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November 1, 2010

Spirit Airlines: They Believe in Full Disclosure?

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:00 am

Spirit Airlines advertised a $1 airfare sale a few months back. One dollar for a one-way flight? Two dollars roundtrip? Impossible!

Of course, the little asterisk indicates that taxes and fees are additional. How much extra? You have to look in three places on their website to find all the extra costs, which we consolidated in the chart below.


The quoted fare does not include the following taxes and fees that may apply to your air travel:

– September 11th Security Fee: A September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 applies per enplanement originating at a U.S. airport up to $10 per roundtrip.
– Domestic Segment Tax: A segment tax of $3.70 per U.S. domestic flight segment (a flight segment is defined as one takeoff and landing).
– Passenger Facility Charges (PFC): Up to $18 per round trip per passenger in local airport charges.
– Passenger Usage Fee: Passenger Usage Fee of $8 per traveling customer per one way travel applies to all reservations with the exception of those bookings created directly at Spirit Airlines’ airport locations.
– To view and obtain these fares you must be logged in as a member of the Spirit Airlines $9 Fare Club — if not already enrolled, please go to www.spiritair.com for details on how to become a member of the Spirit Airlines $9 Fare Club. [Membership costs $39.95]
– Overhead carry-on luggage checked at the gate: $45

So how much could a $2 roundtrip fare wind up costing, assuming non-stop flights in both directions, with one carry-on and no checked luggage? If you add up everything listed above, including the $9 club membership fee, the total is a whopping $178.35 for what was advertised as a $1 fare each way!

It seems if any company really believed in full disclosure, they would not advertise come-on fares that bear no relationship to the actual charges the customer will face.

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  1. Spirit Air believes in full fees. They are the Bank of America of the airlines, except they aren’t as big. Haven’t yet figured out why anyone uses either

    Comment by Dave — November 1, 2010 @ 7:32 am
  2. There is not much you can do against the taxes but they definately were not upfront about their own fees.

    Comment by Martin — November 1, 2010 @ 11:43 am
  3. I agree with your assessment 100%. Full disclosure this is not. Deceptive is what it is. That said, even if the ticket really was $1 in fare with no other charges from Spirit, it would still end up costing $22.40 for a non-stop round-trip ($1 fare [which includes an embedded 10% transportation tax], $5 security fee, $7.40 segment tax, and $9 PFC), or up to $43.80 if you had to change planes each way, thanks to various government fees and taxes. Travel is one of the most heavily taxed purchases. Government bloodsuckers!

    Comment by Richard — November 1, 2010 @ 11:48 am
  4. Why do people so frequently pick on airlines for not including taxes in the advertised price? Very few other businesses do. The mattress store doesn’t include sales tax in their prices. The car commercials don’t include the taxes in the prices. Neither do the department store or supermarket circulars in my newspaper. Almost no stores in the mall I visit put the after-tax price on the shelf or price tag. When I go to restaurants, the menu prices don’t include the taxes. Do people call their prices deceptive? Why do people criticize the airlines in particular for not advertising the taxes when it’s rare for anyone else to do it either?

    Full disclosure: I am an airline employee. These views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

    Edgar replies: The reason airline ads are being picked on is that the number of extra fees and taxes charged by airlines is much greater than a simple state sales tax. In fact, DOT regs require all these to be stated IN THE ADVERTISEMENT.

    From one DOT document:

    “…we have discovered a serious problem with price advertising on the websites of a number of major airlines and large Internet travel agencies. Under 14 CFR 399.84, fare advertisements by air carriers or their agents must state the full fare charged the consumer. The intent of the rule is to ensure that members of the public are given adequate fare information on which to base their airline travel purchasing decisions. Failure to state the full fare in advertisements, in addition to violating the rule, constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice and an unfair method of competition in violation of 49 U.S.C. 41712.

    The Department has provided interpretive guidance on the rule and, through a number of enforcement-related consent orders, has recognized certain exceptions to the “full fare” advertising standard. In accordance with this enforcement case precedent, the Department has allowed taxes and fees collected by carriers and other sellers of air transportation, such as passenger facility charges (PFCs) and departure taxes, to be stated separately in fare advertisements so long as the charges are levied by a government entity, are not ad valorem in nature, are collected on a per-passenger basis, and their existence and amount are clearly indicated in the advertisement so that the consumer can determine the full fare to be paid.”

    As noted in the post, I had to look in three different places to come up with the total price.

    Comment by Patrick — November 2, 2010 @ 12:10 pm
  5. So, you’re complaining that the amounts the government doesn’t require to be included in the price are not included in the price. The taxes are the “certain exceptions” noted in paragraph 2. The ad discloses that these charges are additional.

    Furthermore, your comment that the taxes are more than sales tax is misguided. Are you implying that it would be acceptable not to disclose taxes if they were less than the amount of sales tax? Surely not. And you’re simply wrong in saying “taxes charged by airlines.” The airlines do not charge the taxes–they are imposed by the goverments and airports, as noted in the second paragraph of your DOT document. Richard noted already the extent of these charges, but he missed the fact that the ad does link directly to a listing of the fees, as guided by the DOT document.

    Bag fees are a red herring. You’re complaining that optional fees, such as an overhead carry-on (yes, it is optional, as you can stow a bag under your seat at no charge or travel without luggage, both of which I regularly do), also not required to be included in the price, aren’t included in the price. If I go into McDonald’s and order a cheeseburger, it doesn’t come with a free drink. When I go to a movie, it doesn’t come with free popcorn. A new car has options, cable service has options, pizzas can have toppings. Virtually everything you buy has options. You don’t need to bring a bag along to take advantage of the primary product–a flight. If you want one, that’s a choice. If you don’t like the business model, then decide with your wallet.

    This ad meets the governmental requirement as it discloses in the ad that there are additional taxes and fees, which are easily accessible by clicking the link that goes directly to the Terms and Conditions (one place, not three) describing the taxes at length. It’s disingenuous to cite a regulation that is fully met by the ad you are complaining about. And my question still stands and is actually further illustrated by your response: why are airlines required to disclose all taxes and fees in an ad but very few other businesses are subject to similar requirements?

    Full Disclosure once again: I am an airline employee. These views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

    Comment by Patrick — November 2, 2010 @ 1:45 pm
  6. Aw, c’mon, the real price is a mere 17,700% higher than the quoted price. Why quibble over such a miniscule difference? 😀

    Comment by Kyralessa — November 2, 2010 @ 9:20 pm
  7. That ad had the nice big $1 and then you do the search to find out what else. Government fees are a given. But I have long been cautious of any “Club” such as Spirit does or BJ’s or Sam’s. Pay to buy? I have never flown Spirit nor would I care to do so. Just their corporate foolishness with a carry-on seals that deal. Soon they can join that long list of low end carriers who have been absorbed or gone belly-up.

    Comment by Rick — November 3, 2010 @ 4:02 pm
  8. “[Membership costs $39.95]”

    Actually, just checked on the site. Here is what it now says:

    Join today and start saving – enroll below in an annual membership for only ****$59.95.**** (Stars added for emphasis) Your membership will be renewed automatically each anniversary from your date of sign up. You may cancel at anytime within your FREE SPIRIT profile.

    Comment by Melissa — November 17, 2010 @ 9:01 pm
  9. This was the first and last time I will ever fly Spirit Airlines.
    First they charged me $90 to make an reservation via phone. There was a statement in the intro a fee may be added..$90 for a 300 flight.
    Then they charge me for check bags, and carry on bags (which I did want and payed for). So I called (India) and they said they did not make a mistake. So I requested my check bag id number…guss what they did not have one. Sooooo. there must of been a mistake, of course no refund for their mistake but I will get travel credits. ON A CARRIER I WILL NEVER FLY ON AGAIN>>>>>>

    Comment by Deno Skra — September 29, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

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