While they’re not the most glamorous of carriers, Spirit Airlines understands the importance of knowing their target customer and communicating their value proposition. Unfortunately, the cafeteria-style pricing they offer can also leave a lot of travelers perplexed, especially when travelers are charged $10 to print their boarding pass at the check-in counter, or $65 at the gate to bring a carry-on bag. All of these fees can quickly add up if you’re not prepared. Today, I’d like to give you a few tips on how to beat Spirit at their own game and get where you need to go in the most economical fashion.
When purchasing a fare on Spirit, you are given the opportunity to pay for a checked bag or carry-on at the time of booking online. When you pay for your bags at time of booking you can generally get your carry-on for $35 and 1st checked bag for $30, though prices can vary depending on your route. If you wait until your check-in time online, or God forbid until you get to the airport, prepare to pay more and more the closer you get to walking down the jetway.
It’s worth mentioning that if you belong to Spirit’s $9 Fare Club, you will get $9 off the listed price of each piece of luggage. See the table below for my sample route from New Orleans to Detroit.
What I like to do to save money is bring a backpack on the flight, since you are allowed one personal item for free, and tuck it under the seat in front of me. I’m 6’2″ and sometimes having a bag at my feet can get a bit annoying on longer flights. I will also book the Row 1 “Big Front Seat” for an added fee. Personally, I don’t want to pay for a checked bag AND an upgraded seat, so I’ll put some money on more leg room and bring a backpack. If you book the first row, you have to put your belongings in the overhead bin according to FAA regulations. For my example flight from MSY to DTW, a Big Front Seat was only an additional $22 after purchasing “The Thrills” Combo, yes that is its real name.
Matthew, from Live and Let’s Fly, has a great review of the Big Front Seat you should check out if you’re interested. Below is a photo of the seat from his review since I forgot to take a picture last time around.
If you absolutely have to bring more with you, use the method mentioned above and pay to check a bag at the time of your initial booking. Don’t wait until after. Or, you can do what my friend does and send your spouse ahead of you on another airline where she gets free checked bags 😉
THE THRILLS COMBO
The Thrills Combo packages are available to purchase on top of your bare fare. These packages offer a variety of services that can save you money, depending on your situation. Here is a breakdown of the benefits, but do keep in mind these prices vary based on your route:
The Thrills Combo package for my flight from MSY to DTW was $79 each way, or $64.99 if you are a $9 Fare Club Member. In most cases, if you are checking a bag, bringing a carry-on and/or assigning yourself a seat, just go ahead and purchase The Thrills for flexibility, double miles and priority boarding. You can even select exit row seating at no additional cost if those seats are open. It’s important to note that Spirit’s Thrills Combo package allows you to change your flight, but it is not refundable, unlike some of the packages Frontier Airlines offers. If you’re interested, you can read my post on How to Avoid Fees on Frontier Airlines.
$9 Fare Club
$9 Fare Club is the discount fare club which you can join for around $59 per year. Now, the fares generally aren’t $9, but I’ve consistently bought tickets at 40% off the everyday price since joining. Pair the $9 Fare Club fare with The Thills package and you could be looking at a very good value compared to what you would get for the same price on a traditional carrier.
Free Spirit is the frequent flyer program of Spirit. Now, I have to admit that this program is extremely basic and offers very little return on loyalty compared to most, but, they do send out promo codes to their members regularly, which could save you some money. Their miles expire quickly and redemptions are pretty expensive, but the promo codes can save you a few bucks. in the past, I’ve redeemed for magazine and newspaper subscriptions. (On a side note, don’t waste your time signing up for their credit card. If you want to fly for free, there are much better cards out there.)
Buy Your Tickets at the Airport
You can also save money on the Customer Interface Charge (CIC) which is imposed for online bookings with Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier, by purchasing your ticket at the airport. Now, this doesn’t mean you should wait until the day of your flight to purchase your ticket, but if you’re passing through an airport, stop by the Spirit ticketing desk and save roughly $18 by purchasing in person. You can read more about the CIC and data points from others on this FlyerTalk thread.
Food and Beverage
Unless you enjoy paying for a small cup of soda, I suggest bringing your own food and drink on the plane. Spirit won’t even serve you a cup of room-temp water for free. Snack bundles are available, but can be overpriced.
Free Bags for Active Duty Military
One thing that is also pretty cool is that Spirit gives active duty military members (though not their family) 2 free checked bags and one free carry on. Their website states:
“For active duty military traveling on Spirit, we will provide two free checked bags and a free carry-on, in addition to the already free personal item. The U.S. military member should arrive early enough to have their bags checked at the counter, and present their U.S. military ID. As much as we would like to extend this policy to your family and loved ones, it only applies to the active military member.”
Check-in at Home or From Your Phone
One of my favorite travel memories was last year in the Denver airport. I’m going through Clear at security and this dude, who you can tell only came to Colorado to visit his girlfriend Mary Jane, comes up to me, my wife and the Clear guy and says “I need to print my Spirit boarding pass here.” The Clear guy says, “You can do that upstairs at check-in, this is the Clear lane, sir.” To which our hippy friend replies, “but they want money up there!”
The lesson we can learn from our confused friend here is to print your boarding pass at home, or join the rest of us in the 21st century and put it on your phone. That is unless, your mom forgot to reload your Boost Mobile account, in which case, print it.
Recently, major domestic carriers, like United, have introduced “Basic Economy Fares,” which don’t include carry-on baggage or an assigned seat. Oddly enough, though, their prices have remained the same despite the loss in benefits. United will now charge you for both carry-on and checked luggage when you purchase that Basic fare, similar to Spirit. Don’t pay more money (in most cases) to fly United, when you won’t earn miles toward elite status and you’ll get treated like a second-class customer. Next time you’re booking a flight, check Spirit’s pricing with The Thrills Combo package to see how it compares.
The last piece of advice I’ll leave you with is to not book row 2 on Spirit’s A320. This is a Big Front Seat with a normal economy row directly behind it. On one of my flights this year, I was in seat 2A and this guy sat directly behind me who was 6’7″ or so, and his knees were in my back the whole flight. It felt like one of those massage chairs at the mall when they are turned off (intentionally uncomfortable). Row 1 is much more comfortable. Do you have any tips on how to save when flying Spirit?