Discount carriers like Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines are known for scaling back on benefits in exchange for low ticket prices. These carriers charge extra fees for everything from seat selection to carry-on bags, and even getting a printed ticket for the flight at the airport.
Spirit Airlines Inc. (SAVE) recently faced a class-action lawsuit over some of its hidden fees — specifically the surprise fees charged to consumers for carry-on bags after booking flight tickets with a third-party company. The result? The airline has agreed to pay a settlement of $8.25 million, some of which will be used to cover attorneys' fees.
Spirit Airlines' hidden fees and charges
Similar to other low-cost airlines, Spirit has a reputation for offering low-price airfare that comes without many of the benefits you’ll typically get with an economy fare. A quick look at the airline's Optional Services page will reveal all of its "extras," including carry-on bags, checked baggage, seat selection and even getting help from an agent to print your boarding pass.
This can lead to unpleasant surprises at the airport for customers who are unfamiliar with how Spirit operates. The airline's policy for carry-on bags is a particular pain point: Customers who unwittingly miss the chance to pay for their carry-on bags online will be charged $99 for them at the gate.
Plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit alleged that Spirit advertised misleading prices to customers who booked through online travel agents (OTAs), because it didn't disclose that the fares don't include free carry-on luggage. The lawsuit was initiated by a class of first-time customers of Spirit Airlines who booked their airfare through six specific sites — Expedia, Travelocity, Kiwi, CheapOair, CheapTickets and BookIt — between Aug. 31, 2011 and May 3, 2017.
To avoid going to trial, Spirit reached an $8.25 million settlement with the plaintiffs. Under the deal, eligible travelers may be able to get a partial refund for their carry-on fees from Spirit.
Avoiding surprise fees when you fly Spirit
The class-action lawsuit only covered flights booked with Spirit through third-party travel providers. That may be because Spirit Airlines is more transparent about added fees on their own website, similar to other discount airlines. In fact, Spirit asks travelers to select a "package" that includes or excludes a range of optional services. For example, you can select a "Book It" option that lets you pay for services like carry-on baggage and seat selection a la carte (or not at all), but you can also choose "Boost It" or "Just for You" packages that include seat selection, early boarding and checked or carry-on bags for a fixed additional cost.
Interestingly, Spirit's co-branded credit cards do not offer checked or carry-on bag benefits, unlike many other popular airline credit cards.
That said, frequent Spirit flyers can save on checked bags and other optional services by joining the Spirit Saver$ Club for a $69.95 annual fee. Longer memberships for 18 months or 24 months are also available for a cost of $99.90 and $129.90, respectively.
This membership plan doesn't offer free checked bags on Spirit per se, but it does offer perks for up to eight individuals on the club member's itinerary. Benefits include:
- Discounted fares
- Discounted bags
- Discounted seats
- Discounted Flight Flex
- Discounted Shortcut Security
- Discounted Shortcut Boarding
How to avoid baggage fees with other airlines
As mentioned, many U.S. airlines offer co-branded cards that help you save on baggage fees.
Many airlines also allow carry-on baggage for free, even if you book a flight in the lowest tier of Basic Economy. Southwest Airlines even includes two free checked bags for flyers on all their flights.
Some premium travel credit cards also extend annual airline credits that can be used for checked baggage, seat selection, in-flight food and drink purchases and more. At the end of the day, there are numerous ways to get checked bags covered for free if you're willing to sign up for a travel credit card.