$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 9, 2012 8:16PM
If you've ever waited and waited to deplane while the cheapskates seated in front of you struggle to retrieve an elephant-sized "carryon" from an overhead bin, you wish the airline would charge them $1,000!
Nov 9, 2012 7:55PM
About time. It's always ticked me when people show up at the gate with a bag that's twice the size allowable and the airlines let them on.
Nov 9, 2012 7:06PM
I like it.  If you have a large bag it does not take a genius to figure out that you should check it in.  Just keep the low fees.
Nov 9, 2012 8:49PM
I really don't see why checking your bag is such a big problem for people. This seems like a "common sense" fee. If your bag is too big to be a "carry on" size, then check it. All this does is make people pay if the don't abide by the already established carry on size.
It's got to cost the airline time and money to manually check a bag at the gate, that is obviously too big to be considered a carry on, when the bag should have been checked at the counter in the first place.
The only way this would not make sense is if the airline charges to check a bag. But, I didn't see that written anywhere. All this seems to be intended to do is make the whole process run smoother (thus, saving the airline money which they pass on as lower fares for us), and penalize the people that screw that up by not abiding by the rules. Where's the problem here?
Nov 9, 2012 7:02PM
When people shop for airfare online they buy the cheapest tickets available. The airlines have figured this out. So the customer must do some research before buying the cheapest ticket all the time.
Nov 9, 2012 8:46PM
I have had one experience with Spirit and will never again deal with them.  The one carry-on bag that was even called a carry-on and would have been free on other airlines cost $40.00 and the bag checked that would have been $20.00 on other airlines was $38.00,even though their website stated $20.00 for a checked bag.  Also, no drinks offered unless you are willing and able to pay with a credit card - traveling minors and some adults will not even get a drink of water - $3.50 a bottle.  When watching airline ticket prices, I have been able to beat Spirit prices and retain the humanity offered by other airlines.
Nov 9, 2012 8:02PM
Nov 9, 2012 7:14PM
     Another good reason to send baggage UPS - cheaper & you don't need to haul it around.
Nov 9, 2012 7:02PM
As Spirit is not an "airline" but an aviation CHARTER service, they can get a way with a lot the regular airlines can't.  But, people have got to stop being fools.  There are other charter/novelty suppliers out there that are not as greedy as this company is.
Nov 9, 2012 9:40PM
I Will Drive - Thank you,, Too Much Groping and personal Invasion Going On.....................
Nov 9, 2012 7:39PM
Nov 9, 2012 9:11PM
Guess that I won't be flying on Sprint anytime soon or in the future!!!!!!
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 8:16PM
I will take the train if traveling in the U.S. from now on..Screw the greedy bastards
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...

Nov 9, 2012 9:13PM
That's crazy it's cheaper to fedex your stuff to wherever you're traveling too. These airlines are just going crazy with these extra charges

Nov 9, 2012 8:57PM
FAA should outlaw carry on baggage for all passengers. It's a pain in the butt for the rest of travelers and the BS of stewardesses asking other passengers to put their smaller items under their seats is pure crap. Every passenger has equal rights to the overheads and if there's no room left put their bags down below with the rest of the bags.
Nov 9, 2012 8:35PM
When people travel, most need at least one bag.  What is the option? Wear the clothes on your back the whole time? Ridiculous!!!!!
Nov 9, 2012 10:50PM
Soon they will be charging a fee for wearing clothes or for the air you breathe.  
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