Everything You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines

Oct 3, 2018

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Spirit Airlines is perhaps the best known of the US budget carriers. But if you know what to expect specifically before your flight, you’ll set yourself up for a better experience. To improve your experience when flying on the lowest fares, we’ve recently published guides to Basic Economy on Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines. We’ve now in the midst of a series on the major US budget carriers, with the first guide covering Frontier Airlines.

If you’ve booked — or are considering booking — a trip on Spirit Airlines, you may be wondering what’s included on Spirit and how this trip might be different from previous trips you’ve taken with other airlines. This guide aims to answer all of your questions about flying Spirit .

In This Post

What Fares Does Spirit Airlines Offer?

Spirit offers Standard fares and $9 Fare Club fares, but you have to belong to or join the $9 Fare Club to get the latter.

You can join the $9 Fare Club for a year for $59.95 or purchase a two-month trial membership for $19.95. In either case, you’ll be automatically renewed as an annual membership for $69.95 each year unless you cancel your membership.

Despite the name, joining the $9 Fare Club doesn’t get you $9 fares. Instead, it gets you and up to eight other passengers on your booking:

  • The lowest fares available when you purchase your tickets online
  • Discounted prices on bags when you purchase your bags online
  • Special deals

When I tried a few sample bookings, it usually would’ve made sense to purchase a $9 Fare Club membership. This would be particularly true when traveling as a family or when you have multiple passengers on the same booking.

Should I Book My Ticket at the Airport?

A Passenger Usage Fee of $8.99 to $19.99 each way is charged for bookings made online or via reservation centers. So, if you book at the airport you can avoid this fee — but you’ll need to pay slightly higher fees for checked bags or carry-on bags. Booking at the airport could make sense if you’re booking for multiple people and it’s not too much of a hassle to do so.

Can I Check a Bag?

Yes, for a fee. Each checked bag can be no larger than 62 linear inches (length + width + height) and weigh no more than 40 pounds — although the checked bag that comes with the Thrills Combo can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Checked-bag fees vary based on the route and the time at which the bag is purchased. You can use a tool on Spirit’s website to calculate baggage fees, but know that paying for bags during booking on Spirit’s website is cheapest, while paying at the gate is the most expensive. The checked-bag fee is the same as the carry-on bag fee at the gate, but at all other points a checked bag will cost less than a carry-on bag. $9 Fare Club members pay slightly lower prices when they purchase checked bags online.

Can I Bring a Carry-On Bag?

One personal item, like a purse, small backpack or briefcase, no larger than 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches, can be carried free of charge.

One carry-on bag no larger than 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches can be purchased, but it will usually cost more than a checked bag. Like checked bags, the price for a carry-on bag depends on the point at which you purchase the bag. Purchasing a carry-on bag on Spirit’s website when you purchase your ticket will be cheapest, while purchasing a carry-on bag at the gate will be the most expensive. $9 Fare Club members pay slightly lower prices when they purchase carry-on bags online.

Can I Select a Seat?

Yes — the cost depends on the route, seat type, when you purchase the seat and where the seat is located. Regular seats cost $1 to $50 while Big Front Seats cost $12 to $150 when purchased in advance and $25 to $175 when purchased onboard.

What happens if you don’t pay to select a seat? Spirit’s website says:

“If you don’t select a seat we’ll assign random seats at check-in for free, but we can’t guarantee that you will get to sit with your friends or family.”

Should I Splurge for a Big Front Seat?

Big Front Seats are wider and have more legroom. TPG‘s Summer Hull says she’s never regretted paying extra for Big Front Seats when flying Spirit with her family. But, be forewarned that all Spirit seats are pre-reclined, meaning they don’t recline. And TPG‘s Brian Biros noted when he reviewed the Big Front Seat that some versions don’t have bendable headrest wings either.

Should I Purchase the Thrills Combo?

The Thrills Combo comes with the following:

  • One checked bag that weights up to 50 pounds
  • One standard carry-on bag
  • Choice of a standard or exit row seat
  • Shortcut boarding
  • Flight flex: no change fees until 24 hours before departure on Spirit’s website, but you have to pay any fare difference
  • 2x mileage earnings

Prices vary by route and are per person each way — $9 Fare Club members pay slightly less even when flying on standard fares. But, unless you need a changeable ticket, it will likely be cheaper to just purchase what you need separately.

Can I Check-In and Get My Boarding Pass at the Airport?

Yes, but you’ll have to pay $10 for a boarding pass printed by an airport agent or $2 for a boarding pass printed at a kiosk. Of course, fees are waived if your trip doesn’t allow online check-in — for example, if you’re flying to/from a country that doesn’t allow online check-in or if you’re traveling with an emotional support animal. Remember, it’s always free to check-in and get a boarding pass online or through the Spirit app.

When Can I Board?

Spirit has four boarding zones:

  • Zone 1: If you purchased a carry-on bag
  • Zone 2: If you bought Shortcut Boarding ($6+ each way), if you have VIP or Elite status or if you have a Spirit Airlines World Mastercard
  • Zones 3 and 4: Everyone else, based on seat assignments

Will I Be Served a Snack or Drink?

Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase, but you’ll need to pay for them with a credit card or debit card. There’s no complimentary drink or snack service on Spirit, so you might want to bring your own snacks and fill up your water bottle after clearing security. If you might want to purchase a snack or drink on board, here’s a look at the options and prices:

Can I Change My Flight?

If you purchased Flight Flex or the Thrills Combo, then you can change your flight once free of charge — subject to fare differences — up to 24 hours prior to departure. And there’s no fee to change a flight ticketed in the last 24 hours as long as the reservation was made at least seven days prior to departure.

Otherwise, a fee of $90 applies to changes made online and a fee of $100 applies to changes made at the airport or with the reservations center. Changes can be made up to an hour before scheduled departure. If your new fare is less than the original fare, you’ll get a Future Travel Credit that’ll expire after 60 days. If the new flight has a higher fare, you’ll need to pay the difference.

What Happens if I Need to Cancel My Ticket?

There’s no fee to cancel a flight ticketed in the last 24 hours as long as the reservation was made at least seven days prior to departure. In this case, you can usually get a refund to your original form of payment.

Otherwise, a fee of $90 applies to cancellations made online and a fee of $100 applies to cancellations made at the airport or with the reservations center. Any remaining balance after the fee will be issued as a travel credit. If the value of your reservation is less than the cancellation charge, and you cancel online, Spirit will give you $10 per one way (maximum $20) to be applied toward future travel.

Can I Earn Miles?

Yes. Elite Free Spirit members, VIP Free Spirit members and Spirit Airlines World Mastercard cardholders earn one mile per mile flown, while Somebody members (yes, that’s what Spirit calls them) earn one mile per two miles flown. If you purchase the Thrills Combo, you’ll earn double the points you’d normally earn.

Does Having a Co-Branded Credit Card Help?

Spirit has one co-branded credit card: the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard. With a $0 annual fee for the first year and $59 for subsequent years, the card is mainly useful for customers that want to keep their points — which expire if there’s no activity on your Free Spirit account in the last three months — active by spending on the card.

Having the credit card means there aren’t any blackout dates on awards and you get access to the lowest flight redemption levels. You’ll also get Zone 2 Preferred boarding and Priority check-in, which could save you time at the airport. But, having the card isn’t going to make your in-flight experience any better and won’t be worth the annual fee for most passengers.

Bottom Line

Spirit is an ultra-low-cost carrier, so adjust your expectations appropriately. The Free Spirit program and the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard don’t seem to offer many valuable benefits, so I’d skip them unless you see obvious benefits for your particular situation.

For extra space, I’d recommend booking a Big Front Seat — doing so is surprisingly reasonable — and using a credit card that offers trip delay benefits, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, to purchase the flight. And, be sure to check out the following resources for more information on what to expect:

Featured photo of a Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 landing at LaGuardia Airport by Robert Alexander/Getty Images


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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