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?

Comments
  1. Chris Edwards

    This new policy is scandalous- I just cancelled my membership in Spirit’s $9 club and will now only fly them as a last resort.

  2. Linda

    I shouldn’t have to do math problems to compare flight prices. Unbundling is just a way to fool people into paying more. Especially when you charge for EVERYTHING and make it this complicated! I like #6 the best.

  3. Howard

    Hmmmm. I thought there was no bag check fee when flying internationally. (Recently did so on Continental and did not pay to check our bags.) So if you fly Spirit to an international destination your checked bags should be free….I guess. Never having flown Spirit anywhere I don’t know. If your checked bags are free on international flights will Spirit still charge for carry ons?

    • tim

      Howard, With Spirit you will pay regardless—even more actually for international flights ($30). The legacy carriers, in contrast, allow one checked bag free on international flights. And no charge for your carry-on of course.

      • Wayne Lottmann

        Are all of you people dumb enough to not read the rules? I fly Spirit 4 times a year internationally mostly for near free on points earned on a Spirit credit card. A checked suitcase is only $21. if purchased at the time of booking. A carry-on that is 12″x 14″ x 16″ is absolutely FREE. Going to Mexico or Costa Rica or San Juan it is plenty big enough for a week. Note that at least 6 times a year I can fly to these international locations for 5000 points round trip. Compare that to any other US international airline that has a minimum of 50,000 points and can be 120,000 points. If you are trying to carry on a 24″ bag they will charge you $100. Does this make Spirit bad or the passenger really stupid?

        • Tim Leffel

          If you think 12″ X 14″ X 16″ is enough for a week, then you’re either the world’s best packer or you’re Ant Man. That’s the size of a laptop tote. And that’s coming from a guy who did it for a trip to Nicaragua just to make a statement. I had to sink wash four times in one week. Most people want several outfits to wear on vacation.

          Also, you didn’t note that Spirit Air has the shortage period for mileage expiration in the Americas and that if you don’t use their credit card at least once in a billing period, you can forfeit all points earned.

          • manifan

            I can get an entire weekend’s worth of clothes, a make up mirror and nightwear in an under the seat bag. I’ve done it and Spirit allowed it.

  4. ken

    I have an even more audacious one for you. I have booked and paid for a flight leaving AC on July 30 and returning Aug 3rd. they are going to charge me on the return flight for my cary on and will NOT reduce te cost of the ticket even though they CLAIM to have dropped fares! Talk about double jeopardy! Im not even sure this is legal. Any attorneys out there?

  5. Paul Nicholson

    Ryanair charge for baggage… they also charge for checking in… and they almost fly to where you’d like to go, almost!!

  6. Barbara DesChamps

    I would be interested to know how large the space is under Spirit seats. I always travel with just a carry-on, even on long trips overseas. See my website for resources on how to do it. My bag is only 20″ x 13″ and squishable so it fits under most but not all seats. On some Southwest flights, it fits under only the middle seat. If it has to go in the SW overhead, it is not heavy. I’m not tall so I use the bag as a footrest after removing my shoes. If your legs are not long, you can often put the bag under the seat but will Spirit give us the dimensions upfront?

    • tim

      Barbara – 16 inches long by 14 inches wide by 12 high is what they’re officially listing as dimensions that will fit, but with a seat pitch that’s the lowest in the industry (30 to 31 inches), I’d aim smaller than that. They’ll have “sizers” at the gate and if your bag doesn’t fit in there you’ll have to pay $45 to board with it. What a nice way to kick off your flight…

  7. gary

    I’ll bet dollars to donuts that this policy is scrapped within 60 days.

    g.

    • Carroll

      Five and a half years later…

  8. Linda

    I flew on this airline once. It got me there for a decent price, but I did feel like the experience was “worse than a bus.” I don’t think I’ll be repeating the experience now though because on that trip I packed in a small carry on bag. If I did it again the cost savings would be gone, so I might as well go on a better airline. Southwest must be loving all this.

  9. travel girl

    Ladies should consider looking at Contourwear clothing. They have very flattering stuff that’s made from high quality, travel friendly fabrics — ie packs well.

    They also offer a free consultation to outfit your specific style and destination preferences. Their claim is 7 pieces create 30+ unique outfits.

    Check them out: http://www.contourwear.com

  10. best pov

    Unbelievable what they did, they won’t see a single cent out of my pocket anymore.

  11. LUIS

    all airlines get you one way or the other, southwest does not charge all the fees but their tickets are higher. spirit tickets are lower but they get the money with the the fees at the end of the day i check the airlines websites and compare which ever is cheaper is the one i fly in. i sometimes pick jetblue, spirit, southwest over the older airlines because i do not want to fly in an old airplane i studied for my a&p (airframe & powerplant) trust me the older they are the more chances cheers

  12. Rudi Xeno

    I wrote a review of Spirit Air recently on Viewpoints. “Jets by Airbus, Seats by deSade.” No it’s not the “flying garbage skow” it was a few years ago, but if you notice that it’s hard to find a free lavoratory on-board, understand that they’re occupied because they’e the most comfortable seats on the plane. The only time I fly them now is when I’m on a mid-week daytrip and I catch a $9 fare.

  13. SickOf Spirit

    I will also add that on my last flight, hey served up lots of salty pretzels at first… Later they came around with bottles of water for sale. They had no complementary water!!! How ridiculous is that.

    But I do think that MAD TV saw into he future of Spirit airlines…
    Check this out- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2kVWLorLVE

  14. Bart

    Some nice tips there, really hate feeling ripped off by airlines such as these trying to take advantage.

    • Mike

      Boy they are really ripping you off by offering you a 9 dollar fare. Hmmm let’s do the math flight from FLL to BWI, Spirit $19+$20 bag fee and $3 water=$42, southwest $87 with free bag and water. Is it worth 45 dollars more to “feel” like you were not ripped off cause you got free water and two bags. I don’t think so, but hey keep thinking your getting ripped off and pay 45 bucks more on average. More room for me on the plane!

      • Tim Leffel

        Mike of SpiritAir – You forgot to add in the fee for the “club” to get that $9 fare. And as dozens of articles have pointed out, they’re still nearly impossible to get. Mostly a bait and switch marketing tactic. Sometimes Spirit is cheaper—I sucked it up and flew with them to save $90 going to Cartagena after all the fees. When I priced them out recently for a Mexico flight though, they were higher than the carrier giving me a free checked bag and a free carry-on once you factored in those fees. Plus I got a beer and a meal on the way.

        • terri

          I flew spirit to Florida in Feb 2013 for the 1st time. Wasn’t so bad. must of relaxed the baggage policy. My bag was 52lbs. and I had a carry on. Paid for the checked one but not for overweight. No fee for my “personal item” and they let you put it in the overhead. Great savings. Sign me up again. Going to Myrtle Beach in Aug. 3 people round trip for $400. can’t even drive for that. Don’t forget about free parking. The biggest rip off for me is the bar while you wait. I can buy a 6pack for the price of 1 beer there.

          • Tim Leffel

            Free parking where? The hub is Ft. Lauderdale, which is $15 per day.

  15. Patrick

    Nice tips, we also have similar problems with low budget airlines such as RyanAir in the UK trying to extort extra money for baggage fees.

  16. nancy

    I just sewed a bag 16x4x12. I am going to stuff it to the max and bring it on the plane. Now the new spirit rule is that checked luggage can only weigh 40 pounds. How can they expect people to go to a cruise.resort for a week with only 30 pounds of clothes as the suitcase alone weighs 10 ponds. this is my last flight with spirit.

  17. joe gerard dieudonne

    i don’t know how the came up with this idea of charging people for the suitcases!!!why can they include them in the ticket when you book your fjight?they cannot expect people to go through all of these nonsense…….

  18. Grekuy

    It pays to do your homework. Plan ahead and buy your checked bag fee online and pack that under-the-seat bag efficiently. I’m flying Spirit from Toluca, MX to Chicago in August for $249 (final price) which includes my checked bag. I think I got a great deal! I’ve flown them once before between Detroit and NYC and really liked them! Go Spirit!

  19. Robert E. Coli

    There are other ways. For example, check out the new “Weekend At Bernie’s” range of travel luggage at Thromby Air… ideal for minimum cost travel on low cost airlines:
    http://www.thrombyair.com/2011/06/avoiding-baggage-fees/

  20. Rani

    Just booked a flight with them. I don’t appreciate paying to check a bag, but even with the bag fees (checking 1 bag each way= $56 total) it was still 70 bucks cheaper than any other flight. Now I just have to fit a weeks worth of clothing in one 62 inch bag. good think I have a lot of practice at this : )

    • tim

      Agreed. If you can make the math work, it’s still worth it. Just learn how to tuck your knees in too: tightest seat pitch in the industry. Nice leather seats though at least! And the Ft. Lauderdale airport is less hassle than Miami.

      Beware of that $9 fare club though: it’s like Hotel California. Once you’re in, good luck trying to ever leave. It automatically renews each year on your credit card unless you go on hold with their call center before the anniversary and cancel it.

  21. Dave

    What they don’t mention is that “normal” airlines charge you for the bag up to 50 pounds. SPIRIT limits its regularly charged bags to 40 pounds. after that you pay another hefty (at least $25) “overweight bag” charge…Unfortunately it’s been more than 60 days and SPIRIT is still going…I’ve decided that I have to save over $300 per leg if I’m ever going to fly SPIRT again. (misspelling intentional!)

  22. john

    i bought a ticket to the dominican republic, its non refundable so im flying spirit sunday(with gods will). if i was 2 weeks older and smarter i would have checked a website like this one before purchasing my ticket and i would’ve most likely flown AA. After i bought it i sort of regreted it due to the fact that they make you pay for bags, seats and everything they could think of -_- and you don’t just pay for your bags for the first flight, you pay it for the return one also. you pay a lil more and you feel the difference

  23. john

    when your going to search airlines to buy a ticket people tell you “hey try this airline or this one” but the bottom line is theyre all going to take around the same amount of money from you. and with this being said id rather pay more than fly spirit because lets compare: AA/JETBLUE TICKET $600-650. SPIRIT 550$. BUT LOOK AT HOW AA GIVES YOU THE FREEDOM OF 10 MORE POUNDS ON YOUR CHECKED BAG, AND NONE OF THIS “DIMENSIONS” BULLSHIT THAT I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT FOR BUYING A SPIRIT TICKET. my final point is i rather pay more and be SURE. THAN PAY LESS AND HAVE TO GO THROUGH ALL THIS WORRY, OH THIS FEE, THAT FEE, BAG FEE, NUTSACK FEE! IM GETTING GREY HAIR =[

  24. Cee

    When I recently flew Spirit I paid for my carry-on, but noticed on my boarding pass that it said Baggage: 0. I’m guessing that refers to checked luggage, but how do the boarding agents know I paid for my carry-on? Could I just not pay for any bag seeing as there is no designation on my boarding pass other than for checked luggage? When they scan your boarding pass does it say on the computer that I paid for a carry-on? If not, VICTORY!

    • Matt

      Whenever a Carry-On is purchased, the ticket is generated to board Zone 1.

  25. tony

    I’m flying a 4 leg trip and the one from LAs Vegas to LAX is with Spirit
    is $14 plus taxes and other fees for a total of $41.
    That is cheap, but luggage fees would nearly double it.
    So I plan to use a collapsible carry-on that is full packed for the other 3 legs.
    (Virgin and SouthWest)

    And for the Spirit I will simple wear half of the luggage on me and
    make the carry-on fit under the seat.

    But do flight stewardess really check who is using the overhead bins?
    If not, I could strip the extra items I wear once inside the plane.

  26. tim

    I can’t imagine they police it once you’re in the air Tony and it’s like putting your jacket away. I would assume that if there’s space, you could move the one up from under your seat to the overhead bin too. But with this airline, you can’t assume anything logical…

  27. Gloria

    I just read all these reviews!! OMG!!!
    Repacked my luggage… Fit 6 jeans,11 blouses,
    3 dresses, all my underwear,toiletries and an extra
    Bag in my purse which is17x11x12. And I’m a size 16!!!
    Spirit is getting no extra money from me! I didn’t
    even buy the seat. Let them asign me one for free!

  28. MaryLu Tosi

    I have been flying Spirit for years. I fly from Tampa to Costa Rica. It’s very difficult to get a flight between those two places. I have a Spirit Credit card which gives me some perks. I pay $23 for one bag and they give me the cheapest air fare that I can find. And that’s good enough for me

  29. frank

    When you fly round trip with Spite IT, aka Spirit, buy 2 ONE WAY TICKETS, IF you have to cancel the departure portion of your ticket, IE: change departure date and buy a new originating ticket, ( it is usually less expensive, than paying to change original ticket,) the return ticket is also cancelled and void if the original departure ticket is not used.

    • Alicia

      I am curious about the personal item in an exit seat. I paid for an exit row seat but I’m not sure if there is a seat ahead of me under which I can put my bag. What happens in that case? Will they charge me for a carry-on if it has to go overhead? That probably would not be discovered until we are in the plane, correct?

      • tim

        An exit row is fine, it’s the front bulkhead one that doesn’t have a place in front. But honestly, after you’re on the plane, the flight attendants have better things to do than monitor bag tags. Put the bag under your seat if you’re not in the bulkhead, if you are put it in the overhead. They once everyone is on, nobody is going to care if you put things in open space overhead regardless of where you are.

  30. Ali

    Hi,

    I found the following information lately. So I can carry, for free, 1 carry on (22in x 18in x 10in) and one laptop bag (16in x 14in x 4in)?

    Thanks
    Giser

    Carry-On Allowance: 1 Bag + 1 Personal Item
    Each passenger is allowed to carry on one bag and one personal item such as a purse or briefcase. Please note that Spirit Airlines charges a fee of up to $45 for the one carry-on bag – ………. All carry-on luggage must fit in the overhead bin and the personal item must fit under the seat in front of you and adhere to the following requirements:

    Maximum Dimensions of Personal item: 16in x 14in x 12in (length x width x height)
    Maximum Dimensions of Carry-on Luggage: 22in x 18in x 10in (length x width x height)

    • tim

      No, as you can see from the dimensions in what you pasted in, your carry-on is too large to qualify as a personal item and requires a charge.

  31. Tad

    I absolutely HATE being made to feel like a sucker! I have played carnival games at the carnival that didn’t leave me feeling as foolish as the one and only time I flew on this cut rate, cut service, cut your knees, piece of crap airlines that deliberately complicates the experience to push you into one more rip you off “check the box and gimme your credit card number” gotcha category. One has to believe any company this chicken s–t is cutting corners on safety and maintenance as well as having a payscale that gets them the more marginally skilled pilots and mechanics.

  32. Mousefeathers

    I have just cancelled my tickets and reservation on Spirit Airline. I was appalled by the prices for baggage. They have started charging for both checked and carryon bags. They are now charging $100 per bag! I had a ticket to go from Den to MCO in Aug with my family. But found the fees they are charging are ripping off customers. They also charge for water on the flight and to print out your boarding pass $10. They have no 1-800 and charge you to make a call to them and charge for seat assignments. I WILL NOT FLY SUCH AN AIRLINE WITH SUCH RIDICULOUS Unfriendly policies. Any savings you have will be quickly eaten up by all of their uncustomary fees. I advise you be like me and boycott this misguided airline. Maybe if enough of us refuse to use them they will go out of business or have to change to stay in business

    • Matt

      A few points to consider; It really does help reading what you purchase.

      The $100 Fee is only applicable for payment during boarding. If you want to save money, it is only $30.00 to prepay online ($25 if part of the $9 fare club).
      I fly spirit on the regular and with understanding what you are purchasing, you can make smart consumer choices by this crazy thing called “reading”.

      The boarding pass fee can easily be avoided by either checking in at home and printing your boarding pass, or checking in with one of the self-service kiosks.

      Although there is no “1-800” number, you can still reach the customer service line on the local number as listed. Everyone has cell phones with free long distance nowadays.

  33. Mousefeathers

    Idea. Spirit Airlines can’t charge you for an extra coat. You could make an extra large coat or shell of a coat that would hold jeans and shirts, socks, underwear etc. Made from Coat shell, cut with slits, taped back up with duct tape. put it on while passing the Boarding Agt. Then take off and stow in over head bin upon boarding. You could still board with your real coat, newly made luggage coat and 1 backpack carry on that would fit in seat in front of you. And save $$$.

  34. Justin McClelland

    I believe a few of Spirit’s policies have lightened up since this article. However, I agree with Matt’s comment above. You just plain need to read the details of what you’re purchasing and not assume services and offerings are to be identical to the competition’s.

    • Tim Leffel

      I don’t think their policies have “lightenedd up” as you’ll still pay as much as your flight to check bags if you don’t pack judiciously and plan ahead. And the credit card still makes you use it every month or you’ll lose your miles. Your miles expire in 1/3 the time they do on any other airline. It all points to a sneaky culture where the customer comes last.

      Compare that to Allegiant, which gets much higher customer satisfaction survey marks. They’re bare-bones too, but they’re much more transparent about extra charges. Spirit has fought the DOT tooth and nail (often alone) on every transparency requirement and truth in advertising regulation.

  35. Denis

    I just now discovered that I was facing a total rip-off when checking in (online) for my flight with Spirit Airlines. I was trying to buy their “bags” online before check-in, which was calculated as best I could at 3 x $45 = $135, which in itself is a rip-off for carryon baggage for 2 adults and a child. Thing is, the site is set up so that you cannot follow through with it online — which means, you’re going to get ripped off for $300 at the gate!! I tried to call their customer service number to make changes before checking in as well (it was in their reminder email). Guess what? No way to get to anyone — endless recirculating menus.

    This “Spirit” airline should be put out of business, sued blind, fined into oblivion, and its CEO jailed for international wire fraud. That’s my opinion.

  36. Ali Z

    Poor service, poor communication, poor quality. never use this air line. information on web site is not clear.

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