Ultra-low-cost airline Spirit will likely have the cheapest base fares on any route it flies, but the carrier’s pre-flight and onboard penny-pinching may cut into those savings. Here’s what to expect (and how to make sure you’re getting the best prices for your route) when flying with Spirit.
$9 Fare Club Actually Costs $60
The cheapest fares available via Spirit’s airfare promotions are exclusively for members of the airline’s $9 Fare Club. The Fare Club gives access not only to cheaper fares but also reduced bag fees.
But hold on to your wallet, because membership to Spirit’s famed $9 Fare Club actually costs $59.95 for the first year. A 60-day trial membership (which once cost $9, hence the outdated name) goes for $19.95—and unless Spirit receives a written cancellation notice, it automatically rolls over into an annual membership.
Here’s another stinger: Trial memberships may only be purchased with airfare and aren’t valid until the next reservation.
Be forewarned that annual membership renewals cost $69.95, carry over annually unless canceled before the expiration date, and are nonrefundable after they’ve been charged.
Still, despite all of the dodgy bait-and-switch pricing, plus the fact that you can’t access the members-only fares until after the initial reservation, the program may still be worthwhile for frequent travelers who fly through Spirit’s hubs, in particular Ft. Lauderdale, its main hub.
Related:9 Free Travel Deals That Aren’t Really Free
Carry-Ons Will Cost You
Heft won’t be the only hardship you experience when you bring a carry-on bag aboard a Spirit flight. Depending on your affiliation with Spirit’s Fare Club program, you can either be outright robbed or simply gouged—either way, you’re paying for your carry-on.
Fare Club members pay between $26 and $100 to bring a carry-on bag onboard; the $26 rate applies when members select the option during the booking stage. A $36 rate applies to members who select the option during online check-in. It costs $50 for members who wait until check-in at the airport to declare a carry-on bag. And it’ll set everyone back (members and nonmembers alike) a whopping $100 to declare any bag at the gate—even if it’s a carry-on.
Nonmembers are subjected to a $35, $45, or $50 fee for every bag they bring into the cabin. Again, it’s cheapest when you select the option during the flight-booking process, mid-range during online check-in, and costliest at the airport reservation desk.
Checking bags won’t save the wallet either: Fare Club members and nonmembers alike pay $45 for the first bag if they select the option at the airport reservation desk, and as much as $100 each for bags three through five. In comparison, most other airlines permit one free carry-on and average about $25 for the first checked bag. (Check out our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees for more details.)
Related:8 Carry-on Packing Tips That Will Change How You Travel
There’s Only One Way to Avoid Bag Fees
The cheapest checked-bag option is to declare a single bag when booking your flight as a member of the Fare Club. That will cost you “just” $21. The absolute only way to avoid bag fees altogether, however, is to pack a single personal item such as a small backpack or purse with dimensions smaller than the seat in front of you (16 x 14 x 12 or smaller).
If you must travel with more luggage, add up Spirit’s cheap airfare plus its bag fees and use that total to compare to other airlines. (Keep in mind that Southwest, for example, will check up to two bags for free and doesn’t charge for carry-ons.)
Related:One Easy Way to Fit It All in a Carry-on
Seat Assignments Cost as Much as $199
Here’s how Spirit’s clever marketing team disguises the obscene idea of charging for seat selections: “If you don’t select a seat, we’ll assign random seats at check-in for free, but we can’t guarantee that you will get to sit with your friends or family.” Select to sit next to a companion (child, spouse, anyone) and it’ll cost $1 to $50.
Wider seats with extra legroom cost from $12 to $199 in advance and from $25 to $75 for onboard upgrades, depending on the flight’s length.
Related:When Spending a Little More Is a Good Idea
Frequent-Flyer Miles Expire Quickly
Spirit’s use ’em or lose ’em policy puts on quite the pressure. Members of Spirit’s Free Spirit loyalty program have 90 days after accrual to redeem their miles, otherwise it’s bye-bye, miles. Card-carrying members, who pay an annual rate of $59 for a Spirit Airlines World MasterCard, are exempt from the three-month expiration rule.
Related:The Sneaky Way Airlines Are Raising Fares
Drinks and Snacks Will Cost You, Too
Spirit is proud of its “ultra-low Bare Fares that get you from A to B” concept. They’re not exaggerating about bare fares, either—expect no cup of water, no pretzels, no peanuts with your flight. At least the use of the lavatory is still free. For now.
Related:10 Things You Should Never Say to a Flight Attendant
No In-Flight Entertainment
There’s nothing. No seatback monitor, nothing. Good thing we’re in an age where all the entertainment you need fits in a bag.
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This general review of Spirit Airlines has been compiled to give you a quick glance at the airline from the viewpoint of a viable customer.
Ever wonder… How much does Spirit charge for Baggage Fees? Will I get snacks and drinks when I fly Spirit? How often is Spirit Airlines delayed?
We’ve outlined some basic company statistics, ticketing options, added fees including baggage fees, seat specs, inflight amenities, customer satisfaction ratings, and more.
Table of contents
Airline: Spirit Airlines
Category: Ultra Low-Cost Carrier
Frequent Flyer Program: Free Spirit
Tag Line: “Less Money. More Go.”
About/Mission Statement: “Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) is committed to offering the lowest total price to the places we fly, on average much lower than other airlines…We help people save money and travel more often, create new jobs and stimulate business growth in the communities we serve.” (source)
Daily Flights: 400+
Destinations: 59 (U.S., Latin America, & Caribbean)
Fleet: 105 planes
Main Hub: Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International (FLL)
- Standard Fare (Bare Fare)
- $9 Fare Club
Standard Fare: Spirit Airlines prides themselves on offering “unbundled” fares. In a nutshell, this means advertising the lowest possible rate as a base fare, or as they call it a Bare Fare™. Spirit then gives customers the ability to add options, which they call Frill Control™.
This means Spirit’s basic fare includes the most standard seat and 1 personal item. No refreshments, no seat recline, no Wi-Fi, etc. Spirit claims this generally lowers the cost of your ticket since with most other airlines all of these “frills” are included in your base fare, even if you don’t want them.
$9 Fare Club: Spirit advertises a $9 Fare Club that they claim gives customers exclusive access to some of the lowest fairs available, as well as discounted baggage fees. They also claim that $9 Fare Club members are privy to special deals only available to members.
The cost of the program is a $59.95 fee, which is renewed annually for $69.95 unless members decide to cancel. The club’s discounts are also applicable for up to 8 persons on your itinerary if reserved under the same booking confirmation number.
Word to The Wise: Remember that when booking with Spirit, an average traveler usually encounters added fees for options they generally don’t even consider when purchasing a typical airline ticket. For example, it’ll cost you $10 to print your boarding pass at the airport ticket counter vs. on your home computer. You can find more information on Spirit’s options/fees below.
Additionally, while you can pay more for a little extra leg room, there are no traditional premium economy, business class, or first class fares on Spirit Airlines.
Baggage & Other Fees
Since Spirit Airlines starts with a stripped down fare, there are a number of additional options that can be tacked on for an extra fee.
Baggage Fees: Spirit only includes 1 personal item with their Bare Fare. This means a carry-on and all checked bags are extra. Additionally, baggage prices increase the closer you get to take-off. So, your best bet is to pre-purchase your desired baggage allowance during your initial booking.
It’s important to note that Spirit Airlines has some pretty tight size/weight limitations for baggage:
- Personal Item: 18″ x 14″ x 8″
- Standard Carry-On: 22″ x 18″ x10″
- Checked Bag: max linear dimensions of 62″, max weight of 40lbs
The following table displays general fees for MOST routes. However, for the most accurate baggage fee calculations, please use Spirit’s online baggage calculator tool here.
|At the Gate|
|Carry-On||$26 / $35||$36 / $45||$55 / $55||$65 / $65|
|1st Checked Bag||$21 / $30||$31 / $40||$50 / $50||$65 / $65|
|2nd Checked Bag||$31 / $40||$41 / $50||$60 / $60||n/a|
|$9 Fare Club / Standard Fare|
Reservation Center Booking: Spirit Airlines charges $35 per reservation center phone booking for both standard bookings and Free Spirit award tickets. Save yourself some money and book online if possible.
Seat Assignment & Big Front Seat™: Unless you pay an extra fee, Spirit randomly assigns you a seat at check-in. They also can’t guarantee you’ll get to sit with your friends or family with this free assignment. Spirit urges customers to purchase a seat assignment to choose the seat they really want.
Seat assignments begin at $5 and can cost up to $50, varying according to your specific route and the exact location of seats on the aircraft.
Additionally, customers can purchase a Big Front Seat™ that comes with about 6″ of extra legroom. (See seat specs below.) Since these seats are limited (usually 4-10 per plane), you can expect the cost to fall between $12-$150 in advance or $25-$175 as an onboard upgrade. This price is based on availability and flight length.
Boarding Pass: Let’s be clear here: when flying Spirit, check-in online and print your boarding pass at home. If you wait until you get to the airport, Spirit Airlines will charge $2 per boarding pass printed at a kiosk and a hefty $10 per pass printed at their check-in counters. Spirit argues that it utilizes more of their time and resources to print a pass at the airport, so that’s why they charge for it.
It’s also important to note that Spirit does not yet have functionality for mobile device boarding passes.
Refreshments Onboard:Spirit states: “Your Bare Fare doesn’t include refreshments – even water – because it costs money to stock ’em and gas to carry ’em.” Spirit provides a menu with variable pricing from which customers can make a drink/snack selection.
Soft drinks, juices, and water currently cost $3, with coffee and tea costing $2. You can expect to pay $7 for alcoholic beverages and snacks vary from $2.50-$6.50.
Modification Fees: These are fees applied to change or cancel your reservation. If you purchase “Flex Flight” for $35-$45 at the time of booking, you’re allowed 1 flight modification at no extra cost as long as it’s done more than 24 hours prior to your departure.
- Change/Cancellation Fee:$90 (online); $100 (phone/in-person); $50 (group booking)
As an added benefit to canceling online, customers are issued a $10 voucher (per one-way fare) if the value of the reservation is less than the cost of cancellation.
Priority Boarding: Customers who wish to acquire Zone 2 priority boarding may pay $5.99 per one-way ticket.
Standby Fee: The standby fee is currently $99 per one-way flight.
Infant (Lap Child) Fee: FREE (taxes may apply in certain countries)
Unaccompanied Minor Fee: $100 per customer, each way (includes snack and beverage)
Pet Transport Fee: $110 per pet container, each way (limited to 4 pets per cabin total)
How to Avoid Excess Fees
There’s an easy way to avoid a number of these excess fees, and it involves utilizing the member benefits of specific credit cards.
The following cards offer airline credits that will cover the cost of certain added fees (baggage, inflight purchases, etc.):
|Credit Card||Fee Reimbursement Details|
|💳 Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®||With this card, you can use your miles to cover any qualifying travel purchases of $100 or more, including baggage fees (which is perfect for families that travel and incur travel expenses). Simply apply your miles to these expenses when your statement arrives!|
|💳 Chase Sapphire Reserve℠||$300 travel credit per calendar year (covers all travel related purchases).|
|Citi Prestige Card||$250 air travel credit per calendar year (covers all travel related purchases)|
|Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card||$300 airline fee credit per calendar year (covers all travel related purchases)|
Spirit Inflight Amenities & Seat Specs
What will my flight on Spirit look like?
Inflight Amenities: As mentioned above, Spirit prides themselves on offering the lowest possible base fare. This means a lot of inflight amenities many travelers are used to are simply unavailable.
- Spirit does not provide in flight Wi-Fi, video streaming capabilities, or any onboard entertainment.
- Refreshment service is limited to paid beverages and snacks only.
Seat Specs: Seat Specs for Spirit Airlines flights vary slightly depending on plane style. However, Spirit is notorious for having one of the shortest economy pitches of all domestic carriers. We’ve combined information from Spirit Airlines and SeatGuru to aggregate the following seat specs.
In general, dimensions are as follows:
- Big Front Seats – 36″ pitch, 20″ width
- Standard economy seats – 28″ pitch, 17.75″ width
|Big Front Seats||Economy Seats|
|Airbus A319 (319)||145||10||135|
|Airbus A320 (320)||178||4||174|
|Airbus A320 SF (320)||178||4||174|
|Airbus A320 SF (32A)||182||8||174|
|Airbus A321 (321)||218||4||214|
|Airbus A321 SF (32B)||228||8||220|
*Please note that when reading the information & tables above, Spirit refers to their standard seats as “Deluxe Leather Seats.”
Spirit Customer Satisfaction
Are customers happy with Spirit Airlines?
While Spirit Airlines doesn’t drum up a lot of positive press when it comes to customer satisfaction, they’re working hard to change the narrative.
Spirit’s new tactic involves talking up their Basic Fare and emphasizing the fact that stripped down services are necessary to provide you, the customer, with the cheapest possible ticket option.
Here are a few examples:
Instead of hiding the fact that their seat specs are a little tight, Spirit states: “We’re a cozy airline; We add extra seats to our planes so we can fly with more people. This lowers ticket prices for everyone, just like a carpool.”
To justify their increasing baggage fee scale, Spirit says: “It costs time and resources to process at the airport, which means it costs you more money.”
To address their “no refunds” policy, Spirit claims: “Trying to resell your ticket raises fares for everyone, so we don’t give refunds if your plans change. Insurance is available to protect you from the unexpected.”
Honesty & Transparency: One thing you can’t fault Spirit on is their honesty. They are very clear on their website that they’re attempting to offer the best possible price by cutting unnecessary expenditures. They even state they’re proud to have broken some rules along the way.
Transparency on the other hand…not so much. With Spirit, it’s tough to determine your total costs until you’ve selected all your specifics including destination, departure dates, add ons, etc. Without going through the motions all the way to your purchase point, customers are simply given quotes like “fees starting at $5.”
Most Common Complaints
What are the most common Spirit Airlines complaints?
The August 2017 Air Travel Consumer Report filed by Transportation.gov ranks Spirit Airlines as having the highest number of consumer complaints of any airline from the 12 reporting U.S. carriers.
For January 2017 through June 2017, there were 781 complaints out of 11,582,036 system-wide enplanements, or 6.74 complaints per 100,000 passengers. (In comparison, Southwest had just 0.5 complaints per 100,000 passengers.)
Type of Complaints (Jan ’17 – June ’17)
- Flight Problems (cancellation, delay, or misconnection): 435 / 55.7%
- Reservation, Ticketing, Boarding: 93 / 11.9%
- Fares: 55 / 7.04%
- Refunds: 50 / 6.40%
- Customer Service: 43 / 5.51%
- Baggage: 41 / 5.25%
- Over-Sales: 33 / 4.23%
- Disability: 22 / 2.82%
- Advertising: 1 / 0.13%
- Other: 8 / 1.02%
Consumer Rankings, Ratings, Etc.
It’s difficult to compile all the rankings, ratings, reviews and performance statistics into a single short synopsis, mainly because there are so many out there. Instead, we’ve listed a few of the more reputable options for a quick overview.
SkyTrax Ranking:2 Star Airline (out of 5)
SkyTrax Customer Rating: 3/10 (average from 1,906 reviews)
ACSI Rating (American Customer Satisfaction Index): 61% (lowest of 12 largest U.S. carriers, 12mo ending March ’17)
AQR (Airline Quality Rating): 11th of 12 Overall, 12th of 12 Customer Satisfaction (of 12 largest U.S. carriers)
TripAdvisor Airline Review Rating: 2.5/5 (average from 4,283 reviews)
Kayak Customer Rating: 5.4/10 (average from 48,754 reviews)
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
- Rate of Cancelled Flights: 3.37% (2017 year to date)
- Average Departure Delay, All Flights: 12.76 minutes (2017 year to date)
- Average Departure Delay, Late Flights: 65.49 minutes (2017 year to date)
Transportation.gov, Air Travel Consumer Reports
- On Time Arrival Rate (Jun ’16-Jun ’17): 76%, 9th out of 12 reporting carriers
- Number & Percentage of Reg. Sched. Flights Arriving Late 70% or More of the Time (Jun ’17): 14/445 or 3.1%
- Mishandled Baggage Reports Filed by Passengers (Jan-May 2017): 17,253 per 10,805,441 passengers, or 1.60 in 1,000
- Passengers Involuntarily Denied Boarding (Jan-Jun 2017): Worst of 12 reporting carriers at 1.06 per 100,000 passengers
- Most Chronically Delayed Flight (May/Jun 2017): Spirit 876, FLL>EWR at 87%/80% of flights delayed by 103.7/86.58 minutes
(B) Spirit Press Release: As of year-end 2016, Spirit’s Fit Fleet™ averaged 5.2 years, the youngest fleet of any major U.S. airline.
(W) The Points Guy Best & Worst Airlines: 10th out of 10 (i.e. the worst of 10 largest U.S. airlines, 2017 report)
(W) WalletHub 2017’s Best Airlines: 11th out of 12 (i.e. the second worst of 10 largest U.S. airlines & 2 regional carriers)
In Favor of Spirit Airlines
While the Spirit Airlines conversation usually trends toward the negative side, there are a number of reviews supporting Spirit Airlines.
People who speak positively about Spirit seem to be those who know exactly what they want out of a cheap flight: getting from Point A to Point B, and that’s about it. They’re expecting a stripped down experience, and they’re expecting to encounter some surprise fees during the booking process.
They know what to pay for and when to pay for it, as well as where and what time to fly in order to secure some seriously cheap fares.
You can find people like The Points Guy (whose report lists Spirit as the worst of 10 largest U.S. airlines) telling you why “I flew Spirit Airlines and Kinda Liked It.”
LifeHacker teaches you “How to Fly Spirit Without Losing Your Mind,” noting that as much as they hate the airline itself, the prices are awesome.
One Huffington Post contributor has written a post to explain “Why I Continue To Fly Spirit Airlines Despite All The Reasons People Think I Shouldn’t.”
So…there are a few brave souls out there who will publicly vouch for Spirit.
All in all, there are a number of factors that consistently land Spirit in the proverbial hot seat when it comes to customer satisfaction. Ticketing options are limited, extra fees abound, seat specs are tight, and inflight amenities are certainly lacking. Not to mention that the general consensus surrounding flying Spirit seems to be: don’t.
However, if you’re looking for an especially cheap fare, don’t mind a bare bones flight experience, and aren’t too bothered about potential complaint-worthy hiccups, by all means…go ahead and book yourself a Spirit Airlines flight!
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