Everything You Need to Know about Flying the Super Budget Airline
When it comes to super budget airlines, Spirit Airlines is the biggest name around. Famously known for their fleet of bright yellow planes with black lettering, Spirit has often gotten a bad name in the travel business.
At the time of booking travel, travelers love Spirit’s cheap, no-frills prices. However, once they get to the airport or hop on-board the plane, uneducated fliers get a big wake up call. Passengers get upset and complain about all of the extra fees, not knowing that almost everything costs extra on the budget airline. From luggage, to on-board drinks, and even getting paper tickets, fliers have to assume that anything additional has a fee.
It’s important to do your research when you book flights with budget carriers (in fact, with all carriers nowadays). You need to know what carriers do and don’t provide in terms of:
- Luggage and weight allowed per item
- On-board snacks and drinks
- Priority seating
- Seat class and seat assignments
Here’s all the information you need to know to fly Spirit Airlines, as well as my personal experience with the carrier.
Basically, with Spirit Airlines, you should think of your ticket as paying for flying your body from one place to another. Only one smaller size “personal item” is allowed on board and included with the base ticket price. (note that Spirit doesn’t use the word “carry-on” here). A personal item is a purse or bag smaller than 18 inches x 14 inches x 8 inches. Anything else requires a fee. That’s right! Carry-on luggage costs money, as does checked luggage. When you fly Spirit, luggage fees are cheapest when purchasing your ticket, then prices go up in the window before travel, and are highest when checking in at the airport. According to Spirit’s website, bag prices vary based on dates of travel, route, and how you purchase your tickets (internet, phone, third-party website, etc). I recommend paying for your luggage at the time of booking based on their system of luggage charges!
Note that prices displayed on the Spirit website highlight the cheaper prices of the $9 Fare Club (a rewards club), but unless you’re a member of the fare club, your prices are slightly higher. (Despite the name, the cost of the $9 Fare Club is $60 for the first year and $70 every year after. This rewards club allows customers to access Spirit’s lowest fares and discounted luggage fees. To learn more about Spirit’s reward club, click here.)
Tip: Everything done on-line and up front is always cheapest with Spirit!
Most airlines I’ve flown charge more for heavy luggage when a bag is over 50 pounds. Note that Spirit charges $30 more per bag when your bag falls in the 41-50 pound range and more for heavier bags.
Reservations and Seating
So, as your basic ticket price includes having Spirit Airlines fly your body from one place to another, they do so by putting you in the seat of their choosing. Having Spirit Airlines pick your seat is free (They do try to seat people with the same reservation together). If you want to select your own seat, it can cost up to $50. The nicer “Big Front Row” seats cost between $12-$150, depending on when you book. These bigger seats are in the front of the plane, are more comfortable and wider, have no middle seat, and have more leg room.
Spirit also sells the “Thrills Combo” that you can add-on while purchasing your flight. Note that not every flight offers this add-on. Instead of purchasing upgrades and luggage fees separately, this one time fee includes a checked bag (50 lbs.), a carry on bag, being able to choose your seat (bigger seats cost extra), priority boarding, and the ability to modify your flight and earn double miles. Click here for more info about the Thrills Combo.
Also, anything you do BEFORE you get to the airport is going to be CHEAPER than doing it AT the airport. Spirit keeps their costs down by only having minimal airport staff so don’t expect to see many agents. Paying for bags, selecting your seat, and buying priority seating should all be done IDEALLY when you book your flight. Your second best option is to do it after booking, but sooner than the day before your flight.
Know that if you call Spirit, you are not calling an 800 number, but a 801 area code (Salt Lake City). You have to pay to call them. There are no toll-free calls to Spirit Airlines.
In addition, there is an additional fee to modify your reservation after 24 hours of booking (like most airlines). Note that Spirit Airlines DOES NOT OFFER REFUNDABLE FARES.
Just know that anything you plan to do involving Spirit will likely result in charges. If you go into the Spirit flying experience knowing this, you should be fine. For our trip, we brought our luggage scale with and carefully weighed our bags before our Spirit flights. We also purchased food and drinks at the airport before boarding. Note there currently is no Wifi on Spirit aircraft. Recent news revealed that Spirit plans to have wifi onboard all aircraft by summer of 2019. This will average around $6.50 per flight.
My Spirit Airlines Experience
Recently, I flew to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, with Spirit Airlines. It was my family’s first excursion into the world of super budget airlines. We reviewed all of Spirit’s policies on seating and luggage before booking and got educated on their a la carte pricing. Since paying for luggage is cheapest at the time of booking a flight, we each paid for one check-in bag when purchasing our ticket.
We checked in online for our flight (24 hours ahead of time) but didn’t get assigned seats, like we were supposed to. At O’Hare airport (Chicago), we checked in and got our boarding passes using a kiosk, as getting them printed by a ticket agent costs $10. However, since we did not get seats assigned, we spoke to an agent at the counter to get our seats. Fortunately, there was no charge. (For more check-in and boarding pass information on Spirit, click here.)
We used the Spirit Airlines app to load our boarding passes onto our phones and had no issues using them. Boarding is done by zones, which is printed on your boarding pass. Here is how boarding is done on Spirit Airlines:
- Pre-boarding – children traveling alone and those needing extra time to board
- Zone 1 – for passengers in the ‘big front seats’
- Zone 2 – for those with a Spirit MasterCard, who buy “shortcut boarding”, or who pay for a carry-on bag
- Zone 3 – passengers in the back of the plane
- Zone 4 – everyone else
Our flight began boarding on time and we took off with him 15 of expected departure time. That was a big plus.
When I got onto the plane, I noticed the simplicity and cleanliness of the interior. Seats weren’t bulky but thin. In addition, there were small tray tables, no screens in headrests, and no magazines or SkyMall catalogs to look at. There seemed to be more than usual flight attendants standing around. Also, boarding was slightly quicker as people brought less luggage on board due to cost.
The leg room was ok for me, and I’m 5’5″ or 5’6″, depending on the day. Crossing my legs wasn’t really an option, as there was minimal leg room. There’s no wifi, no reclining of the seats, no blankets, and all food and beverage is pricey. I’m not even sure they can provide free water if needed; I’m guessing you’d have to pay for a bottle of water. Note that cash is not accepted on board; food and drink must be paid for with a credit or debit card.
Going into this whole ‘flying Spirit’ experience, I have to say I was more pleased than expected. In terms of comfort, the seats weren’t bad for a 3 hour flight; I did also have an aisle seat for both flights, which made me more comfortable. For longer flights or vacations greater than a week, I’d likely take a different carrier for comfort and luggage policies. However, for shorter trips, Spirit is a good alternative airline.
My biggest complaint about Spirit is regarding seat assignments. As mentioned earlier, we weren’t assigned seats on our departure flight, despite doing online check-in 24 hours ahead of time. Since we were checked in, but were without seats, my husband called Spirit’s 801 number. Spirit explained to us that day that their system is down and to just get seats assigned to us from a counter agent when at the airport, which is what we did.
For our return flight home, we checked in online 24 hours before our flight, and AGAIN were not assigned seats. We made another call to a Spirit representative, who explained that online check-in should assign seats. (She also mentioned that their system wasn’t down, as the previous agent did). Well, that didn’t work for us. So when we had to see an agent at the airport to get seats assigned, the agent looked confused. After some time, she was able to finally get us seats, but they were the last row of seats on the plane. Definitely NOT my favorite place to sit on a plane, but we got seats together as a family, so I was grateful. However, that is the risk you run with the super budget airlines, unless you pay extra to select a seat. The tickets we bought had no assigned seat so there was no guarantee that we’d sit together.
Back at O’Hare airport in Chicago, Spirit was super slow to send out our luggage. There was also only one luggage carousel labeled “Spirit Airlines” at O’Hare so it was easy to know which carousel was ours.
Overall, I’d say that our experience with Spirit Airlines was better than expected, considering the price. Just be sure you clearly understand their policies on luggage and seating, and expect to pay for any changes and/or additional services you need. If you are concerned about not getting assigned seats or not getting seats together, you may want to minimize your anxiety by purchasing the seats you want. This will assure that you and your traveling companions will sit together.
It’s good to have options when paying for air travel. Not all of us can or want to pay high prices for seats on the premium airlines. This is why so many people are choosing the super budget airlines – trading in comfort, choices, and service, for a lower cost airline ticket.
Have you tried flying a low-cost airline? Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!
sources: usatoday.com, spirit.com