Why I paid $55 to bring a carry-on bag — and would do it again

Apr 29, 2021

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Spirit is an interesting airline.

Personally, I appreciate the carrier’s quirky approach to flying and low-fares-first attitude. I don’t mind that the seats are smaller than many others or that the planes are the color of a bright, yellow highlighter. I like the affordable prices, and sometimes that matters more to me than legroom, lounges or perks.

But we all have a line we won’t cross to save a buck. And I found mine at the Spirit check-in counter at Orlando International Airport (MCO) when flying home to Houston with my two kids.

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With Spirit, it’s usually cheaper to check a full-sized bag than it is to bring a carry-on. The reason: to speed up boarding and get more use out of each plane every day. This is true whether you take the opportunity to lock in bag fees when you book your ticket or wait until the day of travel when the prices for some bag fees have increased by 45% or more.

The only free carry-on you typically get with the airline is a personal item the size of a purse, computer bag or small backpack. Anything larger comes with a fee. Unfortunately, on this trip, a backpack’s worth of stuff didn’t cut it.

In my case, I actually had access to one free carry-on bag and one free checked bag thanks to Spirit Gold status in the airline’s revamped frequent flyer program that launched in early 2021. Spirit gifted me this status as a way to test out the perks, but Spirit status is also available through a match if you have status with another airline.

Related: Things to know before flying Spirit Airlines

The one free carry-on bag I’m awarded worked as intended on my reservation, but I’d planned to check the second carry-on-size bag we had with us since that would also be free with my status perks.

I expected a line to check the bag, but unfortunately, one look at the check-in line that snaked around the Orlando Spirit ticketing area, and I knew there was no way I was going to save a few bucks by investing that amount of time in checking our second bag. There easily could have been between 75 and 100 people in line, and it wasn’t moving along very quickly.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Instead, I went to a Spirit kiosk that had no line and paid a whopping $55 to have my daughter carry on our second bag for the two-hour flight home.

I’ve paid some crazy prices when I’ve found myself in a pinch during a trip, but I’ve never paid that much money to carry a bag onto an airplane. In fact, that bag fee was $13 more than the ticket itself. But ending a busy weekend at Disney World with two kids in an extremely long line that didn’t end with a fun roller coaster ride wasn’t the last memory I wanted us to have of this vacation.

Related: What are Spirit Airlines miles worth?

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you find yourself cramming your belongings into one larger bag instead of several smaller ones or simply want to avoid the expense of bringing a carry-on bag, remember to take your mental health into consideration before heading to the airport.

While not all Spirit check-in counters have lines as long as the one we saw in Orlando the other day, it’s certainly not uncommon. So, ultimately, I paid $55 to skip the line — saving time was the better deal in this scenario and we still came out ahead over what tickets home on another airline would have cost. For others, or at other times, saving the cash and investing the time in line would be the more valuable option.

But deciding to forgo that wait was only an option for us because our second suitcase was carry-on sized. If we’d packed a single, larger suitcase instead, we wouldn’t have had an alternative.

Before you head off on your next no-frills Spirit flight (or with any carrier that uses a similar bag fee pricing structure), ensure that checking a bag is really worth the dollars you might save. It can cost you a whole lot of time and sanity in exchange for savings. There are undoubtedly more Spirit flights in my future, but I’ll be thinking twice before planning to check a bag at one of Spirit’s busy airport locations with no self-checking alternative.

If you decide that checking a bag really is the way to go, allow more time at the airport than you think you’ll need — and consider bringing snacks and water for the wait, too.

Feature photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy.

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