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Sun Country Now Tacks on a Sneaky Fee … But You Can Avoid It

Sun Country has quietly joined the ranks of low-cost carriers that charge passengers an additional fee when booking flights online or by phone, adding another $44 or more to the cost of each and every roundtrip flight for the vast majority of Sun Country flyers.

The Minnesota-based budget carrier now lists a “passenger interface charge” of at least $22 per segment, per passenger – an extra $44 or more on every roundtrip ticket. The airline never directly informed passengers about its newest fee, but investor documents show the airline began charging it back in April 2022.

Sun Country isn't the first to charge these fees. But unlike other budget carriers like Spirit and Allegiant that levy similar charges, Sun Country does not explicitly list it during the checkout process. That means virtually all Sun Country flyers are likely unaware they've been paying more for their flights for nearly two years, simply by booking online or by phone with Sun Country – or even via any third-party site like Expedia.

An airline spokeswoman confirmed the airline added this fee last April, defending it as merely a piece of the total ticket cost that consumers see from the start.

“We are disclosing throughout that there are taxes and fees,” spokeswoman Wendy Burt said. “From the consumer's perspective, they're seeing the total fare.”

It's not a flat, $44 fee on each roundtrip ticket – 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.
 

passenger interface charge sun country  

This is an optional fee, but there's just one workaround to save at least $44 per ticket: Go to the airport and book your Sun Country flights in person. 

But heading to the airport to purchase flights is a step many travelers are unwilling to take – if they even know it's an option. And budget airlines are counting on it.

 

A Familiar (But Little-Known) Fee

Hundreds of thousands of Americans book airline tickets online every day, and 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 – these additional booking fees are fairly common … though still little-known, even among many frequent flyers.

These fees go by many names. Spirit tacks on a “Passenger Usage Charge” of nearly $23 per segment, while Frontier calls an identical amount a “Carrier Interface Charge.” Allegiant levies a $22 “Carrier Usage Charge” when booking online or by phone, and newcomer Breeze Airways adds $14 for each segment for what it calls a “Technology Development Charge.”
 

spirit passenger usage charge
Spirit Airlines' “Passenger Usage Charge” is one of many examples

But they're all the same thing: A penalty 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.

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. It's part of the reason why add-ons are a core part of budget airlines' business models.

Sun Country began that transition from Minnesota's beloved hometown airline to a low-cost carrier six-plus years ago, raising fees while ripping out first class seats. But the airline has tried to split the difference between full-service legacy carriers like Delta and ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit: Seats have more padding and legroom than their low-cost competitors. In-flight service is closer to the bigger carriers, too, with free drinks for all passengers.
 

sun country seats  

Read our review of flying Sun Country!

But with this online booking fee, Sun Country has taken a far less consumer-friendly approach than its competitors.

 

Why Sun Country's Fee is Even Worse

It's not a surprise fee. Sun Country isn't adding another $44 or more between the time you first search for a roundtrip ticket and when you click “purchase.”

But while other airlines disclose this booking fee during the checkout process by breaking out an itemized mix of fares and fees, Sun Country simply lists the total cost, which it says “includes all applicable air taxes, fees, and carrier-imposed charges.”

The Passenger Interface Charge of $22 (or more) each way isn't explicitly listed anywhere. Unless they click a link saying “bag fees may apply” and scroll to the bottom of the airline's dedicated “Bags and Optional Services” page, Sun Country customers are likely unaware they're paying it when booking online.
 

sun country reservation  

So while customers willingly add a seat selection for $12 or so and a carry-on bag for $20 or more, there's no notice during the check-out process that this optional fee is part of the final price tag. That also means customers have no way to know exactly how much they could save by booking at the airport instead. Is it the starting rate of $44 roundtrip? It can be even more, as several Thrifty Traveler readers have found out firsthand with savings of $50 or over $60 by booking in person.

In contrast, all of Sun Country's low-cost competitors explicitly disclose this fee, like Frontier.
 

frontier carrier interface charge  

It might have escaped travelers' notice … but likely not investors' attention. In a June 2022 investor presentation, Sun Country noted that its new, $16 Passenger Interface Charge would help the airline grow its revenue from additional fees, on par with the likes of Spirit and Frontier. That fee has since increased to $22 per passenger, per segment.
 

sun country investor presentation  

Along with rising fees for bags, seat selection, and other extras, that new charge has helped Sun Country grow how much it collects per passenger in ancillary fees to nearly $65 as of the third quarter of 2023. That's a 50% increase since the same period in 2021 before this new fee was in place.

No matter how much they charge or how they disclose it, the federal government has one rule for airlines: These fees must be optional. And that opens an avenue to avoid paying it altogether.

 

How to Save $44 or More Flying Sun Country

No matter whether they book online at SunCountry.com or through another site like Expedia or Orbitz, travelers are paying an extra $22 or more on each segment for the convenience of booking from home.

That can add up fast. For a family of four, it's at least an additional $176 on roundtrip tickets. There's a solution: Buy your tickets at the airport.
 

sun country desk  

That's a step many travelers are simply unwilling to take, given the extra cost and inconvenience of driving to and parking at any airport. But depending on how much this additional fee will cost you, it could easily be worth it.

Sun Country operates at Terminal 2 in Minneapolis, with slightly cheaper parking rates than neighboring Terminal 1. It's also connected by public transit, with the Blue Line light-rail train running between downtown Minneapolis and the airport.

Burt from Sun Country confirmed that agents at check-in desks at the airport are equipped to sell tickets in person. And she said those desks are staffed throughout the day – not just during peak hours when flyers are checking in for flights.

Thrifty Tip: Rather than make a separate trip, head to the Sun Country desk after arriving in Minneapolis to purchase your tickets.

The same goes if you're flying a different low-cost carrier like Spirit, Frontier, or Allegiant. You can avoid the online or phone booking fee by buying your ticket on those airlines at the airport as well.

 

Thanks to Thrifty Traveler reader Jeb R. for flagging this fee for us!

20 Responses

  • You mention Terminal 2 at MSP but could I also make the purchase
    at my local airport (EAU) that is being serviced by Sun Country?

    • You should be able to buy a ticket at the Eau Claire airport, but you’ll likely need to time it around Sun Country departures otherwise the desk will be unstaffed.

  • Great reporting, I first saw this on startribune.com, attributing you to the scoop.
    I don’t fly SC but I often wondered if they were doing this somehow. I learned of this trick to save pre pandemic when I flew Spirit for nearly $0 when avoiding this fee.
    Since the pandemic I’ve not strayed from Delta. But who knows, there could be some very cheap SC flights in my future.

  • Good catch! When mgmt is looking at those revenue charts, does anyone ask whether or not the fee makes them seem creepy!? Creepy, like the drug dealer at the playground.

  • Great information thank you. Especially the portion about the 7.5% federal excise tax. Exempting the tax on fees is basically another example of corporate welfare and the reason we will continue to see fees increase moving forward. I find it funny that booking online actually saves airlines money in staffing but now they want customers to subsidize that cost of doing business as well.

    On a side note, fees such as this are exactly the reason it ‘appears’ that airfares are decreasing when in actuality they continue to rise. When the DOT measures the ‘cost’ of flying they do not take into account the actual final price of the ticket but the base cost. The cost per segment of moving from basic economy to main cabin or similar used to be $50-$60 and is now upwards of $80 and rising. And that doesn’t include enhanced fees for the privilege of sitting toward the front, or in aisle or window seats. I wish sites like Thrifty would be more diligent about reporting this when reporting how airfare prices are supposedly falling.

  • Some social media comments are saying there is a very small window for fee-free ticket purchases at the airport, i.e., Tuesday for under two hours. Any truth to this?

    • The truth to it is you have to go to the airport at a time when there is a person to talk to and buy the ticket from; the desks aren’t staffed all day for carriers with only a few flights. That means you have to figure out what time people would be checking in for a Sun Country (or Allegiant, or whatever) departure at your airport and be there then, because that’s when the desk is staffed.

  • When booking a trip I am only concerned with the bottom line cost and if SC comes in less than other options then I really am not going to get worked up over how fees are determined.

  • I know from experience while flying Frontier, going up to the ticket counter to ask for a paper boarding pass would cost $25, meanwhile, agents are standing idle at empty counters. Just wondering when piloting fees will be collected when flight crews disengages auto pilot to fly the planes.

    • I read this last week and since I was traveling Saturday morning decided to buy a future one way ticket (MSP/PHX) while at MSP T2. The fare at the SC counter was $7 HIGHER than the fare online which of course included the Passenger Interface Charge. I showed the agent the real time online fare and she replied that she can only sell me the fare on her monitor. Any suggestions?

  • We are a Spirit airport, and when we must travel that airline, we look online for fares and THEN go to the airport to purchase them. Occasionally the online fares are less than airport fares–but not very often.
    What is awful is that buying bags at the airport along with the tickets are usually MORE expensive than purchasing on line. So we do that after we have the air tix.
    Eliminate the cloudiness when flying! And get rid of those junk fees! Thanks, Mr Biden, for working on transparency in travel.

  • So this is only the budget airlines. What about the big airlines? Do they charge these fees? Why wouldn’t they if they see the budget airlines getting away with it.

  • I just went to Terminal 2 at MSP this week to purchase tickets in person and it was a bit of a nightmare. No one except 1 person working the desk knew how to book flights, so I was handed around from desk to desk until they found someone who could do it. Then, she told me that the return segment I requested was sold out when it clearly was not (showed available for me on my phone) and therefore charged me more than I wanted to pay to fly a different return segment. Because of this, it made it nearly a wash cost wise from what it would have been to book from the comfort of my own home and avoid the drive, parking, etc. to do it in person. I never received the booking confirmation via email (waited all day to see if it would come thru), but did see the pending charge on my cc. Because of this, I called the airline later that day to verify that the flight had been booked and to verify that, indeed, the desired return flight was available. But, the person on the phone couldn’t modify the return segment even though a) I had been lied to at the counter, and b) it was within hours of booking and would have had to charge me the PIC to change the flight, which, again, made the price difference a wash. The online CS rep also told me that bookings made in person at the counter appear very differently in their system and don’t have all the typical information. So, if you do go to the counter, be prepared for ill-prepared staff with little to no customer service and no flight booking confirmation. All in all, a bad experience. I cancelled the booking entirely over the phone–won’t do business with Sun Country any longer.

    • I had a very similar experience Dec.7 at MSP. The agent was very unsure of what he was doing, did finally manage to get it booked- but it was the exact same price as what I was pulling up on my phone ?? He did not ask for an email, refused to enter in my SunCountry number, didn’t ask about booking any seats or baggage, and tried to send me off without any sort of confirmation number. He did hand me the scribbled down confirmation number on scrap paper when I asked at least. It was a bizarre situation and I’m quite confused why the price was no different than that booked online.

  • Also, you can only buy SunCountry tix at a domestic airport (I.e., terminal 2 in Mpls); you can’t buy a ticket at a SunCountry counter at an international airport (I.e., Palm Springs), and SunCountry will not waive the fee in that circumstance.

  • I can confirm that I saved $44 on two one-way segments by purchasing at the counter at MSP terminal 2. I went over lunch and I was done in 30 min. It is more inconvenient than purchasing online, and a bit of a clunky process to have them enter everything, but in the end, I was able to purchase what I saw online for $44 less. I went to the end of the row of agents and one of them was able to help me. They were definitely not all raising their hands to help me, but together we (re)learned how to do it (again). I take it they don’t see a lot of people trying this, but maybe more so since last fall when this came out? The confirmation email was in my account before I left the counter.

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