CheapOair has created a niche as a go-to place for airlines such as US Airways, American and now Spirit to accelerate the distribution of their ancillary services, but in the Spirit case, at least, travelers aren't getting a bargain when compared with booking on Spirit.com.
CheapOair became the first online travel agency to enable its customers to pay for checked bags and carryon bags up-front when they book Spirit Airlines flights, but CheapOair adds its own fees on top of fee-happy Spirit’s bag fees.
CheapOair is currently tacking on a $5 “enhanced baggage service fee” to the other bag-fee charges.
[Update: After reading this article, and perhaps for other reasons, a CheapOair official now says it will waive this fee, although not necessarily permanently.]
CheapOair, one of the largest U.S.-based online travel agencies, correctly points out that travelers paying for checked bags and carryon bags when booking the Spirit flights through CheapOair can save up to 50% compared with the $100 fees that travelers would pay at the airport gate.
But, because of the bag-fee policies that Spirit imposes on travel agencies and global distribution systems, CheapOair is charging higher bag fees for Spirit flights than Spirit.com does during the booking process.,
For example, on a Fort Lauderdale to LaGuardia flight in August, Spirit.com charges $32 for the first checked bag and $35 for a carry-on, or $67 total. [The $32 fee includes a $2 surcharge through August 18, 2014, to dissuade passengers from checking bags.]
CheapOair, on the other hand, charges $47 for the first checked bag on a Spirit flight and $50 for the carry-on, plus another $5 fee, bringing the total bag fees to $102 — or $35 more than Spirit does.
[Update: A CheapOair officials says it will at least temporarily waive the extra $5 fee, and the other checked bag and carry-on bag fees are rates that Spirit mandates for travel agency distributors. “We are not marketing it up,” the official says. “It is what it is.”]
For CheapOair in relation to its competitors, the Spirit bag fee feature enables travelers to save some money if they intend to check bags on Spirit flights since there is no option to prepay for checked bags on Spirit flights when booking on Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz or Travelocity.
But, travelers would do better booking directly on Spirit.com to get the greatest savings on their bag fees. That’s part of Spirit’s strategy to drive more bookings to its cheapest channel, Spirit.com.
“The big benefit of working with CheapOair over an airline directly is the multitude of options that we provide,” says Patriek Karayil, chief marketing officer of Fareportal, CheapOair’s parent. “You can mix and match your itinerary so you can have one airline for outbound and a different airline for inbound.”
“And we are in a unique position to provide the ancillary options to the customers as the airline would,” Karayil adds. “We are focused on being an extension of the airlines and make the airlines successful and our customers successful.”
What’s in this for Spirit? Getting more travelers to pre-pay their bag fees helps streamline operations for Spirit at the ticket counter and gate.
In related news, Spirit is indeed making good on an idea it floated about charging passengers extra fees during peak travel periods.
Through August 18, 2014, Spirit is charging passengers $2 more than its standard bag fees to encourage “customers to pack a bit lighter — think bikinis,” Spirit states.
Photo credit: Baggage at an airport. Getty Images