$100 for a carry-on?

Spirit Airlines is charging high fees to encourage customers to check their bags.

By Bruce Kennedy Nov 9, 2012 6:25PM

Image: Man pulling suitcase in airport -- Keith Brofsky/UpperCut Images/Getty ImagesIs Florida's Spirit Airlines (SAVE) trying to anger customers just in time for the holidays? This week, the low-cost carrier quietly implemented a change it first announced in May: It's charging up to $100 for large carry-on bags brought to the boarding gate and meant for the overhead bin.

On its web site, Spirit says it empowers passengers "by offering ultra-low fares with a range of optional services -- including bags -- for a fee, allowing you the freedom to choose only the extras you value."

Management seems to understand its luggage fee hike is not popular. "What's most important is that we truly don't want any of our customers to have to pay $100 for a bag," airline spokeswoman Misty Pinson told the International Business Times. "The fee is intentionally set high to encourage customers to reserve their bags in advance, and it is meant to deter customers from waiting until they get to the boarding gate."

The fee, which Spirit hiked from a previous $45, is only for large carry-on bags declared at the gate. Passengers won't have to pay for bags they can safely stow under their seats.

Analysts believe Spirit's high baggage rate is part of an effort by many discount airlines to re-train customers' behavior regarding baggage in order to keep operational costs down and planes on schedule.

"Spirit certainly marches to the beat of a different drummer, in that they are a very pure, low-cost carrier," says Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany, a Milwaukee airline consulting firm. "They have a core customer base that understands how they do business. And these customers appreciate the trade-off between fees that might be charged in the low-base fare charged by the airline. "

IdeaWorksCompany, along with the global reservations and travel technology company Amadeus, recently estimated that airline ancillary revenue -- that is, the money generated by airlines beyond the actual movement of passengers from one destination to another -- will reach $36.1 billion globally this year. And within the United States, 20% of that ancillary revenue comes just from baggage fees. Domestic airlines reportedly made $3.4 billion in revenue from checked bags in 2011 -- compared to $464.3 million in 2007.

Given those soaring baggage rates, Sorensen (who, for disclosure sake, notes Spirit is not a client of his company) says Spirit and other low-cost airlines present a trade-off to their customers. "They can come in with this kind of quid pro quo offer to the consumer saying, 'OK, yes, we do charge fees, and if you want extra convenience and comfort, there will be a charge for that,'" he says. "'However, if you can get by with the bare minimum, we're going to offer you a fare that the others simply can't touch.'"

While a core base of air travelers might understand the reasoning behind Spirit's actions, observers wonder whether the general public will be as forgiving.

"Unless you're a very, very large brand like Apple (APPL) and Google (GOOG), you really don't have the money to change consumer opinion," says Darrin Duber-Smith, a marketing professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

"You can maybe change the opinion of a very small target market, but it's not necessarily something that an airline can do," he says. "Now the industry can do it, as a concerted effort through the association. The industry can certainly do some things that might alter consumer perception. But to think that one small airline with very little brand equity can do that is I think a bit of an overreach."

But both Duber-Smith and Sorensen believe consumer anger over higher airline baggage fees will fade. Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics announced domestic air fares rose to $385 in the second quarter of 2012 -- up 4.1% compared to the same time a year earlier. And as air travelers deal with higher fares, they will also become accustomed to the new baggage rates -- especially as the more traditional U.S. airlines like Delta (DAL), US Airways (LCC) and United (UAL)  try to remain competitive with their low cost rivals.

"The word here is transition," says Sorensen. "I don't expect the messiness to continue forever. I think that, over time, consumers will begin to accept the new normal and airlines will get better at presenting this information in a fair and transparent manner."

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Nov 10, 2012 3:29PM
I totally agree with the airline !!
Nov 10, 2012 3:18PM

I never understood why ANYONE would want the thankless job of flight attendant. Way too many rude narcissist "special" passengers that have made flying an unbearable chore. Those large/oversized bags do not belong in the cabin and should have been stopped at the boarding gate to begin with! Charge away!!!  Airlines need to stop treating their employees as disposable and afford them the same respect as their grossly over-paid CEO's and top managers.

Nov 10, 2012 2:28PM
They should charge the fee and maybe people who delay the process by trying to pack on too many bags or oversized bags will now have to pay! Then they will not do it simple as that. It's unfortunately the only way to get people to follow the rules. More power to Spirit Airline!!!!!!
Nov 10, 2012 1:44PM
Now is the time for air travelers to "retrain" Spirit Airlines a**hole management team regarding the origin of their paycheck !
Nov 10, 2012 1:28PM
The only reason I would want a carry on is the security of your checked baggage is lousy at best.  They have more thieves than honest people handling your bags.
Nov 10, 2012 1:14PM
To bad it has come to this, but the cheapskates who insist on bringing everything on board with them, use up three bins that should be shared with other passengers and who can't possibly be bothered to check a bag, have brought this on themselves and now we all end up paying.
Nov 10, 2012 12:24PM
The main reason that airline passengers have over time brought more and more carry-on luggage aboard their flights is the time involved waiting in baggage claim for their checked luggage to show-up.  Some airports are better at unloading aircraft and getting the passenger's luggage in than others are, but 45 minutes or an hour waiting for checked luggage to show-up on the carrousel is increasingly normal at large airports.

Essentially with this move Spirit believes that its passengers' time is of little consequence, and they also believe that their passengers are devoted-enough to not consider other low-cost alternatives that do not charge either carry-on or checked bag fees.  While there may be little or no competition from some of the smaller airports that Spirit serves, there is plenty of low-cost competition at many other airports too.  For instance, Detroit to Denver is served by two other low-cost carriers that don't charge for carry-on luggage or for checked luggage up to one or two bags either. 

Since DIA is a hub airport for both Frontier and Southwest, and other major carriers are also forced to compete there too, if you can spare that hour waiting in baggage claim flying Spirit non-stop, you can now easily spare that same hour connecting through DIA and taking your luggage aboard Spirit's competitor's aircraft for free instead.

My guess is that this rash move will eventually backfire for Spirit as many of their customers try the alternatives and discover that all of the trouble at Spirit adhering to their crazy rules and fees isn't worth it on a time basis or on a cost basis either.

Nov 10, 2012 12:14PM
Why do people still pay those high luggage fees when they could take nothing and buy everything at their destination?
Nov 10, 2012 11:48AM
Really is there going to be a difference between paying low air fares, and a high baggage fee versus paying say Delta or AA fare that has no baggage fee (and just stick to the two bag , 1 carry on minmum?) i mean once you add in all the quote on quote luxuries is there really that much of a difference in prices?? 
Nov 10, 2012 11:30AM
I only ever take my camera bag and laptop on the aircraft. The only reason I do that is so I know it doesnt get bounced around the tarmac or stolen. The rest of my 'stuff' goes in the hold. If my bag gets lost, ah well I just buy another pair of jocks and get on with life. Its about time they stopped people bringing oversize bags into the cabin.

Nov 10, 2012 11:10AM
I just don't like Spirits attitude.  Will fly others !!!
Nov 10, 2012 10:51AM
How does an oversized bag get past the security check in anyway?
Nov 10, 2012 10:07AM
It's about time,,,  I have been hit in the head, and waited and waited for dumb A--es to try putting a gray hound bus in the overhead bins.  Then they bitch because some one else has put a small bag in the bin and now they want them to move it 6 seats somewhere else. $100.00 is not enough for large carry on crap bags.  You (RICHARD HEADS) must check your bags or ride the bus.
Nov 10, 2012 9:37AM
What a bunch of cheapskates there are these days..I mean you people bitching about your bags. I am a flight attendant ( not for Spirit), and get tired of the waayyy over sized bags all the time. I am a male, 6'5", 230, and constantly get barraged to lift passengers bags up in the overhead for them. It it's your bag, you packed it beyond capacity, loaded it with all your excess, then you lift it and stow it. Sorry, but, just because I am a guy, a big guy, doesn't mean I am suppose to lift your bag for you.   I did that once on an old ladies bag once ( I swear it weighed close to a 100 pounds), and tore a muscle. Tried to file for a OJI, and my airline said, nope, you should not have lifted it in the first place.These days, flight attendants WILL not lift bags, maybe assist in creating space, but, my airline says no to lifting bags.

  So, usually if it's too big too lift, then it should be in the belly. I applaud Spirit for charging for carry ons, and wish all airlines would start to do the same.  Would make boarding so much smoother, and definitely faster. You Americans, are so cheap these days, you expect to fly all over the place for peanuts, and then think you deserve all the bells and whistles for free as well. Wake up people, jet fuel is expensive, and the more weight on an airplane the more fuel is burned to carry that weight.  Passenger carrying airplanes, are for carrying passengers. If you feel like you have to carry everything, then pony up, or go with fedex and UPS.  Too bad your bag will go with them, but not you. You all want cheap tickets, then expect to pay for everything else.
Nov 10, 2012 8:08AM
There are some of these folks that are commenting who do not want to pay for anything. Even if they pay next to nothing, they want the moon. How many passengers have had to check their "within size" baggage at the gate because 1/2 of the flyers in front of them have been allowed to board with large suitcases that should've been checked in the first place. Oh wait, if the 1/2 are made to check them, they throw a fit and it's the airline's fault, and if they don't we are made to check ours, and we do. If Spirit does this, and very up-front about it, why are they the "goons" where does this stop? If you want all the options, then pay the price. If you want the low price, then quit your b**chin. Some of you sound like the car buyer who comes in the store wanting a fully loaded luxury vehicle, lifetime warranty, free service, for no more than 200-250 per month.
Nov 10, 2012 7:46AM
Amerika is getting on over dangerous ground.....nothing good can come out of this rampant capitalism.....
Nov 10, 2012 5:58AM
Get used to the new normal.  The reason people started taking more carry on in the first place was because airlines were charging too much for checked baggage.  They created their own problem.  While your getting used to the new normal they with thinking of another new normal.  Hey, maybe they can charge extra for wearing clothes on your flight so it will save money and time on screening people through security.
Nov 9, 2012 10:50PM
Soon they will be charging a fee for wearing clothes or for the air you breathe.  
Nov 9, 2012 10:03PM

I flew Spirit once......never again....I can do better rate wise AND service wise

and I do ship my baggage ahead via Fe Ex and it's waiting at my hotel...a tip to the concierge is way cheaper than the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$  that airlines are charging...my carry on consists of my laptop and travel documents and that is it...

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