Why the Spirit Airlines holiday surcharge on bags makes sense

Did you see the news that Spirit Airlines plans to charge an extra $2 per checked bag from Dec. 18 through Jan. 5? 

Cue the predictable criticism from bloggers and reporters, who have compared the airline to Ebenezer Scrooge. But this blogger understands what Spirit seeks. And I cannot fault Spirit for wringing as much revenue as it can during when demand is high. 

 Spirit Airlines will charge more for checked baggage during the holidays. Photo: Spirit. 

Spirit Airlines will charge more for checked baggage during the holidays. Photo: Spirit. 

There are a few reasons this is good business. 

1. Spirit is taking advantage of market conditions. I've always been skeptical of any operation, whether it's an airline or other business, setting one price and leaving it there. In general, more people want to check bigger bags at the holidays than they do on the average Friday, when they might be only making a quick weekend trip. Shouldn't it cost more to check a bag when bag demand is high?

I suspect we'll someday see more fluctuation in bag prices. Let's say Spirit knows you're going to Chicago for a two-day trip in February. The airline probably knows you could stuff all your luggage into a tiny carry-on bag, which you're permitted to bring on board for free. Maybe, then, Spirit could offer you a deal. For $10, perhaps you could check your bag to Chicago. Spirit makes money when it otherwise would have made none. But you get a deal. On the other hand, if you're leaving for Chicago on Dec. 21 and coming back on Jan. 1, Spirit knows you probably have no choice but to check bags. Probably big ones, too. So you should pay the standard price, with a holiday surcharge included. Is that such a bad thing?

2. There really is a cost to moving bags. Sure, Spirit profits in charging you for bags. But there is a cost to the airline, and it is possible Spirit  actually does want to move fewer bags around the holidays. More bags could mean it takes more people to move them. More bags gives the airline more opportunities to lose bags, which even Spirit does not want to do. Perhaps more important, loading more bags takes more time. And Spirit schedules its airplanes to have little time on the ground. Extra baggage could mean a flight delay. 

This is the same reason Spirit charges $76 for your third, fourth and fifth checked bag. Yes, there's profit for the airline if you do choose to overpack. But Spirit would probably prefer you not try to bring so much stuff. 

3. You have other options. Spirit probably could be a little more transparent with these fees, which seem buried on the website. You should certainly know what you're getting into before you book. But passengers do have a choice.  If they prefer not to pay extra fees, they're welcome to fly another airline. It may end up costing them more, however. 

And if this approach for some reason backfires on Spirit, the airline probably won't do it again. But can you blame it for trying something new?