Buying Cheaper Tickets at the Airport — Reader Success Story

Apr 15, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Robbie, who saved $80 on a flight to South America:

My girlfriend is living in Lima, Peru, and I planned to visit her this spring. I generally just try to find the cheapest rate, so I was looking at Spirit flights from the East Coast for around $500 round-trip. I had flown Spirit once before and had a good experience, so even though I was hesitant to take a long layover in Fort Lauderdale (FLL), I decided to give it a chance and book when the price was right. I started watching fares and saw they went up and down regularly by around $10-20.

Then I found some articles about how you can save on Spirit flights by purchasing tickets at the airport, indicating you could eliminate the “passenger usage fee” to reduce the cost of a flight by roughly $20 for each leg. I saw that flights from Philadelphia (PHL) to Lima (LIM) dropped to $447 round-trip, and they included a usage fee of around $40 each way. That made buying at the airport even more enticing, and since I was heading to Philadelphia the next day anyway, I thought I’d try it.

Apart from the obstacle of getting to the airport, it worked perfectly. I noticed both the fare and the usage fee had changed a little by the time I got there — changing fares is part of the game, but I don’t know why the fee amount would change. In any case, after investing a little time, I’m heading to Peru for two weeks for $367 round-trip!

The passenger usage charge is spelled out in Spirit’s general terms and conditions. Most reservations incur a fee of $19.99 per passenger per segment, though it may be lower on some discounted fares. Akin to hotel resort fees that skirt local taxes, the passenger usage charge lets Spirit off the hook for the 7.5% federal excise tax charged on airfare. It’s ostensibly a fee for the privilege of booking online, and to keep it legal, Spirit has to make the fee avoidable by offering an alternative. As a result, the passenger usage charge is explicitly waived for bookings made at Spirit airport locations, so you can save by buying tickets at the counter like Robbie did.

The question is whether those savings are worth the extra effort. You might run into long lines at the ticketing counter, and anecdotal evidence suggests you won’t always get as much of a discount as you expect. If you wait to buy until your next airport visit, you also risk having any savings wiped out by rising airfare (in fairness, those savings could instead be amplified if prices go down). On the other hand, the usage fee is charged to each passenger individually, so the potential savings multiply when you’re buying tickets for a group.

If you’re already departing from or arriving at an airport with a Spirit ticketing counter, or if getting to your local airport is easy, then there’s little harm in trying — you can always bail if the line is too long. If you’re just passing through on a layover, you’ll have to exit the secure area to reach the ticketing counter, so factor the extra time spent getting through security again into your plans. Please share your own experiences with this strategy in the comments below, including any tips you have for streamlining the process, and let everyone know whether you think it was worthwhile.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Robbie a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by baona / Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.