Buying Spirit Tickets At The Airport — An Unexpected Gotcha

Filed Under: Spirit
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I recently purchased a ticket for my mother-in-law on Spirit, and booked it at the airport to save the passenger usage charge, which on this ticket was $18.99. So I paid $24.10 for the ticket, instead of $44 which is what it would have cost online. I got lucky and arrived during a lull so there was literally no one else in line while I was there.

The process truly couldn’t have been easier as I was in and out in under five minutes.

Spirit ticket counter at the Denver Airport

The part that I was a little unsure about was the bag fees. She’s not really into wearing a week’s worth of clothes at once  — nor does she own one of those cool travel vests — so she’ll need to bring a real bag, either carry-on or checked.

I asked the Spirit agent that day about adding a bag to the reservation, and he said I could do it online later. I momentarily remembered something about Spirit charging more for bags depending on when you purchase them, but I couldn’t remember when the price went up — whether you paid more anytime after the original booking, or only if you waited until check-in. I decided it must be the latter, otherwise he would have offered to let me add the bag right then and there.

Well, I just went back to add a checked bag via the website. And sure enough, Spirit wants to charge me $45 for a carry-on or $40 for a checked bag since I’m adding it to an existing reservation.

According to this table, had I added the bag at the time of booking on the website, I would have paid $35 for a carry-on or $30 for a checked bag, a savings of $10.

The cheapest bag fees seem to only be available during booking

So I didn’t really save $18.99 after all. By the time I paid the $10 more to check a bag, I’m actually only saving $8.99. That feels pretty deceptive to me and, at least for passengers needing to check a bag, negates most of the savings associated with buying a Spirit ticket at the airport. Heck, if you need to pay for parking, you might be left with saving $5 or less. Probably not worth it.

And kind of crappy. Then again: Spirit.

When does it still make sense to buy Spirit tickets at the airport?

I think it probably still make sense to buy Spirit tickets at the airport if you are traveling with your family.

At least for us, we usually only check two bags for our family of five. In that case, we’d save $18.99 for five tickets, but would then paying $10 more for each of two bags. That’s a net savings of $74.95 for just one-way tickets. If we were flying round trip, that’s a savings of about $150. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to justify a trip to the airport for me, even when I factor in the cost of gas, parking, and my time.

It could also be worthwhile if you’re ticketing multiple trips at once. Then the savings per trip might not be so great on each trip, but the total amount will be significant, and hopefully enough to offset the hassle.

Spirit ticket counter at the Detroit Airport

Bottom line

There seems to be a hidden gotcha with buying Spirit tickets at the airport. Although you can save $18.99 on the cost of the ticket since you don’t have to pay the passenger usage charge, it seems that you end up paying $10 more to check a bag since the cheapest bag fees are only available during booking. For those needing to bring a real bag with them, that brings the savings down to $8.99 on a one-way ticket, or about $18 for a round-trip.

That said, I still think it makes sense to buy Spirit tickets at the airport if you are traveling with a family where not everyone needs to check a bag. Or if you are at least ticketing multiple trips at once. Otherwise, this may not be such a great deal.

This whole thing kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth since it feels really shady and deceptive.

Have you been able to add a bag when buying a Spirit ticket at the airport?

  1. Travis, is it that you *couldn’t* add a bag to your reservation when you bought your ticket at the airport, or that the agent you encountered just didn’t want to deal with it?

  2. As a frequent reader of this blog, I find it disappointing to see so many articles about very high-end and very low-end travel without much in-between. I don’t understand this new fascination surrounding ULCC, especially as I doubt that much of the public here would want to fly Spirit or Frontier. More articles about some excellent international economy and premium economy products would be nice for instance…

  3. It’s not deceptive. The costs are laid out on the Spirit website — they’re super upfront about the charges with all the pop up windows. You were talking to a Spirit representative and could have asked about charges, but didn’t. You could have googled it while standing at the desk buying your tickets. That’s not deception. Grow up.

  4. Anyone remember Motel 6 in the early days; yes you could get a room for $6 a night but you paid for the extras — the TV remote, extra towels etc. My theory then was that customers would only believe they got a great price if and if they were nickeled and dimed on everything else.

    Seems like the ULCC understand that bit of customer psychology

    And I agree with most of the previous — why would anyone following OMAAT give a ****** about Spirit

  5. These articles about Spirit and Frontier are getting ridiculous. Let’s remember, neither airline really advertises buying tickets at the airport as a money-saving option. They’re obviously just offering that as an option that almost no one will use so they can make part of the price of each ticket a online convenience “fee” that is not taxed — thus saving them money on their taxes. But given that they never really pushed the idea of going to the airport, you can’t complain that the airlines deceived you if it turns out the “savings” from buying at the airport aren’t as great as you thought. The airlines never told you that buying tickets at the airport was a way to save money. It was you who came up with this idea thinking you found some great loophole — to save all of $19, yippie — and then it turns out you just don’t really understand the fine print.

    So this whole series has just been a waste of time — even for the 0.000001% of readers of this blog who have any interest in flying Spirit or Frontier.

  6. Flying your mother-in-law on Spirit does not seem like a good strategy for preserving family harmony.

  7. If you aren’t interested in Spirit or Frontier or other low cost options skip the article. I think the headline makes it pretty clear what you are going to read about. But instead you read the article (or maybe you didn’t) and then wasted more of your time complaining about it. Life is about choice. Use it wisely and stop complaining.

  8. I appreciate the article and am flying Spirit this weekend for $40 RT thanks to this series! Going forward, however, I still think we need to find out if we can add a bag at the time of purchase at the airport without incurring the $10 surcharge.

  9. I’ll go against the grain and say that I really appreciate the articles on the lower cost airlines. I am simply not in any position to fly around the world and get free upgrades and I have no status anywhere. The articles on Spirit and Southwest are extremely useful and will save me real money. Would definitely appreciate more articles aimed at the economy traveler looking for a way to save some money and maybe use a limited pool of miles strategically for an occasionally reward rather than the elite traveler crowd.

  10. I agree that’s a bit shady, but basically everything Spirit does related to their billing is a bit shady. Case in point, you having to go to the airport to buy yourself a ticket to save money.
    The simple solution here is that you always need to think about what kind of bag you’re going to use when you purchase the ticket and pay for it accordingly. You can still realize the $18.99 savings by buying at the airport, you just need to come in with a plan. I’m not sure why paying for your bag at the time of booking is all that different than paying for it at some point before check-in. If you really have no idea then pay for the larger bag right off the bat and be safe, or pay $10 for the option to add it later.
    Your point about the bags really has nothing to do with going to the airport or not. Had you booked online you wouldn’t have paid for the bags then either and you still would have paid the extra $10 to add them later…and you really would have been out 28.99.
    This is one of the many games you have to play if you want to fly with Spirit.

  11. Grateful for the news on Spirit. I don’t use luggage and just a collapsible backpack. Most backpacks you can roll a lot of clothes in if you are careful. I would also get an overcoat/trenchcoat from a thrift store and fill the pockets with extra items that won’t fit in the backpack. Remember you are allowed to bring a coat with you for free. Also you can layer up with clothes (extra sweater) and take them off once on the plane.

  12. As I commented on a previous Spirit post, if you add a bag at the airport — whether purchasing the ticket there or checking in — you pay the MUCH higher “bag at airport” fee. So if you need a bag, this reduces the benefit of buying at the airport. If you need a bag and a seat, this reduces the benefit even further. Both seats and bags are $5 more purchased online anytime other than with the ticket. Bottom line: buy at the airport if you need NO EXTRAS or you happen to live next to the airport. Otherwise, you are probably better off simply paying the $19 to buy at home.

    Travis is correct: families can still save money, since usually there are fewer bags than people. But you must make the calculation given the price of airport parking, time spent, and money saved.

    @John, this blog is about travelling for less. My family of 4 got to go to a wedding in Boston for $24 r/t each on spirit. This stuff is useful, you just need to know the rules, and that’s where these posts come in handy.

  13. I think booking at the airport can be extremely lucrative when done correctly. I am AA gold and JetBlue Mosaic but still find sweet spots at Spirit. For example I booked a same-day round trip for next week from FLL-MSY for $42.42. Since I will only be there for ~12 hours I don’t need a carry on or checked bag. Since I’m flying alone I’m not too concerned with where I sit. Spirit is very open with their charges and saying you were deceived because you forgot they charged more for bags after purchasing the ticket is like me saying I was deceived by the electric company because I forgot they charge more when I use more electric.

    P.S. Funny how on every single Spirit flight you always hear the exact same phrase: “I swore I’d never fly Spirit again, but…”

  14. I appreciate these articles on Spirit, Frontier, and other lower cost options. I would love to learn more about who has good international economy tickets. I also like the articles about business and first, but don’t travel that way very frequently. If I am traveling with my family of 4 on a short flight to Florida, I like to know how I can save $19 per person each way, which adds up to over $150! We just do a personal bag for each person.

    There are plenty of articles, I don’t click on the ones that don’t interest me, I suggest you do the same.

  15. Steven — To be clear, I know it costs more to add a bag after ticketing. The issue here is that I was told I could not add a bag WHILE TICKETING because I was at the airport. So based on my experience, and confirmed by at least one other in the comments, there is no way to actually add a bag while ticketing at the airport. THAT is the deception.

  16. Thank you for these articles; I have saved a ton of money by booking at the airport.
    DFW has a separate line marked “Ticket Sales for Future Travel.” The 3 times I’ve gone, twice there has been a line of 5 people ahead of me. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that many people actually buy tickets though.

  17. I’m surprised you were told that you simply cannot add bags during purchase at counter– Not too sure that info is accurate or if every employee does it the same. I don’t take anything but a personal item when I do fly them, but I remember at least being asked about buying bags a couple of times during purchasing tickets at the airport, which I’ve done many times. It is almost required that they pass through the “Bags” screen as they create your reservation. I would double check.

  18. In general I have stopped reading Travis’s post because they’re useless for me but I had to look here. So, how much time did it take you to save $10? You must not value your time much. I’ll never understand people like this who chase “free”/discounts without any sense for the value of their time.

  19. Maybe I can clear things up. I am a frequent flyer of spirit. I have turned lots of people on to them.
    NO You can not book bags at the airport. You can ONLY book bags online. With membership it cost $62 RT. Without membership it cost $80 RT. I personally love catching my domestic RT flights between $40-80.
    My biggest story I had is when I purchased RT flights for a ski trip in Colorado for 24 people. It only cost me $1000. Flying your typical all inclusive airline would cost you about $6800. (You do the math)
    I fly spirit because I don’t require any of the following: recline, pretzels, soda, drinks
    With my savings, I can buy all of those things and pay for a massage and still come out cheaper than typical airlines.

  20. I don’t have a strong opinion on the articles, but if it is really strongly pissing people of, I really suggest that you refrain from any restrain and put out at least one article a day about this.

  21. This article says agent said “could do it online later”. That gave me and others the impression that you were not being denied that option. I didn’t check the previous article but I feel like I had the same impression. Travis, If indeed you asked and was explicitly told you could not, you should update that description of the conversation because that is key to this whole article.

  22. For those of us who want to save money, Spirit IS a great option, and despite the extra fees they charge it is understandable considering they pay the exact fees such as landing fees, etc. so I can appreciate them simply for offering Ultra Low Fares, went from FLL to NY for $90 RT! And it added up to this much BECAUSE of all the government fees and taxes! Don’t know how they remain in business offering us peanut fares, but I do hope they stick around and save me money even with paying for a check bag!
    Ps: the service was comparable to AA (and I have had horrible service on AA high cost carrier) Thanks Spirit!

  23. IMO the answer to the question, “when is the right time to buy a Spirit ticket” is “Never.”

    Their whole business model is based on hidden fees and deliberate passenger discomfort.

  24. dmodemd:

    I agree with you. The response from the agent was ambiguous. But if somebody tries to buy a bag at the ticket counter, thinking that it might be more expensive later, then the agent should sell them the bag, right? Cause saying it can be done online later implies, to me at least, that there is no cost penalty for doing so. Thus the deception.

    But again, I agree, we need to get to the bottom of this. Because the evidence right now is a bit flimsy. I mean, it SEEMS like you can’t buy a bag at the airport, and multiple other commenters have confirmed that is true, but maybe that’s not conclusive?

    So the next time I buy a Spirit ticket at the airport, I will be persistent in my request to buy a bag, just to see if I get a “no, it cannot be done”. Look for it in an upcoming blog post.

  25. @Andy11235 — I have no problem with people looking for ways to save a few bucks on airfare. I believe “a penny saved is a penny earned” — and I wouldn’t begrudge OMAAT for having a post about this potential way for people who live close to the airport to save money.

    My concern is that the blogging on this by Travis has been both disproportionate to its importance — and irresponsible and incomplete. If Travis wanted to be actually helpful to people like yourself who are looking to save money, here’s what he could have done: Actually tried this before he blogged about it, contacted the company spokesperson to confirm the policy, and put up *one* post with a complete set of information about how it works — including any caveats and drawbacks.

    Instead, he’s dribbled information out in a whole series of posts — and even now he’s failed in his most basic job, which is inform readers of the basic facts they would need to know to use this. As @Andrew points out, it’s still not even clear whether this is a policy (i.e., that you won’t benefit from the lower checked bag fee if you purchased your ticket at the airport) or if this agent just didn’t want to help Travis (in which case perhaps a little more persistence would result in a different outcome).

    So even for folks who are looking to take advantage of this purported offer, the coverage has been woefully incomplete. And I doubt Travis updated his prior posts — so there are probably some pour souls stumbling on those old posts via Google and now trying to take advantage of this, without being properly informed of any caveats. Note that this is not how the Points Guy does his posts. When he has a money-saving offer, he tends to lay out all of the caveats in one post, presumably so that people who stumble on the post via Google will find it informative and will have all the information they need to take advantage of the offer.

    Just as bad, Travis frequently makes unsupported or inaccurate accusations against airlines. The conclusion of this post is, “This whole thing kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth since it feels really shady and deceptive.” There is no thought whatsoever given to the fact that Spirit never advertised going to the airport as a money-saving option. They never told him that he’d save a bundle by going to the airport. Travis just *assumed* it would be cheaper overall because buying at the airport is the way that you avoid *one* particular fee. But Spirit never promised that he would not be subject to other fees for buying at the airport. Travis could have tried to contact Spirit representatives to confirm exactly how this works and whether it would be a money-saving option overall. He didn’t bother — and instead just accuses Spirit of “deceiving” him when it did nothing of the sort. (Indeed, so far as anyone can tell, this whole thing is just a way for them to save money on their taxes by characterizing part of the airfare as a “fee,” which is not taxed. There’s really no reason to think that they intended for anyone to take advantage of this.)

    Now, I’m no Spirit apologist. I’ve never flown them and have no interest in doing so. But posts like this are a disservice to readers, because the author of the post has just become fixated on his own subjective experience — without bothering to obtain and provide the information that readers need to know, and without thinking critically about why this works the way it works.

  26. dont worry about what John & the like. keep your articles coming, we can decide for ourselves whether to read them or not. I dont need police john to think for my sanity.

  27. So your wife is cooling with putting her mom on Spirit??? If I did such a thing I’m sure that wouldn’t be good for my marriage.

  28. @John:

    Could not have said it better myself. In the same boat as you with minimal/zero desire to fly Spirit, but would like some modicum of necessary information should family or friends make the (unwise) decision to fly with them, or if I’m forced to for some reason. As a Spirit virgin, I am no closer to knowing if this gaming-the-game actually works as I *always* need a carry-on when I fly, but never a checked bag. But should I check a bag now? And pay for it at the airport? Who knows?!

  29. FYI. They don’t have hidden fees. They operate a la carte. All cost are listed on their website. No secrets. I know what my total price will be before booking my flights. Just went to Chicago for a surprise for my wife last weekend. Ended up getting 4 more couples to go with us. $60 RT flights. Each couple needed 1 bag ($62 RT). Total per couple = $182
    Compare that to your American or Southwest flights with their free bags and nuts. Approx half the cost I presume.

  30. For all the rich and elite people on this thread that only fly one carrier, get off the thread. It’s not for you. However for the people looking for a savings and don’t need all the BS perks, Spirit may be an option for you. Especially for families that can’t ever afford to fly their family. Spirit may offer an option to make it feasible for a family of 4. Contact me if you need assistance.

  31. I fly Spirit a lot with my large family and almost always buy the tickets at the airport. Thanks so much for these posts. They are very helpful.

  32. Well, Travis, at least your kids will get to tell a good story one day. “Remember the time dad went to the airport to buy a ticket for grandma on a cheap airline?”

  33. Or maybe just not honour airlines that play tricks on you by buying their crap. If I feel cheated, I don’t feel positive in flying an airline like this.

  34. Great post. I just discovered this.

    But when delta wants $450 for a ticket that Spirit sells for $170 and it’s $130 at the airport….

    I wonder if the DOT would find the oasssnger usage fee to be kind of BS if it affects the ticket when u don’t pay it like this

  35. …”there was LITERALLY no one else in line”

    Why add LITTERALLY if no one else was in line?

    It’s today’s misused, overused word just as awesome and absolutely were a few years ago.

    Sounds more intelligent to only use LITTERALLY when something isn’t METAPHORICALLY. Oops … I hope that’s not the next improperly used word!

  36. @Bgriff – ‘Flying your mother-in-law on Spirit does not seem like a good strategy for preserving family harmony.’


  37. Agree with John.

    I’m not seeing any deception. Just because has a person has made an assumption doesn’t make the other party guilty. Sure, if Spirit were promoting this without caveats that could be deceptive. Or if their online channel was only open 1 hour a day, and ticket offices were everywhere, so most people had to use the ticket office and couldn’t go online. But they’re not. It’s just another channel, and doesn’t have all the options.

    Like going to an ATM which can’t make deposits, or an ‘Express’ store which doesn’t have the full range or a host of other things, there are limits and the guy was caught out due to lack of experience and a false assumption.

  38. I’ve flown Spirit twice — my first time and last time.

    I’d rather slide down a 50ft. razor blade into a pool of alcohol than fly Spirit Airlines again.

    Great article though.

  39. Honestly, people don’t realize that just because we all follow OMAAT doesn’t mean we ALL are elite members and enjoy regular pampering in the pointy end of the plane. There is a variety of people reading this. if it doesn’t apply to you – well then nobody’s forcing you to read it are they? Geez, some people are so self-centered.

    Keep it up Travis, I seriously appreciate these articles and what with Daniel reviewing international ME3 economy products (finally! I’ve been trying to find some forever! Go Daniel!), it’s nice to see this blog catering to EVERYBODY. Looking forward to more articles covering domestic & international LCCs and ULCCs in the future.

  40. Travis,

    I HAVE bought a ticket with a checked bag fee at the airport. One Spirit R/T, one Frontier R/T.

    It took some insistence as you said, and the agents really had no clue on the price. It took them some work but they found how to add all the value-add extras such as ‘i will check in at the airport for $10 versus print my boarding pass myself”

    Both agreed it would probably price at the lower ‘time of internet ticket purchase’ price. Nope. Both priced at the higher “buy at the airport price”.

    Seems fair and reasonable to me. Just because you can save $ on some fee as a loophole for buying in person doesn’t mean you have to be able to save on all other fees too. Case in point, I can’t pay a Frontier Den Deals price at an airport, or use a travel funds voucher code from a disrupted flight / customer service gesture at an airport.

    So bu

  41. Keep up the Spirit and other cheap airline articles — I’d rather you try them than me.

    Would I ever fly Spirit? Not planning on it, but I’d like to know my options.

  42. Travis, I work for Spirit. You can purchase a bag at the airport when you purchase your ticket but any bag purchased at the airport is the highest cost on the bag pricing chart.

    I find it funny that people always say that Spirit nickels and dimes you. All of their prices are clearly listed and they have multiple warnings when purchasing a ticket, after you purchase the ticket in your itinerary and when checking in online.

  43. Travis,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I’ve never flown Spirit or Frontier and don’t plan on to any time soon, but these are useful information so far. Maybe one day when I decide to fly with a group of 10+ people, this will come in handy.

  44. @Travis – “So the next time I buy a Spirit ticket at the airport, I will be persistent in my request to buy a bag, just to see if I get a “no, it cannot be done”. Look for it in an upcoming blog post.”

    Or you could, you know, ask Spirit what their policy is?

    Not quite sure why we need yet another blog post about buying tickets at the airport, but whatever floats your boat!

  45. Spirit used to have $9 fares to many countries in Central America. Great price for an adventure. I miss those.

  46. Do you know how to get miles for the tickets you buy at the counter. I can’t figure it out.

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