Spirit Airlines’ Baggage Fees: Yet Another Reason to Avoid Flying with Them

spirit airlines

No, thanks.

While I generally avoid rants—and negative posts, in general—I feel like I have to say something about my recent experience on Spirit Air.

I’m all for budget carriers—they’re great for giving travelers more options and keeping fares competitive. But for some reason, on Spirit, more than on any other budget carrier, you really feel like you’re flying with a bare bones operation: They cram so many seats into each plane, that there’s virtually no legroom. They don’t offer free drinks or snacks. Flights are notoriously late. And they always overbook.

All that makes for a not-too-comfy experience. But if you’re in a pinch and they’re the cheapest carrier, flying with them is doable. That’s what I convinced myself when I was searching for a last-minute, cheap flight to Miami. Spirit’s round-trip fare, of about $375, was cheaper than anything else I was finding, and was just below the maximum I was willing to spend ($400). So I selected my flights, letting my excitement about going away override my misgivings about flying Spirit.

That’s when things got dicey. I was directed to a screen I had to read multiple times: It asked me how many carry-on bags I wanted to pay for. Yes, that’s correct. CARRY-ON BAGS. And it’s no small fee. If you’re not a member of their $9 Fare Club, a single carry-on costs $35 each way. $70 in total. Which would have made my cheap flight not so inexpensive.

I was shocked; nothing on their site mentioned that a carry-on would cost so much—or that I’d have to pay for one, at all. I thought I was mistaken. It was late and I’d been at my computer for hours. I went ahead and paid for my flight without the extra $70 for a carry-on. Or dropping another $20 to select my seats.

The next day, I still couldn’t believe it, so I did some research. And found that, yes, Spirit does charge for carry-ons—calling it an “Optional Fee”—and their policy is even harsher than I thought. If you don’t pay the fee online and later decide to pay at check-in, then it jumps to $50. Even worse: If you’re boarding and they deem your bag larger than a personal item (the only thing you can bring, sans fee), they’ll charge you $100.

I was so annoyed, that I opted not to pay the fee. I packed my weekend bag with three sun dresses, a bathing suit, two pairs of sandals and a few toiletries. At the airport, I put my purse inside, as well, so they couldn’t say that was my personal item and that I’d have to pay $100 for the weekend bag. Luckily, I didn’t have to. But I saw many people pulled off the boarding line and charged $100 for the bags they tried to carry on.

My beef with carry-on fee? 1) It’s not optional for most people in most situations. I managed to avoid it this time, because I was going to a warm destination for just a few days and didn’t need much clothing—and, as a 5’0″ woman, my summer clothing is tiny. But that’s not feasible for most people. 2) It’s not a small fee, and therefore should be mentioned when you’re browsing for flights. My flight, without the carry-on fee, was $375. If I had to pay $70 for a carry-on, my fare would have been nearly 20% more. That’s a lot!

Were you aware of Spirit’s policy? What would you have done?

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