How Spirit Airlines lost me as a customer before I even got to the airport.


With the gracious help of Kayak.com and Priceline.com who followed suit.


My wife and I are leaving tomorrow on a brief but much needed vacation. It was a last-minute graduation celebration for her completion of a 3-month User Experience Design course (oh, the irony). We booked our tickets for a long weekend just 10 days ago, followed by hotel and rental car.
And we’re psyched

Or we were, right up until the moment that we went to check-in for our flight. We booked on Spirit Airlines which neither of us have ever flown before. We did so with the help of Kayak.com and ended up with tickets fulfilled by Priceline — who happens to own Kayak, if you weren’t aware. Of course, we shopped by price as one will in today’s age of travel is hell until you actually get there, which is how we ended up flying an airline that’s new to both of us.

How bad could it be? Aren’t airlines roughly all the same these days?

No. Apparently they are not.

I received a helpful notification email from Kayak 24 hours before our flight indicating that we could check-in. And, apparently in our haste to book flights, a rental car, and a hotel, we didn’t notice that we hadn’t been assigned seats for our flights yet. No problem, we’ll check-in and book them now.

Imagine our surprise to find that, in order to select seats next to one another, Spirit Airlines wanted $10–50/seat per seat. Wow… our $266 tickets just became $286 (each). Not exactly catastrophic, but most certainly annoying.

Spirit also wanted to know how many bags we’d be checking/carrying on. No problem, right?

That’ll be $45/carry-on bag per flight.

Yes, an additional $180 in baggage fees for carry-on bags.

A call to Priceline yielded no help other than a peon repeating to me “we aren’t responsible for baggage costs.” A couple of tweets hasn’t elicited much further help yet either…

While the jury is still out to see whether @Kayak and their support team will offer any recompense, in my opinion, they screwed up. In 30+ years of airline travel, I have never been charged to carry on a bag. I had no expectation whatsoever that I would encounter an additional $220 in fees beyond the original ticket price. I firmly believe that it is Kayak's responsibility to notify the traveler that an airline may charge fees that are not part of the advertised ticket cost, especially when those fees are not the norm or would not be incurred on another airline.

Hey Kayak, here’s some dead-simple UX advice to help you avoid messy situations like ours.

Spirit’s website (which I’ve had no reason to visit before today) touts their Bare Fare policy indicating the thorough steps they take in defense of limited customer service. They even seem to take some sort of misguided pride in limiting services for their customers.

Spirit, these aren’t benefits for your customers. They’re excuses. Especially when your tickets aren’t cheaper when comparing apples-to-apples flight experiences that include normal things like carry-on bags, boarding passes, and in-flight beverages.

All of this makes it even more incumbent on Kayak to disclose potential costs for services that are included in ticket prices on other airlines. Unexpected fees of more than $200 are a sure way to put a damper on a vacation before it even starts. Spirit has lost us as customers before we’ve ever set foot on a plane.

Kayak, you and Steve have a chance to set things right.

My expectations are low which makes your opportunity to surprise and delight quite high. Your move…


Update: You’ve made the wrong move.

I heard back from Kayak’s support team. Perhaps not surprisingly, their answer is a resounding “That’s not our problem”:

Thank you for your message. When searching for flights on KAYAK’s website: https://www.kayak.com/flights and search results are returned for Spirit Airlines, you will notice a $ icon if you hover over that you will see a notice: alerting you there may be carry-on baggage fees. In addition if you select details for a particular itinerary you will see information “Carry-on baggage fees may apply to one or more segments of this trip”
Please keep in mind KAYAK does not set the prices; rather we are travel website which provides a free service that allows people to easily compare prices from hundreds of travel sites at once. We do not act as the merchant, but we do allow people the choice to book without leaving KAYAK.

See above for my thoughts on your $ icon, Kayak.