Spirit Airlines announces $9 flights, but is there a catch?

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

MESA, Ariz. -- When Spirit Airlines recently announced it was offering one-way flights for $9, 3 On Your Side wondered whether the deal was too good to be true.

This is what we discovered:

The offers are good only for trips to Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas, and are only available on certain dates beginning in February.

With that said, 3 On Your Side tried booking a flight to Vegas where we found the price wasn't $9.
It was listed for just a penny.

Even better, right? Not exactly.

After tacking on taxes and fees our one penny flight jumped to nearly $40 round trip.

OK, still not bad right?

But then there are the baggage fees and a slew of additional charges for customers to choose from.

For example, just one carry-on costs you another $30, each way, and $28 to check a bag.

Want a snack or maybe a drink?

Prepare to pay between $1 and $15, depending on what you get.

There's also an advance seat assignment option, which allows you to choose your seat ahead of time.
That's good if you want to sit next to the person you're traveling with.

But, it will cost you at least another $10 per flight.

So, instead, we continued booking without selecting a seat.

In fact, the only thing extra we added on was for a single carry-on bag, assuming almost every traveler takes at least that.

That brought the grand total for a round-trip flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas to $99.40.

To compare, we looked at the price of a similar flight through Southwest.com.

The cost? Exactly $20 more.

Spirit does offer cheaper prices for most extras and even on flights themselves.

But in order to take advantage of those reduced prices, you have to become part of their "$9 Fan Club," which will cost you $60 per year.

As for that penny price, Spirit tells 3 On Your Side:

“The $9 advertised fare includes our passenger usage fee…as required by the DOT."

Regarding the extra fees, a Spirit representative writes:

“Spirit is all about empowering customers to save money on air travel by offering ultra low base fares with a range of optional services for a fee, allowing customers the freedom to choose only the extras they value. This innovative approach liberates customers from being forced into paying for services they don’t want or use.  When customers are seeking the best value in travel, they simply choose a low fare at spirit.com, and then they have the option to select services and options appropriate for their travel needs. 

Over the last five years Spirit Airlines has transformed itself into the leading ultra low cost carrier in the Americas.  In fact, Spirit has sold over a million of its popular $9 fares in addition to an endless variety of other cheap fares.  How is Spirit able to offer such low fares?  Spirit’s ULCC approach is based on two principal ideas:

1.            Spirit operates with very low costs by getting the best efficiency from all of its assets.  And we are proud to pass these savings along to our valued customers by way of ultra low fares.

2.            Spirit is all about choice.  We start by offering an ultra low fare that gets customers safely from point A to point B.  Then we provide an a la carte menu of options so customers can choose the add-ons they want and they only pay for what they want.  Might sound novel for the airline industry, but think about it in terms of buying a car, looking at a restaurant menu, or going to the movies.  When traveling with Spirit, you get to pick what you want and pay only for only what you want, as opposed to other airlines that hide the price of services and other fees in the fare and try to fool their passengers into paying more for services they may not even want or need.”