Spirit’s Marketing Chief on Fees for Optional Items (Across the Aisle Interview, Part 2)

And we’re back with Spirit’s Chief Marketing Officer, Barry Biffle. Yesterday we dug in on the new routes out of Chicago and Vegas. Today, it’s time to talk fees. Many of you love to hate fees, but as long as they’re properly disclosed, then I see no problem at all with this kind of model. Here’s what Barry has to say. See a few of my comments at the end as well.

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Cranky: Now what about Vegas? People have long thought of Southwest as the low fare airline, and you’re coming into Vegas-West markets where Southwest has long ruled the roost. But you think that Southwest’s fares have risen to the point where there’s room for a lower fare operator?

Barry: Well, we added LA last month. You’ve still got Delta, US Airways, American, and United. There are plenty of Across the Aisle form Spirit Airlineshigh cost guys. But we do have lower costs than Southwest. We also offer a different product. Southwest would actually go out and tell you that everything is free. They tell you bags are free, but what they really ought to say is that you’re subsidizing people who want to check bags. It’s like when you go out to dinner with friends and someone orders a really expensive bottle of wine. When you split the bill, you’re paying for it whether you drank the wine or not.

In 2006 our total revenue per passenger was $109. We actually had less than $5 in non-ticket revenue. In 2010, our average total prce including options was $112. It was only up $3 but our non-ticket revenue was $35. We don’t nickel and dime. What we’ve done is allowed people options. Most people are figuring out that we’re a much more consumer-friendly model. But we also cater to a different clientele. If you’re the guy who always orders that wine, you like the Southwest model.

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Cranky: Let’s talk about one of the more controversial moves. You’ve started charging for people to bring carry-on bags.

Barry: We were averaging 17 gate-checked bags per departure at LaGuardia. The reason is because airlines lie to you, not Spirit, well, they don’t really lie but they’re allowing you two bags when there isn’t enough space above all the seats for everybody to jam a bag up there. If it’s a full flight, there’s a backup, nowhere to put the bag so its gets checked. It delays the flight and the customer gets mad. Will it be checked to my connection? Wait, I’ve got to get my medicine out. We don’t have those issues anymore. We’ve ended up with a better customer experience. Our total turn is down by 7 minutes because I’m not gate checking bags. Are we evil or are we actually the best option for consumers?

Cranky: Some people think that you’re being sneaky and trying to hide fees from them.

Barry: I want you to know what’s optional and what’s not and what’s included and what’s not. Part of the challenge is that there are so many requirements for disclosing this or that (not just in the airlines) and so people don’t pay attention. I don’t want to deceive anybody. I want people to feel good about the purchase that they bought. We just think the airline industry operated forever in a manner that didn’t give options. If you go way back, we assumed everyone wanted a meal.

At the end of the day, if you take a Haitian who lives in South Florida and they immigrated here 10 years ago and they’re living the American Dream and they want to go see their mother back in Haiti, who am I to say they need bags or they need a TV or they need food? We believe it’s our job to get them the cheapest possible way to go see their mother because otherwise they might not be able to afford it.

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Cranky: But disclosure is a lot tougher for sales that aren’t through Spirit directly. And you do sell through third parties.

Barry: I think there’s frustration with the third parties. If they sell the ticket they should be obligated to tell our policies. How many times have you gone to Expedia and then you get to the hotel and there’s a $15 a day resort fee and it’s mandatory. Wait, so this is required of me and you didn’t tell me this? But they should have just said it.

There is an issue with people who haven’t flown us and bought us through a third party. The third party causes the most challenge. We like that distribution partner, but we’re not in all of them. We’re comfortable with the partners we have and we see value in it. We’re just trying to isolate the specific issue you mention. We’re not going to go to them with a big mandate, but at some point we’re going to have to figure out a way for them to disclose better and better present the options to the customer.

But the third party is a separate issue. When we changed our model in 2007 in a big way, there were people who had flown Spirit before who were not familiar with the new model. I’m not aware of a complaint we’ve ever got from Haiti, but routes that we had flown before, there was a higher propensity. There definitely was a conditioning of previous customers on previous routes. Last year was a good example. When we announced carry-on fees, we had these huge banners, maybe we went overboard. If I’m going to carry 700,000 people a month, if I get 99 percent, if 1 percent of people don’t know, that’s still a large number of people. I don’t know how we get every last person conditioned, but I’m committed to trying to get there.

Cranky: You talk about places like Haiti, but those are markets where people usually do bring a lot of bags when they go back to their families. There hasn’t been any backlash?

Barry: What we normally do to illustrate it to people is explain that your fares are going to drop so much that you can afford to go back and forth. Before you were paying $700 and you wanted to make that trip count, so you would take a gazillion things back with you. But now they don’t need to bring as much stuff. We see checked bags drop the longer we’ve been in a market.

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And that was the end of the interview. I tend to agree with just about everything Spirit says, but there are a couple practices that I don’t like. First, Spirit charges an $8 passenger usage fee each way. This applies to everyone unless you buy at the ticket counter, so that’s how they get around it being considered optional. I’m fine with that, but I want a disclaimer that shows me that I can save $8 each way if I go to the airport. It’s not very clear.

The second issue is with opt-in versus opt-out. As Barry mentions, people do get overwhelmed with disclosures and end up missing things. So when, for example, travel insurance is already pre-checked for me and I have to opt out, that’s a little tricky in my mind. How many people fail to uncheck it even if they don’t want it? Of course, this will be going away with the recent DOT regulation change, so it won’t be an issue for much longer.

Other than, I like what Spirit does. I have no clue if they can make big city markets work, but hey, they think they can and the results have been promising in those cities with the trial balloons they’ve sent up so far.


59 Responses to Spirit’s Marketing Chief on Fees for Optional Items (Across the Aisle Interview, Part 2)

  1. Stef says:

    I’m all for free markets, but the airlines are one of the few industries where they take price structures and policies way beyond what I as a consumer find comprehensible and appropriate. But it’s true that it’s partly the vendors’ fault to make it intransparent. Probably it is all OUR fault as consumers, because we put up with it, and really do go for the $97 ticket instead of the $102 one.

    Another example is gasoline. Why does the price have to change every day? The world market price for wheat also changes by the minute, but we don’t see supermarkets changing their bread prices twice a day.

    • CF says:

      I can’t say I know the answer to the wheat versus gas question, but I have a few thoughts. When it comes to bread, wheat is just one ingredient and the amount that goes into it is fairly small. You also have a long chain to get through before it gets to the supermarket, so I imagine the fluctuation in price isn’t that great. (But bread prices do go up – they just don’t change every day.)

      With gas, it’s really just a pass-through. The stations simply put a mark-up on top of the amount they pay. So if prices fluctuate, it’s not the station unless it’s trying to mess with its markup to spur business. So I think it’s a function of a few things, but again, I’m just guessing.

      • Stef says:

        I agree, there are probably few shops that have a more limited product line than gas stations. But still, I think they could adjust the prices weekly and still more than cover the fluctuations on the oil market. And you’re right, it’s probably the oil companies who are mainly responsible (Except for price hikes at the beginning of holidays etc). But aren’t most stations owned or controlled by the big companies anyway?

        • CF says:

          The whole gas station thing is interesting. I know that some companies have gotten out of the station ownership game and instead have more independent ownership. But it’s still controlled by the station, because I don’t think you can just fill up the tanks with anything. I think you have to commit to one supplier.

          • This is getting way off topic, but the funny thing about gasoline is in a given market it all comes from the same pipeline. The only thing that separates Shell from BP from the generic stuff is about a liter of detergents per tanker truck. (Well and the fact that the tanker truck is owned/operated by a subsidiary of the refiner.)

  2. Milind says:

    I seem to recall the DOT raising a stink about the proliferation in fees largely being an attempt to get around paying taxes; Did you get to ask Biffle about that?

    For example, that “passenger usage fee” sounds like a tax avoidance tactic to me. I can’t really see any other reason for it, and the fig leaf to claim that it’s “optional” just makes it more blatant (since what other airline charges you less to get service at the airport?).

    • CF says:

      I didn’t talk to him about that specifically, but I think that’s more of a side-benefit than anything else. Yes, fees avoid the 7.5 percent excise tax that gets slapped on fares, so there is a benefit to pulling it out of the base fare in that regard. But if fees were taxed, I don’t think we’d see anything change. The real reason is consumer behavior. People like the low base fare and they respond to it. So if fees allow the airline to offer a low base fare, then it works well.

    • David M says:

      Allegiant also charges a convenience fee for booking online or over the phone, but not at the ticket counter. By saying you can purchase at the airport they can claim the fee isn’t mandatory, but the way to not pay it also happens to be the least convenient way, one that few people will take advantage of. Ryanair does a similar thing with their purchase fee that is only waived if you use a specific type of relatively uncommon credit card to pay for your tickets.

    • tharanga says:

      Wait – the only way to avoid paying that fee is to buy your ticket at the airport? Isn’t that more expensive for the airline to process than an online booking?

      I can understand some of their other fees (so long as they’re disclosed in big letters), but the fee to buy a ticket seems indefensible.

      • CF says:

        Yeah it’s more expensive for the airline, but they know that people aren’t going to go to the airport, so this is a way for them to call it optional. I personally think this fee is crap.

  3. Dan says:

    I hate to say this… but IMHO, this interview actually makes spirit look good. First, he didn’t try to PR-spin his “fees are good” message with wordy mumbo-jumbo that makes it sound like a press release. Second, I was surprised to hear him say that they are trying to communicate their fees as much as possible. (And cranky didn’t call him on it, so I assume they actually are.)

    • I just walked through booking a Spirit flight.

      The baggage fees were very clearly explained.

      The charge to select your specific seat? I thought for the longest time that was something I _had_ to pay to fly, theres a little 10 px font line stating that you can skip it and they’ll assign you a seat at the airport. (This is on a page dominated by 18 px font..) Beyond that and the passenger usage fee, thats the only thing that I didn’t think was fairly disclosed..

    • CF says:

      I think they are trying to explain their fees a great deal, with the exception of that passenger usage fee. Unfortunately, I thought this was just a quick call to ask where the capacity was coming from for the new flights and it turned into a wide ranging discussion. So I hadn’t gone through the booking process and come up with questions on that piece specifically.

    • Bill Hough says:

      Dan: “I hate to say this… but IMHO, this interview actually makes spirit look good.”

      Sprit: “We don’t nickel and dime.”

      Me: yeah, right. Bag fees, checked bag fees, “passenger usage” fee, default opt-ins on travel insurance, boarding pass print fee, etc.

      It’s their airline, they can do what they want, but don’t insult my intelligence by saying “We don’t nickel and dime.”

      • Well nickel and dime means hidden or unexpected fees. An Biffe sys he wants the fees to be disclosed and unexpected. Which for the most part they are.

        • Bill Hough says:

          Nicholas Barnard: “Well nickel and dime means hidden or unexpected fees.”

          The nickel-and-dime business model is still somewhat new in the airline industry. Prior to about 2008, you paid one fare and expected the basics, liked the right to bring along a suitcase for no extra charge, to be included. I argue that many people still expect to pay the posted price and not the nickel and dime fees. And there’s simply no excuse to have to opt-out of travel insurance.

          • Bill Hough: “The nickel-and-dime business model is still somewhat new in the airline industry.” Agreed.

            “I argue that many people still expect to pay the posted price and not the nickel and dime fees.” – If they’re booking through Spirt’s site (the only one they control) they’re completely not paying attention. There is clear and fair disclosure.

            “And there’s simply no excuse to have to opt-out of travel insurance.” This really depends on their other policies. Many airlines include insurance like services via their normal policies. If I’m already covered under another policy, or wanting to take the risk myself why should I pay the airline for this bit? Making it opt out helps those who just don’t realize how the airline’s policies interact will affect them..

  4. Pingback: Excellent Interview with Spirit Airlines Marketing Chief - View from the Wing

  5. What’s with Haiti that it was mentioned twice?

    So if LGA was having a lot of gate check bags, how were other cities in the system? Are people paying overhead compartment fees system wide because of one airport? If so all that does is give Spirit a reason to charge everyone at all cities.

    They and airlines like Ryanair are like a grocery store and people must remember that. You don’t walk into a grocery store and pay $100 and get to walk around the store and fill up your cart with whatever you want. You have to pay for every item you want separately, so why do so many people complain about having to pay a fee for everything they ‘want’ with an airline?

    • MR. Tim says:

      Beg your pardon, but if grocery stores operated like Spirit and Ryanair, you’d have to pay an access fee to get through the door, a cart rental fee, a convenience fee if you didn’t use the self-checkout and you’d have to bring your own bags or pay extra for each.

      The latter two are especially relevant to the entire baggage fee discussion. By the same argument that Mr. Biffle uses, those who expect store employees to ring up their purchases and have their groceries placed in bags are being subsidized by those who don’t. But those supermarkets who from time to time have tried the “pay for your bags” strategy have seen it end in abject failure as their customers ran elsewhere, rather than be literally nickel-and-dimed even if overall, their prices were lower than the competition’s.

      What he avoids is the fact that most of us have some level of reasonable expectations, more or less dictated by social norms, when we pay for a service. Most don’t expect to sit down for dinner at a restaurant and expect to be charged extra if they didn’t bring their own ingredients or won’t bus their own tables, for instance. Likewise, if I go bowling, I’m willing to rent shoes but I expect to have balls provided at no charge. On the other hand, I don’t expect the trash man to charge me less even if I’m willing to throw my own bags in the back of the truck.

      What Spirit, Ryanair and the legacy airlines have attempted is to alter the reasonable expectation of having one’s self and a limited amount of one’s belongings being transported to a destination for the price of an airline ticket. I do hope they fail miserably.

      • So why shouldn’t I get a discount for using the self checkout at a grocery store? (Or Self checkin at an airline?) It saves me time, since mostly I purchase somewhere around fifteen items. I’ve gotta take them out of the cart, so running them over the scanner and putting them in the bag is worth it to me not to wait in line..

        Just because its always been done one way doesn’t mean it should always be done that way, nor are other ways wrong..

      • David M says:

        What Spirit, Ryanair and the legacy airlines have attempted is to alter the reasonable expectation of having one’s self and a limited amount of one’s belongings being transported to a destination for the price of an airline ticket.

        I think this is a key point here. With Spirit’s fees, I don’t think you can expect expect to be able to travel without paying a baggage fee on any trip much longer than a weekend trip. It would be interesting to see what percentage of Spirit’s passengers end up paying some sort of baggage fee (either checked or carry on). That would tell how much Mr. Biffle’s argument holds water.

        The problem at LaGuardia of having to gate check many carryons is not unique to LGA, nor to Spirit. It’s a problem of the airlines’ own making, by charging for all checked bags. Because people have an expectation that they’ll be able to travel with their clothes, they have to bring luggage one way or another. Cabins were nice and empty when TSA put severe restrictions on carry-ons, then things got bad again when airlines started charging for checked bags. People didn’t want to fee, so they started carrying on more bags. And it turns out there’s not actually enough space in the overhead bins for everyone to put a suitcase up there.

        Other AAirlines are at least proactive enough to ask for volunteers at the gate to check bags (for free). Sprit’s solution to the problem was instead to invent a new fee — fortunately, this one doesn’t seem to have caught on elsewhere.

      • Smitty4240 says:

        To Mr. Tim’s comparison of Spirit to a grocery store: Actually, there are similar concepts at work here. I don’t know where you shop, but I tend to go to a large-chain grocery that caters to the mainstream shopper. Recently, a Fresh Market opened very close to my house- but I’ve only taken advantage of it once. Why only once in several months? The staff is very friendly and abundant, the layout is appealing and inviting, the gourmet selections are enticing, it’s never very crowded, etc. So why am I not here every time I need a grocery item? Simple- it’s expensive. So expensive, in fact, that I don’t deem it a “value” when I run through my expectation check in my head.

        So why do I put up with the large supermarket that’s crowded, noisy, unappealing to the eye (rows and rows of boring items, all lined up in a systematic yet uninviting manner), understaffed with relatively unknowledgeable/unhelpful people (especially compared to those folks over at Fresh Market!), only to stand in a line at the end of my visit in one of the few open lanes (but there are 15 registers! Aargh!)? Why do I put myself through it?

        Expectations. This was always my expectation of a grocery store; I never grew accustomed to a Fresh Market, so the regular-old supermarket will suffice.

        Price. Because of that expectation thing, the price benefit of the supermarket will win me over time and time again.

    • CF says:

      David – I don’t know why Haiti was mentioned so much. I think it’s just his favorite example of a new market that’s responded well to the model.

      MR. Tim says:

      What Spirit, Ryanair and the legacy airlines have attempted is to alter the reasonable expectation of having one’s self and a limited amount of one’s belongings being transported to a destination for the price of an airline ticket. I do hope they fail miserably.

      And why is that a bad thing for them to try to alter the expectation? There’s nothing wrong with trying and if people respond, then it’s a success. Both Ryanair and Spirit have been wildly successful with their strategies, so clearly it’s working. I don’t understand why you would hope they fail – just don’t fly them if it doesn’t work for you. If others, however, like the model, then who are you to say it shouldn’t exist?

      • Ron says:

        Cranky, David — simple reason for mentioning Haiti: there are a lot of Haitians in South Florida. So many, in fact, that public transit schedules, signs etc. are trilingual, in English, Spanish and Creole. The fact that these people are heavy users of transit in such a car-oriented place just shows that they are a very price-sensitive population, so they’re a good example of a market segment which can only afford to travel on Spirit’s fares.

        Now when is Spirit going to launch a Creole version of their web site? :-)

    • Smitty4240 says:

      To shed a little light on the gate checks/carry-on fee program: As Barry said, the last-minute gate checks were killing Spirit on our turn performance in most of our markets, especially the domestic ones. The culprit is no secret; as a product of airlines’ checked baggage fees, people were attempting to carry more and more items onto the airplane.

      By the way, someone mentioned in another comment the airlines’ inability to police the passengers bags before they get to the gate- next to impossible. People were hiding them from the agents at check-in, having their kids carry them through, leaving them with others while they check-in…you name it. And TSA? It’s not their primary job (nor concern) for how many bags you bring through.

      Back to the topic at hand. So what was the best solution? A checked bag is much easier to plan for/handle than a last-minute checked bag at the gate, so Spirit needed to make it more appealing to check a large bag rather than attempt to carry it on. So how to you do that? Make it a financial decision! The most convenient way to travel for a couple of days is with a roller board that can be stowed above the seat, so that space is in high demand. But as Barry pointed out, that space is limited. So simple supply/demand takes over here. By charging a premium for the premium storage space on the aircraft, a solution is created. So what if you don’t want to pay the premium price for the space? Barry failed to mention in the interview that Spirit’s checked bag fees were reduced when the carry-on fee program was introduced. Also, keep in mind that if the item fits under the seat in front of you, there is no additional charge (Likewise, you can actually place your item in the overhead even if you didn’t pay for it…but you may need to remove it if another passenger who DID pay for that space needs it). Therefore, this fee structure is in line with Spirit’s a-la-carte model- you pay for what you want.

      So Barry spun this as a positive for the customer experience, and I’d have to agree. How? The boarding/deplaning process is much smoother and less chaotic. Fewer people are hurt by large bags hitting them in the head when someone else puts it up or takes it down (happened more often than you think). The aircraft turns on time, so people get where they want to go when we promised them we’d get them there more frequently. But most importantly, that last “Zone” passenger that used to be bitter (or sometimes downright nasty- and maybe for darn good reason) because they’d lose out on the space they felt they paid for (see: other airlines’ passengers who get a bum deal on overhead space when they board last) GETS the product they PAID for!

      I thought this program would fail miserably when it was introduced just under a year ago, but must admit that not only is it successful- it was probably necessary.

  6. Erik says:

    Mr. Biffle uses a far-fetched analogy to justify fees for checked bags (or any bags). What does it really cost the airline to handle your bag — or for you to put it in the overhead bin?

    The nickel-and-diming isn’t the reason why I won’t fly Spirit, ever. It’s this — http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Spirit_Airlines/Spirit_Airlines_Airbus_A320.php — 28 inch seat pitch. I would have loved to hear Mr. Biffle’s comments justifying the most-crammed planes to fly anywhere in the world.

    All that said, I do welcome Spirit on the Las Vegas – San Diego route. Currently Southwest has a monopoly on that route and charges whatever they feel like. Fare wars are my friend, regardless that Spirit never will be.

    • Ryan says:

      It costs more than you think to carry a bag. Assume it’s 30 pounds which is the standard weight of a non heavy bag in the industry. For every extra 7 pounds of weight on about an hour long flight on an average aircraft (737), it takes an extra gallon of fuel to fly. For a 30 pound bag you need an extra 4.3 gallons of fuel. At about $3.20 a gallon which seems to be about average for jet fuel right now, it costs you an extra $13.71 to fly that bag.

      Then you can factor in the costs of on-the-job injuries that airlines pay for when their employees have back injuries (the #1 injury in the industry) caused by repeatedly lifting heavy bags, including ramp agents who stack bags from their knees crouched over inside a cramped airplane belly, and the cost of each bag adds up.

      So it’s not free to take someone’s bag. It does cost money. American Airlines not too long ago shaved 12 pounds off of each of their beverage carts which would save an estimated 1.8 million gallons of fuel per year, or roughly $5 million. Weight adds up in fuel costs.

    • CF says:

      And it’s not just fuel, as Ryan says. There’s a whole infrastructure built around baggage handling. People who don’t check bags have no need to support all the baggage handlers, the expensive sortation systems, the bag carts, etc. There’s also almost no need to have a ticket counter if you aren’t checking a bag. When people don’t check a bag, it becomes much simpler and cost effective for the airline.

      And as for seat pitch, that A320 is the only airplane in the fleet with such awful pitch. I tend to agree that I wouldn’t want to fly on it, but cramming more seats on the plane helps the airline lower fares. So if people want low fares and are willing to endure, then so be it.

      • tharanga says:

        Some of that infrastructure is a fixed cost, though, isn’t it? Whether 20 people are checking, or 10 people are checking, you still need that sorting system.

        Yes, there will definitely be some savings if fewer people check bags, and Ryanair’s MOL makes it sound like there are huge savings, but there remain some fixed costs.

        • CF says:

          Yes, some of it is fixed, but that’s still infrastructure that people who don’t check bags simply don’t need. If fewer and fewer people check bags, then maybe a less sophisticated, smaller sorting system is needed in future airport developments? So it can have an impact on costs but only in the longer run.

    • Smitty4240 says:

      I’d say Mr. Biffle’s justification for that 28-inch pitched seat is a simple one: it’s enough seat for lots of people. Did he promise you a luxurious business-class seat, only to sell you the “bleacher special”? No. He promised you basic transportation, he provided you basic transportation. Now, if you’d prefer the extra room and seat pitch, Spirit offers a minimum of 4 “Big Front Seats” (a business-class seat without extra amenities) per aircraft as an upgrade…and I see many flights with these seats available right up until departure time (which, as a good business practice, Spirit attempts to sell as a last-minute upgrade for the folks onboard).

      For me personally, I don’t usually mind the small seat so long as the flight is less than 2 or 3 hours long. Hey, it’s all about the price for me (as well as many Spirit customers), so my 5’8″ frame can deal with the cramped space.

  7. To me, disclosure is the key to the whole fee debate. Conceptually, I like Frontier’s model the best; but to me, the presence or lack of fees is far less important than knowing up front what is or isn’t included in the basic fare and how much each additional item or service costs.

  8. Mark says:

    I’ve got a real problem with his assessment of SWA’s subsidizing free bags.. while its no secret that WN doesn’t charge for the first two bags, its a bit of a leap to draw a conclusion about the differences between Spirit and WN over a “bottle of wine” bill-split.

    I’ll explain. Let’s book a flight from Dallas to Los Angeles on Spirit and Southwest. To take full time advantage of the trip, let’s book it in advance for a roundtrip on October 28th, returning on the 31st.

    For my itinerary on Spirit, I’d be departing DFW at 9:35a on flight 469, and connecting in LAS on flight 411 at 2pm, arriving at LAX at 3:10p. My return departs LAX on flight 470 at 9:55a, connects through LAS on the same flight and arrives in DFW at 4:26p. My total fare = $429, no frills.

    For my itinerary on SWA, I’d be departing Dallas Love at 9:30a on flight 1256, connecting in STL to flight 225 and arriving in LAX at 1:40p. My return departs LAX at 9:15a on flight 2723, makes a stop in ABQ, and arrives at Dallas Love at 3:05p. My total fare = $293.80, no frills.

    Synopsis:
    Spirit does have to live within the confines of its scheduling, so I won’t dock them points on the convenience factor.. however, it’s hard to ignore a $136 fare difference whether you are travelling with family or on your own for business. Add to that the “bags fly free” element, and the decision makes itself. Barry Biffle’s argument on SWA “subsidizing” passengers who don’t fly with bags against those who do through ticket prices simply doesn’t hold water.

    • James says:

      Sure, that’s one data point. But many other times Spirit will indeed be lower than Southwest.

      Also, you still are subsidising other people’s bags if you don’t bring any yourself by definition (dividing the total cost of handling all bags by all the passengers on the flight. The ‘value’ of a ticket without checked bags could be $250, but there’s no way to know).

    • CF says:

      Sorry Mark, but one data point doesn’t mean anything, as James says. I can pick random dates as well. Let’s say I want to go on October 22 and come back on the 25th. Spirit is $189.90 and Southwest is $279.30.

      • tharanga says:

        but as Biffle somewhat admitted, there’s a big problem when it comes to third party booking or cost comparing services. You can run that comparison on kayak, and not necessarily realise that the total cost on Spirit might be $260, to get some of the same things the WN $279 gets you. and some features, you might not get on NK no matter how much you pay.

        • CF says:

          True, though you can’t run that comparison on any third party service since Southwest doesn’t play with anyone!

          • tharanga says:

            touche. well, how about jetblue then, since they compete with NK in the Caribbean.

            I really do think that if sites like kayak figured out an easy way to compare costs for an equivalent level of service (or something approaching that), then this race to the bottom would slow down or stop. Until then, an airline has quite an incentive to strip down the base fare, in order to appear at the top of the heap.

          • CF says:

            Oh I know. I was just giving you a hard time. But the point is a good one. For some reason, third party sites really have little interest in trying to present a good flight search option. You would think that they would ask if people had to check bags or not and then include that in the results. But no.

          • tharanga says:

            those sites may be having trouble coming up with a simple way to display all that information, without making the user fill out a lengthy questionnaire of what services he wants or doesn’t want. the bag fee is about the only thing you could standardize.. and even that might be tricky, especially with NK’s carry-on fee. Heck, more subtle than that, take jetblue again – I might have a bag that I can carry onto the A320, but not the E-190. So there you have slightly different bag policies even within the same airline, and an airline with an extremely simple fleet no less.

      • Mark says:

        Sure, I’m aware of that. I’d even argue that 10 data points don’t tell an even story, but it’s still better than a Biffle’s flat statement about bag subsidies. Simply not flying a bag doesn’t necessarily indicate that I’m paying more for my ticket to subsidize someone else’s bag if the fare is competitive (read: cheaper).

        Even if Spirit and SWA offered an identical fare on segments (which I’ve never seen in hundreds of comparisons/trips), SWA wins out for the passenger who’s flying with bags and choosing purely on the basis of cost.

        • CF says:

          Even if Spirit and SWA offered an identical fare on segments (which I’ve never seen in hundreds of comparisons/trips), SWA wins out for the passenger who’s flying with bags and choosing purely on the basis of cost.

          Well, right. That’s the whole point. If you have bags, then it often will make sense to fly Southwest because other people are subsidizing your bags so the price is less for you and higher for others. But if you aren’t traveling with your bags, then you can probably pay less on Spirit.

          • Mark says:

            I’ll admit, I haven’t gone out of my way to fly Spirit.. and being that LAX is my closest airport, it’s not as though Spirit offers me dozens of options. So in that regard, comparisons are unfair to Spirit.. I’ll admit that.

            But in those cases where I *could* fly Spirit, I’ve yet to come out on an itinerary with Spirit ahead of SWA on ticket cost.

  9. john says:

    so if they charge $5 for a boarding pass at the counter, but don’t charge you for buying ticket at counter, they’ve effectively they’re screwing you

    • James says:

      Go buy a ticket at the counter, get out your laptop and check in online.
      It is possible to get around these fees, but only if you are willing to put in the effort

  10. tharanga says:

    I agree with him that checked-bag fees cause problems in the cabin, with too many carry on bags, but I maintain that this problem would go away to some large extent if the airline staff did a better job of policing the number and size of carry-ons.

  11. Megan says:

    I have to admit, I like that the airline gives the passenger the choice to utilize the paid service. If you don’t want to pay the fee, don’t check the bag. Granted, I would rather check my bags without any fees but I respect the route the industry takes to maintain low cost ticket fares in a down economy. Gas prices have skyrocketed and I’d rather take the bag fee over the difference in fuel cost. Its just good business. People aren’t going to stop flying, the market will remain.

  12. Sanjeev M says:

    I’ve found that only U.S. passengers care so much about seat pitch and width, particularly for domestic flights. Granted our domestic stage lengths are longer than most.

    I feel that if the US Government had implemented unrestricted international transfers and reform visa policy to actually encourage tourists instead of taxing them, the legacies would have covered the $300-400 million that they were losing a few years ago and still have decent sandwiches and first bag free today.

    Granted our fares are some of the lowest for their stage lengths (adjusted for level of income) but air travel has reached a point where you can’t cut any more costs. Or we have to go back to domestic widebodies where CASM is probably much lower than narrowbodies.

    I say we switch to modes of travel like trains and buses which are genuinely lower cost. East of the Mississippi we have Megabus which works really well.

    • James says:

      Sounds good, but most of those ideas won’t work too well in the US.

      Most domestic travel is not for foreign tourists (international flights are different) but rather for US tourism or business. The US government may be hurting airlines, but I feel that so much competition and capacity is the thing to blame. Even down to 4 legacies + Southwest + other carriers (Spirit, Frontier, Alaska, JetBlue etc) there is still enough competition that airlines cannot really raise prices unless they have a near-monopoly.

      Adding domestic widebodies can help a bit, but they are only suitable for flights where they will be full without lowering prices or frequencies, such as hub-hub or hub-major cities. Also, the 757 is very popular in America, which has medium range, medium capacity, and is fairly efficient for these flights iirc.

      Switching to trains or buses is realistic only in the Northeast, California and a few other places where cities are close together. Short of raising the speed limit on the interstates to 100 mph or coming up with $1 trillion to build a high speed rail network (it will cost this much), there’s nothing you can do to make New York-Chicago or SFO-Seattle at all competitive time-wise for flights. When a bus ride gets longer than 6-7 hours or so, it isn’t worth many people’s time to take the bus, which is likely no more comfortable than an airplane (except horrid little ERJs and CRJs). People will then pay a premium to fly, which is what’s happening.

  13. Since Spirit will be coming to the bay area I may be able to see these ads I’ve heard about. I hear ‘tasteless’ mentioned but isn’t most things you see on TV these days tasteless? I’m sure there ads must be on youtube, but I’ve not been bored enough to ever look.

    Here’s a question for those that have flown Spirit. If you pay to put something in the overhead, how is it shown that you did?

    Smitty4240 said – “””””you can actually place your item in the overhead even if you didn’t pay for it…but you may need to remove it if another passenger who DID pay for that space needs it”””””

    So do they put special tags on the carry on so it’s known who paid and who didn’t?

    When traveling you always see people put stuff in the overhead that could go under the seat since not everyone uses those rolling bags. Is this fee really a penalty for those who carry a bag to big to fit under the seat? Maybe that’s how they should word it and people may start using smaller bags…..lol

    • Smitty4240 says:

      David- yes, if you purchase a carry-on, you are provided documentation showing that. And I agree- a savvy traveler should attempt to pack wisely on NK- if you do so, it can save some cash and make traveling on NK as economical as possible.

  14. frank says:

    Barry: Well, we added LA last month. You’ve still got Delta, US Airways, American, and United. There are plenty of high cost guys. But we do have lower costs than Southwest. We also offer a different product. Southwest would actually go out and tell you that everything is free.
    =====================================================

    And, why is your costs lower? Spirit has “at the bottom of the industry” pay scales. A first year pilot at Southwest makes MORE then a 15 YEAR pilot at Spirit.
    His response was typical Management style PR. Passengers subsidize? Should of added YOUR EMPLOYEES as well.

  15. frank says:

    First year: CAPTAIN.

  16. Smitty4240 says:

    You need to check your facts frank. I suggest airlinepilotcentral.com- look to the right of the page and you can check pilot-related information about individual airlines (including pay rates). Nowhere will you be able to spin a first-year pilot at WN making more than a 15-year pilot at NK– even if that 15-year pilot stayed a First Officer (highly unlikely). Also, please keep in mind that there is no such thing as a first-year Captain at any US legacy or LCC; we work under a seniority-based system and you simply don’t see it.

    While it is true that WN pays their pilots more than NK pays theirs, keep in mind that WN’s pilot costs are higher than ANY US-based narrow-body operators. In other words, we are all looking up to their rates. Spirit pilots do not earn WN-level wages, but they are not “bottom of the industry” by any means…while you’re on that site, check out USAirways’ and United’s A320/737 pay rates.

    • frank says:

      http://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/airlines.html

      we all RESOURCE the web to get our facts. Here’s MY source.

      • Smitty4240 says:

        Great! We’re on the same page as how to access pilot pay rates. Now, please share with us how you figured that a first year pilot at WN makes more than a 15 year pilot at NK.

        Here’s my take: 1st year WN ($56/hour at 78 average credit= $52,400/yr.)
        15 year NK ($152/hour at 78 average credit= $142,200/yr.)

        **The first year rate at WN is an FO rate; there are no first year CAs at WN. Heck, there are no 5th year CAs at WN.

        **The 15 year rate at NK is a CA rate; there is only one 15th year FO at NK, and that person is an FO by choice.

        • SWflyer says:

          When a 7 year first officer upgrades to captain, they return to the bottom of the captain payscale making them a 1 yr captain, not a 7 year captain…

          At SWA, a fresh upgrade starts the CA payscale at $185/trip (~55 minutes) while 15 year CA at Spirit apparently makes $152/hour… according to both of you guys source. Spirit’s CA’s payscale is almost even, step-to-step, with that of SWA’s first officers.

          • Smitty4240 says:

            Not true at most US carriers, including NK. When a 7-year first officer upgrades, that pilot is now paid as a 7-year captain. IOW, it defines one’s time with the company, not time in the seat. Virgin America went against the grain a few years ago and paid their pilots differently (the start-over method), but that was changed a couple of years ago- most likely to quell the unionization possibilities.

            My post here was never to claim that NK pilots do indeed make what WN pilots do- NK pilots still lag behind those rates (as do everyone else’s). But Frank’s post was grossly inaccurate, and my intent was to clear that up. Those reading this thread should keep in mind, too, that NK’s payrates will contractually increase by about 18% across the board over the next 3 years (more so for FOs).

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