Would You Fly with Spirit Airlines?

airplane in flightSpirit 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


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30 Responses to "Would You Fly with Spirit Airlines?"

  1. Alicia says:

    I’m not in the US, so I haven’t used this particular airline, but I’ve used similar. When I was flying in Europe, I had booked a no frills airline very similar to what you described – I guess the model wasn’t sustainable for them because the airline went under between me booking the ticket and actually using it. I ended up having to file a complaint with my credit card for reimbursement. I ended up booking with another discount airline that was again “a la carte”, and had to pay extra for the bag, etc. No big deal.

    My biggest problem is that I am tall (5’10 and all legs really) as well… I remember flying Luftansa from Toronto to Vienna, and it was horribly uncomfortable on my legs. My saving grace was my 5’2 friend let he encroach into her legroom. So, I suppose it depends on the length of the flight whether I would sacrifice that room or not.
    Alicia recently posted..Remember, the Internet is Forever.

    1. Emily says:

      The Planet Money piece mentioned that there are a few airlines in other countries with a similar business model. That sucks that the airline you booked with only lasted a few more months and that it ended up being such a hassle for you.

      I definitely let Kyle encroach on my legroom. You’re right, a short hop might not be so bad but it might be worth to pay extra for legroom for a longer one. There are apparently seats with extra legroom available on Spirit for “$12-150” – big range, there!

  2. I have flown Spirit before. While it is cheap, remember the flight will probably be delayed at some point. So don’t plan to be somewhere at an exact hour because you may be late. I didn’t bank for this on one of our trips and I had to pay $400 to get on another flight. Although I later found out Spirit should have paid for it since it was their fault they were going to make us late.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..The Most Tax Efficient Investments in Australia

    1. Emily says:

      Oh, are airlines responsible for paying for another flight if theirs is late? I just looked at some stats on on-time flights for Spirit vs. other airlines (a bit hard to find as they are not a major carrier) and it seemed to me that their stats are very similar to other airlines’.

  3. E 2 says:

    I haven’t flown Spirit but this sounds a lot like the Ryanair model in Europe, and I’ve found it a worthwhile bargain. Yeah, I’ve taken flights at really odd and inconvenient hours, from slightly out of the way airports, with no seat selection options…but the price was right and it’s not like flying coach in a standard airline is sitting in the lap of luxury. Totally worth it, IMO. (The only thing I’ve gotten burned on was baggage fees, since traveling within Europe, the weight limits for checked bags are often very low, but I was carrying American or transatlantic-flight sized bags, so I had to pay PER KILO for overage. Don’t know if Spirit will have restrictions like that for domestic flights in the US though, I think American airlines assume bigger standard sizes.)

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, we go for the smaller airports and poor times when it helps us spend less. The only thing we’ve cut back on is red-eyes.

      That is interesting about the different weight limits… I will try to keep that in mind! I didn’t see Spirit’s website mention weight or size limits but they must exist.

    2. NZ Muse says:

      Oh, the size and weight limits on some airlines are just insane. A lot of long term travelers only travel with as much as fits into a carryon, but when the limits are 7kg and about the size of two laptop bags, that just wasn’t going to happen for us.
      NZ Muse recently posted..Surviving a layoff: 2009 vs 2014

  4. Sara says:

    Southwest is our domestic carrier of choice. The only downside we have found is that when you check bags they always seem to take slightly longer than other airlines do.

    I have flown on Spirit once, and it was awful. One of my siblings got sick and they did absolutely nothing about it. No offering to help, no towels, no ginger ale or anything. This was after the flight was about six hours late in taking off.

    (Plus, we’re 5’9 and 6’5 so the reduced space is a big turn off for us!)

    1. Emily says:

      I like Southwest generally and I always check for their flights, but they don’t have a big presence at RDU, at least not going where we go! We used to fly with them a lot more than we do now.

      That really sucks about your sibling getting sick. You would think they would at least help clean up. I’ve never gotten/seen anyone get sick on an airplane, though, so I don’t know what other carriers would do.

  5. I have friends who have traveled with Spirit and think it’s fine. They do fly out of an airport that pretty far out of the way here in the valley (out in Mesa). But if you don’t mind the drive, and you happen to be flying somewhere that they have in their flight options (which are pretty limited) then I say go for it.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Limit Your Options, Expand Your Wallet

    1. Emily says:

      I will, when I get the chance! I think it’s worth checking out even if it’s only the one time if Kyle hates it.

  6. Ashley says:

    I would definitely be up for trying Spirit! I think you’re absolutely right- just do your research before the flight so that you know exactly what you’ll be charged extra for!
    Ashley recently posted..Getting Started: Saving

    1. Emily says:

      The Planet Money piece was pretty funny – they got some audio of a flight attendant saying that tons of people complain about the business model of the airline but she sees them come back over and over.

  7. SarahN says:

    Don’t try to make it to Australia without a toilet stop on board or intake of food or water! That’s at least 15 hours! I always eat on board, to me it’s ‘free food’ – and I can’ tpass it up!

    That being said, like Alicia, whilst I’m not American, I have flown a lot internally in the US. I almost have to have checked baggage, coming from Australia, as there’s no where for me to leave my luggage between stops in flights all over the US. So I know how to book, and how much it costs. Annoyingly, I flew Delta international (NYC to Israel) and they let me have cabin baggage (they didn’t check the weight). On the way from Israel to the US I got moved to El Al (Israel international carrier) and sadly they MADE me check my carry on sized suitcase. I wouldn’t have minded usually, but I had a tight connection in NY for a flight to Chicago. All’s well that ends well, but there’s a lot more to that leg of the journey that put it up there with ‘worst ever!’.
    SarahN recently posted..Weight loss plans

    1. Emily says:

      Haha, I haven’t taken any long international flights but I’m sure I won’t be able to shut down my body for a 15 hour flight.

      I’ve had one bad flight that made me swear off an airline and I have been able to avoid it since then.

      I’ve been very frustrated in the last few years with the carryon mess that’s going on here. Even people who don’t need to keep their luggage with them (like us, usually) end up carrying on because they charge to check. Then whoever gets on the plane last, whether they really need their bags with them or not, has to check their bags.

      1. SarahN says:

        I think it’s so counter intuitive to charge to check bags, only to check bags at the gate when the overhead bins get too full (and it ends up being free). Why not make it free to start with?!!?
        SarahN recently posted..Weigh in Wednesday – weight of trash (and me!)

        1. Emily says:

          Last night we went into the flight knowing we would prefer to check our bag but not wanting to pay the $25 fee, so we just packed 2 carryons and waited for them to ask for volunteers to check. It worked out perfectly for us and I hope some other people who really needed their bags with them were able to get them on the plane.

  8. Choosing your seat and carry ons should be free in my opinion, so having to pay for those things that seem like part of the flight cost and not an extra would piss me off.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..I Suck at Ebay

    1. Emily says:

      *shrugs* What if choosing your own seat costs $15 and the luggage costs $30 and the base price is $100 less than comparable flights? I wouldn’t want to be blindsided by the fees but if they’re giving me a deal overall I don’t mind!

      1. NZ Muse says:

        Overall price is the main factor for me. That has to include transport to destination though, no use if the budget airport is an hour away from the actual city, for example.
        NZ Muse recently posted..Surviving a layoff: 2009 vs 2014

        1. Emily says:

          Very good point. We do include general area airports in our searches but are careful to calculate for additional ground transportation. Looking at a further-off airport saved us a bunch of money a year and a half ago when we were trying to get to Hamilton, ON, because we had planned on renting a car anyway.

  9. I don’t think I’d fly Spirit, but who knows. I’m generally happy with the prices and services I get on Southwest or Jetblue when I have to fly. I’m fine with paying a bit more if it means I don’t have to worry about what every little thing on the flight will cost me.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Two Little Known Ways To Save Money On Amazon

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like price isn’t the most important point for you, so why put up with Spirit’s irregularities?

  10. Cash Rebel says:

    Great review Emily. I’ve also only heard extremely negative things about Spirit. I think the issue is that they come up I’m search engines as one for one competitors with united airlines. So I get why consumers are pissed off if they think it’s an apples to apples comparison.

    Personally, I love the idea that we’re charged the base rate and pay extra for the thrills. I’d hate it if all the luxury features came standard on a honda civic. I don’t want them and I don’t want to pay for them so I’m happy not to have to.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..cottage food laws: How to sell homemade food

    1. Emily says:

      I agree – you can’t expect an orange to taste like an apple even though they are both fruit! I often wish that services could come more stripped-down with options to add extras, so Spirit is right in line with that general attitude.

  11. NZ Muse says:

    Sounds like a lot of the European budget airlines.

    I really like Easyjet, for example, but dislike Ryanair.

    Like you, I’m not fussed at least for shorter flights because I’m small and I don’t care about service. My husband is about three times my size and finds flying an ordeal no matter what.
    NZ Muse recently posted..Surviving a layoff: 2009 vs 2014

    1. Emily says:

      We took an AirTran flight this past weekend and my husband was complaining about being squeezed, and I think the Spirit planes are even tighter. Thanks for the tips about the European airlines!

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