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Spirit vs American Airlines: Which to Pick?

Spirit vs American Airlines: Which to Pick?
Latest posts by Candis Pope (see all)

I’ve taken many trips across the globe, and both Spirit and American Airlines were options I used to get me to my destinations.

Like most people, I love finding cheap flight deals, and it feels good when you can take a trip without spending an arm and a leg. However, the experiences provided by Spirit vs. American Airlines are entirely different.

 In this article, I’ll explain the contrasts between each option and offer my opinion on which airline I think is best. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started!

Bottom Line Up Front

Essentially, American Airlines is the better option. Compared to Spirit, it wins in every category, except for fare costs. With American, you’ll get everything you’d typically expect from an airline, and the company ensures that guests are completely accommodated. 

Don’t worry. I’ll explain in more detail below why I choose American Airlines over Spirit.

Main Differences Between Spirit and American Airlines

  • Spirit is a budget airline, whereas American Airlines is not.
  • Spirit charges separately for carry-ons and checked luggage, whereas American Airlines does not. 
  • Spirit Airlines does not provide complimentary snacks and beverages, whereas American Airlines does.
  • Spirit flies to cities in North and South America, whereas American flies worldwide.

Key Features of Spirit Airlines


According to Spirit, they have a “bare fare” model. Everything is à la carte. Their flights are so cheap because they don’t provide the extra amenities that other airlines offer.

If you search any route flying out of a city where Spirit operates, you’ll notice that their flight prices are significantly lower than other airlines. This is especially true for Spirit vs. American Airlines.  

Spirit Airlines gets a lot of flack, but I don’t understand why. I like Spirit, understand their business model, and know what to expect from them. If you check their website, you’ll see that they’re very open and honest about how they run things.

I’ve taken several flights with them and enjoyed my experience. However, I suggest only booking a short flight with Spirit. I’ve only flown with them for routes that were under four hours, and I don’t think I would choose Spirit for an extended flight.

Free Spirit Rewards

Although Spirit is an à la carte airline, that doesn’t prevent them from providing additional savings. They have a rewards program that allows passengers to earn points for every dollar spent on airfare.

Points can be redeemed to pay for an entire or half a flight. That’s good, considering you may not have enough points to pay for a whole trip. Plus, you can begin redeeming once you reach 2,500 reward points.

Big Front Seat

big front seat

One of the things that people complain about when it comes to Spirit Airlines is that the seats are cramped. From my experience, I noticed that the seating was tighter than on other airlines. However, it wasn’t unbearable for me, and I’m not a short person. 

The good news is that Spirit offers additional legroom for travelers who need it. Their Big Front Seats can range from $12-$250. You can also consider these seats the “first class” of Spirit. 

International Flight Options 

You can vacation on a budget with Spirit Airlines. They don’t fly all over the world—like American Airlines—but they fly to exotic locations. From the United States, you can fly to Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Aruba, Mexico, and more! 

I think that’s fantastic for people who want to travel internationally but feel as if they can’t afford it. As I stated above, I wouldn’t book an international flight with Spirit. Unless the route was under five hours, and the flight price was really low.


  • Affordable
  • Visually appealing planes


  • Limited Baggage 
  • No In-flight Entertainment 
  • No Complimentary Snacks


Spirit Airlines

Okay, I’ve already touched on the fact that Spirit is an affordable airline. But I have to highlight it again because the price is definitely one of Spirit’s pros. Anytime you can find a $50 flight to go to another city is amazing! The beautiful thing about Spirit is that it allows people to travel on a budget. It’s great for college students and budget travelers. 

It’s also good for solo travelers like myself. When you take a vacation alone, all of the expenses fall on one person. There’s no one to split the hotel or Uber ride with. Therefore, it’s nice to save a large chunk of money on airfare.

Yellow Planes

This may seem silly, but I absolutely love the color of Spirit planes. The bold yellow just makes me happy. I think it says a lot about the company for them to create such eye-catching planes.

Limited Baggage 

The one thing that I dislike the most about Spirit is their baggage situation. If you choose to buy a standard flight, you can only bring a personal item onto the aircraft. The bag must be able to fit in an 18 “x 14 “x 8 “box at the airport. That’s the size of the seat in front of you.

 Essentially, your personal item is a purse or a small backpack. Therefore, you have to be very clever in the way that you use your personal item if you don’t want to pay for luggage. When I say luggage, which includes carry-ons, you can expect to pay an additional $40 or more for bags each way. That can add up quickly! 

Because of the baggage prices, I only choose to fly with Spirit if the final price is significantly less than another airline. I have to save over $50 for me to decide to choose Spirit instead of American. Even if I pay more for American Airlines airfare, the flight comes with complimentary snacks, assigned seating, baggage, etc. Therefore, the extra money is worth it.

No In-flight Entertainment 


Flying on Spirit is pretty dull. There is no in-flight entertainment for passengers—unless you pay for it.

They have a streaming package that you can buy. However, there is no set price because the cost of the package varies depending on the route and the flight duration. 

When I fly with Spirit, I usually download a playlist of music to my phone, and that keeps me entertained while I’m en route. I’ll also take a book, just in case my phone battery gets a little low.

Spirit Airlines Snacks: Not Complimentary

Complimentary snacks make the flight experience complete. Unfortunately, you won’t get that with Spirit. As with all the other amenities, you can pay for refreshments separately, and Spirit offers a variety of beverages and snacks for those who want them.

If you do want to pay for snacks, expect your standard assortment of soft drinks and snack bags, along with alcohol options. As of this writing, a soft drink is $4, but check this PDF for the full menu.

To avoid feeling thirsty or hungry while in the air, buy food at the airport after you’ve checked through security.

Key Features of American Airlines

American Airlines

American Airlines is one of the biggest names within the aviation industry. It’s been around much longer than Spirit, and it’s a trusted brand. I like to fly American when I go to certain destinations. It’s my “go-to” airline when I want a particular experience. 

The only thing is that American Airlines flights aren’t always cheap. There are definitely times when you can find a good deal with them. If you want to budget travel, American isn’t always the airline that’ll allow you to do so.


Unlike Spirit, carry-on bags are standard in all cabins with American Airlines. Passengers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item. For checked bags, you may have to pay $30 for your first piece of luggage—depending on where you’re flying and the type of airfare you buy. For instance, Premium Economy, First Class, and Business Class passengers are allowed one free piece of checked luggage. 

In-Flight Entertainment


No matter what type of airfare you have, in-flight entertainment is included on American Airlines. Most flights have a free library of movies, music, and television.

Complimentary Snacks

Passengers are offered refreshments while on board. On most flights, you can expect to get pretzels or Biscoff cookies and your choice of beverage. Of course, on longer flights, meals are provided, but meal service differs depending on the route.


Like Spirit, American Airlines also has a loyalty program. Members can earn flight miles to over 1,100 destinations around the world. One loyalty point is eligible for one AAdvantage mile, and points can be used for other One World participating airlines.


  • Good reputation
  • Basic economy fare comes with more than Spirit


  • Too many layovers

Good Reputation

Save Travel

One of the things that I like about American Airlines is its reputation. Everyone hasn’t had a great experience with them. But in my case, I’ve never had an issue.

They do a good job of ensuring that passengers get to their destinations safely. Furthermore, if there are delays or canceled flights, they offer vouchers and other incentives to make up for it.

Basic Economy Fare

American Airlines might not be a budget airline, but they do offer Basic Economy fare. There are restrictions to this type of airfare, but I’ve used it numerous times.

The ticket comes with snacks and in-flight entertainment, unlike Spirit. Plus, you’re allowed a carry-on and a personal item. I love this option because I can get a cheap flight while still enjoying the perks of a standard airfare ticket.


One thing that I noticed about American Airlines is that they generally have layovers. They operate in so many cities that sometimes it’s difficult to find a direct flight.

I’ve compared many routes and noticed that Spirit usually has a direct flight while American has a layover. That’s frustrating when the airfare price for American Airlines is higher, but the flight takes longer to get you to your destination.

Other Alternatives to Consider

1. Jet Blue


JetBlue is an incredible budget airline, and it doesn’t have the same “bad” reputation as Spirit. They offer low-cost flights to numerous destinations. I like to choose JetBlue for my connecting flights.

For instance, if I’m looking at an international destination, and flights are cheaper to that destination from New York, I’ll fly to New York and back home on JetBlue.

To make things better, JetBlue offers in-flight entertainment and complimentary snacks.

JetBlue Competitors Compared

Here’s how JetBlue stacks up to some of the their top competitors:

2. Southwest


Southwest is one of the best airlines! They offer so much to passengers. On every flight, travelers receive two free checked bags! Plus, you get a carry-on bag and a personal item.

I love Southwest so much. They also have inexpensive airfare. You may not always be able to find a Southwest flight cheaper than Spirit, but they offer Wanna Getaway flights that are usually $60 each way. 

Southwest Compared to Others

Here’s how Southwest compares to some of their top peers:

3. United


United Airlines is another trusted brand. I’ve flown with them a couple of times and enjoyed my experience. Depending on where and when you’re flying, you’ll sometimes notice that United flights are a bit cheaper than American Airlines.

In most cases, you’ll have to pay for checked luggage with United, depending on your route and airfare class. But most passengers, except for Basic Economy passengers, are allowed a carry-on and personal item. United Airlines is an excellent alternative to American Airlines.

United Compared to Top Alternatives

Here’s how United stacks up against top peers:


Question: Can I bring two personal items on a Spirit flight?

Answer: You’re only allowed one personal item with Spirit. So, if you have a backpack and a purse, you can’t bring both on board. I suggest flying with a very small purse and putting it in your backpack before you board.

Question: Can I take food on a Spirit Airlines plane?

Answer: Yes! I usually buy snacks after passing through TSA, so I don’t run into any issues. However, if you want to save money, certain snacks are allowed through security. Avoid liquid or gel foods like yogurt, jelly, peanut butter, etc. However, you can bring cereal, candy, and bread through security. 

Question: Does American Airlines serve any other refreshments besides cookies or pretzels?

Answer: No. When I flew with American Airlines, the snack choice was either one or the other. Also, if you check their website, those are the snack options listed. Again, you can always bring your own snacks if you don’t like what American Airlines serves.

Question: Can I cancel an American Airlines flight?

Answer: Absolutely. However, you won’t get your money back if you don’t buy a refundable ticket. Instead, you’ll receive a flight credit that must be used within one year of the issue date. Furthermore, tickets can be changed or canceled without a fee.
On the other hand, a Basic Economy ticket with American cannot be changed or canceled unless it’s within 24 hours of the purchase.

Question: Can I cancel or change my reservation with Spirit Airlines?

Answer: If you change or cancel your flight more than 60 days before your trip, it’s free. However, some fees apply the closer you get to the departure date. For example, they charge $79 to cancel 3 to 6 days before departure.

Spirit vs American Airlines: My Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is a world of difference between Spirit vs. American Airlines. However, I must say, I enjoy both of them. Each airline offers something uniquely different.

If you’re traveling on a budget, I recommend Spirit Airlines. American Airlines is the way to go if you want to be more comfortable and have a full flight experience. I hope this article helps, and I wish you the flight of a lifetime!

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