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):
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!