No-frills Spirit Airlines, recently named America’s most-hated carrier by Consumer Reports, is king of the nickel-and-dime. In 2012, about 39 percent of the airline’s revenue came from ancillary revenue, according to IdeaWorksCompany.
Examples? It charges $10 if an airport agent prints your boarding pass at the airport rather than you printing it yourself at home or at an airport kiosk. Its website has 38 different fees for luggage, including carry-ons. It charges $3 for soda or juice.
Spirit officials have defended the fee strategy, saying passengers who fly the airline know what to expect. “Our customers have told us again and again they want low fares and the option to choose the add-ons they want,” said Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson. “And we’re proud to give them what they need.”
While Spirit and other high-fee airlines get slammed in consumer satisfaction surveys, customers don’t seem to vote the same way with their wallets.
Spirit is thriving while America’s most loved airline, Virgin America, which has one of the best all-inclusive airfare offerings, struggles, Sorensen said. “We see surveys that say consumers hate fees, but I’m not seeing that in practical application,” he said.
Big network carriers have joined the fee party.
In May, United, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways raised ticket-change fees to $200 from $150.
While a passenger changing a flight has a real cost to airlines — they potentially won’t be able to resell the vacant seat — a $200 fee is reaching too far, Sorensen said. “It’s a decision obviously made by the bean counters rather than someone who’s in operations,” he said, calling it a fee “filled with conflict.”
“If you apply strict enforcement, you get a black eye with the consumer. If you begin to waive it based on consumers begging, then you train consumers to behave that way.”