Today I will answer the question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to. How bad is Spirit Airlines? We’ve all heard horror stories, but when you look at the price difference between them and other airlines, it might make you think twice. Is enduring Spirit Airlines worth saving a couple of hundred dollars?
I will be looking at the company’s background, prices, seats, bag policies, and rewards programs. By the end of this article, you’ll have a complete overview of what Spirit Airlines is all about and if it’s worth the risk to fly with. Let’s dive in!
Bottom Line Up Front
The bottom line is that Spirit Airlines is a low-budget airline and should be treated as such. It’s got great prices, but these savings come with their fair share of problems. You should expect uncomfortable seats, hidden fees, delayed flights, and possible lost baggage.
I recommend only using this airline if you are on a serious budget and don’t have a checked bag or hard deadlines to arrive at a specific location. This will make the experience much easier, and you won’t have the added stress if something goes wrong.
What I Look for In a Good Airlines
I look for many things in a good airline company, but I’m going to outline the five most important things to me.
If you’re like me, the prices are the first thing I always prioritize when flying. I travel obsessively, and I like to think that all the money I save on a specific flight is extra spending money for activities. Therefore, I’m generally willing to sacrifice a few hours of discomfort to save a couple of hundred dollars.
However, there is a point of diminishing returns for me regarding price. If I’m frequently getting canceled flights or lost bags, I’ll start to consider paying more to ensure I arrive at the destination on time. There’s no point in saving money to fly if you’re arriving a day late anyways!
The next thing I look for in a solid flight experience is the seats. Are the seats comfortable, have a decent amount of leg room, and have a pull-out tray on which you can fit a laptop?
These factors become increasingly important to me depending on the length of the flight. I can deal with the worst if it’s simply a 1-2 hour flight. But sitting uncomfortably can get annoying quickly if we’re doing a 4-5 flight across the country.
One thing I like to do is simply look at the customer reviews for seat comfort. You’ll find out how nice the seats on a particular airline are. My favorite airline for maximum comfort would probably be Southwest Airlines, as their seats are all leather.
The next thing I like to look for in an airline company is their rewards programs, which traces back to my main priority- prices. If you stick with a company for a long enough time, you’ll slowly begin to rack up miles to get free flights.
In addition, you can level up in their membership programs to get priority seating, free upgrades, and special lounge areas in the airports.
I like to think of rewards programs as an upfront investment. Although you may be paying more to stick with the same company initially, it’ll eventually start to pay itself forward in the future.
Bags usually aren’t a huge priority as I like to travel relatively lightly. However, checking a bag can become a priority to me, depending on how expensive a checked bag is.
I’ll also look into the airline to ensure they are a reliable carrier because there is nothing worse than losing your bag and figuring out how to track it down before your vacation or travels begin.
Most of the time, when I travel, I like to bring one carry-on bag, and I pack as few items as possible. If possible, I’ll try to fit everything into a “personal item” bag if I can.
One tip I have for reducing the size of your clothes in your bag is to use packing cubes. These can greatly reduce the size of your items when utilized correctly.
The food and drink on board is the smallest thing I look for on a flight, but if it’s good, that’s a solid bonus for me. I usually eat a massive meal before flying so that I don’t have to worry about it, as most of the time, the meals on board are either extremely lackluster or extremely expensive.
However, I generally like meals that are healthy and feel like they are fresh. If the food feels like it’s been in a refrigerator for the past week, I probably won’t even eat it. Not worth it for me to get sick right before heading on vacation.
Spirit Airlines Background
Let’s look at how Spirit Airlines came up in the travel world. The company started in 1964 as a trucking company called Clippert Trucking Company. It wasn’t until 1983 that they began to charter airlines under the name Charter One Airlines. From there, they grew to be the 8th most popular airline company in North America as of 2021.
That isn’t without its fair share of controversies, however. In 1994, they had to cancel over 1,400 customer flights. In 2000, they were fined $67,000 by the FAA for violating seat markings. In 2010, it became the first airline company to charge its customers for carry-on bags.
These mishaps and many others haven’t gone unnoticed over the years. Today they are casually known as “the worst airline in the USA” and have extremely low reviews on almost any airline review company.
How Bad is Spirit Airlines, Really?
To put this theory to the test, I thought I’d ride Spirit Airlines on three separate occasions to determine if they are as bad as the reviews say. Here are my thoughts.
Let’s start with the positive here. Spirit Airlines is hands down the cheapest airline, but only if you’re smart about it. If you fit everything into a personal bag, bring your snacks, print your boarding pass before arriving, and are prepared to rebook your flight if it’s canceled, it will certainly be cheaper.
However, the kick with Spirit Airlines is their hidden costs. If you bring a carry-on, forget your boarding pass, or have any other inconvenience (such as a slightly too large personal item,) they will almost certainly find a way to charge you for it.
Their entire business model is built around seems to be the cheapest airline upfront, then tacking on charges slowly along the way. If you do your research beforehand and know what you are getting into, you can certainly save money.
If you end up booking with Spirit Airlines, you’ll find out that they only have two classes of seats on their planes- the Big Front Seat and Standard Seats.
The only difference is that the Big Front Seats at the front of the plane have slightly more legroom (6 inches,) are coated in leather, and don’t have a middle seat- only aisle and window seats.
I would argue that these seats are comparable to a “regular” seat on a mainstream airline company. The cost to upgrade is about $60, and I’d say it’s worth it if you’re trying to stay comfortable.
The Standard Seats, however, are a different story. They have a 28” pitch and 17.75-inch width (as opposed to a 36” pitch and 18.5-inch width.) They are very cramped and uncomfortable, and the tray is almost nonexistent. It can hold a drink, and that’s about it.
Spirit Airlines might not be the best option if you’re a person with a larger frame or you have a medical issue where you need more space. However, it’s not horrible if you’re willing to embrace discomfort for a few hours—just a minor annoyance.
The real catch of Spirit Airlines is its bag policy. The first thing you should know is that every person gets a free personal item (18” x 14” x 8”,) which is pretty heavily enforced. As I said, they will look for any reason to upcharge you. You can add a carry-on bag for $41, which is presumed to be put in the overhead cabin.
After that, if you have more, you can add a checked bag for $36, $41, and $91 (depending on how many bags you have.) Surprisingly, these aren’t ridiculous prices compared to other airlines.
However, keep in mind that these are prices listed if you purchase these online before arriving at the airport. If not, you’ll spend an extra $10-$15 per bag.
The food and drink selection on Spirit Airlines isn’t the best menu in the world, but that shouldn’t be too surprising at this point. You’re charged for all types of food and drink (including bottled water), and there are no free snacks.
The prices are relatively reasonable, but there are limited options. I’d recommend bringing your snacks and drinks on the plane for maximum efficiency.
In terms of alcohol, they charge about $8 – $11 for beer, wine, and cocktails.
Spirit Airlines utilized a rewards program called the “Free Spirit.” Essentially you earn points with every flight you go on, and you can use those points to get free or discounted flights in the future.
It’s not that bad of a rewards program; you can even move up the ranks to a Silver or Gold member for increased benefits. Once you’re at these levels, you’ll get priority boarding, free snacks, and drinks, and expanded seat selection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: Although Spirit Airlines generally has an unreliable reputation online, they are a safe airline to fly with.
They are certified by the FAA, meaning they pass rigorous certifications to ensure their aircraft are safe to fly. It’s also worth mentioning that Spirit Airlines has never been involved in any crashes in its entire 39 years of business.
Answer: Yes, you can bring one free personal item aboard Spirit Airlines, as long is it under 18” x 14 “x 8”. Anything larger than that, you will have to register the bag as a carry-on, starting at $41 each.
Spirit Airlines is pretty strict about this policy as well, so I’d make sure your item fits the guidelines before arriving.
Answer: Yes and no. If you cancel your flight 60+ days from departure, you’ll get a full refund on your flight. However, as the flight gets closer, Spirit Airlines will charge a higher fee for your cancelation.
In the end, I would say the Spirit Airlines experience isn’t nearly as bad as the hype leads it out to be if you know what you’re getting into.
If you’re a generally needy customer that has strict standards for what they want out of an airline’s experience, you’ll probably leave disappointed- especially if you try to deal with their notoriously bad customer service.
However, if you can deal with a subpar experience, don’t plan on complaining to customer service, and aren’t checking bags, there’s a good chance you’ll get away with spending less money simply to get from one destination to another.
Speaking from experience, if you load your laptop/phone with a solid movie or two, the flight will be over before you know it, and you’ll be ready to start your vacation!
I hope this article has been helpful to you, and good luck with your Spirit Airlines experience if you plan to hop aboard!