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The latest Spirit Airlines perk you have to pay for: booking and changing flights via text

It’ll cost you $25 if you want to make a change with a live agent.

The Spirit Airlines logo on a smartphone.
Starting September 1, travelers can book Spirit Airlines flights or make modifications through WhatsApp.
Igor Golovniov/Getty Images

Spirit Airlines wants customers to text them on WhatsApp. Starting September 1, customers can directly text the budget airline for flight reservations, travel modifications, or basic questions in English and Spanish.

The service is an initiative to better connect with domestic and international guests, according to Bobby Schroeter, the airline’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We know WhatsApp is incredibly popular in the United States, but also in the more than two dozen destinations we serve in the Caribbean and Latin America,” he said in a press release.

Queries will first be received by a chatbot that can provide basic information, and then a Spirit agent will take over the conversation, CNBC reported. Guests will be sent an external link in WhatsApp to complete their booking, a spokesperson told CNBC.

The discount carrier is notorious for tacking on additional fees while marketing extremely low base fares for flights to customers. For example, you can be charged for carrying on a bag, ordering water, selecting a seat, or even checking in with a human at the airport.

So it should come as no surprise that bookings or modifications made through WhatsApp will result in a $25 charge, the Washington Post reported, which costs as much as services done over the phone. The fee only applies to booking new trips or making changes to an itinerary. A spokesperson told Vox that guests will be able to add bags, select seat assignments, and receive instant flight information or assistance free of charge.

According to an annual survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Spirit is one of the lowest-ranking airlines for passenger satisfaction: It ranks last out of 10 carriers, behind Frontier, its low-cost competitor. However, data published by the Wall Street Journal for 2018 also shows that Spirit made “significant improvement” after its near-last placement years before. It was solidly ranked fourth out of eight airlines according to that data, with low rates of mishandled baggage and fairly consistent arrival times.

The airline is still growing, with plans to focus on passenger comfort and expand its flight offerings and fleet. Spirit’s decision to use WhatsApp for its service is also a nod to the app’s international popularity, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Spirit’s latest service is part of a trend among airlines to connect more directly with travelers. Mobile apps are the best part of the airline experience for customers, according to the ACSI.

In June, Delta Airlines was testing a text message feature on Apple devices that will be rolled out in the fall. A United Airlines spokesperson told CNBC that United Airlines is also considering a chat platform.

These services encourage customers to book directly through the carrier rather than through a third-party site or travel agency, like Expedia or Kayak. (Airlines pay third-party distributors a fee to display flights on their sites.)

Thanks to direct communication avenues (text and social media), airlines can be more efficient, the New York Times reported. Service reps for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas, offer real-time answers while juggling multiple queries, instead of individually hearing out each customer on the phone. The same concept applies to Spirit’s direct text line.

“It is all part of our goal to elevate and improve our guest experience,” Schroeter said — provided that guests are wary of the potential fees a call or a text might cost them.

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