The Truth about Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines Airbus A321

Spirit Airlines. Photograph from 123RF stock photos.

There are things you should know before booking a flight with Spirit Airlines.

So, you need to book a flight, and you want to know how it is to fly with Spirit Airlines.

I’ve taken my first Spirit Airlines trip, and it was an experience.

There’s a lot not to like about Spirit. Who is Spirit Airlines? If Spirit were a person, its personality would be a lot like Ben Baldanza, who was CEO of the airline until January 2016. He had quite an attitude and was was very in your face. Basically, if you don’t like it the way we do business, well, f*@#k you. It will be interesting to see whether  the new CEO, Robert Fornaro, brings a different outlook to the company.

Spirit airline customer

Who is the Spirit customer? Young and hip, older with limited income — they serve a wide range of people. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Spirit glories in its reputation for cheap, you pay for everything way of doing business.

I’ll tell you a little secret — their target market doesn’t care. Or more accurately, it won’t stop them from flying Spirit.

Who is their target market? On my flight to New Orleans, I saw a lot of young, über-hip fliers. There was a delightful, young couple with their baby who sat next to me. Baby Annabelle and her parents were headed for spur of the moment weekend get-away in NOLA. I saw working class middle-agers. And I saw the elderly. In other words, Spirit serves a lot of people who probably couldn’t afford to fly on regular carriers. At least not very often.

It’s important to have low cost airlines in the transportation mix. Years ago, Southwest Airlines played this role. There used to be something called the Southwest effect, described by Vinay Bhaskara as “when low cost Southwest Airlines entered a market, fares tended to drop and market volume tended to increase.” This isn’t the case anymore. Increasingly, Southwest Airlines charges as much as all of the other carriers. There is a place for Spirit in the air market.

To offer the incredibly cheap fares they advertise, Spirit’s services are completely unbundled. And that means you pay for everything separately. EVERYTHING.

Spirit airlines sign $100 carry on bag policy

Thought you’d avoid bag charges by taking yours onboard? Man, you are SCREWED.

If you’ve never flown on Spirit before, I warn you — read carefully about the extra charges. Carry-on luggage? If it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, you will pay for it. If you pay when you buy your ticket, it’s not too bad. The longer you wait to buy the bags, the more it’s going to cost you.

And if you think you’ll somehow avoid paying these fees and try to board the airline with your suitcase — well, that will be $100, please.

So what are the bag fees? You’ll find an example from a flight from Houston to New Orleans below.

But hey, it also means that if you just want to fly somewhere without luggage, you have a very cheap flight.

Oh, and they charge for everything else, too. Want a counter representative to print your boarding pass? $10. Would you like a snack? How about some mixed nuts . . . $4, please. Like a cocktail? Have two and save 3 bucks. Want to pick your seat? Pony up. One of the larger seats in the front? Oh, big spender, you are speaking my language. Want to reschedule your flight? Okay, bend over now; and if you want lube for that, you guessed it — that will be EXTRA.

Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the charges. I knew about them; I thought the website was very clear about what to expect, and I had no surprises. I booked the flight three days out, and Spirit, even with the extra charges, was less than half the price of the other airlines.

Example of Spirit Airlines extra charges.

Example of Spirit Airlines bag charges.

Spirit's menu

Spirit’s refreshment menu. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I find Spirit’s graphic design and ad choices fun. Perfect for the cheap and cheesy way the company does things. But, um . . . they stole them.

It’s a great advertising story from 2015. When Scoot Airlines (Asian market) realized that Spirit’s new graphics and branding brazenly copied theirs, they turned it into a media campaign of their own.

Highly entertaining marketing and public relations slap! Spirit remains impervious to the criticism . . . remember this is the company that posts “State of the Hate” videos.

Scoot Airlines CEO calls out Spirit Airlines for copying their branding.

Scoot Airlines CEO calls out Spirit Airlines for copying their branding. Scoot turned it into an advertising coup, making fun of the theft. Link to the Saatchi site to watch the video.

Cheap, cheap Spirit airlines seat.

Spirit Airlines seat. The “tray” looks like a pocket notebook. Hey, and don’t even think about storing anything in the seat back “pocket”.

Next up is seat comfort. This is the cheapest looking and feeling seat I have ever seen. Tightest legroom imaginable and the seats do not recline. Spirit sold this idea by telling you that it’s “pre-reclined.” I like it. They can spin anything. I’m not a tall person, so handling this for a short flight isn’t a problem. If you are tall, please look at the picture of the hip young man above. There is no room for long legs.

Spirit Airlines Biggest Problem?

If you care about getting somewhere on time, you don’t want to risk flying Spirit.

According to Fortune magazine, Spirit Airline’s rating shows they have the worst on-time performance record of any airline in the country. Only 49.9% of their flights arrive on time. My experience is right in line with that — on time to New Orleans, 45 minutes late back to Houston.

If you are making a multi-leg trip where making connections is key, hhmmm. Flying Spirit is not a great idea, because there is a high probability you could miss your connecting flight.

In his blog, View from the Wing, Gary Leff puts it this way, “The biggest issue is that they [Spirit] don’t have a big, redundant route network. That’s at the heart of their business model, it’s how they make money. But it also makes them less reliable . . . When a flight cancels or faces a significant delay there aren’t a lot of alternate ways to get you to your destination.” It’s not surprising that Fortune magazine also reports that Spirit Airlines has the most complaints of any airline in the U.S..

Did I enjoy flying Spirit? No, not really, but it wasn’t bad either. Would I fly Spirit again? Yes. But only a direct flight to places where an on time arrival isn’t a big deal.

Let’s put it this way. I won’t be getting rid of my Delta Skymiles American Express card anytime in the near future.

By the way, the Fortune article listed Delta Airlines as having an over 82% on-time record.

Update: Overweight Bag Charges

I flew Spirit in December 2016 — a cheap flight from Orlando to Houston, even with paying for a checked bag.

One thing I did NOT realize: Spirit has a 40 lb. limit on their checked bags! All other domestic carriers in the USA have 50 lb. limit. So, if you are thinking you will carry a larger suitcase and not take a carry-on, which Spirit charges for, think again.

This caught me unawares. I always pay attention to my bag weight. My suitcase is a standard checked-bag size — not over-sized, and I never have a problem going over 50 lbs. — but it never occurred to me that Spirit had a lower weight limit (okay, it should have occurred to me, but it didn’t). My bag weighed 42 lbs. – so, that will be an extra $30 please — Cha-ching! Just another thing to be aware of and to plan for if you plan to fly Spirit.

Spirit Airlines: Overweight Bag Charges
41 – 50 lbs. (18 – 23 kg) + $30
51 – 70 lbs. (23 – 32 kg) + $55
71 – 100 lbs. (32 – 45 kg) + $100
63-80 linear inches (158-203 cm) + $100
Special items over 80 linear inches (203 cm) + $150

Another note on my December trip: the flights were on time, and at the Houston airport, Spirit had added an additional employee at the ticket counter to assist passengers with the self-service kiosks. Customer service at the counters on both ends seems to have improved from my first experience last March.

My take-away again: If you are going to fly Spirit, do your homework. Be VERY aware of their extra charges for everything. Be wary of planning trips with connecting flights, since Spirit’s on-time record is the worst in the industry.

April 2017 Update: Spirit Airlines is Shrinking the Size of Personal Items Allowed Onboard. Yes, that’s right — pony up, big boy. You’ll be paying more for bringing things onboard. Read the Travel and Leisure article for full details: Your Baggage Allowance on Spirit Airlines is Smaller


Expedia.com


Ann Cavitt Fisher in Castolon, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.

At Castolon, in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.

About Ann

I grew up in Mississippi and New Orleans, have lived in both Seattle and Manhattan, and finally moved back to Texas in 1990’s.

I have a darling teenage daughter who heads off to university in the fall of 2017. I have been divorced and am now widowed. Finally, I am a colon cancer survivor.

I am now writing and traveling full time — what a wonderful thing!

This website is a forum for many things. I want to talk about life, in all of its rich, wonderful and terrifying forms. I want to share my travels, my thoughts on life, and my experiences as a woman and a mom. I want to talk about the nature of reality and the meaning of life, and to celebrate being alive.

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.


I’m happy you’re here — for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:

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Other articles on Spirit Airlines

Bhaskara, Vinay. “Has “The Spirit Effect” Replaced ” The Southwest Effect?” – Airchive.” Airchive. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Chew, Jonathan. “These Airlines Finished Last in the Latest On-time List.” Fortune These Airlines Finished Last in the Latest Ontime List Comments. 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Elliott, Christopher. “A Tale of Two Airlines.” National Geographic Travel. Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Leff, Gary. “Why I Won’t Fly Spirit Airlines – View from the Wing.” View from the Wing. 12 July 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

11 Comments on The Truth about Spirit Airlines

  1. VEry interesting. Thanks for the info. I rarely fly, so I had no idea.
    Thanks for the follow!

    Like

  2. What a great post. Fair and honest with genuinely helpful suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. worth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a ton of information and balanced reporting! WOW Airlines operates the same way, and by the time the nickel-and-diming was over, it was worth paying just $75 more for the Delta ticket to Paris.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Ann! Why am I reminded of the “meat wagon” flight from McChord AFB to Seoul, in 1970? Didn’t cost me a dime…

    Liked by 1 person

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