Beat the Spirit and Frontier Increased Bag Fees

Nov 5, 2015

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I love low cost airline carriers and what they are doing to make air travel a reality for those who otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to book airline tickets in their budgets.  I don’t have hard and fast numbers, but I have a large and growing collection of anecdotal tales from my online and real life friends who tell me how they were able to book a flight to see their family member or explore a new place for just $29 or something crazy thanks to low cost carriers’ sales.

They don’t care that their seat is small, or that only a very small carry-on flies free, or that you aren’t served a free soft drink.  They care that they were able to leave their house and fly across the country for roughly the cost of a tank of gas…sometimes less.  Airline miles can do that for you, but sometimes not having the “burden” of earning those miles in advance and instead just hoping on a great sale can be freeing.

All that to say, I love low cost carriers even though I infrequently fly on them myself (though I have!).  I don’t even mind their fees as long as they are reasonable, easy to understand, and stated up-front.  I know that the revenue from their optional fees is a big reason why they can keep the actual fares as low as they are.  However, it is important to note that during some peak travel times, like the holidays, the costs to bring more than a very small carry-on with you is going up on low cost carriers Frontier and Spirit, so here is that up-to-date info and ways to beat the fees as much as possible.

Avoid bag fees with small personal items!
Avoid bag fees with small personal items!

Frontier Increasing Bag Fees for Busy Travel Periods

Frontier Airlines is increasing the costs of carry-on and checked bags for travel from November 19 – January 5, 2015, February 11 – April 4, 2016, and June 9 – August 16, 2016.  Carry-on bag prices during those dates increase by $5 until 24 hours from departure, they increase $10 at the time of web check-in, and then by $5 at the airport.  First checked bag fees increase by $5 until 24 hours until departure and by $10 if done via the call center, within 24 hours of departure, or at the airport.  Second checked bag fees increase by $10 across the board.

If done more than 24 hours in advance this brings the cost of a carry-on to $35 and a checked bag to $30. For a family those increases could really add up! Remember you can still carry on something like a backpack for free as long as it is no larger than 14” tall, 8” wide, and 18” long (including handles, wheels, and straps). This won’t work for everyone, but it is a way to cut down on bag fees significantly with Frontier and should be able to work for many – especially for little kids with little clothes!

Spirit Airlines Increases Checked Bag Fees for the Holidays

In this case Spirit is actually the more generous of the two low cost carriers as they are only increasing the cost of checked bags by $2 from December 16 – January 4th.  This bumps the checked bag prices to $32 at the time of booking, $37 before online check-in, $42 during online check-in, $52 at airport, and it remains $100 at the gate.

How to Reduce Bag Fees on Spirit and Frontier

If you can’t limit your packing to a free small personal item like a backpack then the reality is that with the low cost carriers you are going to have bag fees, but here are ways to minimize those fees.

  • The best way to minimize bag fees is to accurately estimate how much you need to bring with you at the time of booking as the price increases as you get to online check-in and the day of travel at the airport.  Interestingly, with both carriers checked bags are less expensive than carry-on bags so checking them can save you a few bucks over lugging the bags onboard.
  • Check one bag up to the size limit for your family instead of packing one bag per person the way you may normally do when flying other carriers.
  • Remember that coats, strollers, car seats, and diaper bags don’t count towards your one free personal item, so don’t accidentally overpay by including those items in your totals and don’t try to make room for your coat in your packed bag.
  • Use your Amex airline fee credit to cover bag fees on the low cost carrier of your choice.  Some Amex cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express give an annual airline fee credit. If you know you will have lots of fees on a particular air carrier in a given year you can select that carrier to be your airline of choice on your Amex card and get the miscellaneous charges back in the form of a statement credit on your card.
  • Consider joining the Spirit $9 Club or buying the Frontier “Works” package.  The benefits of the $9 club are that the perks extend to others on your reservation, the bag fees don’t increase during the holidays, and the price of the first checked bag is $21 instead of the increased price $32 during the holidays.  Just be sure to do the math to make sure you are coming out ahead via the joining the $59.95 “$9 club” and that you cancel before it auto renews if you don’t want to stay a member past the first year.  Via the Frontier Works package you pay $49.95 additional for your reservation, but you get freedom from change fees, priority boarding, you can select your seat, and you can have both a checked and carry-on bag.  If you know you are going to want to check and carry-on a bag this is certainly the most cost effective way to do it.


What do you do to keep your bag fees as low as possible when taking advantage of cheap airfare deals on these low cost carriers?

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