How to avoid baggage fees with Spirit & other US budget airlines

How to avoid baggage fees with Spirit & other US budget airlines

    Hey, we all love a dirt-cheap flight. That’s why Jack’s Flight Club exists in the first place. But even though the likes of Spirit and Frontier Airlines offer tons of domestic flights around the US for under $100, we rarely consider their fares a good deal.

    That’s because, along with generally having pretty uncomfy seats and next to no legroom, they’ll charge you extra fees for things you’d often take for granted, like sitting with your travel companion(s), having a drink (or even water!), and especially their top money-maker: bringing a regular-sized carry-on bag.

    Sometimes, though, you’ll find a Spirit fare that’s so cheap that you just have to book it. So, for those times, here’s the low-down on these US budget airlines’ baggage fees and how to avoid them.

    Spirit and Frontier are the two major low-cost airlines in the US, but Allegiant, Breeze, and Avelo have a lot of similarities in their baggage policies. We’ll start with some general information and money-saving tips (from when to purchase extra bags to personal-item packing hacks) before we get into the specifics for each airline.

    Note: While other US airlines like Southwest and JetBlue are technically “budget airlines,” for this article we’re focusing on ultra low-cost airlines that tend to offer lower base fares and sell expensive add-ons on top.

    Quick Reference:

    What baggage is included in my ticket?

    Whether you’re flying with Spirit, Frontier, or one of the other low-cost airlines in the US, you’ll have exactly one freebie included with your ticket: a small personal item.

    Usually that’s a laptop, purse, or small backpack. Each airline has slightly different dimension limits for this, which we’ve listed in the individual airline sections below.

    Whisper it: even though the personal item is meant to fit under the seat in front of you, you can sometimes get away with fitting it into the overhead as long as it’s not full. Your legs will thank you.

    To bring a checked bag or carry-on, you’ll always have to pay extra.

    How strict are they about the dimensions?

    Pretty darn strict. At the airport, you’ll notice they have baggage sizers absolutely everywhere to catch you sneaking on a bigger bag and charge you for it.

    Pro Tip: Unless you’re checking a bag, avoid the check-in counter at all costs. Check-in online, print your boarding pass and go straight through security. Their staff will often avoid doing thorough baggage allowance checks at the gate (especially on delayed flights), while a stop at the counter only gives them another opportunity to fine you. Less staff interaction is encouraged!

    Your best bet is to stick to those dimensions pretty carefully. You might get a little bit of wiggle room if you use a bag with soft sides that’ll squeeze into the sizer (generally a good idea).

    How to make the most of your free baggage allowance

    For short little trips (or if you’re a minimalist packer), you may be able to get away with just bringing a personal item. You can turn it into a challenge for yourself if you really want to keep costs low.

    It’s definitely worth it to use every inch they give you. You can even grab a cheap bag that’s designed to fit a specific airline’s requirements.

    The other trick if you’re doing the personal-item-only challenge is to wear as much as possible.

    Wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes to the airport, including winter gear if you’re off on a cold-weather trip. 

    For frequent budget airline flyers, you might want to think about investing in one of these bad boys.

    If you do have to bring an extra bag, it’s usually cheaper to pay for a checked bag (to discourage carry-ons and thus speed up the boarding process).

    Traveling with family or a close friend? You could always split the cost of the checked bag and share packing space :-)

    Spirit Airlines

    Love them or hate them, you can’t help but be impressed at Spirit Airlines’ super low fares and wide US domestic coverage. Those blinding yellow planes are everywhere!

    Their personal baggage policy is, in their own words, “Designed to maximize the passenger’s budget.” That’s true if you’re a bare-bones minimalist. Otherwise, your cheap ticket could end up looking a little less appealing once you’ve added in Spirit’s baggage fees.

    What is Spirit’s personal item allowance?

    Up to 18 x 14 x 8 inches

    Spirit carry-on size

    22 x 18 x 10 inches

    Spirit checked bag size

    62 linear inches, 40 lbs

    How much is a carry-on/checked bag on Spirit?

    The cost of adding a carry-on or checked bag varies based on the route. They have a tool on their website called the bag-o-tron where you can find out the cost of bags for a specific flight.

    It’ll show you a table comparing costs between different bag options and booking times. Here’s an example for a one-way trip from New York to Los Angeles:

    $45+ one way for a carry-on is pretty hefty. Thankfully, there are a few ways you can save (other than just ditching the bags altogether).

    How to save on Spirit’s baggage fees

    It’ll always be less expensive to add and pay for your bags while booking (waiting until you’re at the airport is the priciest option). 

    If you know you’ll need multiple extras (some combination of checked bag, carry-on, and/or seat selection) a bundle might save you a few dollars.

    For the example New York to L.A. trip above, buying the “Just For You” bundle will save you…$0. Seat selection for the flight is $26 one way, and if you add that to the bag price, it’s $65. But you could board early 🤷

    But if you “Bundle It”’ll save a whopping $6 one way (nowhere close to $346.98), plus free changes. Might as well if you definitely would have bought all the extras anyway, but otherwise you’re better off going à la carte.

    If you’re planning to make flying Spirit a really regular thing (not sure why you would, but we won’t judge), you could also sign up for Spirit $avers Club at $69.95 for 12 months to save a little on your bookings and baggage fees.

    The discounts aren’t huge, so you’ll really want to do the math and see if you’ll be flying with them enough to make it worth it.

    Frontier Airlines

    To be honest, Frontier is basically Spirit, minus the bumblebee color scheme, plus animal mascots

    They’re here to offer you ridiculously cheap domestic flights, but once you start buying extras like bags, the costs can add up quickly.

    What is Frontier’s personal item allowance?

    Up to 14 x 18 x 8 inches.

    Frontier carry-on size

    24 x 10 x 16 inches, under 35 lbs

    Frontier checked bag size

    62 linear inches, 50 lbs

    How much does Frontier charge for extra bags?

    To find Frontier Airlines’ baggage fees without going through the booking process, you can use their price checker tool.

    Unfortunately, their prices tend to be pretty steep. Here’s an example for a one-way trip from Denver to D.C.:

    How to save on Frontier’s baggage fees

    Frontier has their own version of $avers Club called Discount Den…but oof. 

    With the enrollment fee, the first time you sign up it’ll cost $99.99 for a year, so we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ll fly with them a lot.

    The bundles can definitely be worth it, though. For the sample trip, paying for seat selection, a checked bag, and a carry-on separately would cost $139 one way, so buying “The Perks” will save you $19. Not bad.

    Still…those are some high fees. You’ll always want to take that into consideration before you book with Frontier.

    The following airlines have a more limited reach, but you’ll still see them on quite a few regional routes around the US.

    Allegiant Air

    What is Allegiant’s personal item allowance?

    Up to 7 x 15 x 16 inches

    Allegiant carry-on size

    9 x 14 x 22 inches

    Allegiant checked bag size

    9 x 14 x 22 inches, 40 lbs

    How much does Allegiant charge for extra bags?

    Their baggage fees also vary by route. You can check your route with the fee table on their website - not very high-tech, but it does the job.

    Here are the fees for a one-way trip from Nashville to Albany: 

    How to save on Allegiant’s baggage fees

    Allegiant offers bundles, but be careful and do your math - it’s not always worth it, and sometimes it’ll actually cost you extra.

    For the Nashville to Albany route, you can select a seat for $1-$12. If you add that to the price of paying for both bags, you’ll pay $56-$67 one way.

    The bundle for those is $89.50.

    So unless the flexibility and priority access are important to you…you’d want to add your bags individually for this one.

    Breeze Airways

    What is Breeze’s personal item allowance?

    18 x 14 x 8 inches

    Breeze carry-on size

    22 x 14 x 10 inches

    Breeze checked bag size

    62 linear inches, 50 lbs

    How much does Breeze charge for extra bags?

    Your wallet (and your brain) might appreciate Breeze’s simpler baggage policy. They also break rank by offering their carry-on bags for a slightly lower price than their checked bags.

    If you buy your bags online, a carry-on is $25 one way, and a checked bag is $29. At the airport, adding a bag (either checked or carry-on) is $50.

    How to save on Breeze’s baggage fees

    If you’ll need both a checked bag and a carry-on, upgrading to “Nicer” will save you $14 (one way). Plus, it’ll get you a little extra legroom :-)

    Avelo Airlines

    What is Avelo’s personal item allowance?

    14 x 9 x 9.5 inches

    Avelo carry-on size

    22 x 9 x 14 inches

    Avelo checked bag size

    62 linear inches, 50 lbs

    How much does Avelo charge for extra bags?

    Avelo also keeps things pretty simple with flat fees for their carry-ons and checked bags, though they’re a little more expensive than Breeze’s.

    But hey, it’s pretty easy to remember since the fees are the same for both types of bags.

    How to save on Avelo’s baggage fees

    No bundles or anything with this lil’ ultra low-cost airline, so all you can really do is make sure to pay for bags when you’re booking.

    When is it worth booking with a low-cost airline?

    After seeing how pricey it can be to add bags to flights with budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, it’s pretty clear that they’re often not the cheapest option.

    That said, I mentioned earlier that sometimes they do go cheap enough that it’s worth it.

    If you know that you’ll need to add a bag, mentally include that as part of the cost of your ticket (and make sure you’re looking at round trip prices for adding bags).

    Most major US airlines (notable exceptions being United and JetBlue) include at least a carry-on bag in their domestic basic economy fares, and checked bags are usually around $60 round trip.

    So based on bag fees alone, it usually isn’t worth booking with a budget airline unless they’re at least $50-$60 cheaper than your other options.

    If you also factor in things like comfort, in-flight snack/beverage service, etc., though, prices might have to be even lower to be worth it.

    In most cases, it’s in your best interest to watch for better airlines to drop their prices, and we can help with that :-)