How to Fly with Spirit Airlines

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How to fly Spirit Airlines
Photo courtesy of Spirit Airlines

I have survived my first Spirit flight! And you know what, it wasn’t so bad. Flying Spirit is not for everyone, but for the budget conscious it is fantastic option. Without the low fares available on Spirit Airlines, it would not have been possible for our family to go away for a quick Mother’s Day weekend. I had heard all the complaints, knew the risks and was prepared. And it turned out great.

Many American travelers aren’t used to the concept of budget airlines, but after flying in Europe and Asia for many years, I have a different view. If it comes down to being able to afford going or not going, I prefer a super cheap flight that enables me to get somewhere I wouldn’t be able to go otherwise. The trick with these airlines is to be informed so that your flight actually stays cheap after booking.

Here are some tips on how to fly with Spirit Airlines and keep your money in your pocket.

Costs: Do the Math

The beauty of ultra-low cost airlines like Spirit is that you know up front what all of your potential costs are going to be. Look, I get it, no one likes to feel nickel and dimed. But that is exactly how you will feel if you go on a Spirit Airlines flight without preparing in advance.

Instead, know the rules, read the fine print to factor in all of your potential extras and comparison shop before a purchase. Add in the extras you might want like extra leg room/choice of seats ($10-$50), priority boarding, carry-on bag ($35-50) versus checked luggage ($30-$50), printing your own boarding pass ($10 at the airport) as well as snacks and drinks on the flight ($2-$7).  Often times the costs don’t measure up to comparable flights. Other times, Spirit continues to be the cheapest option even with all potential extras.

Travel Tip: If you like boarding early, Zone 1 boarding comes free with the purchase of a carry-on bag.

If the costs don’t measure up, then you know that for that trip, Spirit may not be the economical option. For our recent trip, we spent less on 2 flights with a bag than we would have on 1 flight with a bag on any other airline. For us, it only made sense to endure the lack of comfort for the ability to visit family on Mother’s Day.

Baggage: Know Your Packing Habits

This is the killer for most people. To save the most money, you need to know how many and what type of bags you will be taking while booking the flight. Waiting until after you purchase your ticket will increase your bag costs $5 per bag, waiting until check-in increases it $10, and so it goes until you get hit with astronomical fees by waiting until the gate.

It is important to not only know what bags you will be taking, but also the measurements for your bags.

Travel Tip: Measure your bags in advance. Pack super light for carry-on only or take what you want and pay for checked luggage.

You are allowed one small carry-on for free. Do not just take your purse – maximize your free baggage space by taking the maximum size allowable (16โ€x14โ€x12โ€). Think a small backpack, a kids size roller bag or an under the seat bag.  The box at the airport for measuring these bags was actually a little bigger than the measurements given, but don’t go too over unless you want to pay!

For a purchased carry-on, you still must follow their stringent measurements (22 x 18 x 10 inches) to ensure you will not be charged extra. Our bag fit the compartment easily without the extended section in use. For the most part, if your bag looks small and compact you will not be asked to measure it.

It is not just your carry-on bags that you need to worry about. For checked luggage, anything over 40lbs is considered excess weight and will be charged extra. Make sure the measurements do not exceed a maximum of 62 linear inches (length + width + height).

If you are traveling with children, don’t despair, Spirit allows you to check a stroller and/or carseat for no charge at the desk or at the gate. Also you are allowed to take your carseat on board, but be aware the larger carseats may not always fit in the ‘free’ seats.

Comfort: Know What to Expect

Looks roomy when there are no people there! (Courtesy Spirit Airlines)

A great disappointment about flying is when reality does not meet our expectations. I was not disappointed with Spirit because I had only heard negative reviews and had low expectations.

If you purchase the bare minimum (the actual flight) and nothing else, expect that you will not be traveling in comfort. The regular ‘free’ seats are very small with little leg room. The seats do not recline. There are no USB plugs. No WiFi or entertainment options. Not even an in-flight magazine.

And nothing is given for free, not even water.

If you know this in advance you can prepare yourself with entertainment options (podcasts, shows on your phone, magazines) and fully charged devices which results in a much more enjoyable flight.

If you are taller than 5’5, you might consider upgrading your seat as the legroom on the free seats is non-existent. Even my 4.5 year old mentioned how little space he had. I was ok with this because it was a short flight and I did not want to pay for extra legroom. But for some people, this is a must, so factor that into your costs.

Load up your extra baggage space with snacks and water/drinks before you board. The snack options are limited.

Bring neck pillow if you want to sleep. You will need it.

Delays: Expect the Unexpected

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Spirit (other than nickel and diming) is that they are often late. I feel like this is true with most domestic US airlines, but just in case it is Spirit specific, build in time for delays. No one ever wants to miss out on their precious time planned for their trip, but if you go into it knowing there is a possibility of delays you will leave the trip less irritated. To avoid delays, aim to book early morning flights. Also make sure to register your email and/or phone number with Spirit and remember to check your email often on flight days to find out about delays.

On our trip, a delay worked in our favor. We wanted to squeeze in a quick lunch with family members before heading to the airport and were lucky to see the email saying our flight had been delayed 45 minutes – just enough time to make lunch.  Had I not checked my email and gone straight to the airport I might have been upset.

Overall, I have to say that I was surprised how easily our trip went after all of the complaints I have heard. There are some negatives for sure, particularly in the comfort department, but for short flights with limited luggage, Spirit can be an economical way to travel.

Would I take Spirit on flights longer than 3 hours? Probably not. But for a quick trip to Texas to visit family it was great. That said, their flights to Central and South America look pretty appealing… Never say never!

This post is part of #WeekendWanderlust


13 thoughts on “How to Fly with Spirit Airlines”

  1. I’ve never flown Spirit. I didn’t realize just how bare bones they are. Thanks for the warning–and the tips. If I ever do fly with them (and I’m with you, better budget flight than none at all), your tips will come in handy.

    • I think that is why they are rated as one of the worst airlines in the US, even though they are one of the most profitable! People just see the cheap flights and then get totally messed about with fees! For us it was very much like flying Ryan Air in Europe. But I do remember my first flight with them – i got pounded by excess baggage fees and I was livid! Live and learn!

  2. I haven’t flown with Spirit yet but have been tempted by their great prices. But usually, I can’t find tickets for the days I want to travel. Thanks for the lowdown!

  3. In my 20-something-single-gal travel days, I flew Spirit a bunch, and like you said, it got me from point A to point B cheaply – going places was all that mattered. These days, with an infant, I’ve been paying extra for more leg room with regular carriers and for checking baggage, which I never used to do before! You nailed it, low expectations/knowing what to expect is key!

    • With an infant I definitely took too much stuff so Spirit would not have been an option! I’ve slowly learned to take much less, but it took time!

  4. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fly Spirit Airlines! They had a killer deal to Costa Rica, and I almost went for it, but then American happened to have a sale the same day I booked! Turns out I probably lucked out. I think I would have been miserable on a long flight like that! But I’m curious to try Spirit myself!

  5. Thanks for all the tips! I’m not sure they even fly where I live, or maybe they don’t fly to the places I want to go to, but it’s good to know for the future what to expect.

  6. Never heard of them, but will keep that review in mind. I think low cost companies are just fine for a short flight and sometimes they have killer deals!

  7. I am flying to Iceland in WOW airlines and as Spririt I think they are bare minimum kinds too… Your tips are surely gonna come handy.

    • I have been checking out WOW’s cheap fares. Good to know they are also a bare minimum type airline. Doesn’t bother me if we get there for cheap ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Thanks for the hints. I have flown with Spirit a few times, of course for the value flight and was not disappointed. For example, I could fly to Panama City (Panama) from Charleston, WV for $147 (base price) but to fly from my home in Florida to Panama City it is nearly $500. Big difference.

  9. Glad your Spirit flight wasn’t too terrible! They really are a good option sometimes, I just hate them with a passion. However, if I saw a killer deal to the Caribbean or Latin America, I would suck it up and fly their cheap seats again ๐Ÿ™‚


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