Spirit Airlines is known as the low-budget flight option for U.S. travelers (equivalent to Europe's RyanAir) with some of the best flight deals around, but it also has a reputation for being one of the most frustrating airlines for added fees and poor service. It seems like whenever I bring up Spirit Airlines, someone gives me some crazy look like I just said the name of their crazy Aunt Hilary with twelve cats and lipstick on her teeth - you know who I'm talking about. However, with the right expectations and a little bit of planning, I'm convinced that the savings are worth the hassle (or in Aunt Hilary's case, the love is worth the pungeant smell of cat pee). My goal is to give you all of the info you need to fly stress free with some extra cash in your pockets if you decide to grab a killer deal with Spirit Airlines.
Let me start with a couple examples of fares I just booked so you can see the actual savings going on. I based the comparison on Southwest sale fares since they are usually the best deals and most comparable costs, especially since checked baggage is free. I am a huge fan of Southwest and an A-List member; however, for short distance, weekend flights I'm simply looking to save as much as possible so that I can use that money on nice dinners, shopping or an upgraded hotel room. It's also important to disclose that the Spirit Airlines fares are based on their $9 Fare Club member deals, which I'll explain more in detail later.
Single Roundtrip ticket from San Diego to Portland in December
- Friday night to Monday Morning
- Direct Flight
- Spirit Airlines cost = $41 round trip (does not include any baggage fees)
- Southwest cost = $205 (includes 2 checked bags for free)
- Total Savings = $164 or $122 if you were to pay an additional $21 each way for a checked bag on Spirit
Single Roundtrip ticket from San Diego to Denver in February 2015
- Friday night to Monday Morning
- Direct Flight
- Spirit Airlines flight cost = $57 (does not include any baggage fees)
- Southwest cost = $198 (includes 2 checked bags for free)
- Total Savings = $141 or $99 if you were to pay an additional $21 each way for a checked bag on Spirit
In general, I'm saving almost $150 per ticket and still saving $100 or more if I were to pay for a checked bag. These are quick and easy trips where I can enjoy a weekend away without taking time off of work and it without breaking the bank - so why spend extra bucks on a 2 hour flight??? But before you take the plunge, you need to know what you're getting into...
I truly believe that the reason most people have a problem with Spirit Airlines is because they book flights with false expectations. Years of offending customers through hidden fees and high penalties definitely hurt their reputation, which is why Spirit recently did a major image renovation. Now they make it clear that their Base Fares are just that - the base cost of the flight with nothing else included. If you take my advice below to plan accordingly and understand the costs to come, you can fly away with a smile and some extra cash in your pocket.
The $9 Fare Club is Worth the Money
In order to get the best discounts flying with Spirit, you need to be a member of the $9 Fare Club, which costs $59.95 for a one year membership. When I initially booked my flight to Denver, I did not pay for the membership; however, once I decided to book another flight to Portland I realized just how much I'd be saving and that it would pay for itself and more so it was well worth the cost. Here's what you get with it:
- Exclusive fares, significantly cheaper than non-member fares - including coveted $9 one way ticket prices
- Major discounts on carry on and checked baggage
- You get the same discounts for everyone on your itinerary when you book your flight
Book Direct Online or at the Airport
Book your flights directly with Spirit.com or you will end up paying additional booking fees with sites like Travelocity and Expedia or by calling Spirit directly. I've heard (but haven't tried myself) that the absolute cheapest way to go is to actually buy your tickets at the Spirit ticket counter at the airport ahead of time and you'll save money on the online booking fees that cost anywhere from $8-17 per person, each way.
Money Saving Tip: Be sure to check their website and on Twitter for extra savings codes and promotions. I've seen offers for up to $24 on roundtrip flights that are not booked on a Friday or Sunday.
Baggage Costs Extra So Pack Light
Bare Fares do not include any bags, not even a carry on. You are only allowed one free personal item like a small purse or a backpack, that must not exceed 16” x 14” x 12”. Don't even try to sneak on another bag or large carry on because it will cost you big time to check it at the gate. Your best bet is to travel light or pay for the cost of baggage at time of booking, which costs about the same as all the other airlines who charge for baggage these days. Note: Paid checked bags cannot exceed 40lbs or you will be charged extra at check in. I repeat, this is not the airline you want to be spontaneous with and show up at the airport with extra bags or oversized luggage unless you plan on selling your innards on the black market to pay for it ($100 each way, per bag to be exact). Be sure to read all about the baggage fees by clicking here before booking so you know the price of your packing decisions.
My suggestion - layer up, wear your coat on the flight, your camera around your neck and stuff your pockets with underwear and a toothbrush and a change of clothes in a backpack and you've got all you need for a weekend getaway!
Change Fees Are Crazy High
It's just easiest to say that there really are no changes or cancellations allowed... well there are, but it will cost you $120, which is probably more than the entire cost of the flight in the first place. The only exception is if you call to cancel within 24 hours of initial booking, you will get credit to your account that is good towards your next flight, just in case you get buyers remorse. Otherwise, don't book it unless you are absolutely positive you're going to go on the trip or you're cool with losing money if you decide not to go.
Pack Your Own Food & Drinks
If you think you'll be getting a free glass of lukewarm, nasty plane water, think again. Onboard food and drinks cost anywhere from $1-10, so buy a bottle of water and a snickers before you board and save your cash.
Print Your Boarding Pass
This is important - PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS AT HOME AND DON'T SHOW UP AT THE AIRPORT WITHOUT IT or it will cost you $10 to print it at the counter.
Don't Pay for Reserved Seats
Seats are snug, so don't expect a whole lot of leg room on your journey or a pre-reserved spot along the way. You have the option of pre-paying for a reserved seat or paying for a spot with extra space, ranging anywhere from $1-50 each way. If you don't want to pay the extra money, which I personally don't, just be ok with the possibility of not sitting next to your travel buddy during the flight or ending up in a middle seat when it is assigned at check-in; but, they do try to keep pairs together as much as possible.
Spirit Airline Tip Summary
- Join the $9 Fare Club
- Look for deals and coupon codes first
- Book online or in person at the airport ahead of time
- Don't pay for a reserved seat or any extras
- If you plan on packing a carry-on or check-in bag, pre-pay and don't wait until you get to the airport
- PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS AT HOME
- Pack as light as possible and layer up; if you pack a personal item or bag know the exact dimensions and weight of your bag so you don't end up with extra fees
- Bring a water bottle or buy a drink and snacks at the airport before you take off
- Sit back and try to relax in your tiny chair and enjoy the freedom of stretching out in a new city when you arrive!
So that's the scoop on saving money traveling with Spirit. Just in case you're thinking it, no I do not get paid by Spirit or get a kick-back if you book with them. I'm just a money saving enthusiast and like sharing my secrets with you. Happy travels!