My Experience Buying A Spirit Ticket At The Airport

I flew Spirit for the first time earlier this summer. Even though that was my first time actually flying Spirit, I had previously booked a ticket with them. For my mother-in-law.

Go ahead, make a joke.

So having twice booked tickets with Spirit, I was surprised to learn that you can save money by buying your Spirit tickets at the airport. That’s because Spirit classifies part of the ticket cost as a fee which allows them to avoid paying the 7.5% federal excise tax on that amount.

But in order for a fee to be exempt from the tax, there has to be a way for you to avoid paying it. Which Spirit lets you do if you book your tickets at the airport.

In other words, the whole thing is really just a loophole that Spirit uses to cheat pay fewer taxes.

But of course, we can can get the last laugh by actually taking them up on the offer.

We’re not talking chump change here either. Spirit’s so-called “passenger usage charge” is actually $18.99 per ticket, meaning you can save about $19 on a one-way, or $38 per round trip by buying your tickets the old-fashioned way at the airport ticket counter. Multiply that by multiple family members traveling together and the savings add up quickly.

I like to save money as much as the next guy — probably more so — and was therefore really curious as to how this works in practice. Are there any hidden gotchas? Do they make you jump through hoops in order to actually book a ticket? 

I was determined to find out.

My mother-in-law needed to fly from Detroit to Denver in September. That used to be an expensive route, but nowadays it’s highly competitive. On her preferred date, both Frontier and Spirit were selling one-way tickets for $49. That’s kind of incredible in itself. United and Delta were both around $100, though United’s fare was basic economy.

I knew we would be going by the airport in a few days, so figured I would stop and buy the ticket then. The price might have gone up before I got there, but that was a risk I was willing to take.

Arriving at the airport

I arrived at the airport at about 10 AM on a Sunday morning. I parked in the upper level of the garage at rate of $3 per hour, which I knew would cut into my anticipated savings, but whatever, this was research. From there, it was only a three minute walk to the Spirit ticket counter.

As I walked through the terminal, I pulled up Google flights on my phone to verify the current price of the Detroit-Denver ticket. Much to my surprise, the Spirit’s price had actually gone down and was now $44. Wow.

Buying a Spirit ticket at the airport

When I arrived at the Spirit counter, the corral was completely deserted, as there were no passengers waiting to check their bags. I actually hesitated for a moment, not knowing where to go. I mean, when it comes to Spirit, I usually just get in whatever line is available and assume it’s for me!


Spirit ticket counter at Denver International Airport

A friendly Spirit agent saw my momentarily confusion and asked how he could help. I stuttered for a moment, not knowing how to explain what I was trying to do. Eventually I found the words and stumbled through with I‘m trying to buy, uh, I want to buy….  a ticket???

He smiled and invited me up to the counter.

First he asked where I was flying from and to. I told him Detroit to Denver, please.

He asked for the date, and I gave it to him. He then typed for a few moments.

At that point, I asked him what the price of the ticket would be, just to be sure. He informed me the ticket would cost $24.20.

Even though that’s what the math said I should expect after the passenger usage fee was waived, I was still sort of shocked. Who buys an airline ticket for under $25? I thought he might say something like, wow that’s a great deal, but he was really nonchalant about it and acted like he sees this every day. Then again, he works for Spirit, so maybe he does.

Anyway, he then asked me for my drivers license so he could get the correct spelling of my name and thus avoid any typos on the ticket. I told him it was for my mother-in-law, so instead he handed me a baggage tag and asked me to write her name and birth date.

He then gave me a copy of the itinerary to verify that the details were correct. I assured him that they were and handed over my credit card. He also asked for my phone number. Then he issued the ticket and gave me a receipt with the confirmation number on it.

That was it. I had successfully bought a Spirit ticket at the airport, and had saved $18.99 in the process. The best part was that it took no more than five minutes. It was really that easy. There was nothing to it.

Interestingly I later received an email confirmation, despite not giving him my email address. I guess the Spirit computer must have found my account based on the phone number I provided?

Is buying a Spirit ticket at the airport always this easy?

I was curious about how the process works when there is a line, so I asked.

The agent said that those wanting to buy tickets have to wait in the regular line, and he pointed to the side of the corral for folks waiting to check a bag. I asked if you could jump ahead to buy a ticket and he said no, and that’s why they encourage you to come when they aren’t busy. I guess that means that if someone had wanted to buy a ticket that morning in Detroit, they would have had to wait in line for at least an hour. Ouch.

Bottom line

You really can save about $19 by booking your Spirit one-way ticket at the airport. (Or $38 for a round-trip.) The best part is that the process is surprisingly easy, at least if you manage to get there during a slow time of the day like I did. In that case, you can easily be in and out in under five minutes.

Even so, this still won’t be for everyone given that most airports are a bit of a pain to get to. But if you were going to be at the airport anyway, it’s definitely worth considering. And for those who travel as a family, the savings can add up fast. By purchasing their tickets at the airport, a family of five like mine would save about $200 on a family vacation! That’s real money.

Have you ever purchased Spirit tickets at the airport? 

Comments

  1. Uhm…. waiting for the trip review to consider whether the money saved was all worth or not….

    You just buy ticket only? No carry-on and/or luggage or meal?

  2. My brother lives 15 minutes away from Akron-Canton Airport, which is small and has very easy cheap parking–or you could even be dropped off and someone could wait for you.

    Booking Spirit from CAK to MCO you’d save 19.98 on each set. That brings the ROUND TRIP down to $36! Of course that’s before any carry-on fees or extras are added. But that’s just crazy. I’d be tempted to do it myself if I lived out there.

  3. Spirit is awesome, the whole plane boards in under 10 minutes its amazing. Just pay $30 for the Big Front Seat and you still save a lot of money compared to legacy.

  4. I was actually planning on doing this tomorrow. I have to do 2 additional trips in the next month to FL from DC. Since they’re all weekend trips, Spirit will be fine.

  5. I buy Spirit and Frontier tickets at the counter every week, sometimes even hopping between the counters in different terminals to buy them the same day ($3 short term hourly parking)

    WARNING to all is that many of the airport counter agents and supervisors insist that the person buying the tickets has to be flying. I have been turned down buying tickets for my sister in law, or even for my wife when she was not with me or already through security. So if buying for more than 1 person pack everyone in the car.

    Heck if you do this in PIT, now you can make a day trip of it. Stop at Spirit or Frontier to buy tickets for a later date, get a PitPass to go thru security, add to the crowded security lines, and then experience what only ticketed passengers have had the luxury to enjoy up till now: overpriced shopping and crowded restaurant lines at McDonalds in the gate area.

  6. I’m loving the Spirit coverage here! It’s actually tempting me to try it out for shot-haul trips (when I wouldn’t need more than a carry-on).

    I’d probably end up spending what I saved on baggage fee and/or the Big Front Seat. 😀

  7. Be careful, though. Spirit has three “tiers” for fees: purchased with the ticket, purchased online after ticketing, and purchased from an agent. I was told that for luggage, if you buy the ticket from an agent you get charged the higher agent fee for bags. Also, if my math is right, the Big Front Seat was $5 more bought at the airport. My experience also involved a new agent constantly having to wait for the supervisor’s help on a day when several flights were cancelled, so the airport line was hell on earth. We absolutely saved money, but I’m not convinced it was worth my time and effort.

  8. Travis,

    How do bags work when buying a ticket at the airport? It looks like there’s a $10 difference between buying during a website booking and later on (but before check-in), so this could substantially reduce your savings (esp. considering parking etc.) if you need bags but can’t pay for them right when buying the ticket.

  9. Travis: I know you travel a lot with family so here’s a suggestion for a topic. I travel with family (including kids) 25% of the time time, and 75% is business travel. I can never figure out the best way to handle FF earnings for my kids. They don’t fly enough to earn enough to redeem a flight (before the miles expire) and I can’t really use it to upgrade some but not all of us (they’re too small to be separated from us).

    Some FF programs have family pooling, like SAS used to have this, so all their earnings get transferred from their accounts to my account every month. Is this the best way, and if so, what FF programs (in each alliance) allow for this? We fly a range of carriers based on timing and pricing.

  10. I fly spirit from FLL to Myrtle Beach about once a month. Leave Tuesday night and return Thursday morning. My parents live there and I keep a second set of golf clubs in thier garage. I live 15 min from FLL and always by my ticket at the airport. Quick side note: check departure schedule for spirit from the airport you are buying the ticket from. Get to the airport 45 min before a 1hr+ gap in departures. I can get in and out before the 20min of free parking expires. I have paid as little as $50 for a round trip ticket. I play golf with my dad on Wednesday and back to work by noon on Thursday. I always refer to spirit as “the Greyhound with wings.” As long as I greatly lower my expectations I’m normally satisfied with the experience.

  11. To see when the ticket counter will be the slowest I go to the FLL website and click on departures and then click on just spirit flights. It shows all departures with up to date times. When there is a big gap in departure times not many people will be at the ticketing counter 45 min prior to the gap, the ones who are traveling on the last flight before the gap are required by spirit to be checked in 30 min before departure, so most are already through the ticketing counter. I think most airports have this information online. It’s the equivalent of looking at the departure monitor.

  12. I do this often when I fly NK. the one caveat is that sometimes the lines can be long because a lot of other people have figured out this trick.

  13. I’ve been a Spirit flyer for years and have taken full advantage of this savings for many flights. Problem now is that now in Tampa, they have restricted the times you can actually buy tickets at the counter. Trust me, if they can find a way to make flying them more uncomfortable, they do!

  14. Say what you want about Spirit Airlines, you get what you pay for, however I’d rather board their newer fleet of A320/A321 aircraft before I board an aging Alligent fleet of Md80’s. Spirit also does a good job keeping their departure and arrival times, I’m sure they have their delayes and cancellations like all other airlines, but overall they are one of the better US based carriers in that category!!

  15. I have been flying Spirit more than any other airline for the past 5 years. I love them, I live only 10 miles away from the airport, so buying tickets have been easy. I’m single and most of my trips I just travel with a backpack.
    Most of the time, the planes are only a few years old, I’ve even flown on some of them that are only a year old. The flight attendants are always nice and helpful. And one time on an international flight, I missed my connection, and Spirit had me in a hotel with all the expenses paid (cab, dinner, breakfast, hotel) just by telling them my name at the gate. No hassle. I have flown them 3 times free with the miles I have acquired, but it’s not really worth it since their flights are so cheap to begin with and the miles expire so quickly. The only thing that I don’t fancy is the leg room for the seats, I’m 6’6″ so they are a bit tight, but I fit. With all the money saved on tickets, I’ve splurged and got the Big Front Seats a few times. It’s like first class, but for only a few bucks.

    As far as waiting in line when they are busy; often, Spirit has a line for ticket purchases and other things like ticket changes and a line for bag drop. So you don’t have to wait in the long bag drop line.

    Also, the Passenger Usage Charge is not always $18.99. I’ve seen it different prices. Yesterday I was looking at a flight and it was $3.99. So before going to the airport and buying that ticket, make sure and check the charges, Because for me to park at the airport, it cost me $3.00, so the $0.99 saving would not have been a savings that’s worth it on that ticket.

  16. Lol I heard it’s the cheapest Spirit and more problems happen on there flights I hope not I bought a cheap ticket to Myrtle Beach for a weekend 82.00

  17. Spirit is the worst! Nastiest representatives,dirty planes. I believe using another airline I’m pretty sure I won’t get sick. I will pay for a cleaner plane and much nicer attendants. The $9 flight is a joke!

  18. I also use this trick. My best deals were a red eye from Denver to FLL for $30 one way and New Orleans to ATL for $20. I find the low fare carriers great for short, solo trips. Fortunately I’m barely 5’2 so leg room not as much of a concern. Traveling alone means I don’t need a seat next to a companion. I usually take a small under seater type bag so no extra cost there either. I would spend more money on a standard airline for long trips.

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