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Beware of Low Airfare Deals

Updated on August 2, 2020

Seattle Airport


Leisure Travel

I am a leisure traveler, which means that I don't fly very often. In fact, on average I probably only book a flight every two years and my trips tend to be for just one or two weeks. My trips are usually to visit family, and I remain within the US borders. I do travel occasionally for work, but not frequently enough to obsess about earning rewards or points.

The Majority of Travel is Booked Online

Travel agencies are pretty scarce these days because the internet makes everything so easy to find and purchase, without ever leaving your home. These are three sites that I use to compare rates and book trips. Expedia tends to be my go-to site for airfare, hotel and car rentals, but the two additional sites also have great options.

I was planning a trip to visit my parents during Christmas, and began my search for a round-trip airfare deal from Houston to Las Vegas. I logged into Expedia and set up my search criteria based on price, departure times with direct flights. I found a trip in July for a little more than $200 and booked it. My biggest mistake was not reading the fine print, and not knowing about additional charges at check-in.

Unexpected Fees: Luggage, Carry-on and Seat Selection

I logged in the day before my flight to download my boarding pass. I was shocked to discover additional and MANDATORY CHARGES. I was expected to make the following purchases:

  • Select and purchase my seat (each way) at a minimum charge of $10 each way
  • Pay for my checked bag. This is a normal process
  • Pay for my Carry-On bag

I read through my confirmation email from Expedia to see if I had missed the fine print. The email reminded me to “Remember to bring your itinerary and government-issued photo ID for airport check-in and security.”

There was a benign message referencing seat assignment, which read: “Seat assignments, special meals, frequent flyer point awards and special assistance requests should be confirmed directly with the airline.”

There was also information that tickets are “nonrefundable, nontransferable and name changes are not allowed.”

There was also the opt-in language that I had agreed to receive email from Expedia, “You are receiving this transactional email based on a recent booking or account-related update on Expedia.”

There was nothing amiss in the email from Expedia and there is no hidden language. There was no expectation that I would end up paying double for my trip, before I ever arrived at the gate.

Screenshot of Spirit's promotion

Read the Fine Print for Spirit Airlines

I visited the Spirit Airlines website to check in and print my boarding pass. I felt like I was being held hostage. Either I could pay the outrageous fees, or I could “Purchase a Spirit Membership” for $59 to join the $9 Fare Club Member. I compared the Spirit member prices against the non-member prices and could tell that either way, and they were only going to save me about $50. I grudgingly paid the $59 Membership Fee and proceeded with the online check-in process so I could print my boarding pass.

The fine print at the bottom of the Spirit Fare Club Enrollment page included this little message:

  1. 50% discount based on first checked bag at $9 fare club rate bought online before check-in compared with airport pricing
  2. Benefits apply to you and up to 8 additional passengers on your itinerary. Passengers must be reserved on the same booking confirmation number as the $9 fare club member in order to receive fare and/or bag savings

Mandatory Fees Charged by Spirit Airlines

I received an email confirmation from Spirit about the $59 New Membership. It was wrapped up with the Flight (previously paid for with a third party), so that confused me. The email confirmation also included the cost of my checked bags and carry-on bag (one each, going each way), the cost of my seat (one way only….), the $9 Fare Club which cost me $59.95, and seven additional fees that I was not expecting. The Mandatory Fees that Spirit Airlines forced me to pay was more than the cost of my original round-trip ticket. The total amount of fees was $283.72, and my ticket (purchased in July) was $202.51.

I didn’t feel like I had any travel alternatives because my flight was scheduled to depart the next morning. The flight was non-refundable, and I could have absorbed that cost. However, booking a new ticket with another carrier at the last minute would have cost me several hundred more dollars.

Original Airfare Cost + Spirit Airlines Fees

The Real Cost of Carry On and Checked Luggage Charged by Spirit Airlines


$100 Carry-On Fee

The customer service agent that checked my bags asked me if I had any carry-on items. He also told me that if I did not declare my carry-on items at the counter, that it would cost me $100 at the gate.

Poll Question

Have you ever seen the TSA respond to an unruly traveler?

See results

Did Somebody Say BOMB in the Airport?!

When I arrived at the terminal to check my bag, a man joined the line behind me. He wasn’t just complaining a ‘little bit’ about the airlines. He was speaking as if he wanted everyone within 50’ to hear his complaint. He claimed that Spirit Airline had bent him over and rammed him from behind. He voiced discontent about being violated. I nodded in agreement but did not want to engage him in further conversation, so I turned my back to him.

I successfully checked my luggage, picked up my carry-on, and headed to the long line at security. As the line of people snaked through the queue and I made it past the half-way mark, when I heard a man’s voice. At first it was just loud. But then he became so loud that everyone stopped talking to each other, stopped talking on their cell phones and stopped texting to look around to find out who was being so blatantly rude.

At that moment, this passenger said, and I quote, “If they would just send a BOMB and kill all the Muslims, we wouldn’t have this problem.” Yes, he said the word, 'bomb' in an International airport in Texas and the TSA did nothing. I expected a team of agents to force travelers aside so they could get to him, and get him out of line. The TSA was within hearing distance and they completely ignored him. They literally did nothing about what he said.

I Cancelled the Spirit $9 Fare Club


Cancel the Membership Fee

I felt like I was forced to buy the $9 Fare Club membership for $59.95. I carefully read the fine print before I enrolled in the club. Spirit Airlines does provide the opportunity to cancel membership within 365 days. When I returned from my trip, I logged into my account and was able to successfully cancel the membership. However, I never received the $59.95 refund from Spirit. I'll take that as a lesson learned, and never use that carrier again, and I will never recommend them to anyone.

As a consumer, this is one of the worst rip offs that I have ever experienced. I hope this information will help other travelers avoid the same consequences. The fees that were added on by Spirit Airlines for my round-trip ticket would have cost a family of four, well over $1,000 if each person checked one bag and carried on one bag.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Michelle Orelup


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