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.
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?