How to Get Around Spirit Air’s Baggage Extortion

Spirit Air is the airline that seems to invite everyone to hate it, partly because of doublespeak press releases that accompany every customer-unfriendly move. Here’s the one they put up when announcing new bag fees.

“In order to continue reducing fares even further and offering customers the option of paying only for the services they want and use rather than subsidizing the choices of others, the low fare industry innovator is also progressing to the next phase of unbundling with the introduction of a charge to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane.”

Interpretation: “We will now charge every single passenger who brings any kind of luggage a hefty fee. You will pay us this on top of the price of your ticket whether you check a bag or carry it on.”

There’s only a knee’s worth of room between seats on Spirit flights, but if you can fit what you have under the seat in front of you (short people rejoice!), then you can still bring the bag on. Here’s a full breakdown on the complicated fee structure on SmarterTravel and more from the airline itself. Ironically, it can cost you more to bring a bag that no Spirit employee touches (as much as $45) than one they check for you—a sure irritant for people trying to save time or not lose their luggage.

If you learn at the gate you need to check your bag, don’t expect any sympathy: it’s an unbelievable $100 charge at that point, even if it’s a carry-on!

It’s going to take some work to get around Spirit’s baggage extortion fees.

1) Don’t pack a bag. This might get you screened on the way in and out by the TSA, and will add a few extra hours when leaving Colombia. You’ve got no change of clothes and just a toothbrush in your pocket. But hey, you can always buy a new outfit locally for less than all those baggage fees.

2) Pack one change of clothes in a tiny bag with your laptop. If you pack well, a small laptop/netbook, a change of clothes, a pair of flat shoes, and some toiletries should fit under the seat.I would suggest good travel apparel from the likes of ExOfficio so you can sink wash one set at night and it’ll be dry by morning.

3) Layers, layers, layers. So far there’s no extra charge for being fat—too hard to “unbundle” that—so expand your width with lots of extra clothing.

4) Wear your belongings. There’s a company called ScotteVest that makes jackets with 12, 20, 50+ pockets to hold all your gear and gadgets. Then there are those photography vests the French are so fond of wearing that hold all kinds of stuff in multiple pockets.

5) Ship your belongings. On a domestic flight, you would likely come out ahead by shipping your belongings in a Priority Mail flat rate box or by UPS.

6) Fly another airline.

I’ve met some nice, well-meaning people from Spirit Air and the company flies to some underserved routes in places like Colombia and Nicaragua. Sooner or later though we’re like frogs in a heating-up pot that’s about to boil. Jump! I get that they’re trying to be like RyanAir, whose CEO admits the airline is just “a flying bus,” but few buses make you pay for baggage and often they come with a movie, a snack, a drink, and Wi-Fi. So can “We’re worse than a bus” be a successful strategy?

I’m not convinced. Legacy airlines have earned a bundle of pure profit from passenger baggage fees, but Southwest keeps thrashing these airlines in every market where it competes, with lower fares and no fees for bags. They win hands down in customer satisfaction surveys. With more fees than anyone, Spirit sometimes shows up even lower than hated USAirways. RyanAir and EasyJet succeed because their fares are clearly half the price or less of competitors’, where in Spirit’s case that’s only sometimes obvious (with a calculator in hand), and the best deals are only offered to those who pay yet another fee to get access to them.

What do you think? Will you keep a calculator handy and go through the process of adding up all the gothca charges to get the total price, still flying Spirit if it’s cheaper? Or will it need to be a lot cheaper before you go on their planes?

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