If you’ve searched for cheap flights recently, you’ve probably run across some of the ultra-low airfares from Spirit Airlines.
Known today as one of the largest discount carriers, the company began as a Michigan-based trucking company in the 1960s before offering air service as Charter One in 1983. In 1992, Charter One changed its name to Spirit Airlines and moved operations to Miramar, Florida.
Spirit Airlines: What to know before booking a flight
With its focus exclusively on low fares, the company in 2014 rebranded the color scheme on its planes and livery to bright yellow. “It’s fun, just like we are,” President/CEO Ben Baldanza said at the time. “When you see this plane in the air — or on the ground — there will be no question that this is a Spirit plane.”
There is also no question that Spirit offers some of the lowest airlines you can find in the United States. Whether you’re thinking about booking a flight for the first time or contemplating whether to buy another ticket, here are some things to know about Spirit.
1. Where does Spirit fly?
Spirit flies to more than 65 cities in the Western Hemisphere, including more than 30 U.S. destinations, as well as several international spots like Peru, Columbia, Eucador and around the Caribbean. The airline is adding some nonstop routes from North Carolina to Florida in early September. See Spirit’s route map here.
2. How is Spirit able to offer such low fares?
Spirit bills itself as being part of the “unbundled” airfare market. In their vernacular, this means you don’t pay for all the extras that other airlines include with your flight. In laymen’s terms, this is a bare-bones, no-frill ride. Spirit even calls it a “Bare Fare.”
The airline also boasts a $9 Fare Club, its rewards program where you can find cheap airline tickets not available to nonmembers. It costs $59.99 to join for a year. They do have a trial membership that lets you try it out for two months for $19.99.
3. What is Spirit’s baggage policy?
In a departure from most other airlines, Spirit charges fliers for carry-ons in addition to checked bags. On a sample flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, Spirit displayed a menu of baggage prices that varied depending on when and where you purchased.
Spirit does, however, allow one personal item (like a purse, small backpack, etc.) for free. Its dimensions can’t be larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels.
When it comes to carry-on bags, they can’t be larger than 22 x 18 x 10 inches (56 x 46 x 25 cm) including handles and wheels.
Checked bags cannot exceed 62 linear inches (length + width + height; 158 cm) including handles and wheels. If they weigh more than 40 pounds, you’ll be charged extra. See more about bag sizes here.
4. How much does Spirit charge for assigned seats?
If you let the airline choose your seat at check-in, it’s free, but if you request a seat, the airline could charge you up to $50, depending on the circumstances.
Big Front Seats are premium seats that, as their name suggests, are larger and toward the front of the plane. They cost anywhere from $12 to $150 if you pay in advance. For onboard seat upgrades to the Big Front Seats, you’ll fork over $25 to $175.
The carrier also offers Shortcut Boarding ($5.99 each way) and Shortcut Security (up to $15).
5. How do Spirit customers view the airline?
When it comes to customer satisfaction, Spirit tied for last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report that was released in April 2018:
In addition, a satisfaction survey commissioned by Consumer Reports found Spirit (along with Frontier) receiving low marks across the board.
In figures released in early August, the airline’s on-time arrival rate for May was 80%, a dramatic improvement from the same month a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. For contrast, Southwest’s on-time arrival rate was 76% and JetBlue’s was 71%. Hawaiian Airlines (91%), Delta (85%) and Alaska (82%) were tops.
6. How to save money on Spirit Airlines
To really save money on Spirit you need to be aware of where all the “gotcha” fees are. And when it comes to letting you know, we’ve got cha. Here are 3 ways to save right off the bat:
Print your boarding pass at home: Spirit charges $2 to print that little piece of paper for you at one of their kiosks. If a ticket agent has to do it, the price balloons to $10.
Bring your own snacks: Spirit will charge you $1 to $10 for snacks and $1 to $15 for drinks. Save money by making your flight a BYOF (bring your own food) affair. They allow it.
Book your own flights: Yes, Spirit will charge you for booking, especially groups. Their Reservation Center starts packages at $35 per booking. Group bookings (10 of more passengers on a single itinerary) must be done via phone or in person.