I’ve been watching Lucky’s plan to fly Spirit with amusement. The king of premium cabin REALLY overpaid just to try out the king of cheap? Anyway, one of his follow-up posts, and many comments, addressed Spirit’s most odious fee. Spirit regulars probably instantly recognize it as the “Passenger Usage Fee”. Basically, it’s a convenience fee for booking online. But to meet the DOT’s definition of a “fee”, Spirit waives it if you buy your ticket at the airport. Thus, many recommend what I call the “Spirit airport counter ticket trick”. I must warn you, though. In my (limited) experience, it doesn’t always work.
Related: Rohan’s summer love affair with Spirit.
What Is The “Spirit Airport Counter Ticket Trick”?
Simply put, this means going through the inconvenience of buying a ticket at the airport to save the $19 PUF. Potentially, that means saving $38 roundtrip per person, a meaningful number for sure. I’ll use my personal experience to demonstrate. When I decided to fly Spirit just to report on the experience, I zeroed in on this fare to Tampa:
Online, the fare priced out at $34.10. In theory, you could go to the airport and remove the $17.99 (now $18.99) PUF and pay $16.11. The problem is, as I mentioned in my original post, it didn’t work out that way.
The friendly agent behind the counter was happy to sell me a ticket. But, even after I gave her the flight number and date I wanted, she said she couldn’t find a Flight 812 to Tampa at 10:23 in the morning. The only one she could find was at 4:00 in the afternoon, and it would be $29.45.
Other commenters suggest the only explanation is that the fare bucket sold out, resulting in a higher price. However, that explanation doesn’t seem to work, for two reasons:
- The agent tried to book me on a nonexistent flight.
- As soon as I returned home, I actually booked the flight above for the $34.10 price listed. Therefore, it couldn’t possibly be a case of a sold out fare bucket.
- The agent even suggested that some fares are available only online.
Yes, the flight really was nonexistent, as I couldn’t find it on Spirit.com, ITA Matrix, Orbitz, or anywhere else. In fairness, I suspect either a misunderstanding, or an incompetent agent. If booking by phone, the time-tested HUCA (hang up call again) trick usually works. But if you try to buy at the airport, another agent usually isn’t an option. Instead, you might have to come back another day and hope for someone more competent. In my case, the drive to DFW involves a 62-mile round trip. At some point, the time wasted outweighs the monetary savings.
So buyer beware. Others insist that the Spirit Airport Counter Ticket Trick really works. But this data point suggests results aren’t guaranteed, and other commenters have hinted at the same thing. Consider that before making a possibly long trip to the airport.
Is The $38 Savings Really Worth It?
I mean, come on – it’s Spirit we’re talking about, an airline that seems to pride itself on mediocre customer service. But consider this. For a family of three like mine, if the trick does work, that means $114 in total savings. That gets us meals for a couple of days – certainly worth considering. (Frugality elsewhere also helps pay for the occasional over-indulgence, like Air France La Première.) Now, flying Spirit does mean tight 28-inch seat pitch.
Chances are, you can also expect delays. Spirit runs a notoriously unreliable operation. My flight ran about half an hour late for no particular reason, and based on what I’ve seen, I got off easy. Spirit usually operates one or two flights a day between markets at most. Furthermore, typical for an ultra low cost carrier, Spirit does not interline with other airlines. In other words, a cancellation might leave you hanging for days, and a DIY connection on another carrier is risky.
But as far as the actual flight experience? I didn’t face the horror stories that circulate on social media. Lines at DFW weren’t bad, and all employees I encountered were professional and courteous. As far as the passengers, I largely saw families presumably trying to save money. No shenanigans or complaining, as everyone seemed to know the Spirit drill. And really, is Spirit any worse than Basic Economy on the legacies? You “enjoy” the same nickel-and-diming and surly service, so why not save some money?
Sadly, the Spirit Airport Counter Ticket Trick failed for me, and I’ve heard other anecdotal evidence to suggest success is hit or miss. It’s worth a try, but if it works, think of it as the extra fries at the bottom of the bag. You might have to “settle” for paying $34 instead of $15 for your next trip to Tampa.