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.
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.