Why this Florida-based flyer will be taking a closer look at Spirit Airlines in 2021
I moved to the state of Florida in 2007 and became a resident of St. Lucie County in May 2009. And in the 11+ years that I've lived equidistant from both Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, I have never taken a Spirit Airlines flight.
That doesn't mean I'm not a traveler. When not in the midst of a global pandemic, I typically take at least 30 domestic flights in a calendar year — split between business travel and weekend getaways with my family. This isn't anywhere near the road-warrior days before my daughter was born, but it does cement my place as a relatively frequent flyer.
And with the recent announcement of Spirit's new loyalty program, here is why I plan to take a much closer look at Spirit Airlines in 2021.
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I always knew that one of Spirit's main gateways was Fort Lauderdale (FLL), and I also knew that the carrier offered a variety of flights from Orlando (MCO). However, I had never really dug into Spirit's modern-day route map — which includes more than 60 unique, nonstop destinations across these two airports (I ignored the route between the two cities since it's one I'd never take, and this is also based on a shift to more "normal" service in 2021).
Most importantly, Spirit flies the routes that I take most frequently — in a normal year, that is.
I typically need to travel to Charlotte (CLT) for business a few times a year, and the same holds true to visit the TPG office in New York City. I also have family just outside of New York, and with multiple daily flights from both Florida gateways to New York-LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark (EWR), it's easy to reach the tri-state area.
Related: JFK vs. LaGuardia vs. Newark: Which NYC airport should I fly into?
I was also unaware of how many flights Spirit offers to the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
This includes well-known destinations like Cancun (CUN) and Aruba (AUA) but also more off-the-radar cities — including Managua, Nicaragua (MGA) and Bucaramanga, Colombia (BGA). And before COVID-19, it had plans to grow even further while investing in its onboard hard product at the same time.
Of course, this route network has largely been there for some time, but it's Spirit's newest announcement that is bringing this into the front of my mind.
New program enhancements
The existing Free Spirit loyalty program that will disappear in Jan. 2021 has a couple of features that are unappealing to many points-and-miles enthusiasts:
- Your miles expire after just three months without any earning activity.
- As a non-elite member, you earn miles at a rate of 50% of the distance you fly — with no additional earning opportunities on extras like bags and seats.
- Redemptions are capacity-controlled — and can sometimes be a phenomenally-poor value (see below).
Under the newly-announced program, you have a year to either earn or redeem additional points to keep them active (the current program only extends the validity period when you earn miles). You'll also earn points based on the amount you spend on both tickets and extras -- with the "extras" coming in at double the rate of the money spent on airfare.
Related: How to fly without bag fees on Spirit Airlines using the free personal item
The new Free Spirit program promises no blackout dates for award tickets and will base redemption levels on the ticket price. We don't yet know exactly what this translates too, but hopefully, it'll be a notable enhancement over awards like this:
If you're keeping score at home, these one-way flights from Orlando to Newark would be $17.10 or 25,000 miles plus $13.10 in taxes and fees — giving you a redemption value of 0.016 cents per point.
Elite status that's attainable
Generally speaking, legacy airlines have taken notable steps over the last several years to make it harder to earn elite status, including introducing revenue requirements and the imposition of restrictions on partner flights. Meanwhile, Frontier is the only low-cost carrier in the U.S. that offers anything resembling a "traditional" elite status program — and even that requires flying a minimum of 20,000 miles or 25 segments to obtain.
Spirit's new program is a major enhancement, creating a full-fledged approach to rewarding the carrier's frequent travelers — and putting it within relatively easy reach.
Related: Comparing Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines
Under the new Free Spirit program, you'll need 2,000 annual Status Qualifying Points (SQPs) to earn Silver status and 5,000 SQPs to reach Gold — with one SQP earned for every dollar spent on Spirit fares and extras on your flights. You can also earn one SQP for every $10 you spend on an eligible Spirit Airlines credit card. That means the following:
- Silver: Earned after $2,000 in spending with Spirit, $20,000 in card spend, or some combination of the two.
- Gold: Earned after $5,000 in spending with Spirit, $50,000 in card spend, or some combination of the two.
Yes, Spirit's base fares are quite low, and we still don't have complete details on what the "enhanced" credit cards will be. Nevertheless, given my usual flying activity, both of these thresholds are within reach.
And that's when things get interesting ...
Related: Everything you should know before flying Spirit Airlines
Perks that belie the low-cost carrier
One of the major reasons Spirit has rarely registered on my radar is because it's unabashedly a low-cost carrier. Base fares are incredibly low — but then the extra costs really add up. You pay for carry-on bags, seat assignments, checked bags, food and drinks onboard and for even for the privilege of redeeming your points (if they haven't expired, that is).
And if you have status in the current Free Spirit loyalty program, none of that is covered.
That is changing on Jan. 21, 2021.
For starters, Silver members will be able to pick their seats at check-in, can be assigned exit row seats within three hours of departure and will earn a 33% point bonus on flights (8x) and extras (16x) — all nice perks. However, Gold members come out with a lot of extras, including:
- 67% point bonus on flights (10x) and extras (20x)
- Seat selection at booking (including exit rows but excluding Big Front Seats)
- Free Flight Flex
- A free carry-on and checked bag
- Free drink and snack onboard
These in-flight perks essentially create a legacy-like experience with the discounted fares of a low-cost carrier — a level that I may pursue once travel begins returning to normal.
Related: How to pack only in a Spirit Airlines free carry-on bag
Of course, there are remaining questions about the new Free Spirit program — like details on the credit card offerings and how the new Saver$ club (currently known as the $9 Fare Club) will work. However, those uncertainties pale in comparison to one topic: award tickets. How exactly will these be priced? A "no blackout dates" policy sounds great in theory, but if redemption levels aren't affordable, that may change my plan for 2021.
Nevertheless, count me as one Florida resident who is extremely excited about this new loyalty program.
Featured photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy