POSTED: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 7:00pm
UPDATED: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 7:14pm
Spirit Airlines raised its fee for carry-on bags to $100, becoming the first U.S. airline to charge so much for a service that most other airlines offer for free.
Spirit said on its website that the new fees apply to carry-on bags registered at the gate and will become effective Nov. 6. Until that time, Spirit will continue to charge $45.
Tom Parsons, chief executive of Bestfares.com, referred to the carry-on baggage fees as "skyway robbery" and "snakes on a plane," noting that Spirit and Allegiant Air are the only U.S. airlines to charge for carry-on bags.
According to its website, Spirit passengers can save money by paying the fees in airport kiosks, which charge $40 for a carry-on bag, a fee that will rise to $50 on Nov. 6. On that day, Spirit Airlines will be raising a wide swath of fees for checked luggage and other services.
"Many people won't realize the fee until they get to the gate," said Parsons. But he added that most people will ditch the line and go back to a kiosk to avoid paying the extra money.
Representatives for Spirit Airlines did not return messages from CNNMoney.
Baggage fees are among the airline industry's so-called ancillary fees. In recent years, many airlines started charging fees for services that used to come for free, like pet travel and non-alcoholic drinks.
Some airlines, like the European carrier Ryanair, charge low base fares and seek to make their money through a plethora of fees. But airlines Southwest and JetBlue do not impose fees for carry-ons, or for the first checked bags. In addition, Southwest doesn't charge for the second checked bags.
The airline industry began to adopt the new fees in 2008 to try and take the sting out of rising fuel prices. The fees can bring in billions of dollars for the industry.
Climbing fuel costs have put the squeeze on Spirit so far this year. In its first quarter earnings report on May 1, Spirit said that its fuel expenses had jumped dramatically to $108 million, compared to $81.5 million in the year-ago quarter.
In its earnings statement, Spirit did not break out revenue from fees.
The airline industry has struggled in recent years, prompting some carriers to consolidate to become more competitive.
American Airlines, which went into bankruptcy last year and lost $1.7 billion in the first quarter, faces a possible merger with US Airways.
The last big airline merger was completed in 2010, when United Continental Holdings was formed.