Outrageous or Smart? Spirit Airlines Raises Its Carry on Fee to $100

Travelers wait in a crowded airport.By Micheline Maynard
Spirit Airlines is known as the Ryanair of American carriers. It charges low fares, but has come up with fees that catch many travelers off guard. And here's one that will make disorganized travelers gasp.

Spirit will now charge $100 at the gate - more than double what fliers had to pay before - if you did not pay a carry on fee before you got to the airport. The last-minute carry on fee had been $45. The new fee takes effect Nov. 6. You can read more about this at the Detroit Free Press.

Now, that's not the final word in carry on fees, because Spirit is raising other charges, too. You'll now pay $35 to book your carry on fee on the Web, up from $30. If you pay for a carry on at the airport counter, it will cost you $50, up from $40. You can still carry on a personal item that fits under a seat, like a briefcase or purse, for free. (Thank goodness. We'd hate to pay to bring our wallet on board.)

More On Forbes: For Spirit Airlines, Low Fares, but Plenty of Optional Fees

Spirit is one of just two American carriers that charge for carry on bags. The other is Allegiant. Many airlines, of course, charge baggage fees (Southwest still allows two bags free) and there are many fees for oversized bags, surfboards, animals, and the like.

In a tweet this morning, Spirit said, "We don't want anyone to pay $100 to check a bag at the gate!" (Then, you might ask, why is it charging that much?) The company's press release explains that it is setting the fee deliberately high so that people will pay for carry ons in advance.

That's much the same as the Ryanair strategy of charging a fee for printing out a boarding pass at the airport. A family's complaint caused the CEO of Ryanair to declare that some passengers are "stupid" for not knowing the rules. At least Spirit isn't going that far.

More On Forbes: Ryanair CEO Calls Customers 'Stupid'

Says Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Tony Lefebvre: "Spirit offers our customers multiple opportunities to avoid this unnecessary fee and save money. By planning ahead and paying for bags before getting to the boarding gate, our customers are saving time at the airport and speeding up the boarding process. When our customers choose these time-saving, self-service options, our costs go down, and we can pass those savings along to our customers."

For instance, checking a suitcase online costs a mere $20 if you're a member of the $9 fare club. Standard suitcase checking costs $25, the same as the major airlines, at least for the first bag.

Spirit does this to make money, of course, and the strategy is working. Forbes.com contributor Mickey Meece looked at Spirit's financial status recently, and discovered the company has staged a comeback from a near bankruptcy to success, by charging fees like $3 for water and $2 for animal crackers. Analysts expect the company to have a strong 2012, in part because of its big cash hoard.

Just how many Spirit passengers will make it to a gate without paying in advance for their carry on remains to be seen. But Spirit is likely to become as famous for its $100 bag fee as it is for its fares.

More On Forbes:

The 10 Worst U.S. Cities For Travel Taxes
America's Top Historic Hotels
10 Must-Visit Fall Foliage Destinations