Spirit Airlines Tickets Are Cheaper if You Buy Them at the Airport

Here's how and why you can save a little money flying Spirit.

An employee holds a sign to direct travellers at the Spirit Airlines Inc. ticket counter at Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL)
Photo: Saul Martinez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Spirit Airlines has a widely-known reputation for bare-bones flying. Travelers can assume that buying a ticket on Spirit might mean smaller seats, less room for belongings, and flight delays — but it also means they're traveling for hundreds of dollars less than with other airlines.

But what some travelers may not know is that there is a way to fly with Spirit that can save them even more money. Buying tickets at the airport can actually save passengers around $23 per ticket each way. In some cases, that's almost half the fare.

Here's how it works. As travel tips site One Mile at a Time points out, Spirit charges a "passenger usage" fee, which only applies to booking online or by phone, and does not apply to booking at the counter at the airport. Turns out, this arbitrary fee is actually all because of a tax workaround.

“Airlines have to pay a 7.5% federal excise tax on airfare, but not on optional fees,” One Mile at a Time explains. By classifying a chunk of the customer's cost as a "usage fee" instead of as airfare itself, the airline saves money in taxes. However, the key word here is "optional." As One Mile at a Time explains, there has to be some way of avoiding a fee in order for it to be classified as optional. And waiving the passenger usage fee for customers who book in person is Spirit's method of choice.

Clearly, Spirit wants you to pay the fee, so they're betting most customers won't go all the way to the airport just to save a few bucks when buying tickets. For some travelers, though, the hassle can be worth it. The passenger usage fee is currently $22.99 each way for each passenger — so if you're a family of four, you could save over $180 on your round-trip flight by booking in person at the airport.

Unfortunately, if you really want to fly on Spirit comfortably, you might have to spend some of that money you saved, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Spirit charges passengers to choose their seats, which is not great for families who want to sit together. The airline is also notorious for charging for carry-ons as well as checked bags. Let's hope you're traveling light.

But if you do want to rest comfortably, Lifehacker suggests you go ahead and splurge on a seat that's over or in front of the wing of the plane. It also doesn't hurt to bring your own in-flight entertainment (there will be none on board), as well as a sleeping mask and earplugs to drown out any noisy neighbors.

It's also highly recommended you pay for your bags as soon as you book, since Spirit charges a lot more to check bags at the gate. Fees for checked bags can range between $30 and $100.

Even though you might get hit with fees elsewhere, saving a little where you can is always welcome when you fly.

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