Booking a flight from the comfort of your home or anywhere the Internet exists is definitely the easiest way to buy a ticket. But did you know that some airlines charge a fee for this convenience? You may be paying too much by booking online.
Book Cheaper Flights at the Airport on These 3 Airlines
These carrier-imposed fees go unnoticed by most because they are often lumped in with all of the government-imposed taxes and fees, which makes them seem like a mandatory charge. Obscure language is used to label these fees, which can add to the confusion. To help clear up these bewildering and sometimes unknown fees, I’ll explain how to avoid online booking fees on Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit.
How to Avoid the Online Booking Fee on Allegiant Airlines
Allegiant Airlines charges an “Electronic Carrier Usage Charge” of $18 each way ($36 roundtrip), per person, on tickets booked online. This fee can be avoided if you purchase your ticket at the Allegiant Airlines ticket counter inside the airport. It should be noted that Allegiant often offers a "roundtrip discount" for tickets booked on its website, which may not apply to tickets booked at the airport.
When is the Allegiant Airlines Ticket Counter Open?
Before you go to the airport, make sure to check the flight schedule, because the ticket counter will only be open during the hours surrounding flight times. Allegiant usually flies very limited schedules, and there may only be a small window in which you can book tickets at the airport. On its website, Allegiant states, “In most cities, airport ticket purchase will be available for one hour following each scheduled departure.” There are also specific times listed for certain airports on this page. Cash is not accepted at the airport, so make sure to have a credit or debit card for payment.
What are the Bag Fees on Allegiant When Tickets are Booked at the Airport?
Unfortunately, you cannot get the discounted bag fees that are offered during online booking. If you purchase your ticket at the airport on Allegiant Airlines, you can add either a carry-on or checked bag to your reservation after purchase for $45 each way. If you need either a checked bag or a carry-on bag, this price difference for luggage will likely wipe out any savings you made by purchasing your ticket at the airport. To further complicate matters, you’ll need to add bags to your reservation online after purchasing in person in order to get this price. It will be more expensive if you pay for your baggage at the airport.
Related: Guide to Baggage Fees
How to Avoid the Online Booking Fee on Frontier Airlines
Frontier Airlines charges a “Carrier Interface Charge” on nearly all of its fares that are booked online. This fee ranges between $4 - $21 each way ($8 - $42 roundtrip), per person, depending on the fare. This fee can be avoided by booking your flight at the Frontier Airlines ticket counter inside the airport. Note: The higher online booking fee was increased $2 each way in December 2019 from $19 each way, which is now up to $21 each way.
The online booking fee is the higher $21 each way for most online one-way fares that are $37 or higher. One-way fares that are between $19 - $36 usually have lower online booking fees — if at all. Occasionally, Frontier Airlines has “Penny Fare” sales with $15 one-way tickets, which don’t have an online booking fee.
Take note that Discount Den members will not be able to purchase discounted members-only fares at an airport ticket counter and promo codes cannot be used to buy tickets at the airport. These special fares are only available for purchase on Frontier’s website, and, therefore, the online booking fee cannot be avoided for these special fares.
When is the Frontier Airlines Ticket Counter Open?
Frontier has a limited schedule in several markets. So you’ll need to do your due diligence to make sure the ticket counter will be open before you go to the airport to book a flight. A general rule of thumb is that the ticket counter will be open 2 hours before a scheduled departure, and I would plan to get there exactly when it opens to avoid a long line. If there are no other flights, ticket counters usually close 45 minutes prior to departure.
What are the Bag Fees on Frontier When Tickets are Booked at the Airport?
If you purchase your ticket at the airport on Frontier, you’ll have to add any bags to your reservation after booking and will be subject to higher bag fees than what is offered during online booking. Exact bag fees vary depending on when and where you purchase and also may depend on which route you are flying. Frontier has a handy bag price checker where you can check bag fees for your specific flight.
In general, the cheapest carry-on bag fee is $40 each way if you purchase your ticket at the airport and then add your bag online after purchase, but before check-in. Checked bag fees start at $42 each way for tickets that are booked at the airport, when added online, after purchase. These fees are slightly higher than if you were to book online and add bags during online booking, so consider any potential loss of savings if you plan to bring bags.
It should also be noted that the Works bundle on Frontier will not be available for tickets booked at the airport. This is a bundle offered during online booking only that adds both a carry-on and checked bag, seat selection (including stretch seating), priority boarding, and flight flexibility to your ticket, along with the ability to receive a full refund. You'll still have the option to add the Perks bundle online after you purchase a ticket at the airport. The Perks bundle includes everything from the Works bundle except flight flexibility and the ability for refunds.
How to Avoid the Online Booking Fee on Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines charges a “Passenger Usage Charge” up to $22.99 each way ($45.98 roundtrip), per person, on tickets booked online. This fee can be as low as $11.99 each way, but the lower fee is generally reserved for $9 fare club member fares or special discounted fares. The “Passenger Usage Charge” can be avoided by booking your ticket at the Spirit Airlines ticket counter inside the airport. But, unfortunately, Spirit’s other booking related fees (Regulatory Compliance Charge and Fuel Charge) are still collected when booking at the airport.
It should also be noted that if you are a $9 fare club member, you will not be able to get $9 fare club prices when booking at the airport ticket counter. Also, promo codes are not valid for flights booked at the airport. These special fares are available for online bookings only so you’ll be required to pay the online booking fee in order to take advantage of any promo code sales or special $9 fare club fares.
When is the Spirit Airlines Ticket Counter Open?
Spirit lists preferred ticketing hours on its website for those who wish to purchase tickets at the airport. While Spirit has regular service in most of its markets, there are a few cities where there may only be one flight a day or only a few times per week. To avoid long lines, try to time your visit to arrive exactly when the ticket counter opens or when the flight schedule is less busy. But make sure flights are departing when you go, or the ticket counter may be closed.
What are the Bag Fees on Spirit When Tickets are Booked at the Airport?
Spirit’s bag fees are lowest when purchased during online booking. If you buy a ticket at the airport to save the online booking fee, you’ll be subject to slightly higher bag fees, which are usually at least $10 more each way than what is available for online bookings. Spirit’s bag fees vary by route and season. When booking a ticket at the airport, it will be cheapest to add any bags to your reservation online after booking the flight in person at the ticket counter. Post-booking bag fees for non-members start at $45 each way for a carry-on bag and $40 each way for a checked bag. Bag fees are lower for $9 fare club members.
Free Seat Assignments When Booking Flights at the Airport
The online booking fee is not the only fee you can save by booking your flight at the airport. I recently purchased tickets on both Frontier and Spirit at the airport and noticed that my seats were assigned for free. This was a welcome surprise as I did not mention any specific seats when I was booking and had just planned on receiving a random seat assignment for free when I checked-in. Essentially, this is a random seat assignment, but since it is assigned in advance, you’re even more likely to be assigned seats next to your travel companion(s).
In my case, we were seated next to each other on both flights and even got assigned the extra legroom “stretch” seating near the front of the plane on Frontier. While this should not be expected, it is another nice perk for booking at the airport if you’d like to have a better chance of sitting together without paying a fee. A little kindness can go a long way, and an agent may even ask your seat preference, which has been reported by others who have booked tickets at the airport.
My best guess is that the computer systems at the airport require the ticket agents to assign a seat in order to book a ticket so you’ll likely get seat assignments right away (for free) if you purchase your flight at the airport ticket counter. Of course, you can always change your seat assignment online after the purchase if you’d like to choose a specific seat, but this will be subject to seat selection fees. If you’re flying these airlines to save money, I would just take the free seat assignment. And if you’re traveling with a family, booking at the airport can almost guarantee you’ll get seats next to each other as long as there are still adjoining seats available.
Is it Worthwhile to Book Tickets at the Airport?
There are a few factors to consider before deciding to purchase a ticket at the airport to save the online booking fee. For many, it is incredibly inconvenient to go to the airport just to purchase a ticket. Airports are usually hard to get to and generally far from city centers. Make sure to factor in your time getting to/from the airport and waiting in line to purchase a ticket. Add on to that the cost of more expensive bag fees, gas or transportation, plus any parking fees, and you may find the actual savings to not be worth the hassle. Plus, Spirit and Frontier have regular promo code sales, which can sometimes completely off-set the online booking fee.
On the other hand, the savings can really add up if you are traveling in a group, because online booking fees are charged on a per person, per direction basis. And it is possible to book tickets for others, so one person can buy for the whole group. On top of that, if you want to sit together on the plane but don’t want to pay extra for seat selection, you'll likely get free seat assignments next to each other when booking tickets at the airport.
If your local airport is convenient to get to, and you don’t mind taking some time out of your day to book a cheap flight the old-fashioned way — in person — it can definitely be worth it to make a trip to the airport ticket counter when booking a flight on Allegiant, Frontier, or Spirit Airlines. To the best of my knowledge, no other U.S. carrier charges an online booking fee and the price will not be any cheaper at the airport when flying on other airlines.
Though I haven’t tried, if my theory of the airport computer systems requiring agents to assign a seat in order to book a flight is true, you may also be able to get free advanced seat assignments on other carrier's Basic Economy fares when booking at the airport.
Have you booked a flight at the airport to save money? Please tell us about your experience in the comments below.