Spirit Airlines is a discount airline that keeps its base prices low by providing only a ride from A to B and charging a la carte for every other service provided. Most of what I hear about Sprit Airlines in the media or in the blogosphere is that they are pulling a terrible bait-and-switch on their customers by luring them in with low base prices and then charging for all the services most airlines include in their prices, such as baggage and refreshments. But from what I read about the service, I think that I would love to fly with Spirit Airlines! I haven’t yet, because they don’t fly out of RDU, but I will definitely check them out if I’m ever going between cities that they service.
This past weekend I heard a much more balanced piece about Spirit Airlines from Planet Money and I got even more excited about the possibility of flying with Spirit in the future! I found out that Spirit is the fastest growing airline in America despite our ambiguity toward their business model.
Spirit Airlines’ Model
Spirit Airlines is about getting you from place to place at the cheapest price possible. Ben Baldanza, the CEO, analogizes Spirit in the Planet Money Piece, “If we were a retailer… We’re Dollar General… We’re not even Walmart… And we like being Dollar General, because we save people lots of money.” When you pay the base price, you’re paying for the flight, not all the frills. Those cost extra.
If you go to Spirit’s website, like any other airline site you can search for flights from the front page. When you navigate to the “Optional Services” page, the a la carte services are clearly laid out. The services that stood out to me are that you will pay extra for any bag you take on the plane, choosing your seat, and onboard snacks. There are some other services for which I’m not sure if fees are usually charged at other airlines, such as booking through the reservation center, unaccompanied minors fee, pet transportation, etc. Anyway, those are all on the website.
Many airlines have gotten terrible press for charging for checked bags in recent years, which has resulted in an epidemic of oversized carryons being stuffed into overhead bins on every flight (very annoying, IMO). With Spirit Airlines, there are different prices depending on when you pay for the bag – during online booking/before online check-in, during online check-in, at the airport, and at the gate. There are also different prices for a carry-on bag, a first checked bag, a second checked bag, and a third through fifth checked bag. The cheapest way to fly your bag is to pay for a first checked bag during online booking or before your online check-in ($30 for non-Fare Club members). The most expensive way is to pay for your bag at the gate ($100).
If you let Spirit choose your seat, there is no additional charge. But if you want to choose your own seat you will pay a fee of $1-50 or if you want extra room there will be a fee of $12-150. The normal seats have less leg room and width than those on other airlines and don’t recline.
There are no complementary snacks or beverages with Spirit, not even water or peanuts.
Why Spirit Is Perfect for Me (but Not Kyle)
I’ve done a lot of flying in the past 10 years with a lot of different airlines, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. My objective every time I get on a plane is to fall asleep before take-off, stay asleep throughout the flight, and wake up while taxiing to the arrival gate.
If I pack a single bag and manage to stay asleep throughout a whole flight, I shouldn’t have to pay for services I don’t use. As Ben Baldanza sad in the Planet Money Interview, “We think it’s fairer to charge customers for what they use and not charge them for what they don’t use.” What’s important to me is price. I want to fly a lot as cheaply as possible and I don’t give a flip about peanuts!
Bag Fees: We Don’t Mind Checking and Kyle Is a Master Packer
If it’s free, Kyle and I almost always check our bags. We don’t feel the need to have our bags with us on the plane. We also almost always share a single carryon-sized bag for a short trip because Kyle is freakishly good at packing bags.
Seats: I’m Small and I Don’t Care
Spirit has less legroom and a smaller seat width than other airlines, but I don’t care! I’m 5’2” and my knees never get near the seat in front of me. However, Kyle is 6’0” and definitely would not appreciated the reduced space.
I also never recline my seat so I don’t care about losing that functionality. I mean, I’m sure that it’s nice, but as I try to fall asleep before you’re allowed to recline your seat and stay asleep until after it has to be upright again, I don’t want to risk being disturbed to move my seat.
As we aren’t traveling with children or anything, it’s not vital for us to have seats together. If I’m flying by myself I really don’t care about being the first to get off the plane or whatever. To me, it’s worth sitting apart to keep the price low.
Snacks and Beverages: Ew
The thought of eating or drinking on a plane grosses me out. I haven’t accepted water or juice or a snack on a plane in years. I don’t want to deal with the trash. I certainly don’t want to have to go to the bathroom! Again, mostly I’m trying to be asleep. But Kyle always accepts beverage service on planes and whatever snacks they’re giving out.
Would Spirit Airlines Be Good for You?
As I said, I haven’t yet flown with Spirit so I don’t know for sure if I would enjoy their service. (I literally never set foot in in dollar stores and I view shopping at Target as practically slumming it.) I think the main issue that people have with Spirit Airlines is that they didn’t modulate their expectations. They accepted the low base price without checking out how the airline manages to provide those prices and then were surprised to find out about the a la carte fees right before the flight. I can understand being upset in that situation, but they failed to do their due diligence! And that’s what this post is for. If you ever are tempted to buy a Spirit flight, just be sure to add on to their base price what services you expect to consume during the flight. Then ask yourself if the price difference between what a mainstream airline would charge you and your adjusted Spirit price is worth the extra comforts of the other airline.
Have you ever flown with Spirit and what was your experience? Do you check out possible extra fees before you book with a service?
photo from Free Digital Photos