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Spirit Airline: No Free Bags (or Sodas)

Carol Sottili

Spirit Airlines deserves some sort of spin award for its latest press release, which notes, by the way, that it's going to start charging for checked luggage and beverages.

The headline on the release reads, "GREAT NEWS! Spirit Airlines Lowers Fares, Many Up to 40%, and Now Gives Customers The Opportunity To Customize Their Travel Experience And Save!" It goes on to talk about empowering customers to customize their travel experience, and liberating them from being forced into paying for services they don't desire. Then, buried in a list of "Spirit Optional Services & Products" between travel insurance and discounted airport parking is "onboard beverages and snacks." Checked luggage is tucked in farther down.

You then have to go deep into the Spirit Airlines site to find out the details. Under the travel tools banner, scroll down to travel policies, and you'll find that beginning June 20, you'll pay $1 for juices, sodas and hot drinks (water will still be free). And, also beginning June 20, you'll pay $5 each for the first or second checked bag (up to 50 pounds) if you book it online ahead of time ($10 each if you do it at the airport). Don't even think about a third bag -- that'll cost $100.

Perhaps even more interesting is this new language: "Spirit can only guarantee the transportation of one item as checked luggage per fare paying customer... Spirit cannot guarantee that there will be space for extra bags, and will not be held responsible for any additional items brought to the airport by the customer."

Spirit is the first U.S. carrier to go this route; it became the first U.S. airline to charge for a second piece of luggage effective Feb. 10. European discount airlines have been charging for luggage and drinks for a long time (they also sell lottery tickets). Some of us believe that, unless the masses protest, most discount U.S. airlines will soon follow.

So what do you think? Would you rather just pay for all the extras, especially if it means cheaper fares, as Spirit claims? Or are they just nickel-and-diming us to death? And is the media person who came up with the spin on that press release an evil genius or should he/she go to work for a presidential candidate?

By the way, the press release goes on to talk up some 1-cent fares that the airline is offering. If you can nab them, may be worthwhile, although I've found that the dates/places don't usually work, and they sell out very quickly.

By Carol Sottili |  March 6, 2007; 3:22 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
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Wow. Now I gotta haul my stuff to the airport and pay them to take it?

Posted by: DanTheMan | March 6, 2007 3:45 PM

Ya know, my husband and I took Spirit Air to Ft. Lauderdale the first week of the year to catch a cruise (it was a last-minute thing and Spirit was cheap). He characterized it as "Air Greyhound," and boy, was he right! It's getting more low-rent by the minute! Now they're charging for EVERY bag you check? Greyhound is looking better all the time!

Posted by: Arlington, VA | March 6, 2007 3:46 PM

This doesn't seem so outrageous to me. I was prepared to read something about $1 per pound for checked luggage.

If you're flying a bargain basement airline, at bargain prices, why would you fuss over the extras? After all, not everyone checks a bag. It makes sense for the airline to incentivize light travel.

My popcorn and soda at the movies costs as much as the ticket. Should I start agitating to have popcorn-- an essential part of the theater experience-- included in the ticket price?

Posted by: WDC | March 6, 2007 3:50 PM

"If you're flying a bargain basement airline, at bargain prices, why would you fuss over the extras? After all, not everyone checks a bag. It makes sense for the airline to incentivize light travel."

The whole thing with Spirit in the past WAS its bargain price fares..that in essence is what enabled it to grow and become a carrier of choice for many Americans....now f they begin to nickel and dime one to death its time to consider other airlines...in the end, its the TOTAL price of the experience: ticket price plus luggage price plus drinks price...add it all up and perhaps it might come close to what other airlines charge (in total)...
Sorry, Spirit...you may be losing your edge!!!!!

Posted by: Steve | March 6, 2007 4:09 PM

I think airlines supplement their income by hauling freight (e.g. mail) for other companies in the extra area of the luggage bay. Your checked bag is mail they can't transport so they're just making up the opportunity cost. The not knowing if a 2nd bag can be checked is more troubling to me than paying $5 for it. Presumably your ticket will still be noticeably cheaper.

Posted by: eh | March 6, 2007 4:35 PM

get ready for even more overstuffed overhead bins.

Air Canada also does this. You can save something like $4 or $5 each way at the time of booking if you select the no-checked-bags option. But if you decide at the airport to check a bag it cost something like $25 or $40.

Posted by: Glenn | March 6, 2007 4:50 PM

As someone who just recently flew Spirit and had them loose my luggage on BOTH legs of the flight I have to say there isn't much to pay for. Passengers might be better off if Spirit just admitted that checked bags simply aren't going to make it. The return flight saw only about 10 bags come off the conveyor belt. It was humorous to watch the people just stand around certain that there had to be more luggage coming.

Posted by: Jake | March 6, 2007 4:53 PM

I object to Spirit burying the details, but I do like the idea of a bargain basement airline. As long as you know what you're paying for. How about putting up strap hangars and charging for seats?

Posted by: Tomcat | March 6, 2007 5:49 PM

So, wait a minute. You can pay ahead of time to have two bags, but they'll only guarantee the transportation of one? So, you pay ahead of time, bring your two bags to the airport, and then what? If they don't have room, do they just say "Sorry, tough luck"? Do they take both bags but then you only have one at your destination?

Posted by: Ryan | March 6, 2007 7:02 PM

When I travel, luggage isn't optional. OK, if I'm zipping up to Boston to spend a weekend with my sister I can carry on an overnight bag, but I'd guess that many people flying Spirit to Florida are going on cruises. That would certainly require some checked baggage! Thanks for alerting us to this hidden charge (not to mention the "Maybe" we'll take your bags language...) I won't be flying Spirit. It's just not worth the few bucks i migth save.

Posted by: Need My Stuff! | March 7, 2007 8:44 AM

I can't wait for the day when airlines start charging customers by the pound - not baggage weight, passenger weight.

Posted by: PJ | March 7, 2007 12:19 PM

I like the idea of paying only for services and space I want and need. It makes sense that someone who takes up less space and weight in the luggage by pays less than someone who takes up more space and weight in the luggage bay. Effectively, they are just giving a discount to people who pack light and don't want anything to eat or drink a discount.

Posted by: Jerry | March 7, 2007 12:33 PM

I hope Spirit is reconsidering its bag policy. Charging to check something is what's called a "bailment." If you charge a fee to check property, you're legally responsible for that property. That's why coat-checks at restaurants generally offer "free" coat checking with a nice big tip basket ("suggested" of course).

This is a dangerous equation:

Unpleasant environment (the airport) + cramped travel conditions (bargain basement coach seat) + the distinct feeling of being nickeled-and-dimed = small claims court when the luggage is lost.

From the sound of other commenters' complaints, Spirit had better be using its luggage fees to staff its legal department.

Posted by: embee | March 7, 2007 1:35 PM

Wow. Note to self: avoid Spirit. I hope it was just the person who wrote the press release who's trying to actively hide the policy on checking bags - I'd hate to buy a ticket and not realize bags cost extra and aren't guaranteed passage.

Posted by: h3 | March 7, 2007 4:16 PM

I am a student studying in the UK right now and I just finished booking flights for my spring break trip around Europe. Europe has several budget airlines, such as Ryanair and easyJet. They feature extremely low fares (£0.01), with many fees tacked on after that. Yes, they are nickle-and-diming me (but in pounds sterling, euros, and Norwegian kroner). But I don't care--I save money. In addition to the very cheap fare, there are various fees (under $6.00), taxes, and credit card processing charges, which vary from card to card. In addition, Ryanair charges for checked luggage. I will be checking a bag for my upcoming trip, but I don't mind paying the fee--when I take a shorter trip, I won't have to pay for a bag that I am not checking. The budget airlines often fly to airports far from major city centers that charge lower fees. This requires added ground transportation costs.
In the end, it is still worth it to me. As a student on a tight budget, I am able to afford to travel. I can fly cheaply and not have to pay for drinks, snacks, and checked luggage I do not want. All of my flights, including the fees and extra ground transportation costs, cost 50%-75% less than equivalent "traditional" airlines. I can live with a seat that does not recline and no tray table (part of the "fewer moving parts means lower initial expense and less to repair" policy) for an hour if that means I actually get to travel.

Posted by: Frank | March 7, 2007 5:49 PM

"It makes sense that someone who takes up less space and weight in the luggage by pays less than someone who takes up more space and weight in the luggage bay."

Great, then you can pay more than me for your ticket because you weigh more than me.

Posted by: Liz | March 7, 2007 6:32 PM

If Spirit can prove it will lower fares significantly as a result of doing this, I don't have a huge problem with it. Seems like it could be a good option for someone who needs to take a short flight and who won't need to check bags. But clearly, it's not a good option for long flights and long trips.

I just hope all the other airlines don't start following suit.

Posted by: TL | March 9, 2007 11:26 AM

Over the years as more airlines adopted more customer "unfriendly" practices, I have jokingly said it won't be long before passengers get fed up and send their luggage ahead by mail service, i.e. fed ex, ups, etc. It might mean packing lighter and packing earlier, but considering the hassle of lost luggage--it might not be such a dumb idea.

Posted by: LN | March 14, 2007 8:22 PM

I'm one of previously mentioned persons that bought tickets on Spirit, without knowing of the "no guarantee" for the second checked bag, even if paid for in adavance (on-line).

I bought the tickets, Mar. 16, of course they went sale, Mar. 17.,such is my life! LOL

We are going to Ft. Lauderdale, for a ten day cruise (Oct. 20). Of course, we always check two bags, each. I knew of the extra charge, but not the chance of the two extra bags, MIGHT NOT be going with us!

My confirmation said nothing about the "no guarantee". I called the 800 number, today and after a 25 minute wait, I explained my problem. The service rep., didn't even know of the new policy, or even were it was 'hidden'on the web site.

Long story shortened, I either take my chances that the seconds are going with us, or cancel ticket,for $60 each and get credit for future flights,then book with a major airline.

Either way, no more Spirit Air for us.By the way, we paid more than $400, about what the others wanted for this one-way fare. Too bad. this is (or was) the best time for us and non-stop!

Posted by: Charles Ferrall | March 19, 2007 3:03 PM

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