When he flies Spirit Airlines, Jose Severino asks for a free cup of ice instead of paying for water, brings one personal item with him, and would rather ship luggage to his destination than pay $100 or more to travel with it.
“It’s cheaper to mail it,” the 32-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident said on a recent afternoon, waiting for his flight to leave Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
Much of Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit’s business model is based on offering low-cost flights and then a series of charges, including recently increased baggage fees that vary when paid for online, by phone, at an airport counter or at the boarding gate.
And while some such as Severino try to avoid those fees, the charges are making up a bigger portion of Spirit’s business.
The average passenger paid $71.85 for a ticket and $49.80 in additional fees in the third quarter, according to documents the publicly traded airline filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
The average ticket price dropped 12 percent compared to the third quarter of 2011, but nonticket revenue increased about 12 percent. Nonticket revenues account for about 40 percent of passenger revenues.
Even for a frequent Spirit customer such as Severino, there is one fee he did not know could be potentially avoided, albeit with some hassles.
The airline, the prime carrier out of Atlantic City International, has a controversial “passenger usage fee,” which can cost $16.99 on a one-way flight in most cases.
Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the airline’s passenger usage fee is not charged to customers who make reservations at one of its airport ticket counters.
Pinson said the fee is charged to cover sales distribution transaction costs and miscellaneous third-party expenses.
George Hobica, the founder of New York-based price tracker airfarewatchdog.com, said that fee in particular may be difficult for most fliers to avoid.
He said people would have to travel to the airport just to reserve a ticket and potentially pay for parking. (Atlantic City International offers free temporary parking for up to one hour).
“I think they realize most people are not going to do that because it’s inconvenient,” he said.
Hobica said the use of the passenger booking fee is not a trend among major airlines, but is used by two ultra-low cost carriers: Spirit and Allegiant.
“So far we haven’t seen anything like that,” Hobica said of airline industry trends.
Instead, Hobica said, larger airlines may begin to copy American Airlines’ recent initiative to bundle some fees into economy class roundtrip fares for an additional $68 to $88.
This includes checked bags, no change fees to switch reservations, an in-flight alcoholic beverage and some other perks.
“If other airlines follow that model, we may see kind of a revolution in pricing,” he said.
Tracy Hanna, a 29-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., who was flying Spirit out of the local airport, bought her ticket online.
She could have saved some money had she paid for her bags in advance, but said it was too complicated when booking the flight.
So too would be the process of driving to an airport to reserve a ticket, she said.
“That’s too much trouble,” she said. “I wouldn’t go through all that.”
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