I’m So Excited, I’m Flying Spirit Airlines!

I’m attending United’s Media Day in Chicago next month. While they offer to cover flights and hotel my practice is to cover my own costs (or, when it’s something that can’t be purchased directly, to make a donation to charity for the value I receive). I don’t feel right taking their free travel and reporting on the event.

The event hotel is a bit out of my price range, so even though it’d be a business expense I’ve gone ahead and redeemed points for a room.

Flights were an interesting matter. For non-stops to and from Chicago I have four options in Austin,

  • United (O’Hare)
  • American (O’Hare)
  • Southwest (Midway)
  • Spirit (O’Hare)

Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo

United and American were $225 for coach, and I wouldn’t be able to leave until 8 p.m. Spirit had a better flight time and was much cheaper. I can’t tell you how excited I am to leave my comfort zone and try Spirit again though honestly things already aren’t starting super well.

The first thing about booking travel with Spirit is that it’s complicated. Seriously, there’s a lot to think about.

Once I selected my flight I actually had to think about the bag(s) I’d be bringing with my on my trip. My initial thought was, of course I need a carry on, I’d better buy that! Then I realized “it’s only a one night trip, and I don’t want to lug around a rollaboard all day before heading to the airport.” No, I’ll just bring my laptop bag with a day’s worth of clothes stuffed in and save $37.

At first I chose a carry on. There wasn’t an obvious way to drop it from my shopping cart, so I abandoned the booking and started over.

Time to pick seats. Standard seats are $12 – $19. I guess you’d pay for a middle seat, rather than taking the luck of the draw at check-in, if you needed to make sure you were seated with someone. Exit row (extra legroom) costs $27. The Big Front Seat was available for $47. On a flight scheduled at about 3 hours I’m good with that.

Then I had to stop and think, oh wait I don’t have elite status. Do I want priority boarding? I purchased “the Big Front Seat” but at Spirit it’s literally just that. The bigger seat up front doesn’t come with drinks or free checked bags or priority anything.

Since I’m not bringing a carry on bag, I don’t need to worry about overhead bin space. No Priority Boarding needed! And since Spirit participates in PreCheck now I shouldn’t need Priority Security, either.

So my basic flight, $53.96, and Spirit wants you to know all the things that go into that from their perspective:

There’s $17.33 in taxes, which Spirit calls the “Government’s Cut” which is useful to remind people of at one level, but not entirely fair on another since it’s a government airport (nearly all commercial airports in the U.S. are) so you may be getting something in exchange for the cost.

All-in I was at $118.29 with my ‘Big Front Seat’, or more than $100 less than coach on United or American for a more convenient flight time. I’ll just have to download the Spirit app to check in, because there’s no way I’m paying to check in at the airport.

There was just one problem though. My credit card didn’t process on the website. I got a somewhat indecipherable error on the screen, and an email from Spirit telling me to call. I did.

  • Spirit’s phone tree is terrible. There was no skipping steps with ‘agent’. I’m not used to wasting my life getting screened by a machine before talking to someone.

  • They said hold times would be approximately one minute. Mine was 12.

When I finally got through to someone the agent scolded me that I “only had two minutes to get this processed and it’s been longer than that.” Yeah, your 12 minute hold time did me in.

Then he processed my card and tried selling me a seat assignment. “But I already paid for one.” Oh yes, he said, then would you like a checked bag?

The call basically went like this (NSFW):

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In the end there’s something cool about traveling on Spirit for United’s Media Day. And I’ll be in the Big Front Seat, too!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Big front seat gets you boarding group 2. The big front seat is my favorite seat on my ATL-PHL/EWR routes I fly. Spirit may not be the greatest, but I always have a relaxing flight in that seat

  2. If you keep your expectations low, then it will be fun. Just make sure to bring your own food and drink.

  3. 3 hour flight, I don’t need food or a drink, and the Big Front Seat is going to way more comfortable then United or American.

  4. I take it the media event is being held at O’Hare? If not, why wouldn’t you just fly Southwest for the much better airport (Midway > O’Hare).

  5. On Saturday, I learned I needed to be in a different city on Sunday morning for a quick drive. For non-stops, my options were UA, B6, and Spirit. Spirit was $130 cheaper than the other two. I was flying empty handed (just a backpack that held my kindle and a fleece jacket), so I just added the $23 exit row seat and had a pretty good two hour flight with no one in the middle seat (actually, 3 out of 4 exit row middles remained unoccupied), departing and landing exactly on time, with zero stress overall. The only drawback was no recline which I would’ve appreciated to add a quick nap to my 5 hours of sleep. That was my first flight on Spirit, and I’ll do it again in a similar situation and if I can pay up to a better seat.

    However, the people in the regular seats (and it was packed) looked miserable.

  6. I’ve not flown Spirit, but reading as you chose “The Big Front Seat” over the “itty-bitty back seats” in “Six Across,” I now understand that, in addition to being “the thought leader in travel,” you are a wise man.

    I don’t fly United either, but I still can’t wait to read your “Media Day” review to find out what hotel was out of your price range and where your points landed you.

    Quite fun, Gary. Thanks

  7. American’s “Oasis” product is pretty much the same as Spirit, except it usually costs more.

  8. $225 round trip or one way??? If it’s round trip that’s a steal! Whenever I go to Austin from DC I’m always horrified at how much it costs.

  9. I recently had my first flight on Frontier and what should I say. It´s been cheap as chips and… well, the seat upholstery is basically non existent, but other than that the whole flight was perfectly fine. The ULCC arent THAT bad I tend to believe now…

  10. I flew Spirit SEA-LAS three times and GEG-LAS once. I’m 6’5″ so I bought the big front seat for every trip. I got “Basic First” for same price or less than economy with any of the other carriers. If you know and play by their rules, they’re an good option, especially with Pre-Check.

  11. I’ve done 3 flights on Spirit out of Austin. No need for the app, you can print from the kiosk’s at Austin airport for free right on the way to checkpoint 1 tsa pre line. And unlike flying American or United with Spirit there is a much better chance your flight gets there on time!

  12. Remember also to bring a little water bottle since drinks aren’t free. But I always order coffee as well since Spirit’s brew is decent enough to be worth paying for.

    Also, you don’t need to download their app. When you check in on line, you can download a “mobile boarding pass” page to your phone; or you can just print a paper one. I’ve never done it, but I think Spirit’s airport kiosks also print free boarding passes; you definitely pay if you have an agent do it.

    But here’s the weirdest thing: Spirit is more operationally reliable than AA these days. I’ve got an upcoming flight on AA, and I’m already nervous: I should’ve booked with Spirit, but the AA flight was only 11,000 Amex points roundtrip (via an old Avios transfer at 140% and booked just prior to the recent devaluation).

  13. Stop writing these articles, you’re ruining it for me

    Spirit is awesome. Now shut up about them!

    Let others cram themselves into an AA Oasis seat for hundreds of dollars more than your Big Front Seat, and act oh so superior as their flight is delayed or cancelled

    I personally value a huge seat more than a “free” soda. Especially when I save big bucks.

    I’m flying MSP TO LAX round trip in Big Front Seat for $280
    Coach on Delta? $400+

    Worried about operational standards?
    Buy Freebird

    More and more this Delta Fortress hostage is flying Spirit, and loving it

    I mean, it’s terrible. You’re above it. Don’t fly them. Pay $300 more for a free soda

  14. JRMW is exactly right. As long as a ‘Big Seat’ is available and the itinerary fits my schedule, Spirit is the way to go. Have flown them now about ten times, all without a hiccup. But yeah, they’re terrible. Don’t fly Spirit if you can spend a few hundred more for a more stressful flight.

  15. @Jason one way! Austin has been the fastest growing airport in the country for a bit and flights have been absolutely full, the airport has opened some new gates which should help a little…

  16. Interesting irony — your post makes me dread flying Spirit (the horrendous booking process you described, including being reprimanded for something that was the company’s fault, by someone paid to assist you) but your readers’ comments have me very intrigued.

  17. My wife and daughters have flown Spirit a couple of times without issue. I haven’t, but might only for a direct flight. Any itinerary that involves a stopover would be a no.

  18. @Gary – okay, one way, that makes a bit more sense to me, thanks for the clarification. Yes – I’ve been in Austin a few times in the last few years for weddings, etc. I was there in June and went and explored the new gates – saw the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt boarding. All nice to see. The airport definitely has a buzz to it, as does the city. My flights were both full as always, which I’d expect, at least during a weekned when I seemed to see a lot of weddings/ bachelor(ette) parties all over town. good times. Still always shocked at the prices for flights whenever I come down there for DC. It was nearly $600 on Southwest (booked far in advance), and United, American, and Delta all wanted astronomical prices for inferior schedules to Southwest. Oh well, that’s supply and demand.

  19. going to a UA event on Spirit? wtf?
    Also, you forgot the other ‘extra’ : wanna second pilot in the cockpit? $79. cha ching.

  20. Now you have to worry the plane ever takes off that week and gets there at all
    Look forward to seeing your dinner and drinks on board

  21. Just flew Spirit for the first time in 22 years. You may want to change to first row big seat. I picked second row as well. The big seat comes “prereclined”. That means you will bump you head to put your backpack under your seat. Amazingly, Spirit on time record is better than American currently.

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