Spirit is the king of a la carte fares. They promise cheap seats on direct flights but everything is extra, even paying for your ticket incurs a $15-20 convenience fee when you buy online. We decided we don’t want to pay that fee anymore and it is one of our favorite travel hacks.
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Passenger Usage Charge
Whenever I see a “convenience” fee (concert tickets had these) I’d think, “it would be more convenient if I didn’t have to pay it.” In truth, Spirit’s convenience fee (called a “Passenger Usage Charge”) is perhaps more accurate than any other I have encountered. In order to process payments online conveniently, the carrier includes a fee that ranges from $15-20 each way.
The fee can be avoided, however, by purchasing the tickets in person at the airport. It’s rather inconvenient to do so, but possible.
Baked Into the Fare
We shop for most of our flights on Google.com/flights. It takes the best of ITA Software and puts it into an easy user interface without dealing with the OTAs unless you want to. As a result, the only way to advertise fares for sale in a booking engine is online and must include the fee, but with any fee that is said to be optional, there must be a way to avoid it. By going to the airport, passengers avoid this fee and, in my experience, I have found it to be a common procedure.
Therefore, if airfare is listed at $97 roundtrip on Spirit (before any extras), the flight can be booked at the airport for $57-67 roundtrip. Below is a sample flight from Pittsburgh to Fort Myers next week for $177 roundtrip including the fee baked into the price you see.
By clicking on taxes and fees through a search service or by going through to a purchase page on Spirit.com, the fee is stated and savings can be calculated. I have found that most flights are $19.95 in each direction. In reality, the itinerary above if purchased at the airport costs just $137 roundtrip instead of $177 purchased online.
Saving Hundreds Makes It Worth it
When I book direct flights from the Pittsburgh to Florida or points further south, I am usually booking for three people in my family. Every time I go to the airport to buy tickets (frankly, I am there often anyway) I save $90 per roundtrip. On a recent purchase run, I bought ten one-way tickets saving just under $200 compared to buying online. Out of $650 in online quotes, we spent just $460 on those ten segments.
My drive to the airport saved us 29% on the total cost of travel for what was already remarkably low fares. More than the savings, I enjoy beating the system in place a little though too – and it takes very little to ruin my mood when I secure $46 one-way flights out of the cold.
>Read More: My Unlikely Love Affair with Spirit Airlines
>Read More: The Southwest, No, The Spirit Effect
Have you bought Spirit tickets at the airport? Would you rather just buy them online and pay the convenience fee? Are you a lingering Spirit hater?
We always drive to the airport, which by the way is only 15 minutes from our home, to beat their system. We are not a high maintenance family that needs all the perks of flying first class domestically, so Spirit Airlines is our first choice when traveling from H-town to LA to see our daughter.
I love it!
Do do I
I’ve done this for years since Spirit came to Portland. It is especially easy for me since we have a train that goes directly to the airport from my work. Spirit gets their money too, since I use that savings to upgrade my seat online since seats and bags are cheaper online then at the airport.
Shari, I 100% agree with you on this. I would prefer to be inconvenienced to go to the airport to select it, but be able to reallocate that savings to upgrade my seat.
I do it all the time but a lot of the agents at LAX do not know how to book the reservation properly. I have had issues with my Free Spirit number not being added or them entering my DOB incorrectly.
We have had issues with this too, but I carefully look at the tickets before I leave the airport and get it corrected right then and there.
Allegiant has the same fee. The trouble is the airport ticket counter is only open for 1 hour after each departure, which in the case of my airport means 4 hours a week. So you can theoretically save some money, but it’s not easy. Plus it seems like the price they quote at the airport isn’t necessarily the same you see online minus the fee. This may just be an Allegiant issue.
This appears to be an Allegiant issue, though I have bought tickets from the agent in the Spirit baggage office before. She was quite happy to issue them from there and those hours seem to extend a little bit longer than just the desk hours at checkin. Consider checking that next time.
I’ve gotten my Penny fares going to the airport. As you have done I’ll check online then go to the airport. I’ve gone to Cancun on spirit for 200 bucks within the same month of booking.
Great advice here Kyle. Can you provide some color on the add-ons? If I want to buy big front seats, some buzzballs and prepaid bag fees, cheapest to buy those at the airport as well or wait until I get home and book online?
Mitch, I am sensing some sarcasm, but then you bring up a genuine question that can be answered so I will do so (despite my instincts.) With your newly found fortune (Passenger Usage Charge) you can afford to move up to one of those Big Front Seats, which are the same size as Delta, United and American but only run $40-50 each way additionally. Saving $40 on a round-trip essentially prices in a domestic First Class seat in one direction, and for the upcharge from Basic Economy to Economy on the other guys (usually a $15-25 difference each way) you should be able to fly in the same First Class seat as American would give you for the price of regular economy when buying at the airport. That sounds pretty good to me, MC.
The prepaid bag fees (which every other carrier still charges, just at the airport instead of online) are still cheapest when paid in advance, and if you find yourself on many, many Spirit flights, their misleadingly-named $9 fare club (sold for $70) will save you on those fees too. As for the Buzzballs, I don’t drink often, but I understand they are only available on the aircraft.
Ok, so bag fees and big front seats are cheapest in advance, but it doesn’t matter whether I buy them at the airport or online? Same price right? And Buzzballs can only be purchased on the plane, no prepaid discount.
Buy them online. Don’t buy buzz balls at all.
Great advice (except for the buzzballs). Thx.
If you save going to the airport to buy your tickects, doesn’t it cost more at the airport to purchase your bag?
That’s correct. The airline always penalizes the most convenient route (leaving baggage until the day you fly and know how much you are going to take is more convenient than booking in advance). That being said, if you know the rules (as we do) you can get some amazing deals.
Great article that focuses on lower cost airline travel options and not another tired article on how to book this or that Airline to the far corners of the world for only 120000 miles one way! Honestly how many USA Families are going to visit Phukat Thailand or Bora Bora year after year?
Sorry for the rant, now my questions does Frontier offer the same direct airport purchase fee discount?
Have you done any articles on comparing Spirit and Frontier ( possibly Jet Blue ) and their co-branded credit cards?
This fee should be illegal. Europe would never tolerate this nonsense.
Funny you should say that, it actually follows a suit against Ryan Air. The carrier had a guaranteed surcharge outside of the fare, in their case to process payment. This was one of two work arounds they came up with to comply with the court’s directive. At issue, was that any inescapable, mandatory charge that’s not included in the airfare violates marketing regulations. In order to be able to charge the fee but show a lower price online, they had to have a way for customers to pay without incurring the fee even if they were unlikely to do so. Spirit has actually taken a similar approach but more conservative pricing route. In Spirit’s take on the concept, your fare only gets cheaper by avoiding the fee. With Ryan Air, you always found the absolute cheapest fare but it could only get more expensive depending on how you pay. If anything, Spirit is being more careful than the leader in detestable fees from our friends across the pond. They actually tolerate more.
….and Spirit needs only to read this article and will soon find a way to charge people even at the airport. As well, like every other airline, most, if not all of their agents will either not know how to sell a ticket or will quickly beg off by referring people to the internet or phone. Some “hacks” are not worth sharing, they soon become over-used and then obsolete. Keep it to yourself.
This is widely shared, TPG, DansDeals, elsewhere. I’m sharing it because I love it and because not everyone has seen it from those sources.
I’m not sure about your experience with Spirit ticket counters but I’ve done this three times recently, in the different airports, one time in a baggage facility. Everyone was able to execute the transaction just fine.
Thanks for sharing this info.
I tried this once, and it didn’t work. I wanted to buy a one way ticket from DFW to TPA, and had the date, flight number, and flight details at the ready. The counter agent at DFW was happy to help sell me a ticket, but not only claimed the flight I wanted didn’t exist, she insisted the only flight to Tampa was a completely nonexistent one at a higher price than indicated online. I’m not sure if it was just an incompetent agent or what.
The big thing for me, though, is that in order to persuade me to schlep all the way to DFW and back, the savings have to exceed about $120, accounting for an hour and a half of my time (which I value at $75 an hour), gas, tolls, and parking. Even for three of us, at $40 in fees per person for the roundtrip, it’s at best a wash. So no, I won’t go out of my way to book at the airport.
Thanks a lot for sharing this valuable information
My question : Does this applies for international flights? If yes
Can I book the flight few months in advance?
VR – Yes it does, any time the fee breakdown shows the Passenger Usage Charge in your fare summary (you need to go through to the payment page on Spirit’s website to see this) you can buy at the airport and avoid the fee. Enjoy your trip!
I went to Spirit counter today at Burbank airport and tried to book for BUR->DEN. I was surprised when the counter girl said the round trip fare is $100 costlier than the online price. She said when the online offers are going on, it is cheaper to buy online rather than at the airport. I’m just clueless and any suggestions would be appreciated.
Unfortunately, either the inventory available at the cheaper price was sold out by the time you got to the counter or the agent was looking at then wrong dates or times. Their explanation doesn’t make sense either, they probably just loaded the wrong details. If you confirm it on your phone in front of them and feed the flight numbers with dates and times it should go smoother.
Here is why their answer was false. The fee is added to every base fare just like taxes. For example $85 fare = $60 fare, $5 tax, $20 convenience fee. If you had a tax exemption and the base fare was available for $60 and you went to the airport that would be the whole price.
It would be illegal to charge a fee that was also essentially offset by a surcharge for buying at the airport. The whole reason fees are attractive is due to their lower corporate income tax rate with carriers, however, in order to qualify it has to be optional. If there is no way to not pay it, it is illegal and their lawyers wouldn’t set them up for such an easy lawsuit – that’s bad business.
I have done this many times, my neighbor did it yesterday, respectfully, I believe the agent made a mistake and encourage you to try again.
for a domestic flight is it always 19.99 or can vary? asking because i picked a flight from houston to tampa for 1 adult and 2kids and on payment page its showing 275 passenger usage fee (total fare is 925). would that be waived at airport or its still going to be 120?
If you buy that ticket at the airport it should be $15-20 per segment per person that’s waived. For example, PIT-FLL was advertised as $89 roundtrip online last week. My mother-in-law went to the airport and bought it, checking out at $59/roundtrip total with the $15/way taken off. That’s been my experience too and at IAH (I have bought there before) there are two separate lines. The one you need is to the left and is cordoned off – others will be there buying at the same time.