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Posted: 1:48 p.m. Friday, June 1, 2012

Spirit Air to test $100 carry-on bag fee

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By Clark Howard


You buy a ticket for $9 and then you pay $100 to take your bag on board? Is that really possible?!

Spirit Air is one carrier that offers seemingly great bargains, but I almost never talk about them on the show because they're not a crowd pleaser. The company seems to have leadership that loves to upset people. Yet they have been doing well financially running the airline the way they do, with low loss leader fares that they pile the junk fees on top of.

So Spirit keeps pushing the envelope and their latest move is they'll charge as much as $100 one way for taking a carry on bag on the plane beginning in November 2012.

The idea is the pain to your wallet intensifies through the weeks leading up to your flight. If you pay for a carry-on or checked bag at the time you buy your ticket, they charge you a lower fee. If you wait until it's time to print your boarding pass, the fee goes up. And if you wait until you get to the airport, that's when you really get clobbered.

By playing this gotcha game and others, Spirit earns more than $100 per passenger in add-on junk fees after you've booked your ticket, according to their latest filings with Wall Street. So if you're considering flying them, be prepared that whatever low fare you may get will actually cost you another $100.

Spirit Air and competitor Allegiant Air are both growing and providing alternatives for people looking for good airfare at time when the fees have been higher and higher. But you've got to be prepared for the gotchas. It's sport to them.

I love capitalism because enterprising folks make specially sized carry-ons that will work on Spirit free of any baggage charge. The deal is if your carry-on will fit between the metal posts under the seat in front of you, you don't pay a fee for it. Once you're on board, you're allowed to put it in the overhead bin for free so you haven't taken away all your leg room.

One seller called CarryOnFree.com has such a demand for their Spirit sized carry-ons that they're sold out. They charge $55 a pop and that's less than the airline's baggage charge. Of course, a carry-on of this size means you'll wear the same clothes over and over again during your trip. But it does help you avoid the charges.

As for me, I can get by with one of those little bags for a week!

Editor's note: This segment originally aired May 3, 2012.

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