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Spirit Airlines offers the bare bones to passengers–basically just the flight. If you want anything else, it’ll cost you. Because of this, what is considered the cheapest airline around is also the carrier with the most customer complaints.

Among the “extras” passengers must pay for are: seat assignment, a carry-on bag, and a drink of water (yep, water). Pay for your ticket with a credit card and you’ll also get stuck with “passenger usage fee.” The fee for checking one bag can be as high as $100, add $25 more if you exceed the 40-pound weight limit (most other airlines have a 50-pound limit). If you forgot to print out your ticket before you left home, Spirit will charge you $10 to have an agent do it.

“The average ticket on Spirit is $73 each way, and passengers pay, on average, another $55 in fees and in-flight purchases,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

The airline seems to go by the motto: “You get what you pay for.” As Spirit Chief Executive Ben Baldanza responds to criticism over the way Spirit operates, “Judge us for who we are.”

Whatever it’s doing Spirit is successful, while other airlines are faltering. Founded in 1980 and based near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it’s growing despite all the complaints, increasing its capacity a whopping 19 percent last year. Last month it announced nine additional routes from Atlanta and three new routes from Los Angeles.

However the airline is about to be scrutinized by the Transportation Department more closely in March. It will include Spirit in rankings of airlines by on-time arrivals, baggage handling, bumping passengers and consumer complaints. Prior to this, Spirit was too small for required reporting and didn’t report voluntarily.

And even Baldanza admits that while the airline may do well in many operational measures, such as on-time arrivals and mishandled bags, it will probably score low on consumer complaints. “Our complaints will be higher than the rest of the industry. We understand that,” he says.

For its part, Spirit has been trying to be more transparent to customers regarding fees. It began, for example, labeling its fares as Bare Fares on its website, and all add-ons as “frills” and listing the fees for frills as baggage and assigned-seat fees. Still, if travelers buy a seat through a travel agent rather than on the carrier’s website they may not be aware of the fees and are in for a price shock when they arrive at the airport.

Have you flown with Spirit Airlines?

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