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The Tricky Way to Save $40+ on Spirit & Other Budget Airlines

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Budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant are notorious for their low fares in exchange for high fees on baggage, seat selection, and … well, almost everything. But if you're flying one of these low-cost carriers, you might be paying a fee of $40 or more per ticket without even knowing it.

Spirit tacks on a “Passenger Usage Charge” of up to $23 per segment. Allegiant levies a $22 “Carrier Usage Charge.” Minnesota's Sun Country joined the ranks by charging a $22 (or more) “Passenger Interface Charge.” But they're all the same thing: A fee for booking flights online.

Yes, really: In the 21st century, budget airlines are charging passengers more for the convenience of booking their flights online – whether you book directly with the airline or through a third-party site like Expedia – or by phone. These additional booking fees are shockingly common though still little-known, even among frequent flyers.

Budget airlines are counting on it escaping travelers' attention. And they're hoping you don't realize there's a fairly easy way to save that $40 or more in fees: By booking your flights at the airport instead.


Why This Works

No major U.S. carriers like American, Delta, United, or even Southwest levy a similar charge for doing so. But in the world of budget airlines – which make their real money charging passengers for extras like seat assignment, bags, and even water onboard – this fee is widespread.

From the large budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier to newcomers like Breeze and Avelo, every low-cost carrier calls it something different. But they're all essentially identical: A fee for booking online or by phone. And given many of these airlines sell flights for $40 each way or less, that fee can eat up a majority of what passengers are actually paying for their flights.

Take, for example, this one-way Spirit ticket from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Las Vegas (LAS) for under $39. The fare itself is less than $1, while various government taxes add a few bucks more. But the airline's “Passenger Usage Charge” of nearly $23 each way comprises nearly 60% of the ticket cost!


spirit fare


Why don't these carriers just raise their actual fares? Airlines are on the hook to pay a 7.5% federal excise tax on their fares … but not for these separate fees.

The same is true for extras like seats, bags, and more. Charging these fees separately rather than simply building them into the actual airfare means low-cost carriers can drastically reduce how much of their revenue they need to fork over to the federal government. That's a big part of the reason why all these add-ons are such a core part of budget airlines' business models.

But there's a hitch. To consider it a fee instead of airfare, airlines have to make it optional – it's up to you whether you bring a bag, right? There's just one way to avoid these online booking fees: The airport workaround.

Buying your tickets with low-cost carriers in person at the airport means you can bypass these fees altogether. Is it worth a trip to the airport to save $40 or more on a ticket? That depends on how many tickets you're buying … and what it takes for you to get to the airport.

But first, let's look at the U.S. airlines that tack on this pesky fee.


Airlines That Charge Online Booking Fees

Scan the list, and you'll see that almost every budget airline in the country – big and small, new and old – tacks on an additional booking fee.

Exactly what it's called and how much it costs varies from airline to airline. The fees have increased over time, too: What used to be a surcharge of just $13 or so each way just a few years ago has increased to at least $20 or more on most budget carriers. In some cases, it adds $50 or more each way to the cost of your ticket.

No matter what airline you book, you'll be paying these fees on budget carriers whether you:

  • Book online directly through the airline's website
  • Book online through a third-party online travel agency like Expedia, Hopper, and many more
  • Book by phone

Some airlines tack on a flat fee no matter what flights you're booking, while the online booking penalty varies for others.


Allegiant Air

Allegiant levies what it calls an Electronic Carrier Usage Charge on every ticket. It's a flat $22 per passenger, per segment fee.


allegiant fee disclosure


That means it adds $44 on each and every Allegiant roundtrip ticket when you book online or by phone. Head to the airport instead, and you could book this $80 roundtrip fare from Baltimore (BWI) to Sarasota (SRQ) for just $36 total.


allegiant fee



Avelo Air

Avelo is one of the nation's newest low-cost carriers, but it took a page out of the older budget airlines' playbook with these fees.

Avelo calls it a “Carrier Electronic Usage Charge.” As of publication, the airline says it adds “up to $27” per passenger, per segment. That means it could add as much as $54 to the cost of your roundtrip ticket, though you might see smaller surcharges.


avelo carrier electornic usage charge


But it's hard to determine exactly how much you could save by booking Avelo flights in person. Unlike most carriers on this list, Avelo never explicitly discloses how much in Carrier Electronic Usage Charges are built into the cost of the fare.


avelo fees


Breeze Airways

Breeze is another relatively new low-cost carrier, operating flights between smaller cities up and down the East Coast and Deep South. And its online booking fee is among the worst.

Breeze lists a “Technology Development Charge” on its website, but doesn't list how much that fee is. In practice, it ranges from under $20 to $40 or more per person, each way. Some passengers have noticed fees as large as $54 each way!

On this $72 one-way flight from Akron (CAK) to Fort Myers (RSW), for example, the airline is tacking on a $33 charge for booking online.


breeze carrier fee


But Breeze also makes it harder to avoid this fee by booking flights at the airport. The airline says it will only sell tickets in-person during a two-hour window once a week: on Tuesdays, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, as of publication.


Frontier Airlines

Frontier levies what it calls a “CIC”, or “Carrier Interface Charge.” As of publication, Frontier says it charges “up to $23” per passenger, per segment.

That's what you'll almost always see when booking online with Frontier on all but the cheapest tickets. So while there's a $23 charge on this roughly $39 one-way fare from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Denver (DEN) …


frontier carrier interface charge


… it's just $4 when that same route drops below $19 each way.


frontier charge


Spirit Airlines

Spirit is the airline most Americans think of when the words “low-cost carrier” come up. So of course, Spirit charges this fee, too.

With Spirit, it's called a “Passenger Usage Charge.” Exactly how much that costs you when booking online varies, though it appears to be capped at $22.99 as of publication. Sometimes, it's closer to just $10 or so.

See our Spirit Airlines Baggage Fees guide to learn how to save even more when flying Spirit.


spirit passenger usage charge


Sun Country Airlines

Sun Country quietly joined the ranks of airlines tacking on these sneaky fees back in April 2022.

As of publication, Sun Country adds a “passenger interface charge” of at least $22 per segment, per passenger – an extra $44 or more on every roundtrip ticket.


passenger interface charge sun country


And that's not a flat, $22 each way fee – it could be even more. Sun Country's terms clearly state they charge “from $22 per passenger, per segment,” leaving the door open to an even steeper surcharge.

Unlike most other carriers on this list that break out these extra fees, Sun Country does not – the airline simply lists the total cost, which it says “includes all applicable air taxes, fees, and carrier-imposed charges.” That makes it difficult to determine exactly how much you can save by buying tickets at the airport.

Is it $22 each way … or even more?

Read more: Sun Country Now Adds a Sneaky Fee of $44 (or More) … But You Can Avoid It


Book Your Tickets at the Airport to Save

Saving $20 or more on your (already cheap) budget airline ticket sounds awesome, right? Well, here's the catch: you have to go to the airport to avoid this fee.

For some, this will be easy and well worth the trouble – especially if you're booking flights for the whole family, live close to the airport, or can simply buy more tickets while you're already at the airport for a flight. For others, it would add too much in gas and parking or Uber fees for it to make sense.

Just keep in mind: You're buying your ticket in advance and then returning home – not buying tickets the day of your flight.

Here's how to prepare for your budget airline ticket booking at the airport:

  • Know exactly which flight you want to book (with a few backup options) before you go. Use Google Flights to find the cheapest flights that work, determine how much you can save by bypassing these fees, and then head to the airport to buy them.
  • If you're going to the airport soon for a trip anyway, plan to leave some extra time to purchase a future flight at the desk before going through security or before heading home.
  • Make sure your airline is open for ticketing … and that could be a major challenge with some carriers. Spirit's preferred ticketing hours are fairly generous at many airports, while Allegiant's airport ticketing hours leave just an hour or two once a week at some locations. Breeze will only sell tickets in person on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, while a Sun Country spokeswoman said the airline can sell tickets at its Minneapolis hub during normal operating hours. Here's Frontier's airport ticketing information and Avelo ticketing hours.
  • Have a plan for the most affordable to get to the airport. Whether that's taking public transit, parking at an affordable ramp, or having a friend drop you off and pick you up, that's up to you! Just calculate whether the cost of driving to and/or parking at the airport is worth the money you'll save.
  • Unfortunately, not every budget airline ticket agent will play so nice – and some may have never sold a ticket before. Prepare to be persistent to ensure you get the entire fee waived.
  • These savings may come at a slight cost: steeper baggage fees. Many budget airlines like Spirit offer the lowest prices for carry-on bags or checked luggage when you buy them during the checkout process online – and that's not always an option when you go to purchase at the airport. Give it a shot, but keep in mind you might be on the hook for slightly higher baggage and other fees by modifying your ticket online afterward.

With your fares picked out and a plan in place, head to the airport for your fee-free budget airline ticket.


Bottom Line

Is this little-known trick worth the savings? That depends on how much it saves you per ticket, how many tickets you need to buy, and what it costs you (in money and time) to get to the airport to avoid paying these pesky fees.

In the end, only you can decide. But this is a potentially easy way to make your cheap flights even cheaper.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

17 Responses

  • So you cannot do this if you are flying that day? I have been making a habit of buying last minute tickets in the morning of an afternoon departure. If I got there a little early, could I Book the same flight the day of to just head to Security?

    • Hi Paul! There doesn’t seem to be any problem with booking that day at the airport. Of course, you’d be subject to ticket availability, but this fee avoidance should work whether you’re buying a ticket for months in the future or the week of.

    • Hi,

      I waited 3 hours at Frontier to buy a ticket. They asked that I waited until after boarding. They never came back to sell me a ticket. Over 4 hours lost at MSP airport and no ticket.

      KS St. Paul MN

  • Tricky? What’s tricky? How’s it more tricky than nearly every credit card points work around this site pushes out. You make it sounds like saving money on flights and beating the ULCC’s at their own game is less than honorable. How about changing the title of your post from tricky to smart. A smart way to save…
    As timing would have it I was just at MSP last evening buying both Spirit and Frontier flights and saved a lot of cash. Parked at the light rail lot and rode the train into the terminal. I literally bought a MSP-TTN on November 4 for $3 one way nonstop on Frontier. And on Spirit FLL-MSP nonstop January 20 for $42. Saved over $40. I’ve done this multiple times before and alway will when it makes sense. I calculated how much I’ve saved in total since I learned of this option and it’s approaching $500.

    • Hi Ab, thanks for your message! Our apologies — it was meant to be “tricky” as in it’s tricky the airlines make you do this to save, not tricky of those who do it. Great to hear you’re able to use this method to save nearly $500 on your flights — we love to hear that 🙂

  • I priced a trip on their Website from MCO to CLO, and am seeing the following in the price breakdown:

    Flight $75.02
    Regulatory Compliance Charge $28
    Fuel Charge $48.00
    Passenger Usage Charge $45.98
    Passenger Usage Fee to Colombia $22.99

    What is the difference between the “Passenger Usage Charge” and the “Passenger Usage Fee,” and can both be avoided if the tickets are purchased at the airport?

    • Hi Andrew! Which airline are you looking at this booking with? The Passenger Usage Charge on Spirit is usually around $18 per one-way flight, and is what can be avoided by booking at the airport. I haven’t seen a Passenger Usage Charge and a Passenger Usage Fee both on the same ticket.

  • When you go to the counter, what exactly do you ask? Just let them know the tickets you want and hopefully they’ll automatically be dropped? I want to make sure to get the great deal, but want to be prepared 🙂

  • I thought frontier airlines charged you to book a flight with an agent at the airport. When they did have customer service to call they charged a fee to book with a representative over the phone.
    I sadly need to fly frontier often and would make the trip to the airport if I could save money
    Just looking for clarification, don’t want to be blindsided by a few I didn’t expect and was trying to avoid

    • Frontier will not charge you if you show up to purchase a ticket. They only charge you that fee if you are there to check in.

  • Great information my daughter went to spirit counter and was able to buy tickets from Oakland calf to Vegas for 19.00 each way wow

  • Spirit used to have penny fares at the ticket counter. I’m not sure if it’s still a thing, but we did penny flights a few times before 2020. Just have to be flexible with dates and patient with the gate agents.

  • This no longer applies.if you book at the airport they now charge you a 25.00 fee to do so but call it something else. So it unfortunately is not worth it anymore going to the airport

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