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Spirit Airlines Is Getting a Loyalty Program -- Here's How It Could Work

Feb. 13, 2019
6 min read
Spirit Airlines plane
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I have redeemed points to stay in an overwater villa in the Maldives, to have caviar at 36,000 feet in international first class, booked around-the-world business class tickets ... and I also fly Spirit Airlines. Honestly, I've flown a lot of Spirit Airlines -- certainly more Spirit than caviar. To book Spirit flights, I've paid cash at the airport, used fixed-value points and leveraged the 2,500-mile award flights available for Spirit credit card holders (thanks, Dad!).

The one thing I've never done is use my own Spirit miles to book my own Spirit award ticket. Why? Because their loyalty program is kind of terrible for the occasional Spirit flyer. Any Spirit miles I've ever earned have expired before I could get even close to using them. In fact, their three-month expiration policy is, by far, the strictest policy out there (Frontier comes in second place requiring activity every 180 days).

While Spirit has repeatedly expanded its route network, improved customer service, on-time statistics and more, its frequent flyer program has remained ... let's say, a bit stale. But, in 2019, that is going to change.

Spirit Airlines Says Its Frequent Flyer Program Is Dated

On Spirit Airlines' most recent earnings call in early February, a point that was brought up multiple times was a forthcoming new loyalty program.

Lastly, we are also working on overhauling our loyalty program to be more reflective of the value that our ULCC product provides to leisure customers.

Spirit went on to say that its current program has become "a little bit dated," is "under performing" and is "not reflective of the ULCC model and the value that we provide and how we provide it."

(Image by Chris Sloan)

New Spirit Loyalty Program Coming This Year

Spirit is not just speaking (the truth) that its current program is dated, but they are doing something about it. While we don't have an exact date, Spirit said that this is the year they are changing to a loyalty program that better accounts for who Spirit is as in airline, its ancillary fees and low fare model.

The new program is in the midst of being finalized, but an emphasis was reportedly put on understanding the lifetime value of leisure customers. Spirit said the reason they haven't already rolled out changes is "because we want to make sure we get it right."

What Flyers Want from New Spirit Loyalty Program

We asked our TPG Family Facebook Group what they would want from a new Spirit loyalty program, and the two main themes were a longer period of time to use the miles and reduced mileage awards available to non-card holders. Currently, only Spirit card holders get access to 2,500-mile awards; otherwise, the cheapest award is 10,000 miles.

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Those would both be welcome changes, but I'd argue that the list of needed changes doesn't stop there.

A Spirit "frequent flyer" isn't the same thing as a Delta or American Airlines frequent flyer. While there are certainly leisure travelers in the ranks of American Airlines Executive Platinum and Delta Diamond Medallion members, let's be real. Most of those folks have flights mixed in where someone else is picking up the tab.

A Spirit flyer is much more price conscious and is likely paying for his or her own tickets. There are business travelers on Spirit, but they are most often sole proprietors or small business owners who are ultimately paying their own way.

What these price-conscious travelers will want in return for loyalty to Spirit is protection from some of Spirit's fees and maybe, just maybe, some "upgrades" to the Big Front Seats. In no particular order, here are five things we'd like to see from a new Spirit Airlines loyalty program:

  1. Longer timeframe to use miles without them expiring -- preferably 12 months
  2. Faster/less expensive redemptions available to all members. This may mean the program has a more revenue-based focus, where a fewer number of miles can be used to book inexpensive fares or could be used for ancillary products such as seat assignments, bag fees and Big Front Seat Upgrades.
  3. Offer elite status tiers with actual benefits, such as free full-size carry-on bags, free seat assignments and a number of Big Front Seat Upgrades. Heck, maybe throw in some free internet once that is up and running to make things fun. Just like with Frontier's new loyalty program, allow these elite perks to be shared with others on the same reservation, especially at the higher elite tiers.
  4. Ability to pool miles with friends and family.
  5. Ability to use miles for awards without paying high award booking fees that may cost more than buying a ticket outright.

To further entice Spirit flyers to have and use the Spirit Airlines credit card, the airline and Bank of America could also get more creative with those ongoing benefits. For example, perhaps if you have the card and redeem miles for a Spirit ticket, maybe you get a free seat assignment. Or, just as with some Delta and JetBlue cards, allow Spirit card holders the chance to get a portion of the money spent on Spirit onboard and/or ancillary products back in the form of a statement credit, at least up to a certain amount per year.

Bottom Line

While ultra-low-cost competitor Frontier is making a name for itself both in becoming family-focused and retaining a traditional airline award chart where you earn miles based on how far you fly, I think Spirit is ripe for going revenue-based with its program. If a ticket cost $49, it is hard to justify spending 10,000 miles plus fees to book an award with Spirit miles. Cobranded card holders getting access to 2,500-mile awards (often when fares are low) is very nice, but hasn't been enough of a spark to differentiate the program.

Spirit has a growing international presence in the Caribbean and Latin America (up from 10% of its network in 2018 to 15% to 16% in Q1/Q2 2019), it flies to popular leisure destinations and the airline's on-time statistics now place them in line with or ahead of some major US airlines. The time is right to attract and retain customers with a loyalty program designed around what customers care about in 2019.

TPG has reached out to Spirit to learn more about what is coming to is loyalty program in 2019 and will update if we receive comment.

What would it take for Spirit to attract you to its loyalty program?

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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