A supporter of Spirit Airlines and its “unbundled” pricing took issue with my July 20 article calling the carrier to task for its practices.
The following was submitted as an anonymous comment to my previous post:
Your opinion is based on old-man (grandpa) thinking. When you talk about the $38 billion airlines made in ancillary revenues, that number only reflects what transparent airlines like Spirit report. Furthermore, that figure is what passengers opted to pay for because it was a service or item they wanted. What that $38b figure doesn't show is the billions that airlines didn't report in ancillary items (soft drinks, snacks, seat assignments, checked and carry-on bags) that airlines force people to pay for in bundled fares - and I guarantee you it's a lot more than $38b, It seems to me I would rather know what I'm buying and what it costs - and save money - rather than charge me a higher price for things I may or may not want.
Shortly after publishing the original post, I received a call from a Spirit (NASDAQ:SAVE) spokesperson who took issue with my use of the term “nickel and diming” for the airline's approach to pricing. Like it or not, that’s how the people I talk to – when I travel as well as in my daily life – perceive it. Spirit and its anonymous supporter are the only ones I have ever heard use the term “unbundled” for à la carte charges, so draw your own conclusions.
To the main point of the comment, I agree that passengers should only pay for what they want, and food and beverages are excellent examples. I can either buy something on the plane, from a vendor in the concourse to bring on board, or wait until I reach my destination.
However, many of the things for which carriers charge are simply the airlines being opportunistic.
Charging for seat assignments is one such area. The spokesperson said “most people don’t care where they sit,” that the system needed to reserve and assign seats is expensive, so it makes sense to pass the cost on to those who choose to use it. I disagree with both points. Maybe "most people" don't, but I care very much where I sit and want to be able to select my seat when I make my reservation. That is the primary reason I rarely fly Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), which does not have a system that assigns seats.
In the case of an airline that has such a system, the incremental cost of operating that system for the time it takes the passenger to select the seat in which they want to sit should be extremely small. In addition, most often the passenger makes the selection themselves when making the reservation online and does not require the assistance of an airline employee.
With some airlines, one could argue that paying a fee to check a bag is a choice, but not with Spirit. The airline not only charges those who check bags but those who carry on more than the one small personal item allowed.
In almost all cases, air travel includes bringing luggage; it is a necessity of travel. With Spirit, whether you check your bag or carry it on, you will pay so there is no choice. Asserting that a passenger “opted to pay … because it was a service or item they wanted” ignores that there really is no option.
Finally, yes I am a Baby Boomer and remember the days when air travel was an experience to be enjoyed rather than endured. I am sad those days seem to be gone, at least as far as U.S. airlines are concerned.
I also have money to spend and the time to travel, find value in comfortable surroundings and in not being nickel-and-dimed. Those are things for which I am willing to pay. "Old man" or otherwise, I make my choices based on the things that are most important to me and those who choose to fly Spirit do the same.
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