Spirit Airlines has raised their booking related fees significantly in the past year or so. In the last two weeks alone, total booking fees were raised by $2 round-trip each week and can now total up to a whopping $69 round-trip in booking related fees. That's just booking fees. Airfare and taxes will be additonal. Update April 24, 2018: Fees went up another $2 each way and now total up to $73 round-trip.
It used to be that Spirit only had their confounding "Passenger Usage Fee" 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 shlepping yourself to the airport and booking your flight at the airport counter. This fee used to total up to $38 round-trip, which by the time you figure in gas, parking, and time, might not make a trip to the airport worth it. Last week, Spirit raised this fee to be up to $19.99 each way.
The king of fees has found a few more ways to increase their revenue. They added an "Unintended Consequences of D.O.T. Regulations Fee" after the government made changes requiring airlines to show tax-inclusive fares up front 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 $7 each way. The worst part is that you can't avoid this fee by booking at an airport. Although this fee is excluded from some of their lower fares, most of Spirit's fares will have this fee attached.
Wait...there's more! Last year, Spirit decided to bring back the "Fuel Charge". This fee was raised slightly this week and is now $8 each way. The fuel charge is another fee that can be avoided by booking at an airport counter, but that makes me wonder why they gave it this name. Is Spirit now charging you for the fuel that you would have used to drive to the airport in order to purchase a ticket? Update April 24, 2018: Fuel Charge has been increased $2 each way and is now $10 each way.
At the end of 2016, the general rock bottom fare for a Spirit flight, when booked online, was $69 round-trip including all of the booking related fees and taxes. That was for a base fare of one cent each way plus all the taxes and fees. Today, that same one cent each way base fare will total up to $99 round-trip. That is a $30 (or 43%) increase in a little over one year. Spirit would like you to believe that this is an increase in taxes, but in reality, they've just added and/or increased their booking related fees. Update April 24, 2018: Fees have increased; A 1¢ each way base fare will now total up to $103 round-trip.
Lately, Spirit has started to compete with Frontier more and has removed or lowered some of these fees in some markets, which can sometimes bring the rock bottom price down as low as $39 round-trip including all mandatory taxes/fees. Of course, bag fees are another story.
Where these online booking fees come into play for Spirit is when they have 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 online booking fees, which can now total up to $56 round-trip. 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 their 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 connecting flights. Update April 24, 2018: Fees have increased; A 1¢ each way base fare will now total up to $103 round-trip.
If you can wrap your head around all of their 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 their fees and pricing model before you fly.
Above image via Spirit.