Spirit Airlines. Either you love them or you despise them. They tout themselves as an ultra low cost carrier with what they call their BARE FARE™ and I suppose that can be true, if you’re willing to follow all of their rules in regards to options (or rather, lack thereof).
Spirit actually began as a trucking company in the mid-1960s and they expanded to include air service in 1980 (they were a charter tour company at the time). In 1992, they expanded again to include a jet aircraft and they’ve been increasing their business ever since. Although not initially an ultra low cost carrier, they began that model in 2007.
As per their website, Spirit is able to keep their prices low because they don’t offer the free “frills” other airlines offer, such as complementary drinks or snacks, reclinable seats (which allows them to stuff more seats into the plane), wifi, in-seat power, in-flight movies/TV, etc. Their name for that is FRILL CONTROL™. They admit to having as many seats as possible on their planes as an added measure to keep your costs down (because they make more money per flight due to more people being on it. They try spin that and say they’re a “cozy” airline). And if you bring just one personal item that’s no more than 18″ x 14″ x 8″ (including handles and wheels – that’s important!) and nothing else, they won’t charge you for baggage, either (“It costs time and resources to process at the airport, which means it costs you more money.”).
Spirit charges you based on what you want to do and when you ask for it:
- If you make a reservation at the airport, there are no extra fees. But if you buy your tickets online, be prepared to pay $17.99 each way. If you buy them over the phone, that goes up to $25 each way (if you live close enough to an airport to be able to take advantage of “buying your tickets at the airport,” make sure you know when the ticket counter is open or you might be wasting a trip).
- Telling Spirit when you make your reservation about any other bags you’ll have will cost less than if you wait until online check-in, which will cost less than if you tell them at the airport/group desk/reservation center, which will cost less than if you do it at the gate.
Heads up that if you’re active military (you have to show your ID) you and your family traveling with you get one free carry-on and two free checked bags each.
And if your bag is more than 40 pounds (18kg) (not the typical 50 pounds most Americans are used to) or if you’re bringing sporting equipment (i.e. golf clubs, a surfboard, etc.), those are additional costs, as well. Car seats and medical equipment such as crutches, walkers or wheelchairs do not incur an additional fare.
- Didn’t print your boarding pass at home and need to do it at the airport? You can still do it for free at their kiosk for free but if you do it at check in, that will cost you $10.
- Want to have an assigned seat (as opposed to the “wheel of fortune” style of randomly assigned seats that may or may not put you in the middle seat?) That’ll cost you. The amount varies based on what type of seat you want and how long your flight is.
If using the random assignment route, children are generally kept with caregivers, although chances are good you’ll be way in the back of the plane.
- Want a bigger seat with more leg room? Their Big Front Seats are available for $12 to $175 per flight, depending on when you request one and how long your flight is.
- Food/snacks/drinks: Not even a free glass of water is available. Want a can of soda on the plane? As per Spirit, those cost money to keep in stock and extra gas to ship the weight of them on your flight, so it will cost you $3. Single snacks cost between $2.50 and $4 and they have packages if you want more than one thing (so if you get 1 Chex Mix or 1 Chips & Salsa + 2 soft drinks, it’s $8 – thereby saving you $2).
- Change your plans? There are no refunds. Ever. Well, unless when they’re not refunding a dying veteran and wind up with lots of bad publicity because of it. That being said, if it’s Spirit’s fault your flight was delayed or canceled, they’ll put you up on another plane and if there’s a mechanical problem, they might even get you a seat on another airline. Furthermore, if you’re bumped (it’s based on who were the last ones to check in on the flight), you can expect a check worth 4 times the amount of your ticket, plus they’ll put you on another flight.
FYI – $9 Fare Club
Spirit has an offer called the $9 Fare Club, which offers you and your party (up to 8 additional passengers) discounted fares and cheaper bags. As per Spirit’s website:
“When you join the $9 Fare Club, you’ll get exclusive access to some of the lowest fares available, as well as discounted prices on bags. Plus, you’ll get special deals that are available only to our $9 Fare Club members. Since the program began, our members have saved millions of dollars on their overall travel expenses.
Joining the $9 Fare Club costs only $59.95. To make sure you continue to save, we automatically renew your membership each year (at $69.95) unless you decide to cancel. We will remind you a month before your renewal that we are charging your credit card on file. At that time we will also refresh you about all of your savings benefits as a $9 Fare Club member.”
BTW, “$9 Fare Club savings and options are available only through our website. Our reservation and airport agents don’t have access to these amazing discounts, so make sure that you always book online and get your bag savings at Spirit.com.” It’s not lost on me that you’re already paying $17.99 each way per person to get the (online) discount rate. Hmmm…
FYI – FREE SPIRIT Frequent Flyer Program
FREE SPIRIT members earn miles every time they fly:
Members can also earn when they take advantage of Spirit Airlines’ partner bonus and earnings opportunities. A a brief glance, you can get better deals from what Joe has written about credit cards, car rentals, etc.
So that’s the gist of Spirit Airlines. I “get” their business model and for those who are interested in saving money and are willing to jump through the hoops to make sure they don’t pay any more than they need to, I could see how it would work for them. Would I fly them? Still a hearty NOPE. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pay a little extra to automatically get those “frills” like a can of soda or a seat that reclines, and not have to stand in line for an hour to check their bags (I’ve seen them at the airports). As always, Your Mileage May Vary. But at least you can now be a more informed customer and sometimes that’s half the battle.
As a final word, coincidentally, Ben (a.k.a. Lucky) from One Mile At A Time recently flew on Spirit, just to see what it was like (this is a guy who has like 8 bajillion frequent flyer miles and can get first class seating at any major airline, so this was quite a change for him). Here’s his report. It may surprise you.
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