Full guide to Flying Spirit Airlines

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Spirit Airlines has a bit of a bad rap as an unreliable nickel-and-diming budget airline. Its airline credit card doesn’t offer free checked bags (while most other airline cards do), they charge $10 to print your boarding pass at the airport, and their on-time record is less than stellar.

However, if you do your homework before flying, you could potentially have a really good experience with them. Spirit flies to a number of cities across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America — and flights can come in at crazy low prices. You’re paying extra for “perks” such as:

  • Choosing a seat
  • Bringing a carry-on bag
  • any food or beverages

If you can do without, you can travel for next to nothing. Here’s everything you need to know about flying Spirit Airlines.

(Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Spirit Airlines review

If you’re wondering how bad Spirit Airlines is, well, it’s a true budget experience. But though the airline consistently receives poor reviews from travelers, it remains a solid option for travel. The trick is to know exactly what Spirit is charging you for each piece of your trip — the seat, the bag, the carry-on, etc. Travelers who are careful with booking generally have a better experience. 

However, that’s not to say that Spirit doesn’t have other problems. Reviewers commonly complain about delayed and canceled flights, in addition to uncomfortable airplane seats. Considering you’re traveling on a budget airline with a fare that could very well cost less than you’d pay for a single-day Geo Metro rental, it stands to reason that you’re going to get what you paid for. 

When it comes to Spirit’s ticket prices, they’re incredibly low — which travelers like — but once you add in the extra costs that Spirit charges, you might have been better off booking with another airline that would have been a little more reliable. Spirit well and truly charges for everything for each flight, and those costs add up quickly. Some travelers have complained about all the fees, but if you read their terms closely and prepare properly, you could end up flying for a very low price.

If you’re a traveler who needs to pick a specific seat on the plane or check a bag, Spirit may not be the airline for you, because that could end up costing more than flying with a different airline. When examining the fees, keep in mind which aspects of a flight are important to you.

Where does Spirit Airlines fly?

Spirit Airlines operates primarily in the United States, with some flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and South America. They operate out of seven hubs in the U.S.:

  • Atlantic City
  • Chicago O’Hare
  • Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Detroit
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Las Vegas
  • Orlando

The airline also serves 70+ other cities around the country, which is pretty sparse compared to most other airlines. For example, the only airport Spirit flies to in the Pacific Northwest is Portland, Oregon. If you live anywhere else in that corner of the country, this is probably not an airline in which you’ll want to invest. Also, because Spirit doesn’t do much in the way of international travel, they won’t be a go-to for anyone who plans a trip across an ocean.  

Spirit also offers seasonal routes, which is important to keep in mind when planning a trip. Some of the nonstop routes only operate seasonally and some airports are only served seasonally. For example, travel to West Palm Beach, is only available during the winter, and travel to Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos, Mexico, is only available in the summer. You can find a more detailed breakdown of every city Spirit serves on here.

What size bag can you carry on Spirit Airlines for free?

There are many ways to avoid checked baggage fees, but Spirit is particularly difficult. They’ve got strict rules that aren’t easy to negotiate. Your airfare includes one free personal item that you can bring on the plane with you, but it must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Spirit’s measurement guidelines state the bag must be no larger than 18”x14”x8”. Every other bag you bring along with cost you an additional fee. Spirit’s fees vary based on where you’re traveling and when you pay for the bag.

You can save the most on this fee by paying for it in advance rather than paying at the airport. Fees start around $21 and go up from there. Overweight bags will cost you at least $75 on top of the regular fee, while oversized bags can cost an additional $150

It’s worth noting that some of the best credit cards for travel do offer annual airline credits which can offset the baggage fees you’ll pay with Spirit. Examples include the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (up to $250 airline fee credit) and The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 airline fee credit).

How often is Spirit Airlines delayed?

Though Spirit Airlines is often panned for its delays, according to the Department of Travel’s 2019 report, flights were on time 79.5% of the time. This puts it right in the middle of the pack of airlines evaluated. Hawaiian Airlines came in first, with flights being on time 87.7% of the time. Frontier came in last place with 73.1% on-time arrival. Major airlines like Delta and United were on opposite ends of the spectrum—Delta is in second place overall at 83.5% on time, and United is third to last at 75.2%. The numbers from 2018 are similar, with Spirit seeing an 81.1% on-time average, only being beaten out by Hawaiian, Delta and Alaska.

How safe is Spirit Airlines?

All airlines are required to follow FAA regulations, including Spirit. The airline has not had any crashes or any major incidents. Spirit has encountered a few emergency landings, as well as some turbulence-related injuries on board, but nothing major. The airline has also dealt with engine-related issues that caused plane groundings, however, in each situation, the planes were able to land safely. 

How to earn Spirit Airlines miles

Spirit’s frequent flyer program is called Free Spirit. It’s a free program to join, and it will keep track of all the points you earn toward free flights with the airline. It’s easy to sign-up on Spirit’s website, and you can manage your airline points through the portal. As you earn points through various methods, they will appear here. This is also where you can explore ways to earn points for flights, including the following:

Spirit credit card

Spirit has its own airline credit card, which will greatly boost your earnings if you fly with Spirit often. You start earning points as soon as you start spending, including an introductory offer of up to 30,000 miles. Flight redemptions start at 2,500 miles, and the card gives you Zone 2 priority boarding on all flights. You get double points for every dollar you spend on the card for everyday purchases (so 2 points per dollar), and there are no blackout dates for booking award travel.

Spirit dining program

With the Spirit dining program, you can earn miles when you eat at select restaurants. There are over 10,000 participating restaurants to choose from — it’s just a matter of remembering to connect your Free Spirit account to rack up the points. 

Flying with Spirit

Every flight you take with Spirit will earn you miles. Make sure to input your Free Spirit number when you book flights so you can get the points. If you forget to add your Free Spirit number before takeoff, you can still add it up to 30 days after your trip in your Free Spirit account on Spirit’s website.

Spirit shopping mall

Spirit has its own online shopping mall that will give you points for certain purchases. Check out the entire shopping mall here to see what kind of products you can purchase. You can earn a huge amount of miles when you shop here. For example, Macy’s offers 4 points per dollar spent. It pays to check if you can make online purchases you would have made anyway through the shopping mall to get these extra points.

Booking hotels with PointsHound

Finally, you can book your hotels through PointsHound to earn even more miles. The hotel booking site works with over 150,000 hotels worldwide, so you’ll surely be able to find a hotel wherever you’re going. The site will stipulate how many miles you’ll earn, which varies by hotel.

How to redeem Spirit Airlines miles

Redeeming Spirit Airlines miles comes down to a few factors: where you’re traveling, when you’re traveling, and how you’re paying

Spirit utilizes a very in-depth chart to demonstrate how to figure out the cost of award travel. Spirit credit card holders have an advantage, as they are the only ones with access to Off-Peak prices. Free Spirit members can only access Standard and Peak prices. 

You must first calculate how far you’re traveling. Spirit operates in regions based on miles traveled. To get a sense of how far you’re traveling, use Great Circle Mapper as a guide. The cost for trips up to 1,249 miles starts at just 2,500 miles, Off-Peak. That means it’s only available to credit card holders. The standard cost for up to 1,249 miles is 10,000 points. Quite a difference!

To put it into perspective, let’s take a look at a few routes in a few different times of the year.

  • Fort Lauderdale to Panama City—This falls into Region 1 because it’s under 1,249 miles. If you have a credit card and travel during an off peak time, the flight is just 2,500 points each way. If you don’t have the credit card, the flight will be either 10,000 or 15,000 miles each way depending on when you travel.
  • Detroit to Las Vegas—This falls into Region 3. If you have the card, you’re looking at a minimum of 7,500 points each way. Without the card, it’ll be at least 15,000 points each way. 
  • New York LaGuardia to Los Angeles—This is also Region 3, which means it’s going to be the same price as Detroit to Las Vegas. So a coast-to-coast trip can be as little as 7,500 points each way with the credit card. 
  • Atlanta to Cartagena, Colombia—This is a Region 2 flight. If you have the card, you can score the flight for as little as 5,000 points each way, otherwise it’ll cost at least 12,500 points each way.
  • Oakland to St. Croix—Here’s a Region 4 flight. With a Spirit credit card, the flight could cost as little as 12,500 points each way, but without it, it’s at least 20,000 points each way.

If you’re still unsure how much your travel might cost, go ahead and plug your trip into Spirit’s website to see where you can go with your miles. Play around with the travel time and cities, if you’re flexible, to get the most out of your miles.

Tips and tricks to saving with Spirit

Believe it or not, even with a budget airline, you can still save even more money if you know the tips and tricks. Spirit has a few options for cutting some corners, you just have to know where to find them:

  • $9 Fare Club —It costs $59.95 to join the $9 Fare Club, for the first year, and $69.95 each following year. With your membership, you’ll save money on bags, and receive access to cheaper fares. Special fares are marked when you’re searching for flights, so you’ll be able to see how much money you’re saving. If you travel with Spirit frequently, this could come out to a great deal, as $59.95 is quite a low cost and you can save on every flight you could take.
  • Spirit credit card—Not only do Spirit credit cards earn you plenty of miles for award travel, but they’re the only way to receive off-peak award travel. That means the Spirit credit card will get you the cheapest award travel 
  • Capital One miles —You can use miles you’ve earned through Capital One to offset the cost of your flight as well. Check your Capital One rewards to see what you have available and how far you can travel.
  • Big Front Seat —Spirit’s Big Front Seat is the equivalent of a first class seat. Though it will cost you more than your budget ticket, it sometimes is priced similarly to a regular coach seat on a legacy airline. This is a good way to pay coach prices for a larger and more comfortable seat than you’ll find on non-low-cost airlines. However, keep in mind that the seats don’t release and the Big Front Seat doesn’t get you any other perks (like a checked bag or food).
  • Use a travel rewards card —  Use a credit card that earns bonus points on travel purchases, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (you’ll 2x or 3x points, respectively) when making purchases with Spirit. You’ll earn bonus points on things like airfare but also on incidentals like seat selection, baggage fees, onboard food and more. You can use these points towards future travel or even for cash back.

Bottom line

Spirit Airlines is a good deal if you live near an airport they serve and you’re a savvy enough traveler to bob and weave between their fees. It can be great for families because the tickets are so cheap, especially if you can all pack everything into one bag. If you’re careful with knowing their terms beforehand and do everything you can to cut costs—use a Spirit credit card, join the $9 Fare Club, etc.—you’re in for a cheap trip to any number of places.

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Hedy Phillips is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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