I have written before about buying Spirit Airlines tickets at the airport for big savings, but I was wrong as to just how much could be saved.
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Fares, Taxes, and Fees
The price a flyer pays for a plane ticket from their origin to their destination is comprised of four categories:
- Fare (the “price” the airline charges for the flight)
- Processing Fees (ticketing charges whether online, in-person or over the phone)
- Ancillary Fees (checked bags, etc.)
When a customer is quoted “$73.08 roundtrip” it has to include all of the top three charges but processing fees may not apply depending on the manner in which a customer chooses to buy their ticket. Ticket prices that are listed on the internet have to be totally inclusive of the price with taxes, before adding any extras. If you booked your ticket over the phone (even United Airlines charges for this) then that fee would be separate and above the price of the ticket. That said, it doesn’t mean that the cheap flight you found shopping for your ticket online will necessarily translate to the phone booking process.
In the example of a $73.08 ticket price, the fare, the money the airline claims they are charging for the flight, may be drastically different from the total cost.
In reality the fare is only $9.58 roundtrip. The Passenger Usage Charge (which I have discussed here) allows Spirit Airlines to avoid paying the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax on the money the airline is actually making. It keeps fares low for passengers and also avoids the tax liability for the airline.
Why Buying Spirit Airlines Tickets At The Airport Saves So Much Money
Many readers ask “what is the best day to buy Spirit Airlines tickets?” Instead of giving some of the pseudoscience that has plagued bored travel beat writers for years (it was claimed to have been Tuesdays but this is patently false) I will give you the secret. Whatever day you go to the airport and physically buy at the counter is the best day to buy Spirit Airlines tickets.
Ticket prices that are listed on the internet have to be totally inclusive of the price with taxes, before adding any extras. The passenger usage fee/charge is really part of the fare but the airline can avoid designating it as part of the fare as long as it is something passengers can avoid and is optional. In this case, it only applies to online bookings, so purchasing a Spirit ticket from the airport counter is actually cheaper than booking online.
Spirit Airlines places this fee on online fares because so many passengers buy online instead of at the counter.
Luckily for me, I live close to the airport, so buying a ticket at the counter for me is no less convenient than going out for a gallon of milk. I have done this many, many times and rarely wait in line. My most recently purchased trip bought at the Spirit counter was surprisingly cheap.
Online I found the flights for $76 on my particular dates for each of three passengers ($228 total) and usually I save $11/person/direction ($66 for my trip) which makes it worth the effort. However, I was surprised and delighted that the passenger usage fees were so high for my flights, which translated into big savings for our trip.
For all three passengers, roundtrip from Pittsburgh to Fort Myers non-stop I paid $90.06 – total. That’s a savings of $138 or 60% off already very cheap fares. The roundtrip fare itself was less than $3.50 total for all three of us, the rest was tax and non-airline fees.
But wait, there’s more.
When buying Spirit flights at the counter, its system automatically assigns seats and if you buy for your family, it’s often seats together. That presumably adds another $15/person/direction in savings or $90. We saved as much on seat selection alone as we paid for the entire trip. If we planned on buying seats together, that would bring our costs down to 72% off the equivalent online.
Maybe This Is Why They Are So Successful
Fellow Boarding Area blog, One Mile At a Time, featured a story about Spirit Airlines hiring pilots and flight attendants. This comes at a time when other carriers are letting them go and making no promises about the future.
The passenger usage charge was routinely $10.99 on this route with no more than $14.99 on any of our previous flights. By increasing it so significantly, Spirit lowers its exposure on taxes, while keeping its flight price low online for passengers shopping the route.
A few weeks ago I covered airline stocks and their performance. Since that point, Spirit has risen dramatically (I own an insignifant amount of shares in Spirit and other transportation sector stocks), and its strategy appears to be paying off. They underperformed industry expectations but missed expectations by just 13% in a year where it’s very hard to make such calls.
It seems Spirit’s strategy is working and management has the company headed in the right direction. I don’t know of another single carrier that is recruiting to meet demand right now.
At this point, I’m becoming a full-on Spirit fanboy. That’s ok, I am comfortable with that. When flights are $76 roundtrip and I can get those down, seemingly at will, plus seat assignments for $30.02/person I would think that would make anyone a fan.
Flying Spirit will take me and my family away from the foot of snow on the ground this week in Pittsburgh for 80° weather at the beach. Why more people don’t buy people buy their Spirit tickets at the airport? Maybe now they will.
What do you think? Have you bought Spirit Airlines tickets at the airport to save money? Did the amount you saved surprise you?
Advertiser Disclosure: In accordance with FCC regulations, no airline, bank, or credit card company has reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed this post. Opinions expressed are of the author alone. I am not a financial advisor, consider carefully before you pursue any credit card offers.
Too much work! I’ve learned to spend a few more dollars for the stress level this would cause. You are risking the fares to be available once you get to the airport and stand inline. Wouldn’t you pay as much in parking as you are saving on the fare?
I paid $2 in parking (right next to the terminal) because it crossed over from 15 minutes (free) to 30 minutes as someone was in front of me.
But I think you’re giving the fares way too much dynamism. They can change that quickly in normal times, but right now, those types of swings aren’t really something we are seeing. Further, on this particular occasion, I would have paid $318 but instead paid just $90 – total. That’s certainly more than a “few dollars” – it’s 72% of the price.
My apologies *smiling*
I understand it now. Between pictures and the article, I thought the savings was minor. The way you have explained it above–wow–you go guy!! More power to you.
You have a typo. First para- “customer.”
Got it corrected, thanks!
nice article…..much love
Yep….I do this whenever I fly Spirit. It’s a no-brainer. I also do the same thing with Frontier…..with a family of for it’s saves a bunch.
Been doing this for years. Family 4 saves me $160 r/t. Doesn’t take more then a hour of my time. Now if United is same price I might go with them because of my Amx baggage credit or free check bag if I use my explorer card. But I find myself flying Spirit more and more over the big 3, plus $50 upgrade to the big front seat is hard to beat. Never had 1 issues with them.
I have already purchased tickets need to save on seats for family had credit from last year covid related could you please advise for savings thank you
If you can cancel and refund the tickets free of charge, got to the airport to rebook the ticket.
Otherwise, the horse might have left the stable. American Express Platinum cardholders can designate Spirit for their airline fee credit and get up to $200 back annually on fees paid for things like seat selection. I don’t know if you have one of those but if you did, that’s another route.
“I own an insignifant amount of shares”
Can you book flights at one airport for another airport? I.e. We’d like to fly out of Baltimore, but it would be closer for us to drive to Latrobe to book this flight (there are better flight options out of BWI for our destination) – is that a possibility?
Absolutely. I once booked Pittsburgh to Fort Myers flights from Houston Bush Intercontinental. I just happened to be there at the time when my wife found the great ticket prices.
I’ve used this method in the past where I live when flying on Spirit, but haven’t flown with them in 6-7 years. I’m heading to Pittsburgh Thursday for a funeral and while looking into flights, I googled to see if this savings strategy was still in effect by booking Spirit at the airport…good to see it is! 🙂 Now I’ll wait and book it at the airport later this morning… Thanks for the info!
can you go to the airport and purchase the big seat on an already booked online ticket purchase? (we used points for the flights)
You can absolutely buy them but there’s no savings for add-ons, just tickets.
On a recent purchase of an international flight ticket, the savings were $92/person RT. I am wondering if this policy also applies outside the US?
This is a good question, Marco. I would have to say yes because the company is still a US company recognizing that revenue from abroad and reporting it as an extension of their US operations. I may be wrong but that would my general thinking on the topic.
Can spirit airlines ticket bought at the airport be insured ? Or can I get a travel credit if I’m unable to go on the trip ?
Marisha – I think that would come down to the insurer, but from what I know of insurance companies, they are usually rather happy to sell you coverage. It needs to be within a certain window from when the purchase was made. For example, if you buy a ticket on June 8th for an August 3rd flight and buy coverage on August 1st, then cancel on August 2nd, no insurance company would allow that. But they have to continue to sell insurance not sold through their partners so this has to still be available, I would guess it would be close to within 24-48-72 hours from purpose.
Can this be done on a same day flight? How soon before takeoff?
You can book these out as far as the schedule is published. Remember, it’s just a replacement for booking over the phone or online, if you can book your ticket online or over the phone, the airport will work as well. As to how soon prior to a flight departure, that’s a question I can’t answer but most activities shut down 30-45 minutes before the door is set to close if not earlier.
This for the first time did not work for me. Had it listed online for $30 each way for a total of $60, and when I got to the airport they quoted me higher than what’s listed online. Usually it’s lower or at least the same.
Literally the same price last month and it was $15 each way…
That shouldn’t be the case. I wonder if it was an agent error. If the price is “only available online” then the convenience fee has to drop off and if the only way to get that fee to drop off is to buy it in person, the fare has to be the same. Years ago, airlines would put their best fares online and charge more at the airport. But there was no fee structure complicating that dual price system. This is different, so charging a higher fare at the airport that replaces the fee would be a problem. That said, just last week we saw a quote of $62/each online but bought all three at the airport for $34/each.
Hi Kyle. Looking to do my third flight on Spirit! However, last time was early 2019. I am currently planning a trip and seeing a $45.xx Passenger Usage Charge one way which means I should save $90-91 on the roundtrip, correct?
I also read somewhere that people were seeing extra airport charges being added to their receipt from buying in-person, making savings minimal. Any reports on that?
Hey, this just worked really great for me! I’m out of Columbus, OH. Booking at the airport saved me $23 x 2 = $46 per person for each in my party of six, and we were able to get seats together on both flights for no additional charge! The only thing I wasn’t able to do is add baggage at booking. This will be an additional $10 per bag per flight when I add it online prior to flight. Still an overall great savings. Thanks so much for sharing this information! (Oh, and to add, I walked right up to the counter with no wait. I did check the outgoing Spirit flights before heading there to make sure it wouldn’t be a busy time. . .)
can i call ahead to the counter to find out the prices before I go to the airport?
I presume you will have to go at a time when Spirit is operating the counter. So you would have to look up flights for Spirit for the day and go during the check in time for Spirit flights for the day?
I think you should touch on this so people who read your articles don’t head to the airport and random times trying to locate a spirit employee.
That’s a fair point and something I will add either here or an updated report.
All articles I have read on buying tickets at the airport say to buy them at the checkin counter and that you wait in line with everyone checking bags. Will this also work at the gate? We are taking a flight on Sunday and want to buy our tickets for our November trip. We have no bags to check so buying the tickets might be easier at the gate if it’s possible.
You can also buy at the gate and yes, I’d recommend that as it is preferable to the counter. Most simply aren’t already in the airport.
Everytime I’ve bought at the counter (today included) I have never gotten seat assignments.
Odd. I just got them this week again and didn’t even have my Free Spirit number on it so I’m sure it’s something that they can choose to negate at the counter. You might have a stricter counter staff or management in your city.
Does it save you money if you have bags to check? Can I pay the advance fees online after purchasing or at the ticket counter?
It doesn’t save you any money on checked luggage fees, you can still pay the advanced fees to save online with 24 hours I believe.
Can I use my reservation credit at the airport? Currently the app does not support it but their site does.
@John – I can’t say, I’ve not tried it. However, my assumption is that this would be true to the rule because if not you’d be subject to the online fees that you are able to avoid only if purchasing at the airport. I think the issue here isn’t going to be allowance or ability, but rather training and familiarity of staff who are likely also pressed to get to the gate and board flights. That’s not a Spirit or even an LCC-specific issue, that’s just a reality of complex IT systems and tough environments.
How far in advance can I try this? Is this a “day of” type of thing or can I go in person to buy a flight that I want to take a month later?
You can definitely do this in advance in fact that’s the only way I recommend it. Prices are far lower in advance and usually when I am in an airport, I swing by a counter or gate and just buy some dates I know will be cheap for the future.
Great article. I’m in Florida and looking to buy tickets for my in-laws to visit us from Dominican Republic. Does the discount applies if I book the tickets for them?
Yes it does. Any ticket purchased for any one from the Spirit counter.
Does being a member of the Savers Club still get you discounted fare at the counter vs online?
It does not. Saver club solely benefits from online sales and discounts on ancillary purchases made online.
The opposite can be true about being a Spirit fan if you live far away from the airport, like in a smaller town where your best options are driving 2 hours to LAX to get good coast to coast flights. Spirit is very casual about cancelling lots of flights with very limited compensation and rebooking options. If you live right by the airport, limited reliability is livable. If you drove 2 hours, put your car in a long term lot, and have to turn around and drive 2 hours home, spirit is a sketchy option. They seem to be handling pandemic staffing shortages worse than most airlines and have cancelled about 5 flights out of LAX for staff issues per day the past 2 days. If you live close to the airport its easier to effectively ‘fly standby’ knowing there will be virtually no compensation if your flight is cancelled, but if you live far away its unworkable. Their compensation vouchers only cover the flight line item within the fair, which can often only be like $9 per ticket. If you could combine the voucher with buying at the counter, then it might be usable. Maybe i will try that.
Thank you for this article! This tip is still working and I just saved over $400 on 9 round trip tickets to MCO (total for 18 tickets = $788) . It did take about an hour at the airport to accomplish, but the Spirit staff was so friendly/informative and I had to account for Christmas holiday traffic. Be patient – it’s worth it!
Also, if you have a big group like mine, make a file on your phone that has all the passenger names, birth dates, and genders. The Spirit agent was so thankful for this as they usually have to have the ticket purchaser write everything by hand or spell all the names.
I usually fly Southwest (with points) but refuse to pay the extremely inflated prices for 2022 60+ days out.
Crossing fingers for a good experience with Spirit!
So glad you saved a lot of cash, Julie! Safe travels.
I recently visited a Spirit airport counter to buy 2 one way tickets. I gave the ticket agent the information and she asked “what was your price online?” I thought this was an odd question for a standard policy – I mean her price to me isn’t negotiable, right? I explained to her that I couldn’t recall the price online, but she did press me on it a bit. Any way, total fare for 2 one way tickets dropped from $64 to $40. However, I’m left wondering if these ticket agents have some liberty in terms of discounts. Based on what I’ve read here and elsewhere, we should have saved around $18.99/ticket/one way. Isnt that right? Is it a better deal to buy each ticket separately rather than 2 on one receipt? Would that have saved me $40 vs the $20 I actually saved? Again, why did she inquire about my online price? Could she have given me a better price? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care too much about $$$$$…(: (: (: – my friends call me bottomfeeder!!!
@Jimmy Koutras – The fee ranges from $7.99-18.99 though even on the lower end, you should have saved more. You will get a receipt at the airport and you can look at those fees compared to what you would have paid online. If there’s anything besides the fare, and taxes (plus associated facility charges like TSA) then you should take that right back to the counter. But no, they shouldn’t be able to shop fares at the counter and they shouldn’t be able to negotiate prices.
I recently purchased round trip tickets prior to this knowledge and live quite close to an airport and want to try this trick! Should I cancel my trip I booked online prior to going to the airport to purchase tickets or does that not matter? I don’t want to get to the counter and they see I already have a trip booked and they do not give me any significate discounts or any at all. Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you!
You’d have to weigh the cost and savings vs convenience of cancelling and rebooking. Without knowing the amount of the convenience charge on each ticket (it’s variable), the number of travelers, the rate you paid for your tickets, and the prospective rate for current tickets on the same itinerary – it would be simply a guess. If you’re weighing all of that, it’s little more than a math problem. Some might go through the hassle to save $10 total, others would just remember the trick for next time, but only you’ll be able to say for sure what works best for you.
I live near an airport and have bought Spirit tickets they’re multiple times. Not so much anymore. You can only purchase Spirit tickets at the DFW airport between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. everyday. No matter what day of the week it is, it is super packed! If you don’t have an hour or two to stand in line, (1 hour if you’re lucky) then don’t even bother going. If I’m able to make it between those hours and don’t have much to do, I still purchase tickets at the airport. But I have to be buying multiple tickets and saving lots of money. Lol
How can you see the breakdown of the ticket? What part is ticket and what part is fees which will be waved at the airport. Want to make sure it’s worth it before driving to the airport.
You can click details on the Spirit site to see a breakdown. The other option is to buy the ticket (you can refund ANY ticket in the US for free within 24 hours of purchase) and look at the receipt.
This really helped !
I book my tickets at Spirit Airlines Counter at DFW airport and saved around $135 for a return flight from DFW to TPA for 3 passengers. However, I waited for close to an hour in the Queue (with 6 or 7 people before me) and there are only two counters open for ticket purchase.
1) Now a days they are selling tickets at the counter only from 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM (this may be different at another airport.
2) Make sure to carry a pen as you can fill a form with flight details, passenger name, DOB, etc. that will help agent to help you faster
3) Make sure to carry your ID (if possible for all travelling passengers) to avoid name typo issues.
4) They do not accept cash and we need to pay via credit/debit/prepaid card only.
Finally, Agent mentioned that these tickets are non-refundable and I have 24 hrs in case I change my mind (not sure I can cancel for full refund or eligible for flight change).