Everything you should know before flying Spirit Airlines
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Spirit Airlines is perhaps the best-known of the U.S. budget carriers. Although Spirit finished ninth out of 10 on TPG’s 2019 List of Best and Worst US Airlines, some travelers love to fly Spirit. Spirit’s low prices can be very attractive — especially for large groups and families.
If you’ve booked — or are considering booking — a trip on Spirit Airlines, you may be wondering what’s included on Spirit and how flying with them might be different from trips you’ve taken with other airlines. This guide aims to answer all of your questions about flying Spirit so you can have the best trip possible.
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What fares does Spirit Airlines offer?
Spirit offers Standard fares and $9 Fare Club fares, but you have to belong to or join the $9 Fare Club to get the latter.
You can join the $9 Fare Club for a year for $59.95, or purchase a two-month trial membership for $19.95. In either case, you’ll be automatically renewed as an annual membership for $69.95 each year unless you cancel your membership.
Despite the name, joining the $9 Fare Club doesn’t get you $9 fares. Instead, it gets you and up to eight other passengers on your booking:
- The lowest fares available when you purchase your tickets online
- Discounted prices on bags when you pay for them online
- Special deals
Should I join the $9 Fare Club?
It depends. $9 Fare Club fares aren’t available for every flight. Instead, they are usually only available for flights with the lowest Standard fares. For example, here’s a calendar showing which days in October have $9 Fare Club fares for travel from Atlanta (ATL) to Austin (AUS).
On the dates with a “9FC” designation, one passenger traveling alone would save $6.30 on the flight from ATL to AUS.
So, joining the $9 Fare Club may not make sense for infrequent travelers. But the $9 Fare Club can be useful for frequent Spirit flyers and groups that have multiple passengers on the same booking — assuming they have flexible travel schedules that allow them to travel on dates offering $9 Fare Club fares.
Should I book my ticket at the airport?
A Passenger Usage Charge of $11.99 to $22.99 per segment per passenger is charged for most bookings that aren’t made at a Spirit Airlines airport location. You can avoid this fee if you book at the airport — but as Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr found recently, you may not get as much of a discount as you expect. Booking at the airport will only make sense if you’re booking for multiple people and it’s not too much of a hassle to do so.
Can I check a bag?
Yes, for a fee. Each checked bag can be no larger than 62 linear inches (length + width + height) and weigh no more than 40 pounds — although the checked bag that comes with the Thrills Combo can weigh up to 50 pounds.
Checked bag fees vary based on the route and the time at which the bag is purchased. You can use a tool on Spirit’s website to calculate baggage fees; paying for bags during booking on Spirit’s website is cheapest, while paying at the gate is the most expensive. Although a checked bag will cost you less than a carry-on bag at most points, once you get to the gate the checked bag fee is the same as the carry-on bag fee. $9 Fare Club members pay slightly lower prices when they purchase checked bags online.
Can I bring a carry-on bag?
One personal item, like a purse or laptop bag, no larger than 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches can be carried free of charge.
An allowance for one carry-on bag no larger than 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches can be purchased, but it will usually cost more than a checked bag. Like checked bags, the price for a carry-on bag depends on the point at which you pay for the bag. Paying for a carry-on bag on Spirit’s website when you purchase your ticket will be cheapest, while purchasing a carry-on bag at the gate will be the most expensive. $9 Fare Club members pay slightly lower prices when they purchase carry-on bags online.
Can I select a seat?
Yes — the cost depends on the route, seat type, when you purchase the seat and where the seat is located. Regular seats cost $1 to $50 while Big Front Seats cost $12 to $150 when purchased in advance, and $25 to $175 when purchased onboard.
What happens if you don’t pay to select a seat? Spirit’s website says:
“If you don’t select a seat, we’ll assign random seats at check-in for free, but we can’t guarantee that you will get to sit with your friends or family.”
Starting this November, Spirit will begin to introduce new seats that it claims will be more comfortable and make for happier passengers.
Should I splurge for a Big Front Seat?
Big Front Seats are wider and have more legroom. TPG Editorial Director Summer Hull says she’s never regretted paying extra for Big Front Seats when flying Spirit with her family. But be forewarned that no Spirit seats recline, and some versions don’t have bendable headrest wings, either.
Should I purchase the Thrills Combo?
The Thrills Combo is available for select routes and comes with the following:
- One checked bag that weights up to 50 pounds
- One standard carry-on bag
- Choice of a standard or exit row seat
- Shortcut boarding
- Flight flex: one free flight modification until 24 hours before departure on Spirit’s website, but you have to pay any fare difference
- 2x mileage earnings
Prices vary by route and are per person each way — $9 Fare Club members pay slightly less even when flying on standard fares. But, unless you need a changeable ticket, it will likely be cheaper to simply purchase what you need separately.
Can I check in and get my boarding pass at the airport?
Yes, but you’ll have to pay $10 for a boarding pass printed by an airport agent or $2 for a boarding pass printed at a kiosk. Of course, fees are waived if your trip doesn’t allow online check-in — for example, if you’re flying to/from a country that doesn’t allow online check-in or if you’re traveling with an emotional support animal. Remember, it’s always free to check in and get a boarding pass online or through the Spirit app.
When can I board?
Spirit has four boarding zones:
- Zone 1: If you purchased a carry-on bag
- Zone 2: If you bought Shortcut Boarding ($5.99+ each way), if you have VIP or Elite status or if you have a Spirit Airlines World Mastercard
- Zones 3 and 4: Everyone else, based on seat assignments
Will I be served a snack or drink?
Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase, but you’ll need to pay for them with a credit card or debit card. There’s no complimentary drink or snack service on Spirit, so you might want to bring your own snacks and fill up your water bottle after clearing security. If you might want to purchase a snack or drink on board, here’s a look at the options and prices:
Can I change my flight?
If you purchased Flight Flex or the Thrills Combo, then you can change your flight once free of charge — subject to fare differences — up to 24 hours prior to departure. And there’s no fee to change a flight ticketed in the last 24 hours as long as the reservation was made at least seven days prior to departure.
Otherwise, a fee of $90 applies to changes made online and a fee of $100 applies to changes made at the airport or with the reservations center. If your new fare is less than the original fare, you’ll get a Future Travel Credit that will expire after 60 days. If the new flight has a higher fare, you’ll need to pay the difference.
What happens if I need to cancel my ticket?
There’s no fee to cancel a flight ticketed in the last 24 hours as long as the reservation was made at least seven days prior to departure. In this case, you can usually get a refund to your original form of payment.
Otherwise, a fee of $90 applies to cancellations made online and a fee of $100 applies to cancellations made at the airport or with the reservations center. Any remaining balance after the fee will be issued as a travel credit. If the value of your reservation is less than the cancellation charge and you cancel online, Spirit will give you $10 per one-way (maximum $20) to be applied toward future travel.
Can I earn miles?
Yes. Elite Free Spirit members, VIP Free Spirit members and Spirit Airlines World Mastercard cardholders earn 1 mile per mile flown, while Somebody members (yes, that’s what Spirit calls them) earn 1 mile per two miles flown. If you purchase the Thrills Combo, you’ll earn double the points you’d normally earn.
Spirit has announced plans for a new loyalty program, but the details of this program have yet to be announced.
Should I get the Spirit Airlines credit card?
Spirit has one cobranded credit card: the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard. With a $0 annual fee for the first year and $59 for subsequent years, the card is mainly useful for customers who want to use spending on the card to keep their points active (they would otherwise expire if there’s no activity on your Free Spirit account in the last three months).
Having the credit card means there aren’t any blackout dates on awards and you get access to the lowest flight redemption levels. You’ll also get Zone 2 boarding and domestic priority check-in, which could save you time at the airport. Although having the card may be worthwhile for some passengers, it isn’t going to make your in-flight experience any better and won’t be worth the annual fee for most passengers.
TPG’s Spirit Airlines review
Spirit is an ultra low-cost carrier, so adjust your expectations appropriately. There won’t be any amenities on board, and you won’t be served any complimentary food or drinks. But the fares are often very low and the planes are often relatively new. Here are a couple of our recent flight reviews from Spirit flights:
- Dispiriting: Flying Spirit’s A320 in the Big Front Seat from Newark to Las Vegas
- Size matters: Flying Spirit’s Big Front Seat across the country
- Absolutely no frills: Flying Spirit’s A321 from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale
For extra space, I’d recommend booking a Big Front Seat, especially since doing so can be surprisingly reasonable. And, it’s a good idea to purchase the flight with a credit card that offers trip delay benefits, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, so you’ll be protected if Spirit delays or cancels your flight.
Plus, be sure to check out the following resources for more information on what to expect:
- I flew Spirit Airlines and kinda liked it (by The Points Guy himself)
- Six tips for flying Spirit Airlines with a family
- Yes, I love Spirit Airlines — here’s why
If you’re curious about what it’s like to fly on the lowest fares with other U.S. airlines, check out our guides to Basic Economy on Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as our guide to flying on Frontier Airlines.
Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.
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