Spirit Airlines On Why Its Good to Have Customers Who Think You’re Bad

I thought this was a fantastic articulation of Spirit’s business model. Anyone who flies Spirit should understand what they’re getting. I love that they exist, they represent an option in air transportation that’s different. It isn’t for me but I believe it’s great to have options.

What’s never good is buying something without being presented with an easy way to understand how the product may be different than what you’re expecting.

I find that Spirit does a really good job on its website making clear what fees you’re paying, and what fees you’ll pay later unless you follow a very defined set of behaviors.

Of course if you book Spirit tickets through another channel you won’t get that same level of expectations-setting.

Here’s Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza’s response to their having the highest rate of Department of Transportation complaints.

It seemed worth sharing almost in its entirety, because it really is that clear and crisp. And as much as I don’t want to fly the airline, I have a hard time arguing with the logic.

What about you?

We care about every one of our customers and work hard to deliver what they value most: safe, reliable transportation to where they want to go at a lower cost than other airlines. That’s because we know that the #1 thing that makes our customers happy is getting where they want to go for less.

We’ve all learned that there’s always “more to the story,” and there is here too. First, the absolute number of complaints to the Department of Transportation is very small for all airlines, including Spirit. The industry averages around 1 or 2 complaints from every 100,000 customers, which is a great level of performance. Our complaint rate is higher: over the last five years we’ve averaged 8 complaints per 100,000 customers. That means 99,992 customers did not file a complaint, while 8 did. That is a very, very small number, but not one with which we are satisfied. For the last few months, complaints about Spirit have declined by over 30% to 5 per 100,000 customers. And, we’re still not satisfied.

Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about – more seats on our planes with a little less legroom, no Wi-Fi or video screens, and no refunds without insurance; however, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry. Judging by the number of customers on our planes and repeat customer rate, most people like this tradeoff.

We know some customers are surprised by our unbundled, a la carte model and that creates some complaints. That’s why we’ve committed Spirit to two key objectives: helping all of our customers learn how to fly on Spirit while keeping more money in their pockets AND sustaining our great safety record, while we continue to improve our operational reliability which is already competitive with other airlines.

There is one thing we won’t do – add costs for things that most customers don’t value as much as our low fares just to reduce the complaints of a few customers. Doing that would raise prices for everyone, compromising our commitment to what our customers have continuously told us they truly value– the lowest possible price.

We will continue to work in every way we can to help our customers get where they want to go, safely and reliably for less money. That lets our customers have more to spend on the things they really care about, like a nicer hotel, an extra day partying in Cabo, or even a new bike for a child. There’s more to our story, and we will continue to share our approach to helping customers save money on airline travel transparently and consistently in everything we do.

Ben Baldanza
Spirit Airlines CEO

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. Gary, how can you formulate an even somewhat intelligent opinion if you have not read the DOT complaints filed against Spirit Airlines?

    You can’t. You didn’t.

  2. I considered flying Spirit once but I just didn’t want to invest the time figuring out what I would pay, there were just too many options. So I just paid $60 more and flew United.

  3. LOL at this piece of fiction!

    A wolf in sheep’s skin is always a wolf; I feel sorry for the weaker sheep who fall for these lies.

  4. Next headline, we will not pay for “insurance” since only a small fraction of the flights ever have any problems.
    Anything for cheaper fares.

  5. I flew Spirit weekly for over two years DCA-FLL, before they moved operations to BWI. It was like an evil addiction to substandard service, but they never failed to deliver on cheap airfare. I now fly US and AA, and still have to admit Spirit had a better on-time record than mainline carriers. I might have paid for bags three times, since it’s very easy to understand the rules. It’s a substandard airline, much like Delta, and is flown for the same reasons.

  6. I flew spirit for the first and last time for a simple lga-ord roundtrip because I couldn’t resist their seductive $108 RT fares… all was well getting from lga-ord until they unleased their true spirit… my return flight was canceled and they stranded me at ORD for almost 24 hours. I ended up having to be routed ord-fll-lga. I had never wished I flew AA or UA more in my entire life

  7. I am 6’5 and over 350 pounds. I was uncomfortable flying anywhere due to the cost and level of comfort – either buying two seats or driving. When Spirit came to DFW as a hub, I was able to fly to Vegas and other places – in the big front seat – for about $200-$250 round trip. This really sparked my love of travel to get involved in the manufactured spend/flying all over the place world. Southwest then changed their COS policy – and now I’m typically in an airplane a couple times a month.

    And their frequent flyer program is a hidden gem in a frequent flyer world full of devaluations.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Spirit! Let the hoity-toity crowd overpay on the legacy airlines.

  8. They are very upfront with what they charge. It’s very ignorant to claim they are a “wolf in sheep clothing” and people are falling for lies. How is Spirit any different than all of the budget discount airlines in Europe, Asia, and South America? They are not, except that Spirit actually charges LESS fees than many of them. Spirits loyal followers seem to be very happy with them, they have a model that works for many people. If you don’t want to fly with them then don’t.

  9. I flew Spirit once, and I was pretty much satisfied, considering they were less than half the fare of any other airline (that’s including any fees I paid). For my family of four, that was a substantial savings.

  10. Agree completely Gary – Thought Baldanza’s letter was a great explanation of Spirit’s business model. More power to them – there’s obviously a market for it, and they’re filling that need in the economy.

  11. I actually love flying between vegas and lax on sprit when they have their deep discount sales. I take a small little carry on for a day or two trip and end up paying like $45 round trip. I know they are losing $$ on me.

  12. Have to agree with you Gary – I, too, wouldn’t touch them with a 10 ft pole. But for some they are a perfect fit, and overall having more carrier options is better than less to keep things competitive.

  13. I flew Spirit once and it was awful. The only good deal was the discount you got if you bought quite a few beers instead of just one. That being said, if you have a family with kids, then Spirit is probably the only way you can afford to fly everyone somewhere, so more power to them. In fact this was confirmed by a lady I was talking to at PT one time, who had just moved jobs from Frontier to Spirit.

  14. There is a market for this, just like there is a market for McDonald’s. You pick and choose, and I’m glad that some folks are now able to travel that couldn’t before. I can’t comment on Spirit as I’ve never flown them.


  16. I don’t have a problem with the fees – you just have to be careful and organized. It was the only airlines that had a non -stop flight to Florida when I wanted to go. I have found their customer service to be non-existent and their website a mess. Checked in on-line but couldn’t print my boarding pass because of a glitch in their website. Website also tried to charge me twice for checked luggage. Couldn’t speak to a live person to get any help.

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