Yes, I Love Spirit Airlines — Here's Why
Spirit Airlines is in the news again as it prepares to introduce the option of purchasing a ticket via the text-messaging service, WhatsApp — for an added fee of $25. Not surprisingly, this announcement is met with... let's call it virtual eye-rolling at the opportunity for the airline to collect another fee.
I'm not here to defend or to mock the new way to book Spirit tickets, but rather share a different take on the airline as a whole. Even with all its fees and, at times, zany approach to advertising, Spirit Airlines, unquestionably, has changed our lives — for the better.
How We First Flew Spirit — For Free
We first flew Spirit in the fall of 2012 after receiving two 20,000 free Spirit bonus mile certificates as part of an introductory promotion when Spirit Airlines added routes in and out of Houston Intercontinental. Anyone who lined up for the certificates (up to a certain number of people in line), received them. It was weird, but fun.
We had never flown Spirit, but these free tickets were enough to make us give them a try. The whole family lined up for vouchers and the 40,000 miles my wife and I collectively received were enough for eight round trip tickets to places such as Las Vegas on off-peak dates if we got the Spirit credit card, which we did. In the ensuing years we have taken trips to other parts of the country at a cadence that quite simply would not have been financially realistic for a largely retired couple.
Spirit and similar ultra low-cost carriers might not be a good match for you, but here are the five reasons we are unabashed fans.
We Can Now Afford to Fly — Regularly
Spirit not only regularly has fare sales that dip into the extremely affordable range, but if you have the Spirit MasterCard, you can fly anywhere in its first zone level for 2,500 miles each way on off-peak dates, plus fees that start around $17. We use this redemption several times per year to fly from Houston to Las Vegas. We use Las Vegas as a gateway to natural beauty in Utah, Arizona or California. There have been occasions that Spirit's airfare was priced so low that cash made more sense than using miles. (And remember, buying in person at the airport can make cash tickets even cheaper.)
In retirement, we don't have a ton of day-to-day expenses. It would take forever at 1 mile per dollar on everyday spending to earn 25,000 miles on a traditional airline card for a saver award, but since Spirit's card earns 2 miles per dollar and redemptions start at 2,500 miles each way, we earn a one-way award with every $1,250 we spend.
We've Been Lucky With Delays
I have to admit that we have had good luck with Spirit. Knock on wood, we haven't had a cancelled flight or a flight delayed for an extended period of time. Our Spirit experiences are usually on time coming and going.
Some of that is good luck, but it also seems to be in line with recent stats. In 2018, the nationwide average on-time arrival rate in the US was 79% with 1.82% of nationwide flights cancelled. Spirit's stats in the same timeframe were better than the average in both respects at an 81.08% on-time rate and 0.99% cancelled. That said, Spirit did suffer somewhat in this category this summer with a drop below the average due to an internal increase in demand and usage of its fleet, but the airline has said it is working on that issue actively.
Anecdotally, we have also noticed that Spirit planes seem to board and deplane faster than some others because more passengers travel light to minimize fees.
The Fees Are Optional, and We (Largely) Opt Out
Speaking of fees, yes, Spirit has a whole litany of them. But, they are largely optional. We have mastered the utilization of the small 18x14x8 personal item (i.e., backpack) that Spirit allows you to bring onboard for free.
We have even taken winter trips that included ski clothing by packing tightly, judiciously and by layering our clothing on the flight itself. That approach might not work for everyone, but for us traveling without kiddos, it hasn't been a problem.
We used to not pay the extra fee to select advance seat assignments and had good fortune in getting our seats together, usually including a window seat. However, we now often choose to pay the extra fee to choose our seat locations as I vastly prefer a window seat. These fees usually range from $13 to $19 each way on the Houston to Vegas routes we frequent.
We're More Sam's Club Than Neiman Marcus
As the years have passed since our first Spirit flights, we have discerned a change in the clientele. At first, most of the passengers around us seemed to be comprised of those taking advantage of the extremely low prices to fly for what might have been the first time. In truth, flights sometimes felt a bit like a bus ride in the sky, which isn't a bad thing, but was a different feeling than on say Delta or United.
But lately, our experiences haven't been all that different than on other airlines. The passengers around us on Spirit seem to reflect a broad base as more have accepted and adopted this no-frills way of flying. Sometimes saving money is just the best thing to do for everyone. Flying Spirit now really feels no different than shopping at Sam's Club; there is a wide swath of folks simply looking for a good deal.
We're never going to be elite flyers, purchase lounge access or really be comfortable even sitting in first class, so Spirit missing all those amenities is actually somewhat of a positive for us.
They Are Making It Better
We are small to medium-sized folks, so the smaller than average seat space is not problematic for us. But — those who want or need more seat space actually do well flying on Spirit, too. The Big Front Seat often sells for about a $40 to $50 up-charge, which is unquestionably less than what a traditional airline would typically want to upgrade to that much space.
Spirit is now also receiving a new Airbus at the rate of about one per month and the new planes are supposed to be fitted with "comfier cushions" to enhance the traveling experience across the cabins. “There will be enhancements,” CEO Ted Christie said Monday in an interview at the International Aviation Forecast Summit in Las Vegas, as reported by Skift. “There will be some changes to the cushion and to the pre-recline. There will be a full-size tray table.” The airline now boasts it has one of the newest fleets in the industry with the plane age average being only 5.6 years.
While I highly doubt we will ever need to be connected for the three hours we are in the air, I know many people do appreciate in-flight Wi-Fi and Spirit is in the process of fitting all its planes with it. Due to what the airline is labeling as "some provider shortages," the airline now projects it will be 2021 before the transition to connectivity is fully completed.
Spirit continually adds destinations, routes and departure options. On average, Spirit now has three daily nonstops and three daily one-stop offerings to and from Houston and Las Vegas. There are also now nine ways to head the other direction and fly Spirit between Houston and Baltimore each day. Obviously that's just a small slice of Spirit's network, but it's a slice that has helped us tremendously.
We aren't traveling to enjoy caviar and Champagne in the air (or on the ground, for that matter). We're simple and easy to please, but have been able to integrate regular travel into our lives because of the availability of $15 to $30 airfare. Next month, we have both a trip to Las Vegas and an overnight to see the fall foliage in Colorado on the books solely because airlines like Spirit and Frontier made that possible.
We know what to expect (and not expect) when flying an ultra-low-cost airline and are glad to report, so far, so good.
Spirit can tack on all the optional extras they want and people can make fun of them until the cows come home, but Spirit and airlines like it have made our lives better by unlocking the key to the sky in a way that our wallet can afford.