What You Need to Know About Spirit Airlines Fees

Spirit's fees can make your cheap flight more expensive than fares on full-service airlines.

Sally FrenchOctober 21, 2020
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What You Need to Know About Spirit Airlines Baggage and Other Fees

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It can be easy to be fooled into thinking you scored a deal after nabbing a $26 flight to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines.

But while the airfare itself is certainly cheap, there’s a good chance your total flight costs will far exceed $26. That’s because Spirit Airlines has one of the most comprehensive a la carte pricing models of any airline. Spirit seats on their own tend to be tantalizingly cheap, but things that other airlines typically include in the cost of airfare — like soft drinks and reserved seats — will cost you extra.

Suddenly, your $26 flight might start to cost the same, or even more, than the fares listed for non-budget airlines.

Spirit Airlines bag fees

Base fares include one personal item, like a laptop bag or purse. But don’t think you can get away with not having to pay by stuffing all your possessions into a backpack, as even that might not fit. Spirit defines a personal item as anything 18 by 14 by 8 inches or smaller. Even something like this fairly standard-size Adidas backpack would be too large by Spirit standards.

For larger bags, like that backpack or rolling luggage, there’s a good chance that the cost to fly your stuff is more than the cost to fly yourself.

Spirit doesn’t publish standard bag fees, as they can vary not only based on route but also on when you pay for them. And the longer you wait, the more you’ll pay. If you’re paying at the gate, you could end up paying nearly twice as much as if you had paid the bag fee at the time of booking.

While fees can fluctuate, here’s what Spirit bag fees look like for the aforementioned $26 flight between Seattle and Las Vegas:

When bags are paid for

Carry-on bag

1st checked bag

2nd checked bag

During Spirit.com booking

$35

$33

$42

After booking, but before checking in online

$45

$43

$52

During online check-in

$45

$43

$52

At the airport (before the gate)

$55

$50

$60

At the gate

$65

$65

N/A

And that’s assuming your baggage weighs 40 pounds or less. Here are the additional fees you’d pay per bag if transporting large or heavy items:

Item

Additional charge (on top of bag fee)

Baggage weighing 41-50 lbs.

+$30

Baggage weighing 51–70 lbs.

+$55

Baggage weighing 71–100 lbs.

+$100

Items measuring 63-80 linear inches (length + width + height)

+$100

Items over 80 linear inches (length + width + height)

+$150

Bicycle

+$75

Surfboard (maximum of 2 surfboards per bag)

+$100

For customers enrolled in Spirit’s add-on membership program called $9 Fare Club, there’s some good news: Bag fees are discounted. As of October 2020, it costs $59.95 to enroll in the $9 Fare Club, and $69.95 to renew.

Here’s how much typical bag fees cost for that same flight if you’re a member of the $9 Fare Club:

When bags are paid for

Carry-on bag

1st checked bag

2nd checked bag

During Spirit.com booking

$26

$24

$33

After booking, but before checking in online

$36

$34

$43

During online check-in

$36

$34

$43

At the airport (before the gate)

$55

$50

$60

At the gate

$65

$65

N/A

What does Spirit consider a personal item vs. carry-on vs. checked bag?

Depending on the size of your bag, it might not be considered a personal item, even if it fits under the seat in front of you. What’s more, you might not be able to carry it on, even if you think it’s a relatively small suitcase. Here’s how Spirit defines each type of bag:

  • Personal item: Maximum of 18 by 14 by 8 inches, including handles and wheels.

  • Carry-on: Maximum of 22 by 18 by 10 inches, including handles and wheels.

  • Checked bag: Maximum of 62 linear inches (length plus width plus height) including handles and wheels, and less than 100 pounds (overweight/oversize baggage fees apply).

Spirit Airlines change fees

With Spirit, there’s a good chance that the cost to change or cancel your flight ends up being more than the cost of the flight itself.

Spirit does not offer any sort of refundable fare, but it does provide some options to change and cancel reservations.

Spirit typically charges $90 to cancel your reservation online and an even heftier $100 to cancel over the phone or at the airport. These fees are on hold temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps what stings even worse than paying $90 to cancel your flight: You won’t get the amount you paid refunded back to your original form of payment. Instead, you get it as a Reservation Credit toward future Spirit flights. And adding insult to injury is that those credits have an expiration date; typically, your new flight made with the Reservation Credit must be booked within one year from the original date of purchase.

If you’re changing your flight within 24 hours of departure, you can pay $99 to stand by for an earlier flight.

If you booked an award ticket, expect to pay even more. The change fee is $110, and you still must pay the difference of any additional miles required for your new itinerary.

How to avoid Spirit Airlines change fees

Act quickly. As long as you’re booking a flight at least seven days before departure, Spirit does not charge a fee if the flight is changed or canceled within 24 hours after the initial purchase. Money is refunded to the original form of payment.

Book a Flight Flex (though we don’t recommend it). Flight Flex is a sort of insurance program offered by Spirit Airlines that allows you to modify your flight once without having to pay a change fee.

But Flight Flex comes with its own fee which, like bag fees, can vary by flight. For this $26 flight between Seattle and Las Vegas, the cost to add the Flight Flex option was $45. And Flight Flex comes with restrictions, including that you are entitled to only one change, and you need to make the change more than 24 hours before the scheduled flight. Plus, you’re still on the hook to pay for any difference in fares.

Here’s why Flight Flex is generally a bad deal: Say you’re changing your $26 flight to a new $100 flight. With Flight Flex, you would have paid $71 (that’s $45 for the Flight Flex option plus $26 for the original flight). You also still owe $74 to make up the fare difference, which means changing to a new $100 flight ends up costing $145 after all the fees.

Flight Flex is also included as part of Spirit’s Bundle It Combo (more on that later), which removes the a la carte aspect and instead packages a bunch of add-ons for one fee. If you want the ability to change your flight and anticipate checking bags anyway, the bundle option can make more sense.

Fees to check in and obtain your boarding pass for your Spirit flight

There’s no fee to check in online for your Spirit flight. Once checked in, print your boarding pass at home, too, because it’s free.

But if you fail to plan ahead, you’ll have to pay up.

If you need to print your boarding pass at an airport kiosk, it costs $2. If you’re a luddite who prefers bypassing the kiosk in favor of a human, it costs even more: $10 to have your boarding pass printed by an airport agent.

Spirit waives those fees in a few circumstances, such as if you’re traveling as an unaccompanied minor, with a lap infant, or if you’re using a military ID instead of a passport and are unable to check in online.

Fees to select a seat ahead of time

Whether you’re trying to avoid the middle seat or you just want to guarantee that you can sit next to your kid, it’s going to cost you to choose your seat ahead of time.

Spirit doesn’t have a published list of seat assignment pricing as it varies per flight, though the airline says all seat reservations start at a minimum of $5.

But $5 is a liberal assumption for how much you’ll actually pay to reserve your seats. Here’s how much seat assignments cost on that same $26 flight between Seattle and Las Vegas:

The "Big Front Seats" have more legroom, are wider (no middle seat in the row) and cost an additional $40. The often-coveted seats in the emergency exit rows cost $20, and even a middle seat near the back costs $12 to reserve.

Fees for in-flight refreshments

Fees for in-flight food and alcoholic beverages are common across all airlines. Some more generous airlines will dole out complimentary in-flight snacks (we see you, Delta Biscoff cookies and JetBlue Terra Chips). But Spirit won’t even throw in a free Diet Coke.

All refreshments sold in-flight on Spirit come with a fee, such as coffee ($2), sodas and juices ($3), beer and wine ($8) and snacks like Pringles or Oreos (starting at $3).

In-cabin pet fee

Spirit charges $110 per pet container, each way, with a limit of four pets total in the cabin. Spirit allows you to put two pets in one container. If you are traveling with a pet or two, they’ll always ride with you in-cabin, as Spirit does not transport pets in cargo.

And even still, there are a number of limitations. Pets need to be small, since the container must fit under the seat, and pets must be able to stand and turn around in the container. Plus, the combined weight of the pet and carrier must be 40 pounds or less.

Priority boarding and security access

For an additional fee, you can whiz through security and be one of the first to board the plane. Starting at $5.99, Spirit’s “Shortcut Boarding” access allows you priority boarding in Zone 2.

Depending on the airport you’re departing from, you may also be able to pay for "Shortcut Security," though we don’t recommend it. It’s not TSA Precheck, but it will allow you to go through security in an expedited lane. Costs vary per airport but don’t exceed $15, though it's not a guarantee your airport even offers the Shortcut Security program.

Unaccompanied minor fees

Is your kid flying alone? That’s an extra $100.

You’ll get hit with that unaccompanied minor fee if the child is 5-14 years old. On the bright side, Spirit will throw in a free snack and drink for your kid, a solid $6 value.

Spirit won’t allow children to fly alone if they’re 4 or younger, or if they’re traveling on a connecting flight, international flights or domestic flights that include a scheduled change of aircraft.

Bundle packages

Spirit offers bundled packages during the booking process. If you anticipate paying for a number of these fees anyway, then bundling them isn’t a bad deal.

Going back to that same flight between Seattle and Las Vegas, it costs $52.99 more for the Boost It package and $64.99 for the Bundle It package.

Here’s how much it would cost to order a la carte what you can get in the combo packages for one set price:

Boost It package (costs $52.99):

  • Pick Your Seat: $20 (exit row!).

  • Personal item: $0 (already included with airfare).

  • Checked Bag plus 10 pounds extra: $33 (if the bag weighs 40 pounds or less) or $63 (if it weighs 50 pounds or less).

  • Shortcut Boarding: $5.99.

The Boost It package is worth $88.99 in this scenario (if you take advantage of the 50 pound allowance), which is a $36 savings. If your bag is less than 40 pounds ($33) but you want to pick a seat ($20) and have Shortcut Boarding ($5.99), then you save only a few dollars on the Boost It bundle price. But if your bag is in that weight sweet spot (40-50 pounds), you’ll save $36 with this bundle.

Bundle It package (costs $64.99):

  • Pick Your Seat: $20.

  • Personal item: $0 (already included with airfare).

  • Checked Bag plus 10 pounds extra: $33 (if the bag weighs 40 pounds or less) or $63 (if it weighs 50 pounds or less).

  • Shortcut Boarding: $5.99.

  • Flight Flex: $45.

  • 2x miles*.

*It’s tough to assign a value to Spirit miles because you accrue a different number of miles based on your status within the Free Spirit program.

The 2x miles aside, the Bundle It package is worth $133.99 in this scenario, which is a $69 savings if you were to buy each item individually at booking. Spirit says it’s a $104 savings value, based on the company’s own mileage valuation.

Again, if you are packing that oversize bag (between 40 and 50 pounds) or you want the Flight Flex option (which we don’t really recommend), then it’s worth it. But if you want only a few things — say one checked bag that weighs less than 40 pounds, the ability to choose your seat and shortcut boarding — keep buying a la carte.

The bottom line

Book your $26 flight, but expect to spend a lot more than that.

You might have thought you could get away without a carry-on when you booked the flight, but as you start packing, you realize you’ll need a small rolling suitcase. That’s an extra $45 at check-in.

You don’t have a printer, so you’ll have to pay $2 to print your boarding pass at the airport kiosk.

You don’t want the middle seat so you accept you’ll pay $14 to choose an aisle, but why pay $14 for an aisle when it’s only $6 more for the exit row aisle? You pay $20 to choose a good seat.

Once flying, you pay $3 for a ginger ale. While your credit card is already out, you throw in Sea Salt PopCorners for $4.

Suddenly, your $26 flight has become $100. That’s not even including a number of other fees you might end up paying too, like pet fees, priority boarding, cancellation fees and more.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Spirit has ultra-cheap fares. Traveling with Spirit is cheap if you pack uber-light — and pack your own snacks. For budget travelers who can plan ahead, Spirit can be a deal. But pay attention when booking, because your “cheap” Spirit flight might cost more than a ticket on any of the other airlines.

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