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Fort Lauderdale based Spirit Airlines has prided itself on becoming the first “ultra-low cost” airline. Spirit led the pack with fees: starting with baggage and also evolving into beverages and even middle seats. Spirit was in the news this year mostly for beginning a fee on carry-on baggage- a first of any US airline.
Fees aside, Spirit operates 31 Airbus A319/320/321 aircraft to destinations in the US, Caribbean and Latin America and has plans to double its operations in the next couple years.
Spirit’s frequent flyer program, FreeSpirit is mileage based and has three tier levels: Somebody, Elite and VIP. Spirit does have a first class called BIG FRONT SEAT, which is just a bigger seat- no different service.
Currency= FreeSpirit Miles (Sign up link here)
Flights: Earning varies by elite level.
Somebody: 50% for non-refundable fares, 100% for refundable
Elite: 100% non-refundable fares, 150% for refundable
VIP: 100% non-refunable fares, 200% for refundable
Spirit has a region based award chart that factors in VIP status and whether you have their credit card. One way off peak region 1 awards for credit card holders start at 2,500 miles. For Stardard region 4 roundtrip tickets, you are looking at 40,000 miles for coach and 65,000 for first.
Credit Cards: Official FreeSpirit Onyx Mastercard (apply here). 15,000 with first purchase, up to 10,000 with balance transfers. Priority boarding. 3 miles/ dollar on Spirit purchases, 1 mile/ dollar for everything else. Free access to the $9 fare club
Unique feature: The $9 fare club is a unique add-on program where you pay $40/year for access to low fares and travel deals. The results are mixed, but apparently some people are saving a lot of money having access to these fares. Tip- you can see the fares every week even if you aren’t a member, so make sure there’s a fare you want to buy before shelling out the membership fee.
+ Ability to redeem for one-way awards
+ Lots of Caribbean/ leisure destinations
+ Lots of partners, including robust credit card partnership
+ Off-peak awards (for Mastercard holders)
- Confusing award chart that varies by: region (1,2,3,4), time (peak, off-peak), seat (BIG FRONT or Deluxe Leather), level (standard, premium) and whether or not you have a Spirit Mastercard.
– No awards to Asia/Europe/ Australia/ Africa
– Expiration policy of miles is a bit chaotic: “As long as you earn at least 2,000 miles within the previous six months, your miles won’t expire. If you don’t meet that requirement, any miles older than six months will expire. Because the FREE SPIRIT program calculates your status on a monthly basis, any miles that will expire do so at the start of every month.”
– To no ones surprise, there are a lot of fees associated with award travel
– Limited partners (for ex. only hotel partners are Choice and Wyndham)
Elite Status- Two levels- Elite and VIP. Elite status is earned several ways:
Qualification: 1) Get a FREE SPIRIT MasterCard1 and make at least one purchase per month and you’ll automatically be upgraded to Elite member status the month after your first billing OR 2) Earn 12,000 miles over the preceding 6 months from any of the FREE SPIRIT program earning opportunities OR 3) Spend $1,200 on base fares (not including taxes and fees) over the preceding 6 months
Benefits: Earn up to 150% flown mileage credit
VIP Member- 1) Earn more than 24,000 miles over the preceding 6 months from any of the FREE SPIRIT program earning opportunities OR 2) Spend $2,400 on base fares (not including taxes and fees) over the preceding 6 months
Benefits: Earn up to 200% flown mileage credit
+ Multiple ways to get status, including spend
– No real benefits besides increased mileage earning
To be honest, I’m kind of surprised Spirit even has a frequent flyer program. They are so focused on fees and an “ultra-low cost model”, that it doesn’t seem like giving away points would be a part of their plan, since they are striving to be like Ryan Air. However, the program isn’t bad, but it is confusing and figuring everything out is a bit stressful. However, if you fly Spirit a lot and use their Mastercard, you can really rack up free flights. And with destinations like Aruba and Costa Rica- that’s not such a bad thing!
Elite Program: D
Overall Grade: C
First steps for Spirit to get the overall score moving towards an A:
1) Add international partners for award redemptions
2) Simply point earning/ redeeming
3) Add more to the elite program, including BIG FRONT SEAT upgrades and FEE WAIVERS
4) Have a more sane point expiration policy
5) Develop more point-earning partners