Everything you should know before flying Spirit Airlines

Aug 4, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

In a recent head-to-head comparison, two TPG reporters found Spirit gave Delta a run for its money. Another TPG reporter recently wrote about his pleasant experience flying Spirit’s Big Front Seat. Indeed, some travelers love to fly Spirit. After all, Spirit’s low prices can be attractive — especially for large groups and families.

But Spirit Airlines recently placed eighth out of 10 on TPG’s 2021 best U.S. airlines list. The airline is notorious for long bag drop lines and poor communication during delays. Plus, you’ll face more fees when flying Spirit than with most other U.S. airlines.

Here, I’ll discuss how flying with Spirit Airlines might be different from trips you’ve taken with other airlines. With this information, you can decide whether to book with Spirit. If you’ve already booked a Spirit flight, this guide will answer common questions about flying Spirit, so you can have the best trip possible.

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In This Post

What fares does Spirit Airlines offer?

Boarding a Spirit flight with a personal item and carry-on bag. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Spirit offers Standard fares and Saver$ Club fares. But you can only get Saver$ Club fares if you purchase a membership, which carries the following costs:

  • 12-month membership: $69.95
  • 18-month membership: $99.90
  • 24-month membership: $129.90

Regardless of which membership option you choose, Spirit will automatically renew your membership as an annual membership for $69.95 each year unless you cancel your membership.

Related: Can I book budget carriers on the Chase portal? What you need to know

Should I join the Saver$ Club?

It depends. Saver$ Club fares aren’t available for every flight. For example, here’s a calendar showing which days in October 2021 have Saver$ Club fares for travel from Atlanta (ATL) to Austin (AUS).

Spirit Saver$ Club fare availability in October
Dates marked with SC have Saver$ Club fares. (Screenshot courtesy of Spirit.com)

Spirit’s Saver$ Club doesn’t just get you lower fares on flights. Saver$ Club members also get:

  • Up to 50% off on checked and carry-on bags for you and up to eight guests
  • Savings on seat selection costs for everyone in your party
  • Discounts on Shortcut Security (access to the quickest possible lane to get through the security screening experience), Shortcut Boarding (board in an early group) and Flight Flex (modify your itinerary online once with no modification charges)
  • Savings with select partners

If you fly on Spirit frequently or travel as a group — and often pay for add ons such as baggage and seats — membership may quickly pay for itself. Spirit says that members save $160 a year on average. However, before you buy a membership, consider how much you’ll likely save and whether the savings justify the fee.

What happened to the $9 Fare Club?

Spirit loyalists may remember the $9 Fare Club. Effective Jan. 21, 2021, the $9 Fare Club transitioned to the Spirit Saver$ Club. Now, members can save on more than just fares and baggage, and two new membership options are now available for new members.

If you held a $9 Fare Club membership as of Jan. 21, 2021, Spirit converted your membership automatically to the Spirit Saver$ Club. Your membership expiration date will remain the same, but you’ll now get more perks.

Related: Spirit Airlines will add 3 routes to brand-new Honduras airport

Should I book my ticket at the airport?

Spirit counter at an airport
You could save some money by booking an upcoming Spirit flight at the airport. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Spirit tacks on a passenger usage charge when you book flights online or via a reservation center. However, you can avoid paying Spirit’s passenger usage charge if you book at the airport.

Spirit’s website notes that passenger usage charges range from $6.99 to $22.99 per segment. However, the passenger usage charge was just $2.99 for my recent Spirit flight from Orlando to Louisville when I booked on Spirit’s website.

Before heading to the airport to book, calculate how much you’d pay in passenger usage charges. Also, consider how much going to an airport served by Spirit to make your booking will cost you. Typically, going to the airport will only make sense if you’re booking flights for multiple people and it’s not too much of a hassle to do so.

Related: Spirit’s network chief explains the airline’s 11-destination mid-pandemic growth spurt

Can I check a bag?

Spirit bag drop line in Orlando
If you decide to check a bag, prepare for a potentially long bag drop line. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Yes, you can pay to check one or more bags when flying Spirit. Each checked bag should typically be no larger than 62 linear inches (length + width + height) and weigh 40 pounds or less. But the checked bag that comes with the Boost It and Bundle It upgrade packages on some routes can weigh up to 50 pounds. You’ll need to pay additional fees if your checked bag is overweight (up to 100 pounds) or oversized.

Checked bag fees vary based on the route you’re flying and when you purchase your checked bag with Spirit. You can use a tool on Spirit’s website to calculate baggage fees. Typically, paying for bags during booking is the cheapest, while paying at the gate is the most expensive. Although a checked bag will usually cost you less than a carry-on bag, standing in Spirit’s notoriously long bag drop lines at some airports may not be worth the savings. Once you get to the gate, the checked bag fee is the same as the carry-on bag fee.

Can I bring a carry-on bag?

Spirit bag sizer at Louisville airport
Bag sizer at a Spirit gate in Louisville. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

All Spirit passengers can bring one personal item, like a purse or laptop bag, that is no larger than 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches without any additional charge. Before a recent flight, I found that my relatively empty daypack would easily fit into the personal item sizer.

However, if you want to bring a larger bag — or a second smaller bag — onboard, you’ll need to purchase a carry-on bag. If you purchase a carry-on baggage allowance, your luggage must be no larger than 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches. Like checked bags, your carry-on cost will depend on your route and when you purchase your carry-on item. Paying for a carry-on bag on Spirit’s website when you buy your ticket will be the cheapest option, while buying a carry-on bag at the gate will be the most expensive.

Related: How to fly without bag fees on Spirit Airlines using the free personal item

Can I select a seat?

You can pay to select a seat when flying Spirit. The cost to choose a seat depends on the route, seat type, when you purchase the seat and seat location. 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.

I recently booked a Spirit flight from Orlando to Louisville. About two weeks before departure, seat costs were as follows:

  • Big Front Seats: $52
  • Exit row: $28
  • Near the front of the aircraft: $25
  • In the middle of the plane: $19
  • At the rear of the plane: $13

I decided to book without selecting a seat. After all, 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.”

I checked the cost to select seats a few hours before my flight. When I did so, I could still choose a Big Front Seat for $52, an exit-row seat for $28 or a seat near the front of the aircraft for $25.

I still didn’t pay to select any of these seats at check-in and got a message noting Spirit would assign my seat at the gate. I lucked into a window seat at the front of the aircraft, but Spirit could have given me a less desirable seat. Pay to select a seat if you must sit with traveling companions or have a strong preference for a window or aisle.

Should I splurge for a Big Front Seat?

Big Front Seat on Spirit Airlines A321neo
Big Front Seat on Spirit Airlines A321 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Big Front Seats are wider and have more legroom than standard Spirit seats. In short, these seats are similar to non-lie-flat business class products that other carriers fly domestically. TPG editorial director Summer Hull said she’s never regretted paying extra for Big Front Seats. TPG senior reporter Zach Griff also enjoyed his flight in a Spirit Big Front Seat.

However, you won’t get any extra service when flying in Spirit’s Big Front Seats. Plus, no Spirit seats recline. Decide whether the cost to reserve a Big Front Seat is worth getting a larger, more comfortable seat at the front of the aircraft, even without the perks.

Related: Style vs. savings: Comparing JetBlue’s Mint Studio and Spirit’s Big Front Seat

Should I purchase the Bundle It Combo?

The Bundle It Combo is available for select routes when you buy your ticket on Spirit’s website or app. This combo comes with the following:

  • One checked bag up to 50 pounds
  • One carry-on bag (in addition to a personal item)
  • No cost for seat selection (including exit row seating, but excluding the Big Front Seat)
  • Shortcut Boarding allowing you to board in an early group
  • One complimentary flight modification up to 24 hours before departure

Prices vary by route and are per person each way, but Spirit Saver$ Club members get a slight discount. Unless you need a changeable ticket, it may be cheaper to purchase what you need separately.

Related: Earn easy miles with the Free Spirit Dining program

Can I check in and get my boarding pass at the airport?

Spirit check-in area at Louisville airport
You may need to pay a fee to check in at the airport. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Spirit encourages online check-in through its website or app when possible. You can use a self-service kiosk at the airport to check in and get a boarding pass for a $2 fee. Or, you can ask a customer service agent at the check-in counter to check you in and print your boarding pass for a $10 fee. Of course, Spirit will waive the fees 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.

Will I be served a snack or drink?

Flight attendants taking orders and charging cards on a Spirit flight
You can get a drink or snack in flight, but you’ll need to pay for it. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

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 snacks and fill up your water bottle after clearing security. If you might want to purchase a snack or drink onboard, check out the options on Spirit’s website before boarding.

Related: Your complete guide to the new Spirit Airlines loyalty program

Can I change or cancel my flight?

If you purchased Flight Flex or the Bundle It Combo, then you can change your flight once free of charge — subject to fare differences — up to 24 hours before departure. There’s no fee to cancel a flight within 24 hours of ticketing as long as you made the reservation at least seven days before departure.

Otherwise, you’ll face the following fees per customer, per booking if you need to change or cancel your flight:

  • Six or fewer days from departure: $79 fee
  • Seven to 14 days from departure: $59 fee
  • 15 to 59 days from departure: $39 fee
  • 60 or more days from departure: No fee

If you change to a flight with a higher fare, you’ll need to pay the difference. If you cancel or switch to a flight with a lower fee, Spirit will issue any remaining balance after the fee as a travel credit. However, modification and cancellation charges do not apply to bookings made before April 5, 2021.

Can I earn points on Spirit flights?

Economy seating on Spirit
You can earn points on Spirit flights. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Free Spirit members earn 6x points on fares and 12x points on optional add-on items like baggage and seat selection. Free Spirit Silver and Gold elite members earn even more points on these purchases. For example, Gold members earn 10x points on fares and 20x points on optional add-on items.

Of course, you can also earn card rewards on purchases with Spirit Airlines. I recommend using one of the best cards for airfare or one of the best cards for travel to maximize your purchase. My choice would be the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express because these cards will provide bonus earnings on your airfare and travel protections on your flight.

Related: The best credit cards to use on low-cost carriers

Should I get a Spirit Airlines credit card?

Spirit has two cobranded credit cards available to U.S. residents: the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® ($0 introductory annual fee, then $79) and the Free Spirit® Travel Mastercard® (no annual fee). It only makes sense to have these cards if one or more of the following is compelling to you:

  • Become a Pool Pilot to unlock points sharing for up to eight friends and family members (Free Spirit members with Silver or Gold status can also be Pool Pilots)
  • Get a 25% rebate on all inflight food and beverage purchases when you pay with your Free Spirit card
  • Zone 2 boarding
  • Your Free Spirit points don’t expire as long as your Free Spirit card is open
  • Earn 1 Status Qualification Point (SQP) for each $10 in purchases on your card (SQPs are how you earn Free Spirit Status; only on the Free Spirit Travel More card)
  • Pay no award redemptions fees as a primary cardholder (only on the Free Spirit Travel More card)

The information for the Free Spirit Travel More and Free Spirit Travel card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Credit card showdown: Frontier Airlines World Mastercard vs. Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard

TPG’s Spirit Airlines review

Spirit is an ultra-low-cost carrier, so adjust your expectations appropriately. You may need to wait in long bag drop lines. Plus, there won’t be any amenities on board, and Spirit doesn’t serve complimentary food or drinks.

The airline also operates fewer flights on many routes than full-service competitors, resulting in fewer rerouting options if your flight is delayed or canceled. On the plus side, the fares are often very low, and the planes are relatively new. Here are a couple of our recent flight reviews from Spirit flights:

For extra space, consider booking a Big Front Seat if the cost is reasonable. I recommend booking your 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.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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