Guide To Avoiding Fees & Saving Money With Spirit Airlines

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Photo by Ian A Gratton.

If you have ever done a quick search for the cheapest airfare, then there is no doubt that you have run across a fare or two from Spirit.  Often times they can be significantly cheaper than the main line carriers.  For example, tomorrow I am flying from Las Vegas to Oakland (LAS-OAK) for $68 RT.  The next cheapest airfare to SFO, OAK or SMF was $200 round trip.  Elite status or not, I can’t justify paying three times the price for a 90 minute flight.

The one complaint I hear most about Spirit from people is their fees.  People tend not to do their research and end up falling into Spirit’s fee trap.  Spirit will charge you for food and drink on board, charge you for most carry-ons, and even make you pay for a boarding pass if you forgot to print it at home.  While there is definitely a down side to flying such an airline, just like with Ryanair, Air Asia and other budget carriers, if you do your research then everything will be fine.

Baggage

Probably the largest fee for most people is baggage.  When I take into account the cost of a ticket with any airline, I add up the price of the ticket plus the cost of baggage.  This way I can compare apples to apples.  Usually I am a carry-on only type of person, so baggage fees aren’t of much concern to me.  With that said, lets take a look at Spirit charges.

spirit2

 

As you can see from the chart above, Spirit actually charges more for large carry-on bags than it does for checked luggage.  A great way to save when traveling with family or as a family is to combine as much as you can into one piece of checked luggage.  Then everyone can bring their own small backpack or purse for free as a carry-on.

You can also see from the chart that the best time to purchase baggage is before online check-in which starts twenty-four hours before your flight.  If you pay at check-in the price increases $10 per bag and if you wait until getting to the airport, the price jumps another $5.  Like I said before, flying Spirit (or any other ultra low cost carrier) takes a little planning, but you can save a lot of money, especially if you are a traveling family.

The last thing I want to address with baggage is that red $100 fee on the right of the chart above.  If you try to sneak a large carry-on aboard the plane or any other type of baggage that is not allowed, be prepared to pay $100 at the gate.  Airline review sites are littered with people who didn’t pay attention to the rules.  Only one personal item such as a purse or small backpack is allowed for free.  The maximum measurements of that item are allowed to be: 16″ x 14″ x 12″.  If you bring something larger to the gate without paying in advance, be prepared for that crazy $100 charge.

See!  They are just allowing you to "customize" your experience so you can save more!
See! They are just allowing you to “customize” your experience so you can save more!

Food & Drink

Just like most airlines these days, Spirit does not provide any complimentary food on board.  Unlike most other airlines, Spirit does charge you for drinks as well.  Not even water is included in your airfare.  I highly recommend you prepare for this by bringing snacks and purchasing any liquids you need in the airport before hand.  On a short flight like the one from LAS-OAK this isn’t too much of a concern, but on longer flights it may be a problem.

$9 Fare Club

The $9 Fare Club is Spirit’s discount membership club.  For $59.95 per year you can get access to discounted fares on some routes and a discount on baggage.  The great thing about this club is that the discount applies to you and up to 8 other people on your reservation.  If you happen to be checking bags and find a $9 Fare Club rate, I would recommend purchasing it.

For example a few years ago my son and I flew from LAS-DFW on Spirit for a weekend event.  The $9 Fare Club discount was $40 for each ticket.   By purchasing the membership for $60, I saved $20 and had access to discount airfare for a year.

Keep in mind if you do join the $9 Fare Club that the membership auto renews.  They will notify you one month before auto-renewal, but that is it.  Whenever I have a subscription like this to cancel, I just add it to my Google Calendar.  On the specified date a popup or email will notify me to cancel.  Very simple and very effective.  It is up to you whether you want to deal with that hassle.

My fare included a $10 discount from a special they were running!
My fare included a $10 discount from a special they were running!

This & That

Like I mentioned before, make sure to print your boarding pass at home to avoid the a $10 charge at the airport.  Also, be prepared for the fact that Spirit’s seats do not recline and the airplanes only have a 28″ pitch with 17.5″ width.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with this for short flights like the one to Oakland, but a longer flight would be troublesome.  For families, this is perhaps a slightly smaller issue, since adults can sometimes “steal” some of their small child’s space!

As for seat assignments, you must pay in advance if you want to choose your seat.  I usually just take what they give me, but some people like to have the comfort of knowing where they are going to sit.  Also, all of the planes have at least one row of “Big Front Seats”.  These seats have a 36″ pitch and 20″ width and cost between $12 and $100 depending on the flight.  Finally, sign up for their email alerts.  Spirit often has sales where they offer $10-$24 off per round trip ticket.  I used a $10 code to save on my airfare! (See above.)

Closing

Tomorrow I will be flying up to Oakland to see my dad with only a small backpack with enough items to last me through the weekend.  Even if I checked a bag, the fare I paid would still be less than half of any of the other airlines.  While I definitely prefer the perks of being a Platinum with American Airlines when I fly them, I can’t deny the value that Spirit is giving me on this trip.  Since I have done my homework, I also don’t plan on being hit with any unexpected fees along the way.

Click here for a full list of Spirit’s fees.

 


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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Shawn.
    I have seen Spirit as the lowest fare on several air fare search sites. Always was a little suspect that they would throw in a hidden fee at the last minute, Thanks for the explanation.
    I agree they would be okay for a short haul weekend getaway. But maybe not so great for a long haul trip.

    • Yeah as long as you do your research and are ok with little legroom and non-reclining seats, Spirit is ok. I get on the plane in a couple of hours. I will let you know how it goes!

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