One of my favorite flight hacks is to buy Spirit Airlines tickets at the airport and save the online-only passenger usage fee. But based on a recent experience, it seems they may be breaking the law through false advertising and disclosures.
What Is Spirit Airlines Passenger Usage Fee?
Spirit Airlines gets around some revenue taxes by charging a portion of their fare as a Passenger Usage Fee, it’s a convenience fee for booking online. The fees range from $11.99-27.99 each passenger each way but can be avoided by purchasing tickets at the airport instead.
Consider buying a trip to Florida for a family of three such as mine. Buying at the airport could save us $72- $162 per roundtrip. In relation to the fare, that could be as much as half of the ticket price. This has long been one of my favorite airfare hacks, living close to the airport has its perks.
Fares Should Be The Same
Some carriers charge less for fares booked online, with a travel agency or as part of a group than in-person walk-up fares. However, the rule of this fare states in the breakdown that it includes the fee which can be avoided by booking at the airport. If I can avoid that fee by booking at the airport, the math should be simple: $26.30 – $11.99 or $14.31/passenger.
In the past, this has been my experience. We often save money on flights like this which leave extra money for Big Front Seats, seating assignments or checked luggage.
I went to the airport to purchase the ticket and I was told by the counter staff that the fare I could book at the airport was $33/each inclusive of taxes and fees. I couldn’t get a breakdown in person at the airport, neither printed nor stated. Some have reported that Spirit voids a fuel surcharge fee for online fares but charges them in person. This seems legally precarious but perhaps is valid as a legal workaround.
To book my ticket, I worked with another agent and was able to get the correct price. A similar price mismatch occurrence happened to a family member recently.
In an effort to understand the discrepancy I tried to remove the Passenger Usage fee and replace it with the fuel surcharge that can be applied at the airport to see if my calculations would match the agent. However, even adding a fuel surcharge as stated on the Spirit Airlines website should limit the cost to $12 which would still come to a cost of roughly the same as booked online in my particular case, $26.31.
Why Is This Illegal?
If a fare is sold as $26.30 (in this case) but $11.99 of that fare includes an optional convenience fee to buy online, it has to be available for purchase by some other method in order to be valid, in this case buying at the airport. Once that fee becomes inescapable, it’s no longer a fee and abides by normal airfare rules and regulations.
Replacing the fee with another type of fee may work legally, but in this instance, that wasn’t the case either.
Ryan Air was taken to court about some of these issues in Europe. While European law isn’t exactly the same as US law, many of the principles are. A fee is valid if it’s optional, if it’s not then it’s part of the fare. Germany took issue with Ryan Air charging a fee to process payments regardless of method of payment:
“Berlin’s Superior Court of Justice, citing a European Union directive, deemed that the charge was ‘inadmissible’ unless the airline also offered a charge-free method of payment.”
Replacing the fee not charged online by charging in person for a different fee is, in essence, the same thing.
Unlike many other travel writers, I love flying Spirit Airlines. The flights are often direct and affordable if you play by their rules. However, when they circumvent their own rules there should be accountability. Replacing a fee that can only be avoided by purchasing in-person can’t then be replaced by a fee that is only charged in-person and not online. That’s having their cake and eating it too and not following their own rules.
What do you think? Is this illegal or a valid workaround for the airport? Shouldn’t Spirit play by the same rules they make passengers play by?