Risky Business: Can You Save Money by Purchasing Spirit Tickets at the Airport?

Jan 21, 2019

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I’ve heard stories for a couple years about Spirit Airlines passengers buying tickets for future trips at airport ticket counters to save money. This supposedly works because Spirit puts a ‘Passenger Usage Charge’ on tickets purchased online or over the phone, which it then has to pay a 7.5% federal excise tax on. Booking at the airport with a Spirit agent at the counter means passengers avoid the Usage Charge, and Spirit avoids paying the tax on that portion of the ticket. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to test this out and last week finally had both a need for a Spirit ticket and a coinciding trip to the airport.

I need to fly Atlanta (ATL) to Tampa (TPA) in February for a couple nights and Delta wanted $181 for a basic economy, round-trip ticket. Spirit was asking $73.58 online without any bags or seat selection. With such a price difference, I decided Spirit would be more than adequate for the short hop and found flights online with the following price breakdown for a round trip-ticket on my travel dates:

You can see the $29.98 Passenger Usage Charge above for the ticket, which I hoped to avoid by buying a ticket at the airport. I had a flight down to Orlando (MCO) last week, which has a large Spirit operation, and had some time to kill, so I headed to the Spirit counter to hopefully turn a $74 ticket into a $44 flight.

My Experience Buying At the Airport

I landed at MCO and hopped off the People Mover, walking straight to the Spirit check-in area on the A side of MCO. With Spirit serving almost 40 destinations from Orlando, the Spirit check-in area can be a bit of a mad house. In order to buy a ticket, you have to get in the Agent Assistance line, which depending on the time of day can be rather long.

When my son and I arrived, there were roughly five people in the Agent Assistance line, but only one agent helping the line. A family was at the counter having some sort of problem and it took them about 15 minutes to get sorted. By this time, there were now about 10 people behind me in line and still only the single agent helping. When it became apparent the next passenger to the counter was also going to be a difficult case, I almost threw in the towel on the whole operation as my four-year-old was getting impatient after 20 minutes of not moving and no end of the line in sight. Spirit finally put another agent on the desk and the line started to move.

When it was our turn, I told the agent I wanted to buy a ticket for a couple weeks from now and fed her the flight information. She took my phone number, which apparently allowed her to pull up my FREE Spirit number so I didn’t have to feed her my name and information. She took my credit card and in about three minutes the whole transaction was complete. She gave me a boarding pass card that was my receipt with the booking reference locator. The price for my ticket came out to $62.62, a disappointing $10.96 discount on the round-trip price versus buying online.

The breakdown of the price doesn’t make any sense to me: A $.02 fare and $62.60 in travel fees with taxes of $2.38 that are later taken away. To me, this looks like a rather creative way for Spirit to avoid paying taxes on this ticket.

This isn’t anywhere near the $30 discount I was hoping for when the Passenger Usage Charge shown online should have been taken away. I’ve compared the online breakdown versus the cost of the airport counter ticket and I cannot decipher what makes up a $10.96 difference. After buying my ticket at the counter, I pulled up Spirit.com and confirmed the asking price was still $73.58.

Bottom Line

I was hoping for a $43.60 ticket but instead ended up with a wimpy $11 discount. In the end, however, it’s hard to complain about a $63 round-trip ticket. I’m not sure why I didn’t get the full Passenger Usage Charge removed like others have reported, and after a brief query of the counter agent it was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Perhaps I had a rogue agent or maybe Spirit has changed what is charged when you buy a ticket at the airport.

The best advice I can offer if you’re going to buy Spirit tickets at the airport is to be strategic about when you head to the Spirit counter to buy your ticket. There are plenty of reports of people having to wait an hour or more in the Agent Assistance line. Doing that to save $11 certainly isn’t worth it.

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