Spirit Airlines has raised its booking related fees significantly over time. Just last year, I wrote about rising fees in back-to-back weeks. Since then, fees have continued to rise, with the latest increase in August 2019. At the time of writing, booking related fees can add up to a whopping $82 roundtrip. That's just booking fees. Airfare and taxes are additional.
A Guide to Spirit's Booking Related Fees
Spirit actually has three separate booking related fees—one of which can be avoided when booking at the airport, but the others are unavoidable. Spirit may omit certain booking fees from time to time on select discount airfares when competing on price with other ultra-low-cost carriers. These booking fees appear in the “flight price” section on Spirit’s pricing breakdown and often go unnoticed as most travelers just assume it’s part of the airfare.
Passenger Usage Fee
It used to be that Spirit only had the confounding "Passenger Usage Charge" added on to bookings made online. By not calling it what it is (an online booking fee) Spirit groups this into the fare to make it seem like a required charge. The only way to avoid this charge is by schlepping yourself to the airport and booking your flight at the airport counter. In 2016, this fee totaled up to $38 roundtrip, which by the time you figure in gas, parking, and time, might not make a trip to the airport worth it, but this fee keeps increasing. The latest increase was in August 2019. It is now up to $22.99 each way.
Regulatory Compliance Charge
The king of fees has found a few more ways to increase its revenue. Spirit added an "Unintended Consequences of D.O.T. Regulations Fee" after the government made changes requiring airlines to show tax-inclusive fares upfront and allow consumers to cancel airline tickets within 24-hours of booking, free of charge. This fee has changed in name to simply "Regulatory Compliance Charge" and is now around $7 each way. On its "optional" services page, Spirit lists this fee at $7, but you’ll see a fee of $6.51 (each way) in the pricing breakdown when booking. The worst part is that you can't avoid this fee by booking at an airport. Although this fee is excluded from some of its lower fares, most of Spirit's fares will have this fee attached.
Wait...there's more! Spirit decided to bring back the "Fuel Charge". This fee was raised slightly since last year and now adds around $12 each way. On its "optional" services page, Spirit lists this fee at $12, but you’ll see a fee of $11.16 (each way) in the pricing breakdown when booking. The fuel charge is excluded on some of Spirit’s lower fares, but you'll see it on most. And while you used to be able to avoid this fee by booking at the airport, Spirit has decided to start collecting this fee on bookings made at the airport as well. "Sorry, gas is not included."
You may have noticed the quotation marks on the word "optional". There doesn't seem to be a way to avoid the "Regulatory Compliance Charge" or the "Fuel Charge" anymore so I'm not sure how Spirit can deem these fees as "optional". I have reached out to Spirit for an explanation as to how one can avoid these fees, but I have not heard back at the time of writing.
At the end of 2016, the general rock bottom fare for a domestic Spirit Airlines flight, when booked online, was $69 roundtrip including all of the booking related fees and taxes. That was for a base fare of one cent each way plus all of the taxes and carrier-imposed fees. Today, that same one cent each way base fare will total up to $113 roundtrip for domestic travel. That is a $44 (or 63%) increase in less than 3 years. Spirit would like you to believe that this is an increase in taxes, but in reality, Spirit just added and/or increased its booking related fees.
To compete with other ultra-low-cost carriers such as Allegiant, Frontier, and Sun Country, Spirit sometimes removes or lowers some of these fees in certain markets. This can sometimes bring the rock bottom price down in the $50s-$90s roundtrip range including all mandatory taxes/fees. Of course, bag fees are another story.
Why Does Spirit Charge Booking Fees?
One word. Taxes. By labeling it a fee, Spirit saves on taxes paid to the government. But where these online booking fees really come into play for Spirit is when it has flashy promo code sales. We regularly see 50% off, 75% off, sometimes even 99% off promo code sales. The catch is that these promo codes will only discount the base fare and will not apply to the booking fees, which can now total up to $82 roundtrip. 99% off a base fare between $0.01 and $5 isn't going to actually save you a whole lot of money. However, not all of Spirit’s base fares are this low. We still see some big price drops on certain routes during these promo code sales. They are generally longer distance nonstop routes and some connecting flights.
If you can wrap your head around all of Spirit’s fees and are willing to take a chance with Spirit, you can still save a lot of money. I say take a chance, because you should have some flexibility if you're going to fly Spirit on a route with limited frequencies. Without any interline agreements to get you moving on other carriers in case of major delays and/or cancellations, Spirit may not be able to get you where you need to be promptly. This is more likely to happen on routes where they only operate once per day or a few times a week.
Many people do take that chance, and for the most part, everything works out fine. Spirit is not for everyone though, so please read up on its fees and pricing model before you fly.