One Airline Has Two Status Levels — But Benefits are Exactly the Same

Spirit Airlines offers one of the best deals in travel, their ‘Big Front Seat’ which is often very modestly priced above the regular seat. It can be less than $40 more for a recliner style seat similar to what larger airlines offer in first class. They call it ‘Big Front Seat’ for a reason though since all you’re getting is the bigger seat up front, not other services like checked bags bundled in.

The carrier has done as much or more than anyone else to drive down the price of airfare across much of the U.S. and in the last year especially they’ve improved their operation – completing flights and performing on-time. They even joined PreCheck.

However they have one of the worst frequent flyer programs on the planet. You’re likely to get little value out of it if you do not take their co-brand credit card from Bank of America.

  • Expiration Some programs expire miles after 18 months or 3 years of inactivity. Spirit expires miles after just three months.

  • Close-in booking fees Some programs charge extra for redeeming miles within three weeks of travel (a throwback to the days of paper tickets when these were ‘expedite fees’), Spirit charges extra for redemptions made within 180 days of travel and unlike airlines that load their schedules 11 months out, Spirit generally loads theirs up to 8 months in advance so the fee-free window is limited.

  • Mileage earning though it’s a distance-based program you earn only 50% of miles flown unless you have elite status or their credit card.


Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo

Spirit’s program suffers from the Greyhound Road Rewards problem. Your reward for flying on Spirit if more flying on Spirit (or redeeming for magazines). Here’s a Spirit Airlines flight attendant dropping some serious life advice.

Given these limitations my focus on the Spirit Airlines Free Spirit program is limited. So I didn’t even realize that while Spirit has an elite program – with two tiers – as Travel Zork points out there is no difference at all between the tiers.

Here are Spirit’s levels:

The key benefit of elite status is earning 100% of miles flown. Spirit makes their money on fees, people who fly the most pay the most fees. They aren’t keen to waive fees for elites.

The amazing thing, though, is that there are no published differences or additional benefits for “VIP” status over “Elite.” I often say there’s not much difference between Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond status. Here though there’s literally no difference.

In some ways that reminds me of the OpenTable restaurant reservation program which is earned with 12 reservations per calendar year and comes with no discernible benefit whatsoever.

I love that Spirit exists. I love that they drive down domestic fares competitors offer. I love that they sell their big seats in front of the aircraft for a very modest upcharge. But their mileage program is just sad. Credit card customers get access to reduced mileage redemptions, though.

Here are cops dragging unhappy Spirit Airlines passengers out of the terminal in Fort Lauderdale.

The good news is that Spirit says it’s revamping its program this year. They could take inspiration from fellow low cost rival Frontier who rolled out new elite levels last year with a real home run.

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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Comments

  1. I have a feeling that many of the customers who fly Spirit the most are actually unprofitable to the airline. They’ll be the gamers who just look for cheap fares and don’t give them ancillary revenue. Hence the lack of a good “frequent flyer” program. Spirit may not be so interested in frequent flyers.

  2. O.K., and so AA has 5 notional status levels (including CK). But they’ve “dumbed down” their program so much that there are now also only 2 status levels – CK and everyone else! 🙁

  3. All of these things are basically true about Spirit however the worst thing about their program is redeeming miles. I don’t think they do it on purpose but it’s hard to book a good flight to more interesting places. For example it might be fairly easy to book or get award seats from Kansas City to FLL but much harder from say Kansas City to Lima Peru. Not because of the amount but their system works about as good as foreign carriers like Pegasus. It’s an IT issue I think. You also can’t plan far out as they don’t release schedules far enough in advance. I like Spirit but rank their loyalty program at the Wyndham level (just above Greyhound, Amtrak but not yet to the Choice Hotel level). In their defense it does seem that they are slowly getting better.

  4. I used to fly Spirit a decent amount YEARS ago, and chopsticks is likely right.

    I was in my 20’s, Spirit flew out of Atlantic City, and often flew to leisure destinations in Florida for very cheap. At that point I could easily suffer some discomfort for a quick flight, and some savings. I never purchased anything except for the ticket itself. Which often was less then a night out at a restaurant for wherever I was going.

    Nowadays – I never fly Spirit. Although my mom will often take advantage of their cheaper fares to visit my sister in Dallas. She usually upgrades to the Big Front Seat, which is WORLDS better then any competitors coach product. Sadly, the Spirit coach product is probably equal to most airlines coach nowadays. The Big Front Seat though? Excellent value if you don’t care about accruing miles and such…

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