You’ve probably seen at least one of the dozens of stories reporting on how Spirit is going to charge $100 for a carry on bag. Those stories are incredibly misleading at best. If you’re an honest customer, there’s no way you’re going to pay $100 to carry a bag on the plane. And that’s exactly why it’s there, to punish those who aren’t honest.
I wasn’t going to write about this, but after seeing all the misinformation out there, I figured I should chime in with what’s actually happening. Here’s the story.
I actually hate the phrase “carry on fee,” because that’s not really what it is. It’s an overhead bin space fee. You can still bring on a bag without charge on any Spirit flight as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. But if you need to put a bag in the overhead bin, then Spirit will charge you and has done so for the last 2 years. It recently announced fee changes that begin on November 6 of this year, and one of those fees is $100. Will you have to pay the $100? Only if you’re dishonest.
Spirit has created a structure that gives you incentive to sign up for bin space in advance, because it will cost you less. The cheapest way to do this is to be a member of the $9 Fare Club. That’s a club that costs $59.95 a year and gets you access to fare specials, discounts on fees, etc. If you fly Spirit more than a couple times a year or if you have a lot of bags, it probably makes a lot of sense. Members of that club pay $25 per bag for bin space in advance, and it goes up from there. Here’s the rundown on a per bag basis:
|$9 Fare Club Online Before Check In||$25|
|$9 Fare Club Online at Check In||$30|
|All Online Before Check In||$35|
|All Online at Check In||$40|
|All via Phone Reservation Center||$40|
|All at Airport Ticket Counter||$50|
|All at the Gate||$100|
Does Spirit have way too much complexity in here? Yeah, probably. It’s hard to wrap your head around all these different prices, but the concept is easy. Do it early and do it yourself and it’ll be cheaper.
If you book online at spirit.com, then you can sign up right there during the booking process for $35. Piece of cake. If you book through an online travel agent, then you have no clue what’s happening because they don’t do a good job of incorporating fees in any way. But you can still come to spirit.com and make that purchase if you know about it.
But let’s say you don’t know about the carry on fee because the online travel agent didn’t tell you. Or let’s say you just didn’t know in advance whether you were going to have a carry on or not. Well, you can still get it during the online check-in process for $40. What if you aren’t tech savvy at all? Then you can pay $50 when you check in at the airport ticket counter. I’ll agree that it is pretty awful when you show up to check in after having booked on an online travel agent site only to find that you have to pay for bin space. The online travel agents need to do a better job with that if they’re going to sell airline tickets. But the fee still won’t be more than $50.
So who is it that’s paying that $100 fee the media has been jumping on? Crooks. That is a fee for those people who blatantly disregard the requirement to pay for a carry on with the hope that they’ll be able to sneak it on the airplane at the gate. That’s a real pain for everyone when they try to do that, because the gate agent will see it, stop that person, and have to take them out of line to process the fee. It slows down the boarding process.
In other words, this fee is completely punitive. Spirit would like nothing more than for there not to be a single person to pay this fee. That means everyone is doing it before security, and that makes boarding much quicker. I think that particular $100 fee is a pretty smart way of creating a disincentive. If you don’t like it, then don’t try to game the system.