As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Spirit Airlines Now Charges for Carry-On Luggage

This article was written by in Travel. 16 comments.

Just a few days ago, I arrived home from a vacation that took me to Las Vegas and Death Valley. When preparing for the trip, I used SideStep for finding the best fare that fit my schedule, settling on a flight from EWR to LAS on Continental Airlines. My flights were mostly full, so I decided to cash in on my travel over the past 10 years or so and use my miles to upgrade our return reservation to first class.

In the end, even first class was full, so we didn’t get to experience the better amenities. Continental still hasn’t refunded my miles, but that’s another story. Today’s story is about how the airline industry continues to find ways to “unbundle” services so that anything travelers have grown accustomed to are now offered only a la carte.

My last air travel was to celebrate my brother’s marriage last year. Flying Delta was not a perfect experience, including charges of $15 for pre-paying online for checked baggage, $20 for paying for baggage when checking in at the airport, and $8 or more for a meal on the flight. This more recent Continental flight included a $23 fee for checking a bag online ($25 in person) and a $39 fee for choosing a “premium” seat in the coach cabin.

Dante's ViewJetBlue, another perennial favorite of mine because it flies direct to Long Beach airport, charges for pillows and blankets, admittedly a package I never use.

What other micro-fees can the industry deliver? Spirit Airlines answered that question in a recent press release. Somewhat hidden in the announcement of this airline’s new reduced fares is the fact that checked bags are no longer the only type of luggage subject to extra charges. Each carry-on item will now cost each Spirit Airlines traveler $20 when members of the airline’s discount club, where membership costs $39.95 per year, pay online in advance, $30 when non-members pay online in advance, or $45 when anyone pays at the gate.

Spirit has two goals. The first is to decrease listed fares in an industry where customers, like me, shop mainly for the lowest fare regardless of the carrier, not loyalty. The second goal is to create a disincentive for customers to bring more luggage into an already crowded cabin.

These new fees take effect July 1, 2010 for travel on or after August 1, 2010.

I don’t like being nickeled-and-dimed, but as long as I continue to live far from people and places I want to see, I’ll need to continue playing the airline industry’s game.

There isn’t much room to complain. Airfare, at least coach travel, is generally affordable. If you avoid overpaying for food in the airport, keep your schedule flexible, and search for the lowest fares, it can be one of the cheapest, and obviously fastest, ways to travel.

Nevertheless, the quest for lower fares invites these fees. Here are some more ideas for new ways for the airline industry to take our money:

  • $1 for entering the lavatory
  • $9.99 a minute for talking to a flight attendant
  • $2 for the privilege of reclining your seat back an inch
  • $1 to use a tray table
  • $20 for access to fresher air for the entire flight

Any more suggestions?

Updated January 2, 2018 and originally published April 7, 2010.

Email Email Print Print
About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Who said they need to even provide seats. Seats in the front of the plane with be an extra $100. The rest have to stand in the back. . .

Reply to this comment

avatar 2 Anonymous

I’ve already heard a huge uproar over Spirit’s future policy. A radio show my wife listens to in the morning already is calling for a boycott. I am inclined to agree with that. All the other airlines are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what will happen with Spirit. The only way to discourage this practice from happening is to stop flying Spirit. If all the airlines started instituting this policy simultaneously like they did for checked baggage, there isn’t much we can do. Right now, Spirit is the one and only airline to even bring this up, let alone make it policy.

I understand the arguement over reducing fares and charging for extras, but they already charge you for checking a bag, now they are charging you to carry on a bag? So that’s an extra $60 round trip. Spirit isn’t even that great of an airline, so I hope people stop flying them in protest. I say screw them, I will never fly Spirit.

Reply to this comment

avatar 3 Anonymous

with the fare reduction and the new fee,paid on line I can fly for $40 less that before. that is not the type of pricing I think I would protest. as long as their total price is less than others i will continue to fly them.

If you want to pay more, to fly older airplanes go for it. that’s the American way. They have a system frugal folks appreciate..

Reply to this comment

avatar 4 Anonymous

How about a fee for calculating fees?

Reply to this comment

avatar 5 Anonymous

You joke about charging for the restroom, but RyanAir is already going for it on flights of an hour or less:

Reply to this comment

avatar 6 Anonymous

I though Spirit was known for low fares + a la carte fees for everything? Similar to Ryanair? Weren’t they the ones with $1 or $10 fares or something – but charges for everything? Ah, but a few minutes of googling shows that they were in fact the first US airline to charge. So they’re simply on the frontier of nickel and diming in the US airline industry.

It seems inevitable – how many of us have seen people lug huge carryons into the plane to avoid checked bag fees? Thus defeating the fees’ purpose – to earn the airline money in an attempt at profitability.

I wonder how long it will be until Fedex and UPS announce a partnership with the airlines, to detect when someone is mailing their luggage and charge them extra fees for it.

Reply to this comment

avatar 7 Anonymous

I argue that happens 1% of the time.

A majority of airline travel is business travel, and I’ve never seen a business traveller try to stuff a carry-on into the overhead bins.

I am willing to bet a lot of companies will stop allowing their employees to use Spirit. I hope that happens.

Reply to this comment

avatar 8 Anonymous

New theme music:

Carry on my wayward son
We’ll be rich when you are done
Lay your weary head on our pillow
Hear KA-CHING once more

Reply to this comment

avatar 9 Anonymous

Why don’t they just charge $20 more for a fare, but offer a $20 discount to anyone willing to travel without a carry-on bag? Normal customers wouldn’t feel nickeled and dimed, and customers who travel light would be rewarded with incentives.

This proposal doesn’t work that well with Spirit’s fee-based business model, but it might work for other airlines interested in implementing similar policies.

Reply to this comment

avatar 10 Anonymous

As an extremely tall person, I would like to see that seat recline fee instituted. It’s not fun having someone lean back on you when you tower over the seat back. Makes it kinda hard to eat that $8 meal while staring at someone’s forehead! :)

Reply to this comment

avatar 11 Anonymous

Let’s not give them any more ideas now Flexo!

Plus Delta has increased their baggage fee since you last flew with them.

Reply to this comment

avatar 12 Anonymous

They really should charge ‘overweight’ people fees. In my opinion, if any part of your body extrudes past the sides of the arm rest – you should be charged based on the additional space. That way its not a full fee for another seat, and we can sit them together.

Reply to this comment

avatar 13 Anonymous

So let me get this straight. Airfare pricing is one of the lowest points ever in it’s history, people want to pay the lowest price, aren’t loyal to any brand, then complain how they have to nickle/dime you for everything? What’s wrong with this picture? The air carrier business is a very unprofitable business to be in. Richard Branson once said:

“Whats the quickest way to become a millionaire? Start off a billionaire and set up an airline.”

I personally consider air travel one step above riding the bus. Long gone are the glamorous days of air travel. That’s moved into private jets.

I heard on NPR yesterday about the new pricing policies and they stated the industry made $4 billion on this stuff, up from 500 million 2 years earlier. Gasp if airlines try to make money. Don’t you think there is a reason why US Air and United are trying to merging?

Reply to this comment

avatar 14 Anonymous

I’m not sure airfare pricing is that low in 2010; airlines have cut back the # flights, and raised rates on most tickets. What price did Flexo pay for the coach tickets ewr to las? If this was in 2009, he’d probably pay 10% less or more. Maybe wouldve done the same or better, depending on closeness to airport and gas and/or tolls, flew out of airport hub for Spirit Airlines?

Reply to this comment

avatar 15 Anonymous

Is the first & the last time we will be using Spirit Airlines.
Spirit Airlines has a licence to kill our pockets.

Reply to this comment

avatar 16 Anonymous

Spirit is the WORST airline that i ever took! Tjh cancel my fly last minute meaning when i when to register at the counters with not options whats so ever! The told me ” we can just give you your moey back and it will take 5 or seven bussiness days! No choise buy the get at last minute figjt that costed me doble! Nevertheless they didnt charged me at the country i flue in on my way coming back! And once i get to miami they want to charge me for a bag that fits on the “free bag space limit! And that im going to carry! 45!!!!!!!!!!!! They plus again didnt give me an option ” you play or dont fly simple as that!” The supervisor was rude! And disrrispetfull where is cust service satisfaction! Aires is going to step all over this airline ! They really care about the cust and you feel very satisfy! I dont mine payng doble or tripe the amount i dont want nothing to do with spirit! Nothing! Not even free! Because my time and what i pay for is worth it.

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these terms and conditions.