baggage claim Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda

The ink had hardly dried on their announcement last month that they would be charging $10 for a second checked bag. Now, Spirit Airlines has rolled out a range of changes, converting the airline into a European-style discount carrier, similar to Ryanair or Easyjet.

The key changes, effective June 20, 2007:

  • $5 flat fee for EACH checked bag, up to 50 lbs., if arranged in advance online
  • $10 flat fee per checked bag, up to 50 lbs., if you wait until the airport to pay the fee
  • All beverages such as coffee, juice, and soda will cost $1 (water is free)
  • First class is downgraded to premium economy. It’s renamed “the Big Front Seat.” No more free booze.

Why am I reminded of Andy Borowitz’s “Airlines to Offer Fuel-for-Purchase Option” satire?

Obviously, it’s all meant to reduce costs. But the positive spin that the airline is trying to give these “reforms” doesn’t always add up. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the Spirit chief marketing officer Barry Biffle said that “by having a one-class plane, we can provide better service to all our passengers, not just those sitting in the front.” That makes no damn sense. Just because there’s no first class anymore doesn’t mean that the service in the back will improve! Ahh, marketers.

Adding a fee for all checked luggage is certain to be unpopular. And as Chris Elliott recently suggested, other airlines might be loath to charge for luggage, because it could confer greater liability on them for lost or stolen goods. I’m not sure this is right, since the contract of carriage could nix that, but people coughing up a fee could well be under the heightened impression that the airline owes you more reliable luggage handling.

To “prove” that these provisions lower fares, Spirit is running a fare sale right now. Obviously, it’s too early to know if the changes have any long-term effect on fares.

If fares actually DO go down more than, say, $20 or $30, to cover the cost of checked luggage each way, a few cups of juice, and the value you assign to your own time for making calculations like this one, then this might be okay for consumers.

But it’s still not consumer-friendly in the grand scheme of things: The online travel agencies aren’t yet equipped to show you a real total price, including the add-ons like luggage fees. This means that Spirit will, for the moment, appear cheaper than other airlines on the booking sites, whether the actual final price for you and your needs, once luggage, drinks, etc., are factored in, is cheaper or not.

Comparison shopping just got harder.

Hat tip to to the folks at FlightWisdom!
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pixel Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda

26 Responses to “Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda”

  1. Flight Wisdom » More on Spirit’s New Service Platform Says:

    [...] Upgrade Travel Better and Today in the Sky both were nice enough to credit us for breaking the news to them. But they did bring information we neglected to mention to the table. [...]

  2. Cranky Says:

    In this account, the Spirit chief marketing officer Barry Biffle said that “by having a one-class plane, we can provide better service to all our passengers, not just those sitting in the front.” That makes no damn sense. Just because there’s no first class anymore doesn’t mean that the service in the back will improve!

    Actually, it should mean better service in the back of the plane. Right now, the A319s have 8 in front and 130 in back. I assume Spirit is staffing their flights with the FAA minimum of 1 flight attendant per 50 seats. That means they need 3 flight attendants on that plane. One of those will be devoted to Spirit Plus while the other two will work the back. That means 65 passengers per flight attendant in the back.

    Now, with no additional service up front, there will be 3 flight attendants for 138 passengers. That means the ratio will now drop to 46 passengers per flight attendant in the back. That should be good news!

  3. Mark Ashley Says:

    Cranky, you’re right… in theory. You’re assuming that 1) the flight attendants in first class remain there, without helping out in coach, and 2) that the service improves with an increased number of flight attendants.

    I don’t know if #1 is true or not, as I have never flown Spirit. For a parallel, consider US Airways’ 757s, with 8 first class seats and a smaller economy mini-cabin right behind. In my experience, the flight attendant who manages first class (rows 1 and 2) also manages the economy class seats immediately behind (rows 3 to 6).

    Regarding #2, look at United’s “Ted.” They took 12 first class seats out of their A320s and made the whole plane economy/economy plus. The number of flight attendants required actually went UP as a result: They went from 138 total seats (3 flight attendants) on the two-class A320s to 156 seats on the Ted configuration (4 flight attendants).

    But did the quality of the service on the Ted flights improve, with a much higher FA/passenger ratio? I don’t think so. Frankly, I’ve never noticed a difference between regular United economy and Ted economy.

    So, numerically, you’re right. But experientially? We’ll see.

  4. Cranky Says:

    I love a good discussion.

    #1 – I agree that it’s fair to assume that the flight attendant in Spirit Plus did not solely focus on that cabin. I’m sure that person helped out in the back as well. But there was a higher service standard in Spirit Plus, so at the very least, that flight attendant will have SOME more time (maybe not much) to devote to coach.

    #2 – That’s very true about Ted, but I won’t even get into my “I hate Ted” rant here.

    Let’s just agree that the opportunity for better service is there and the chance that service standards will go down for coach passengers is very unlikely. (Wow, that doesn’t sound very good anymore.)

  5. Mark Ashley Says:

    I can certainly agree that the opportunity for better service is there. But I have the creeping feeling that service in the back will change, and not necessarily for the better.

    The airline is following the Ryanair model. That means anything is for sale (though the inflight gambling that Ryanair proposed is unlikely to work in the US, even on the “Gambler’s Express” between Vegas and Atlantic City…) So customers are likely to be subjected to (more) sales pitches over the PA system. That sounds like a decline in service, to me.

    Flight attendants also now have to spend time collecting cash (“Exact change is always appreciated!”) for each of those $1 cups of coffee and soda (or pop, if you prefer). That’s time and effort spent making change, seeing if colleagues can break a $20, etc. Their jobs in the cabin will be changing, and their responsibilities possibly even increasing. So I’m not sure there’s much time won.

    As for Ted, I welcome anti-Ted rants. ;) For my part, I see Ted as the lesser of two evils. Ted is straight-up United Economy, so it’s disingenuous to call it a separate airline. It sucks that it’s not upgrade-able, but at least it’s not a Canadair regional jet.

  6. Benet Wilson Says:

    Oh please, I want to play! Frankly, I don’t have a problem with this at all, as long as it does translate to lower prices – and not just during one of their silly “name” sales.

    I’m not getting on a plane for free soda and salty death mix snacks — I’m going to get from point A to point B as cheaply as possible. I’m aging myself, but back in my college days, I was able to fly from DCA to OAK cheaply thanks to PeoplExpress. I carried on my luggage and brought my own soda and food. I have no problem doing the same on Spirit.

  7. foXnoMad » Spirit Air To Charge For Every Little Thing Says:

    [...] Here is the story [via Consumerist]. Spirit still is really good about ticket prices and their flight attendants are great so they’re let’s keep them on our good side shall we? Related Posts: [...]

  8. Is Spirit Airlines’ new club worth joining? » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] I was a guest on Peter Greenberg’s radio show, talking about Spirit Airlines and their new luggage fees. (Shameless self-promotion [...]

  9. Is this a bus you want to ride? Zero-frills airline Skybus launches today with $10 tickets » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] 50 lbs. — and there’s a $25 surcharge for overweight bags. After Spirit Airlines started charging for bags, this policy doesn’t come as a [...]

  10. tom sheridan Says:

    I have been a 1K flyer on United for many years and for the most part have enjoyed the experience until the arrival of TED. This cut rate airline is crammed down our throats by United we are forced to fly TERRIBLE TED and sit on the dreaded AIrbus 320. This is an awful airline experience that should be limited to 2 hours max.Those who feel the same should email United and maybe we can get some normal flights into these markets.I am think of starting a website “Frequent Flyers who Hate TED”or “Down with TED”

  11. P. Earley Says:

    DO NOT FLY SPIRIT AIRLINES!

    My husband and I recently took a cruise and booked our flights through Spirit about 6 months ahead of time. After booking our flight, I received 2 emails saying that our flight times had been changed. I called their customer service department to find out how they were able to do this and I was connected to a very rude representative who told me that it is listed in their booking contract. He even made a shrewd comment saying it was only an hour and wanted to charge me $50 per person to change it back to what it was originally.

    The day arrived for my husband and I to leave for our cruise and we stood in Spirits line (the longest line in the entire airport) for over an hour only to get up to the counter for them to tell us that our flight was now closed and that we needed to stand in a different line to rebook! We went to the other line and overheard the agent telling a family in front of us, who also missed their flight that they needed to pay an additional $800 to catch the next flight to their destination that left the following day. Relieved that it wasn’t us, we stepped up to the counter only for the agent to tell us that we would have to pay an additional $600 to take the next flight to Ft. Lauderdale!!! I was outraged so much that all I could do was cry. We didn’t have any other choice but to pay the money. We were going to check with the other airlines to see if there was a cheaper flight heading out but we couldn’t take the risk on missing our cruise.

    Even more, after rescheduling our flight, we met a business man at the gate who flew with Spirit 3 times a week, who missed a connecting flight and they charged him and additional $300 simply to get on a flight that was going to his original destination. Since then we have tried to contact Spirit to report our experience and to get them to display good customer service and work this out with us and they have refused. We will NEVER fly Spirit Airlines again.

    AND….now they want to charge for a can of soda and my luggage!!!! Never again!!!

  12. Seth Says:

    When I booked my ticket on 4/21 there was no mention of this additional fee on their website nor the confirmation email I received. I went back today to check my reservation and I saw that I now had to pay for my baggage. I’ve let my friends and family know never to fly Spirit Air. I should have went with Northwest instead. With the fees my ticket would have cost less. Classic bait and switch.

  13. Ben Says:

    Seth is right, I too booked flights on Spirit from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark in late March for my aging parents who have not flown since the early 70′s. I had been hunting decent fares on their site for two months and their was NO advertised mention of this change in policy. I don’t recall getting a baggage email, but Spirit sends SO MANY emails every week that it may have gotten junked.
    I just took it for granted that they would be able to check their bags and that a Spirit attendent would be courteous and help them with the process.
    Instead, my mother called me from the airport almost in tears, telling me of the extra $30 that they “conned” out of my parents. I was ashamed! Here I was talking up this airline and how easy they were to fly and they do this to a couple 76 year olds? Classy!
    The trip was further sweetened by a Spirit gate attendant who refused to allow my mother to board early (she uses a walker) as I told them that I was SURE they would do.
    Not only was she denied early boarding (which phone calls to Spirit have informed me they only have to offer to wheelchair bound passengers)but she was also pushed to board in “her zone” meaning that people were boarding before and after her. When a flight attendant asked her to hurry and take her seat, she lost it and cried through much of the flight.
    I’m ashamed to ever have my own parents come visit me and my wife now… Who should I fly to Ft. Lauderdale now? It sure as heck won’t be Spirit.
    You know, if they are taking all these shortcuts inside the cabin to save money… I wonder what they are doing under the hood…

  14. John Says:

    I am the owner of a travel club operating since 1988. I was truly embarrassed. NEVER FLY “lack of” SPIRIT AIRLINES. I will NEVER recommend them to my thousands of members. I just completed an international trip with 20 members (flying 2 separate schedules).

    Our combined experiences with them were so horrible I would rather fly ANY other at any price. Everyone said, NEVER AGAIN. Actually with all their $9 flight promotions, they are charging exactly what their service is worth.
    You might wonder what the full fare customers should expect when half the flight is probably filled with those $9 ones. It shows in the lack of cleanliness (trash was everywhere), service, attitude, organization and timeliness.

    Their employees are showing the effect of unhappy customers. Rarely do they smile and the few enthusiastic ones we met will certainly be drawn down to the level of the others soon. On several occasions they were rude and obnoxious to us and other travelers.
    On one occasion, in response to a innocent question from a passenger, one attendant responded with a rude “do it because I say so”. A rechecking baggage agent, after four of us waited an hour in a “RE”-checking line, moved from the window we had moved to in front of her to another, 2 windows away. When we asked what was going on and remarked that she was at our window a second ago, she responded “well, now I am here” and made us move everything over to her, past TWO EMPTY WINDOWS. Why? you might ask. I guess “because she said so”. At one point the baggage manager threw his walkie talkie across the room because he was so frustrated that the others had let baggage pile up while he was on break.

    Flight attendants spent 45 minutes, after the entire plane was seated and after the departure time had passed, rearranging all the overheads to get ONE bag to fit. When we asked in desperation if we were going to leave soon so we could make our ONLY connection, the response was ‘all the flights arrive and depart AT THE SAME TIME”. WOW, that Ft Laud. airport must be really something to do that! Maybe that explains why so many people complain about missed connections and “extortion” prices demanded when they do. Another time we waited an entire hour, after departure time, for a “weather report”, they said, but as soon as an obvious VIP couple arrived and sat in the first 2 plush first class seats, miraculously the report arrived and we left.

    It took 3 hours in Ft Lauderdale to connect to our Atlanta flight….Even though we waited in line a half hour at immigration, afterward, it still took another full hour to get our bags for customs. Then it took One hour in rechecking lines (not required by most other airlines after customs because others have “automatic” rechecking where you just hand your bag off). In Atlanta, at midnight, with hardly any other flights coming in, it still took over an hour to get luggage.

    The car rental agencies told us we were lucky to get our luggage, because that was a frequent problem. However one in our group NEVER got his luggage and went without for the whole trip. Spirit did nothing and in fact NEVER answered their phone in Costa Rica for the entire week. The only travelers from the club (4 others on the trip) who were happy with their flights flew OTHER airlines, for nearly the same price. I just tried to reach Spirit to cancel my Spirit membership and, of course, could not get through, anywhere. In fact, their system just said nobody was available and just hung up.

    I met countless people in all the lines with similar experiences. They all said “NEVER AGAIN”.

    There is no email address to write to, so what do you do when you have a problem? Well, with Spirit Airlines, nothing. They are like their name implies “ghosts”. I expect they will give up the “ghost” soon, once all the suckers are driven off, like us.

    And yes, you might wonder what is going on “under the hood”.

  15. Fernando Says:

    Avoid spirit airlines at all costs.
    The absolute worst in the country. I saw them deny assistance to a handicapped person. I am outraged. NEVER AGAIN.

  16. This is not the Spirit Airlines website and I can’t cancel your club membership. So why are people asking ME for refunds? » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] – Is Spirit Airlines’ new club worth joining? – Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda – Spirit Airlines to Democrats: Drop [...]

  17. Joe Says:

    The latest slap in the face from Spirit is their policy of charging, at some airports to use curbside check in.

    There is a 2-dollar per bag fee at Orlando to use curbside service. This is addition to the 10-dollar each way charge per bag (5-dollars each way if you buy a baggage credit online).

    I always use curbside check in when I can and hand the person handling my bags a tip.

    The sign at Orlando International clearly states that “gratuity is not included” in the two dollar per bag ding that hit you with.

    I am now finding cheaper airfare to many areas on Southwest and they don’t charge for bags.

    Unless it is a huge price differential, I will no longer fly Spirit with their hidden fees.

    The two bucks a bag hit at Orlando is the final straw.

  18. Spirit Airlines’ CEO flips his customers the bird » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] list, Spirit would have to be take the top slot. No contest. Most of the complaints surround their baggage fees or automatic opt-in to travel insurance or the $9 club. One airline employee wrote in with a long [...]

  19. Neal Says:

    My seventy year old Father in-law is heading back to Jamaica today and was told that one of his bags was overweight. Not a problem right? He will simply pay the extra charge and continue on his way.
    WRONG!!!
    Unbeknownst to the consumer, beginning TODAY, December 1st (try to find this on their website luggage section), Spirit Airlines has suspended carrying ANY overweight luggage (51 lbs +) during the Holiday season.
    So, this wheelchair ridden man is in the process of emptying his suitcase to rid the 18 pounds he is overweight AND waiting for my sister in-law to retrieve the items (they will not store or hold the items until someone can come to the airport). Whilst on the phone moments ago with the “Customer Service Representative” at the check-in counter, I said “Where is this written?” to which she replied, “Our policy is subject to change at anytime”.
    Spirit Airlines gets WORSE and WORSE by the moment!!!

  20. Airlines re-imposing strict baggage limits to Latin America and Caribbean » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] in point: A comment left on a March 2007 post today in the Upgrade: Travel Better archives. Neal writes: My seventy year old Father in-law is [...]

  21. Spirit Airlines keeps it classy with their M.I.L.F. sale » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] – Spirit Airlines to Democrats: Drop Dead – Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda – Is Spirit Airlines’ new club worth joining? – Spirit Airlines’ CEO flips his customers the [...]

  22. Tony Says:

    I booked a trip to Peru for 2 in April and the trip is in July… Since then, I have paid $60 for baggage and $40 for Seat fees. And come to find out I may only be able to bring 1 checked bag per person (Spirit Airlines Destinations with Baggage Limitations). This is pretty upsetting because I’ll be there for 10 days and it’s difficult to pack 10 days into 1 suitcase and keep it under 50 pounds. Also the carry on might help but I will still have to leave luxuries at home. I may end up packing an additional suitcase and hope that they will allow it to go on keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t cost an arm and a leg. Anyone have the same experience?

  23. Mark Ashley Says:

    Tony, beware of bringing an extra bag and just crossing your fingers. Hope is not a plan. You very likely will leave that bag behind. Limiting checked bags to one per person, firm, is a widespread practice for flights to Latin America, though generally just seasonally. See a related post here:
    http://www.upgradetravelbetter.com/2007/12/01/airlines-re-imposing-strict-baggage-limits-to-latin-america-and-caribbean/

    Good luck.

  24. Money talks, B.S. flies » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] keeps it classy with their M.I.L.F. sale – Spirit Airlines’ CEO flips his customers the bird – Downgrades: Spirit Airlines to charge for ALL luggage, coffee, and soda – This is not the Spirit Airlines website and I can’t cancel your club membership. So why are [...]

  25. consumeradvocate Says:

    Airline traveler BEWARE! Check your own baggage weight carefully before checking in at the airline.Air Tran baggage scales were FIVE POUNDS off recently. My bag weighed 34-35 pounds on my home scale. When I got to the baggage check-in counter, I noted that my bag was now 40 pounds! Hmmm…gained weight on the Metro ride over to the airport?!?

    I didn’t think anything of it until I did some research after a maintenance delay of my flight caused me to miss my connecting flight. I found many complaints about overweight baggage fees at Air Tran in particular!How could such a thing be proven? BINGO! My bag was delayed, too, and had to be sent to me via Fed. Ex. two days later. Looked on the Fed. Ex. tag attached to my bag when it arrived. There it was—WEIGHT: 35 lbs. PROOF that my bag had not gained any weight after all—there was a problem with the Air Tran baggage scale!

    Let’s see…a charge of $39 is possible if your bag is over the 50 pound weight limit and $79 if the bag is over 70 pounds. Fortunately, I did check out the fine print on the Air Tran web site before I packed up for my trip. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t even close to the limit. BUT, are others so inclined? OR, do most people get socked by surprise by this additionally imposed fee?

    I suspect that the latter is the case. I ponder—how much money would Air Tran be expected to take in with those miscalibrated scales???? No fuzzy math here—they could rake in quite a bit of pocket change this way!

    Now…the real question is does Air Tran do this knowingly? Isn’t this FRAUD, if so? Tell me that they allow the scales to be miscalibrated like that for days on end…and I’ll tell you that I think this is fraudulent!

    Let your experiences be known!

  26. Back on the beat, just in time for more travel downgrades! | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] the AA brand (making them seem even more like the much maligned Spirit Airlines, which has been charging for all luggage domestically for a while now), and it has negative ramifications for anyone getting on an American [...]

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