about fees etc etc. But playing the devils advocate here, how come the cost of an airline ticket to go from destination A to destination B is rougly the same or perhaps cheaper than it was 30 years ago? And your complaining about 5 or so dollars? If airline tickets followed the cost increase of everything else in society, I don’t think many people would fly. Maybe, thats the way it should be, flying is a privilege, not a right. Some people should take the train, and some people should take the bus.
    I personally don’t see how the aviation business model survives. All other consumer products have raised prices in the past 30 years and yet in the airline industry, prices have remained the same. Yeah, your
    5$ additional fee sucks, but most of you would drop 10$ for a cup of coffee and a bagel at the airport without giving it a second thought. I don’t get it…….

  6. Thomas says:

    This just leaves me wondering: what’s the ticket fare actually supposed to cover?

    Fuel-surcharge, security-tax, airport-tax, food-tax, beverage-tax (ok, they call it “buy-on-board”), bag-fee-for-every-bag. Now a “ticket booking fee”?

    What the h*** is left to include in the ticket-fare?

    Seriously, what’s included in the ticket fare any more? It’s not “transport from A to B” any more, since the “fuel surcharge” is eating at least part of this. It’s not the overhead not directly related to the operation of the aircraft (ticketing, accounting etc) since this “ticket booking fee” addresses that part. It’s not the necessary operational costs of an airport and air travel security, since there’re fees covering that as well.

    Making a point out of not giving my business to fee-lines, but rather to the few remaining airlines.

  7. Thomas says:

    Paul

    Not complaining about the price, but about the deceptive marketing: “buy a flight from ORD to CDG for 10 USD” — and with the small print: +200 USD fuel surcharge, +150 USD security-tax, +50 USD for checked bag, +50 USD for a cold sandwich +50 USD ticket-booking-fee + 400 USD airport taxes + 50 USD lav-use-fees.

    (OK, I pulled these numbers out the sleeve)

    So the “10 USD transatlantic” becomes 960 USD, really, if you want to get across.

    Give me an airline company stating “960 USD” and it’s fine. Give me one stating something 950 USD too low and calling the rest “fees, taxes and surcharges” and I start complaining about deceptive marketing.

    It should be illegal — in some civilized parts of the world it actually is….

  8. This isn’t the first time Spirit has tried this. They tried charging a “web convenience fee” back in July 2008, but rolled it back just days later.

    This is one of those zombie ideas that you can keep trying to kill, but it just won’t die. Sigh.

  9. Paul says:

    Thomas

    I absolutely concur with you on the notion of not being truthful.

    It seems to me that whoever purchases an airline ticket these days needs to be a seasoned lawyer to break the code on exactly what’s being paid for.

  10. CF says:

    Paul – Deregulation of the industry is the reason for the seemingly strange pricing trends over the last 30 or 40 years. We’ve discussed it here from time to time before, most recently I think in this piece on January 9, but admittedly it still seems very strange.

    I think much of what we’re seeing here is simply the response to consumer behavior. If they advertise a $99 fare, you get drawn in, and you still buy it even if the price doubles when you tack on all the extras. But if you advertise a $198 fare or, even worse, a $200 fare, people won’t be as attracted to start the process. The only way to get airlines to stop this is, of course, to have the government regulate it. That’s happened to some extent, but they continue to find workarounds.

  11. David SF east bay says:

    Just think of the people in Europe paying those $9.00 fares which can have $100.00 to $200.00 in government taxes added to the ticket. Their cheap fare just added up. It’s just plain stupid to have fares like that. An ad showing a fare for $9.00 (or whatever it would be in Euros or Pounds) grabs your attention and the taxes that go to each government would be paid on any fare anyway. So no wonder the airlines tack on a fee for everything. You just know one day soon they will be charging a set fare and you will pay by the pound like in the produce section of the grocery store. Well that could be one way of getting people to loose weight….lol

    Maybe it’s time for Washington to start setting the minimum fares that make sense and then let the airlines add to that if they need to.

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  13. Rui A. says:

    I think this is starting to become more widespread in the European Union, but in Portugal you cannot advertise a fare without including all applicable taxes in the final price.
    So when you see flag-carrier TAP, for instance, advertising “Lisbon to Rome, 59€ one-way”, you’re only paying those 59 euros and nothing more.
    Unlike Ryanair who still advertise fares at 1 € each way but then add fuel surcharge, credit card surcharge, check-in at the airport surcharge, checked luggage surcharge…

  14. Alex says:

    “Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Give people the option to walk up and down a bunch of stairs or allow them to use the jet bridge for $1. I bet a lot of people would just pay the $1.”
    Cranky, I have to say that is one of the most American things i’ve heard in a long time! You’d seriously consider paying to avoid having to walk up 20 stairs?

    As always a very thought provoking piece. I don’t see fees continuing to go up like most people predict. Quite a lot of the fees now are for stuff that was being unnecessarily thrown in for free in the past, do you really need a beer on your one hour flight? However I don’t think that the traveling public are stupid and theres a point where these newer, more ridiculous fees, will all add up and people will start to move away. The only problem i see in the US is that all airlines seem to be doing it, correct me if i’m wrong but do you have any full service airlines left? Also the meta search and aggregators are starting to include fee data, as per you’re post about TripAdvisor the other day. When the majority of searches include fees, the airlines can’t get away with adding everything on after you’ve bought the ticket. I think we’ll start to see fees coming down and being rolled back into the base fare.

    I have a theory about ticketing and i’m interested to know if you think it would work. Except for the technical issues of implementing it whats to stop airlines selling individual seats on a plane? For example I go to an airlines website to buy a ticket after I’ve selected my flights it brings up a real time seatmap of the plane and shows the different prices for different seats. Rock bottom fares for middle seats at the back, increasing the further towards the front you get. Aisle and window seats cost more, and exit row a premium. I was just thinking of different ways to fly transatlantic with a low cost model. Most things i hear focus on reducing food and drinks and increased fees. However I can live without the freebies but the one thing I would genuinely pay more for is a particular type of seat. Do you think it could work?

  15. CF says:

    Alex – Would I personally pay $1 to walk on a jet bridge? Hell no. I’d pay $1 to walk down the stairs so I’d get to be on the tarmac! But there are plenty of lazy, overweight people who would pay that $1 if it meant not having to walk stairs. I think you’re right that the revenue opportunity would be much greater in the US than elsewhere.

    As for whether there are any full service airlines left . . . well, it all depends upon your definition. There are airlines that can provide everything a full service airline would provide but you just have to pay for it a la carte. Continental still gives you a free meal in coach, so that might be as close as you get. Or Southwest, of course, with their no fee strategy. I’ve long thought that at least one airline should be trying to move more upscale here – and that airline should be United. But they haven’t seen it that way.

    Selling individual seats on an airplane is a good idea with really only one problem – what about when there’s a change in the aircraft type? An airline like United would have a really tough time with this because they have multiple configurations on a single aircraft type. So it might not be very reliable if you purchased an actual seat, because it may not exist on that aircraft by the time your flight goes. But the idea is a good one, and some airlines have moved that way by charging a premium for the best seats onboard.

  16. Ron says:

    I was told that certain European LCCs (easyJet come to mind) intentionally shun jet bridges because stairs are faster to set up and allow boarding from both front and aft, reducing turnaround time and thereby increasing aircraft utilisation. Does anyone know if this is correct? If so, then jet bridges do incur a real cost compared to alternatives.

  17. CF says:

    Ron – Not sure about European LCCs, but Allegiant prefers not to use jet bridges for sure.

  18. Ron says:

    Sorry about being ambiguous — I know (from experience) that easyJet often use stairs even when jet bridges are available, e.g. at STN (which was my home airport for 3 years). I was told that the reason was turnaround time, and I was wondering whether that is indeed the case.

  19. CF says:

    Ron – That does make sense. If you use both front and back loading, it should speed it up. Of course, if you have many elderly or disabled passengers, the addition of stairs might end up slowing things down, but overall I would think it would speed it up. Also, stairs can eliminate the need for tugs for pushing back. Often the use of stairs allows the airplane to just power forward and get back on a taxiway. That’s a big savings as well.

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