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Can You Save Money by Buying Plane Tickets at the Airport? (Yes.)

But depends on which airline.

One Mile at a Time recently shared this insightful tip about saving a couple of extra dollars, which is all really important when you’re a thrifty, resourceful traveler, which we all are, right, which is why we would never, ever lose our entire wallet on a trip. Never.

Okay, sorry. It turns out the budget airlines, Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant all impose an extra fee on customers purchasing tickets through their website. Even better, it seems like it is possible to save up to hundreds of dollars simply by purchasing a ticket at the airport instead.

Still with me? This isn’t as crazy as a concept as it sounds.To be completely clear, it’s probably not worth going out of the way to avoid the fee, unless (1) you’re already at the airport or will be heading there soon, or (2) flying with a bunch of people.

In fact, booking at the airport is more likely to incur a fee at the legacy airlines like United and Delta.

One Mile at a Time has a brief explainer about how and why this works—mostly because airlines have to pay a 7.5% federal excise tax on ticket revenue and want to recoup those costs—incentivizing airlines to throw in more fees to make up for the lost money:

The trick is, for something to be a fee—not a fare—it has to be optional. If you think about it, you don’t have to check a bag. You don’t have to select a seat. You don’t have to eat some food. Those are obviously all fees.

Here’s all those “optional” fees that the budget airlines are imposing on online-booking customers:

AirlineFee NameCostCost RT
AllegiantElectronic Carrier Usage Charge$13$26
Frontier1Carrier Interface Charge$19$39
SpiritPassenger Usage Charge$9-$19$18-$38

Let’s think about the financial implications for a second.

Based on Frontier’s fee, here’s a quick extrapolation on how quickly this fee adds up. Assuming it is a $19 fee, this means there’s an instant round-trip savings of $38. Assuming you’re traveling as a couple, that’s $76 in savings. If you’re a family of four, that’s $152 in savings.

There is one caveat: If you need to bring more than a carry on bag for Spirit or Frontier, the bag fees at the airport can be astronomical. In fact, the Spirit bag fee seems to eat up a substantial amount of savings. The Frontier bag charge starts at $45 at the airport. So all in all, maybe not worth it if you need to bring a lot of stuff.

Since I’m assuming no one wants to make a trip out there solely to buy a ticket (or sign up for Global Entry), the best time to do it might be on the way or coming home from another trip.

There is truly no need to buy the ticket last-minute standing at the airport; and this can definitely be done in advance, though there is absolutely no way to lock in a particular fare. Though, who knows, it might save a bundle in fees?

There is one caveat: If you need a real carry-on or checked bag, both Frontier and Spirit charge an exorbitant amount in baggage fees at the airport.

Or maybe this is just a fee to eat?

1 footnote

  1. Frontier refused to comment on the fee. The fee reported is the number others have reported seeing charged.
Can You Save Money by Buying Plane Tickets at the Airport? (Yes.) via @maphappy
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[One Mile at a Time]

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