Spirit Airlines got lots of attention this week.
The low-cost airline announced new carry-on baggage fees that are effective Nov. 6. The charge for stowing a carry-on bag in an overhead bin will climb to $100 when arranged at the gate. That's more than double the $45 Spirit currently charges for carry-on bags, and double the $50 checked baggage fee. Spirit was the first to charge a carry-on fee, and Allegiant has since followed.
There was also the story of Jerry Meekins, a veteran who requested a $197 refund from Spirit. Meekins said he was a dying man and doctors did not want him to fly. Spirit refused to bend its no-refund policy. The firestorm of media coverage that followed prompted Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza to release a statement on Friday in which he admitted "I did not demonstrate the respect or the compassion that I should have, given his medical condition and his service to our country." Baldanza didn't break policy, but he did personally refund the $197 and made a $5,000 corporate donation to Meekins' charity of choice, Wounded Warriors.
The strict no-refund policies and a growing array of fees are typical practices for low-cost airlines as they seek to keep their ticket prices as low as possible. Traditional airlines do some of the same things. But that marketing strategy has been blunted by the new USDOT requirement of listing total prices (including taxes and fees) in advertising.
Christopher Elliott reported in the Washington Post recently that the Obama administration's deficit reduction plan "includes increasing the passenger security fee, now between $5 and $10 per flight, to $15, with possible future increases." Americans already pay 17 separate airfare-related taxes and nearly 20 percent tax on their tickets, up from 7 percent in 1972.
Budget travelers need to plan accordingly. When you add up increased fees, strict no-refund policies, new fees, higher taxes and more taxes on the drawing board, the sum could send you searching for a road map.
Photo courtesy Spirit Airlines