How much is Spirit Airlines elite status worth in 2021?
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Spirit Airlines — the U.S.’s most notorious ultra-low-cost carrier — revamped its Free Spirit loyalty program earlier this year. This changed earnings and redemption and added elite status tiers for the first time. The most frequent Spirit flyers can now earn two elite status tiers, each offering various benefits on Spirit flights.
These benefits — think free bags and seat selection — make flying more enjoyable, but how do you quantify their value? This is crucial to consider whether or not you should earn Spirit elite status in 2021, especially as competition heats up in the low-cost carrier space.
In this article, I’ll give you a look at how much Spirit elite status is really worth by breaking down the benefits of each status tier and assigning each a set cash value.
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How I developed these valuations
Before diving into the Free Spirit program, I want to remind you that my valuations below represent one way to identify what elite status is worth to a potential traveler. As always, you should adjust the assumptions I make to fit with your travel habits. For example, if you never check a bag, you won’t find any value in the benefit.
It’s also important to note that my analysis is based on earning status in 2021 and traveling a comparable amount in 2022. That said, this is the first year Spirit’s offered an elite status program, so we’re all starting from scratch. With this in mind, I added an Excel document at the end of this article that lets you find how much value you’ll get from elite status benefits while working toward qualification. This should help you find your personal valuation.
This brings me to the third part of this analysis: the underlying assumptions I’m making. To really hit a value for benefits, I assumed a set amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. It’s also worth noting Spirit awards elite status differently than more traditional carriers — instead of earning status by miles flown, you’ll earn Status Qualifying Points (SQPs).
You’ll earn one SQP for every dollar you spend with Spirit Airlines. This can be on flights and other extras like baggage and seat assignment. Plus, you’ll also earn one SQP per $10 spent on the Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard. In theory, you can earn status entirely with a credit card.
Here’s how many SQPs each status tier requires:
- Free Spirit Silver: 2,000 SQP
- Free Spirit Gold: 5,000 SQP
This analysis assumes that you earn 20% more SQPs than the minimum required for the given level. I’ll then assume 80% of your SQPs are earned on Spirit flight purchases while the other 20% are earned with auxiliary purchases like Big Front Seat selection and additional baggage. I’ll also assume that each flight costs an average of $100 per flight before taxes, earning 100 SQP.
Two final pieces of information: First, since you’ll earn bonus points as an elite member with Spirit, I’m using my recent valuation of 1.23 cents per Free Spirit point. This is how much Spirit points were worth with either a Free Spirit cobrand credit card or elite status. This is higher than the 1.0 cents per point a standard member would get due to the airline’s booking fees. Second, I’m rounding all numbers to the nearest $5.
Things to consider before chasing Spirit status
There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you decide to chase Spirit elite status in 2021 — let’s take a look.
How much are you traveling during the coronavirus pandemic?
It’s hard to talk about travel without discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has changed travel as we know it, and many of us are traveling less. Many U.S. airlines have responded to the pandemic by extending elite status and making it easier to earn status in 2021.
Since Spirit launched its new elite status program during the pandemic, it’s done neither of these. That said, it’s still important to think about how much you plan to travel this year (and the year following) before you start chasing elite status. It’s probably worth skipping Spirit status if you only plan to travel to earn status.
Does Spirit have a large presence at your home airport?
Spirit operates point-to-point routes around the U.S. with select flights to South and Central America. The airline has a large presence in Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and many others. Make sure to check that Spirit flies to your home airport and to the places you travel most before you commit to Spirit Airlines.
One easy way to do this is using the FlightConnections website. You can use this website to view all flights operated by a single airline out of a single airport. For example, the screenshot above shows all Spirit flights departing out of Los Angeles (LAX).
Do you like flying ultra-low-cost carriers?
It’s important to remember that Spirit is an ultra-low-cost airline. This means it doesn’t have the bells-and-whistles offered by traditional carriers like first-class upgrades and lounges. If you value these things, you’re likely better off chasing elite status with a more traditional carrier.
You can fast-track to Spirit elite status with a credit card
You can earn 1 SQP per $10 spent on the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard®. This makes it easy to fast-track your elite status qualification, so you should consider how much you plan to spend on a Spirit cobranded credit card if you’re not able to qualify organically through flying alone.
That said, there’s an opportunity cost involved with spending on a Spirit credit card. Putting everyday expenses on a transferable rewards card that earns bonus points on groceries or dining would yield more valuable points.
The information for the Free Spirit Travel More Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
How much do you value Free Spirit points?
Finally, you’re going to earn a lot of Free Spirit points when chasing Spirit elite status, so it’s important to make sure that you value them highly. Here at TPG, we value these points at 1.23 cents per point when you have elite status or a cobranded credit card (since the award booking fee is waived), but you should figure your own valuation too.
You can do this by pulling cash and award prices for a handful of flights you’d redeem Spirit points for. Then, find the cent per point value by dividing the cash cost (minus award taxes and fees) by the points price. Then, multiply that number by 100 for the cent per point value.
For example, this flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX) costs $120.39 in late-May.
The same flight costs 10,000 points and $5.60.
This equals a cent per point value of 1.15 cent per point — the math looks like this: (120.39-5.60)/10,000) * 100 = 1.15.
Do this for a handful of Spirit flights and see if you can get a cent per point value that’s close to our 1.23 cent per point valuation. If not, you may want to skip Spirit and see if you can move loyalty to a program that gets you more value.
Free Spirit Silver ($590)
Spirit Silver is Spirit’s entry-level status tier. It includes a handful of interesting benefits that make the Spirit experience easier and more seamless. It requires 2,000 SQP to earn, but I’ll assume you earned 2,400 SQP for this valuation. This means you’d spend $2,400 in a given year to earn and maintain your status level.
Based on our assumption of 80% flights and 20% extras, you’d have to fly 19 flights based on our assumption of 100 SQP per flight (for 1,900 SQP) and $500 on extras.
Earn points at an increased rate ($70)
Free Spirit Silver elites earn 8x points on fares and 16x on extras. This is 2x more on flights than standard members and 4x more on extras. Considering you’d spend $1,900 on flights and $500 on extras, you’d earn 23,200 Free Spirit points. This is 5,800 points more than a standard member would earn, worth just over $70.
Ability to host a points pool ($25)
Free Spirit Silver elites can host a points pool that lets the elite member and their family members pool their points together. I’ll value this conservatively at $25 due to limited use.
Redemption fee waiver when redeeming points ($100)
General Free Spirit members need to pay a $50 redemption fee for flights booked within 28 days of departure. This is waived for elites and cobranded credit card members. I’ll assume you use this twice per year, for a value of $100.
Free seat selection at check-in ($190)
Free Spirit Silver elites can pick seats for free at check-in. Unfortunately, however, this excludes preferred sears like exit rows and Big Front Seats. I’ll assume the value per flight is $10, so the perk is worth $190 over the course of 19 flights. That said, it could be worth less if you buy Big Front Seats regularly.
Free exit row seat selection available three hours before departure ($80)
You can choose exit rows for free three hours before departure. These seats are usually more expensive than standard seats, but you may not always clear your seat upgrades at the last-minute. I’ll assume a value of $20 per exit row seat selection with a 20% success rate. This is roughly four flights, for a value of $80.
Free same-day standby ($25)
Free Spirit Silver members can standby for free on an earlier flight. I’ll value this conservatively at $25.
Shortcut boarding ($50)
Dedicated guest care phone number ($50)
A priority phone line can be a lifesaver during large-scale weather events, but it’s not the most valuable perk. I’ll value it at $50 per year.
Free Spirit Gold ($3,190)
Top-tier Free Spirit Gold requires 5,000 SQP to earn. Again, I’ll assume you earned 6,000 SQP for this valuation. This means you’d spend $6,000 in a given year to earn and maintain your status level.
Based on our assumption of 80% flights and 20% extras, you’d have to fly 48 flights based on our assumption of 100 SQP per flight (for 1,900 SQP) and $1,200 on extras.
Earn points at an increased rate ($355)
Free Spirit Gold elite members earn 10x on fares and 20x on extras, which is 4x more on flights and 8x more on extras than a standard member. Over the course of 48 flights at 100 SQP, this is 28,800 points more than a standard member would earn, giving you $355 more in value.
Free seat selection at booking, including the exit row ($960)
These members can select a free seat at booking, including exit rows. Unfortunately, you cannot select Big Fron Seats as a Free Spirit Gold member. I’ll assume a $20 per flight value over the course of 48 flights, giving you a total value of $960.
Free full-sized carry-on bag ($1,140)
Gold members receive a free full-size carry-on bag on all Spirit flights. These bags cost roughly $30 per flight and I’ll assume 80% usage. This gives you $1,140 in value over the course of 38 flights.
First checked bag free ($600)
Gold members are entitled to a free checked bag on all flights. The cost of a checked bag depends on the flight, but we’ll assume $25 per use with a 50% usage. Over the course of 24 flights, this equals $600 in savings.
Free snack and drink on board ($385)
Free Spirit Gold elites get a free drink and snack on board. Generally, this will save you $8 per flight, depending on what the member chooses to snack on. This is worth roughly $385 over the course of 48 flights.
Free Spirit Airlines Flight Flex ($100)
This benefit gives you the ability to modify your itinerary once online, up to 24 hours before departure, with no fees. This can be a very valuable perk if you want to move to an earlier or later flight. I’ll value it at $100.
Ability to host a points pool ($25)
Same benefit, same utilization.
Redemption fee waiver when redeeming points ($160)
Same benefit, 60% more utilization.
Free same-day standby ($25)
Same benefit, same utilization.
Shortcut boarding ($80)
Same benefit, 60% more utilization.
Dedicated guest care phone number ($80)
Same benefit, 60% more utilization.
What if I’m starting from scratch?
As I mentioned in the intro, these numbers are based on the benefits you’d enjoy by spending a full year with the given status. However, you’re likely starting from scratch if you’re reading this in 2021. After all, the Free Spirit elite status program launched in January.
With that in mind, these calculations become a bit more complicated since you won’t start to enjoy any benefits until you earn 2,000 SQP and earn Free Spirit Silver status. So to help, I’ve taken the above valuations and converted them to a value per SQP, as follows:
- Free Spirit Silver: $590 / 2400 = $0.24 per SQM
- Free Spirit Gold: $3,190 / 6000 = $0.53 per SQM
I created an Excel spreadsheet that uses these numbers to calculate how much value you’d get from the two Spirit elite status levels given a certain amount of flying. Just change the number in cell A2 to represent the number of SQPs you expect to earn in 2021, and the spreadsheet will update with the corresponding value.
For example, you’ll see that I have pre-loaded 6,500 SQPs. At this rate, you’d get no benefits from the first 2,000 SQPs, then enjoy Free Spirit Silver benefits for the next 3,000 SQPs (at a rate of $0.24 per SQP) and then enjoy Free Spirit Gold benefits for the final 1,500 points (at a rate of $0.53 per SQP). So if you’re starting from scratch and estimate that you’ll earn 6,500 SQPs in 2021, you’d get $1,535 worth of benefits from the Free Spirit program.
As always, feel free to adjust the numbers above for each tier (loaded into the “Base Data” tab of the spreadsheet) based on your own personal valuation.
Is it worth it?
Given these values, is it worth pursuing elite status with Spirit? Like any analysis we undertake here at TPG, there isn’t an easy answer to this — it depends entirely on your individual situation. However, here are a few over-arching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:
How much will you travel in the future?
If you qualify for status in 2021, your status will last until Dec. 31, 2022. As discussed earlier, it’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn Free Spirit Gold status, for example, the valuable perks outlined above only apply when you actually travel.
What’s the incremental value of one tier over another?
Many of you may wind up within striking distance of the next tier, so be sure to consider whether the benefits are worth pushing for it. There’s no sense in going out of your way for perks that don’t matter to you.
How well does Spirit’s route map match your typical travel patterns?
There’s really no point in pursuing elite status with an airline if you can’t feasibly fly it regularly. Be sure to consider Spirit’s service from your home airport(s) and how easy it is to get to your desired destination(s).
How sensitive are you to price and convenience?
There are many tradeoffs in this hobby, and one of the most common is deciding whether to use your preferred airline or hotel chain when it’s not the most convenient or cheapest. Would you book a one-stop Spirit flight if Frontier had a cheaper nonstop option? If the answer is no, it may not be worth going out of your way to earn Spirit elite status.
Spirit Airlines (and ultra-low-cost carriers in general) isn’t for everyone. The fares are cheap, but you’ll need to pay up for perks like a seat assignment, bags and even a glass of water. Some don’t mind these trade-offs, but others would rather hop on a Megabus before booking a Spirit ticket.
For those who love Spirit, Free Spirit elite status can be a way to make Spirit flights cheaper and more comfortable. So if you’re already planning on flying Spirit enough to earn elite status, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy all of the perks it includes. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to earn it with credit card spending if you’re not flying enough to earn it organically. The perks don’t outweigh the cost of moving all your flights to one airline (or flying more than you have to)
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy
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