Spirit Airlines to charge for carry-on bags

by Christopher Elliott on April 6, 2010


Calling it the “next phase” of unbundling, Spirit Airlines a few hours ago announced that it would begin charging passengers for carry-on luggage. Seriously.

From the release:

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 … 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.


The fee applies to carry-ons placed in overhead bins; personal items that fit under the seat are still free.

Spirit’s actions are likely to restart the debate over what’s included in your airline ticket, a subject I discussed at length in last Sunday’s Washington Post column. So far, the government has taken a “hands-off” approach, refusing to tell airlines what services they must offer.

But has Spirit gone too far?

The press release cleverly spins the issue by saying the airline has reduced some of its bag fees and fares. Members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club who pre-reserve their carry-on bag in advance online receive a $10 discount, compared to non-members and pay only $20 for their carry-on, according to the airline. In addition, checked bag fees for $9 Fare Club members are being cut to $15 for domestic flights and $20 for international flights, both a $10 savings compared to non-members, says the airline.

The new prices will be available for purchase by July 1, 2010, for travel August 1, 2010 and beyond.

Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie offered this explanation:

In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve inflight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience. Bring less; pay less. It’s simple.

McKenzie is suggesting that passengers asked for these changes. That’s nonsense. I don’t know of anyone who wanted to pay for a carry-on bag. What’s worse, I hear echoes of this when I speak with people at the Transportation Department: You should only have to pay for what you use.

How far can they take that line of reasoning? All the way to the pay toilets?

I’m not the only one who has a problem with this new pricing scheme. My colleague Jared Blank of the blog Online Travel Review suggests Spirit is lying to its customers:

My problem is that you no longer know how much the trip is going to cost. And that is deceptive. It’s only a matter of time (I hope) before the FTC steps in and puts an end to this, because Spirit has gone where I feared some airline would go: you can advertise the fare as being free, when the trip actually costs $140. Maybe I should just blame the FTC for allowing it to get to this point in the first place.

It’s really too bad. Spirit used to be a great little carrier, as I’ve noted in the past. It has some terrific employees.

But this is just outrageous.

(Photo: Vidiot/Flickr Creative Commons)

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  • Jennifer Deutsch

    Are we going to have to find a quarter if we have to use the bathrooms now as well?

  • MVFlyer

    “The press release cleverly spins the issue by saying the airline has reduced some of its bag fees and fares.”

    They haven’t reduced anything; just not raised it as much!!!

  • Brian

    nope – you will need a credit card

  • Dani

    This is silly — when is the last time someone traveled and didn’t carry a piece of luggage? Or only a small bag that fit under the seat? So to claim that this is “natural progression” of unbundling is disingenuious at best.

    The part that confuses me is that the CEO says the charge is ” to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane”. Does this mean if I’m fine with boarding later, I can skip the charge and still carry on a bag?

  • Charles Smith

    Actually, with the flying public now trying to take everything but the Kitchen Sink on as “Carry-ons”, I think this is a good start. HOWEVER, I think that if you are charging for Carry on bags, then Checked bags should be free. That, in itself, will allow faster boarding and deplaning. And allow for faster turnarounds for the airline.

    I think that the CEO was referring to people complaining about too much carry on baggage when he said that passengers requested this.

    Bring back a one free checked bag and you will fill your planes, even if you charge for a carry on.

  • carol

    I resent someone in authority considering everyone of us stupid morons. The cost goes from NOTHING to ONLY $20. Are we supposed to rejoice that it went up ONLY that much? I think, worse than the added fee – which in itself is horendous – the idiotic idea of stuffing this down our throats in a positive was is worse than insulting.

  • Hapgood

    If their marketing departments were on the ball, the luggage concierge companies would start exploiting this “Next Phase.” If you’re going to pay for baggage, you might as well pay a little bit more for RELIABLE and ACCOUNTABLE baggage delivery rather than the crapshoot you get when you pay for checking a bag with an airline.

    That’s what it just might come down to. If you want to bring something you can’t do without, either temporarily or permanently, you’ll have to pay a third party to deliver it.

  • Frank

    From the release:
    … 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.
    =================================================

    Boarded first FEE? Sounds JUST LIKE………………..SOUTHWEST.

    ——————————————————————————-
    Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie offered this explanation:
    In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve inflight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience. Bring less; pay less. It’s simple.
    ==================================================

    SHEESH, I should be in management. :::Grin:::
    It should be:
    First checked bag—–Free
    First Carry on bag—-Free

    Second checked bag—-Charge
    Second Carry on bag—-Charge.

    everyone has a choice. And, yes, purses, briefcases, computer bags COUNT.

  • Frank

    carol April 6, 2010 at 10:50 am
    I resent someone in authority considering everyone of us stupid morons. The cost goes from NOTHING to ONLY $20. Are we supposed to rejoice that it went up ONLY that much?
    ==============================================

    I would say, YES!!! considering: http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/new-fuel-economy-standards-arrive-just-as-oil-prices-spike-hold/19426908/

    The cost of filling up at the pump has been edging up in recent weeks and is likely to get even more expensive. On Monday, crude oil futures rose to the highest levels in 18 months to about $86.60 a barrel, as investors reacted to more positive economic news. And with the summer driving season right around the corner, there’s little reason to expect gasoline and diesel prices will ebb anytime soon.

  • Karen C.

    I think all airline passengers should be required to be nudists. We could fly naked (no need to go through the full body scanner then and I think even the TSA people would refuse to pat you down) and then not have any luggage, checked or otherwise. It might be a bit cold on a ski trip, but I think we’d all eventually adjust. And it would certainly thwart potential terrorists.

  • Robert

    Next -

    “Our passengers have told us that they want to breathe fresh air. So starting in July we’ll have oxygen masks available for a small fee. We’ll have fresh air available for every passenger that wants to breathe. Those passengers who choose not to purchase fresh air will be able to bring their own air or hold their breath. This will help us keep the fare low for our poassengers because now we won’t need to pressurize the passenger cabin.”

  • John B.

    I hear there’s soon to be a charge for reclining your seat too.

  • Frank

    Karen C. April 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm
    I think all airline passengers should be required to be nudists.
    ==========================================

    MY EYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    MY EYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeanie

    Up until 2007, I was able to travel with one checked bag and one small carry-on that fit under the seat in front of me. Then I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and had to start traveling with my sidekick, the CPAP. I wonder if Spirit is going to charge for the CPAP…

  • DaveS

    This is simply a way to lie about what their fare is and get their flight higher on the screen when people do a search. Yes, the FTC needs to get involved when it’s an obvious bait and switch, rather than a real choice to use or not use a service. Spirit now has to be WAY lower in fare than the competition before I will consider them.

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  • Michelle

    I hear there’s soon to be a charge for reclining your seat too.
    ===================================================

    If that were only true….

  • Candis

    They have now gone too far. The public outcry has to be heard and the government has to get involved. There is absolutely no transparency with airline menu pricing.

  • http://aol Ellen

    Does that mean that I will only have to pay $20 ($9 Fare Member) for my dogs to fit under the seat when they now cost $200 each round trip?

  • Ken

    And what happens to the people who have to sit in the bulkhead row. Are they going to be charged?

  • Ron

    I used to fly Spirit maybe 25% of the time. I won’t any longer. Even if every other airline follows suit. I hope they drown in a sea of red ink.

    This is ridiculous. Of course there’s too many carry-ons on many flights today. That’s a direct result of the airlines’ checked baggage fees, plus the airlines’ refusal to enforce their own carry-on rules. Limit people to what’s truly carry-on size, and things improve right there.

    I travel with a medium size carry-on and briefcase. But not on Spirit anymore.

  • Norris Hall

    Hey. This is the free market at work
    Airlines are in the business of making money.
    So they’ll do whatever they can to maximize profits, reduce expenses and offer as little as they can get away with.

    No one is forcing anyone to fly in a plane.

    Next you complainers want the government to step in and regulate.

  • Frank

    Ron April 6, 2010 at 5:52 pm
    This is ridiculous. Of course there’s too many carry-ons on many flights today. That’s a direct result of the airlines’ checked baggage fees, plus the airlines’ refusal to enforce their own carry-on rules. Limit people to what’s truly carry-on size, and things improve right there.
    ==========================================

    NOT TRUE, Ron. Carry on baggage has always been a problem over the years. Heck, it was 1988, when Flight Attendant’s lobbied Congress and finally got the TWO BAG LIMIT. We lobbied for a reason, it was excessive amounts of carry-ons coming onboard. Fact is, there’s simply NOT ENOUGH OVERHEAD space onboard. One overhead is supposed to accommodate ONE ROW. Hardly, the case anymore.

  • Dave

    I am flying spirit on friday, this will be my last flight with them,

  • Ron

    The major airlines are watching this. My guess is that they will start charging for carryons as well. But the difference is that their elite travelers will be exempt from the charges just like they are with checked bags.

    If the majors start charging the business travelers that actually keep the airlines afloat, there will be a big uproar. I don’t think they will do that……for now.

  • Diane

    Spirit could care less about the too-large size of many carry ons, attendants supposedly being injured by falling bags, etc. They just saw another way to make more $$ and went for it.

    I often travelled w/a carry on because it was easier. When they began to charge for checking, I used a carry on more often. But now I feel they’re going to get me coming or going (checking or carry on). Even bringing only one change of clothes, and no second pair of shoes, you can’t find a bag for yr clothes that’s small enough to fit under the seat. (and what about the bulkhead rows where you can’t put something under the seat?). They’ve made flying so miserable, and expensive, they’ve lost me as a customer. All the little charges drive me crazy. You are charged one price for the ticket. Select your seat? A charge. Food? A charge. Luggage? A charge. Online check or not? A charge? Suddenly your “cheap” seat has an additional $200-plus in charges.

    What’s the option? Well, for me, it’s less travelling. I used to make 3 or 4 trips a year. With all the new hassles, I cut back to 1.

    As far as loading time…I just flew Southwest, no charge for checked or carry on bags, and those planes loaded much faster and w/less fuss than other airlines w/their charges and reserved seats.

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  • temari

    “Even bringing only one change of clothes, and no second pair of shoes, you can’t find a bag for yr clothes that’s small enough to fit under the seat.”
    ———-
    When our family of three goes on vacation, we each have only one carryon that fits under the seat. We even flew overseas for two and a half weeks, with just one carryon each that fit under the seat, and yes we each had at least one extra pair of shoes in there. It can be done.

  • Peter

    Spirit management, listen up my friends: whomever the brainchild in the boardroom was, whatever accounting/specialist firm, consultant or industry guru has you convinced that charging for carry-on luggage in the overhead is a good move, think again, baby – a DISASTROUS PR move. WHAT were you thinking???!!!! – I would sooner hitch-hike, ride a skateboard or stowaway in a freight car than travel Spirit Air. I travel a lot for my national client base, routinely presented with multiple choices of carrier – I assure you, Spirit will not be on the list. BAD move.

  • Frank

    Peter April 7, 2010 at 10:36 am
    I travel a lot for my national client base, routinely presented with multiple choices of carrier – I assure you, Spirit will not be on the list. BAD move.
    ============================================

    Here’s a multiple choice:

    Airline XYZ………..airfare: $560 walk up fare.
    Spirit Airlines……..airfare: $360 walk up fare.

  • m. damon

    And next: “Oxygen surcharge”. Of course to better serve you, those passengers choosing to fly without breathing will be exempt from this service fee. Please note however, that should you expire after opting out of the oxygen service provided, there will be a $400. penalty tax applied against your credit card to get your blue dead body out of the cabin. Thank you for flying Spirit Airlines! Have a good trip. We dare you.

  • M Gross

    Amazingly enough, I’m OK with this… as long as these fees and ALL OTHERS are included a price quoted before your card is charged. Like “$xx with taxes and fees, $yy with a carry-on bag, $zz with a carry-on and a checked bag”. At that point, you can now compare your Spirit Air price with the prices of the other airlines, and discover which ones are truly cheaper.

    Of course, I also believe that traveling with Spirit Air is asking for a miserable experience, and I would hate being trapped in an airplane full of people desperately trying not to get charged for luggage. I will (and HAVE) paid more to fly on a comfortable airline like JetBlue.

  • Pedro Gonzalez

    SINCE THEY WILL CHARGE US FOR CARRY ON I WILL WEAR ALL MY CLOTHES ON THE PLANE THAT WAY I DONT HAVE TO PAY THOSE SUCKERS

  • Adriann

    The solution with regard to Spirit is to NOT FLY Spirit. Nada. Never, and never again. Their web site is already full of hidden fees, that do not emerge until you have been charged for the ‘ticket’, which turns out not to include a seat. Want to sit down? extra charge. In a recently reserved fare, it is cheaper to fly American than Spirit. Tho AA charges for bags, I am a frequent flyer so (so far) do not pay for bags, and there is not so much bother in the aisles. Let Spirit have all their funky fees, and you fly many of the other choices.

  • Susan

    I agree, the way to avoid these fees (for now) is not to fly Spirit. I won’t ever fly that airline and I would bet there are a great many people that feel the same. Granted, there are a great many people who will and Spirit will manage to collect more of their hard earned $$. I hope this move and others thay are likely to start charging, such as pay toilets,(it is probably coming, since they see that their loyal passengers are not going to complain much about the new luggage fee.)

    I am quite sure they will try charging for every little thing they possibly can until they have nickle and dimed their passengers to death and there won’t be anyone willing to fly that airline anymore. I, for one, will be happy to see that airline go away. They are starting down a slippery slope of their own creation, that they may slide off themselves, sooner than later. They may find all their passengers have flown the coop for another airline when they find their wallets more empty when flying DisSpirited Airlines. Good Riddance to Spirit Airlines!!!

  • Batemangabriel

    I bought two tickets, but if I knew that they charge for everything I wouldnt buy it. I should use Avianca or Aires because after  compare prices is going to be cheaper.!

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