What You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines

Patricia Magaña, April 01, 2015
Fares from Washington DC:

    Ultra-low-cost airline Spirit will likely have the cheapest base fares on any route it flies, but the carrier's pre-flight and onboard penny-pinching may cut into those savings. Here's what to expect (and how to make sure you're getting the best prices for your route) when flying with Spirit.

    $9 Fare Club Actually Costs $60

    The cheapest fares available via Spirit's airfare promotions are exclusively for members of the airline's $9 Fare Club. The Fare Club gives access not only to cheaper fares but also reduced bag fees.     

    But hold on to your wallet, because membership to Spirit's famed $9 Fare Club actually costs $59.95 for the first year. A 60-day trial membership (which once cost $9, hence the outdated name) goes for $19.95—and unless Spirit receives a written cancellation notice, it automatically rolls over into an annual membership.     

    Here's another stinger: Trial memberships may only be purchased with airfare and aren't valid until the next reservation.

    Be forewarned that annual membership renewals cost $69.95, carry over annually unless canceled before the expiration date, and are nonrefundable after they've been charged.    

    Still, despite all of the dodgy bait-and-switch pricing, plus the fact that you can't access the members-only fares until after the initial reservation, the program may still be worthwhile for frequent travelers who fly through Spirit's hubs, in particular Ft. Lauderdale, its main hub.

    Related: 9 Free Travel Deals That Aren't Really Free

    Carry-Ons Will Cost You

    Heft won't be the only hardship you experience when you bring a carry-on bag aboard a Spirit flight. Depending on your affiliation with Spirit's Fare Club program, you can either be outright robbed or simply gouged—either way, you're paying for your carry-on.     

    Fare Club members pay between $26 and $100 to bring a carry-on bag onboard; the $26 rate applies when members select the option during the booking stage. A $36 rate applies to members who select the option during online check-in. It costs $50 for members who wait until check-in at the airport to declare a carry-on bag. And it'll set everyone back (members and nonmembers alike) a whopping $100 to declare any bag at the gate—even if it's a carry-on.     

    Nonmembers are subjected to a $35, $45, or $50 fee for every bag they bring into the cabin. Again, it's cheapest when you select the option during the flight-booking process, mid-range during online check-in, and costliest at the airport reservation desk.    

    Checking bags won't save the wallet either: Fare Club members and nonmembers alike pay $45 for the first bag if they select the option at the airport reservation desk, and as much as $100 each for bags three through five. In comparison, most other airlines permit one free carry-on and average about $25 for the first checked bag. (Check out our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees for more details.)   

    Related: 8 Carry-on Packing Tips That Will Change How You Travel

    There's Only One Way to Avoid Bag Fees

    The cheapest checked-bag option is to declare a single bag when booking your flight as a member of the Fare Club. That will cost you "just" $21. The absolute only way to avoid bag fees altogether, however, is to pack a single personal item such as a small backpack or purse with dimensions smaller than the seat in front of you (16 x 14 x 12 or smaller).  

    If you must travel with more luggage, add up Spirit's cheap airfare plus its bag fees and use that total to compare to other airlines. (Keep in mind that Southwest, for example, will check up to two bags for free and doesn't charge for carry-ons.) 

    Related: 1 Easy Way to Fit It All in a Carry-on

    Seat Assignments Cost as Much as $199

    Here's how Spirit's clever marketing team disguises the obscene idea of charging for seat selections: "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." Select to sit next to a companion (child, spouse, anyone) and it'll cost $1 to $50.     

    Wider seats with extra legroom cost from $12 to $199 in advance and from $25 to $75 for onboard upgrades, depending on the flight's length. 

    Related: When Spending a Little More Is a Good Idea

    Frequent-Flyer Miles Expire Quickly

    Spirit's use 'em or lose 'em policy puts on quite the pressure. Members of Spirit's Free Spirit loyalty program have 90 days after accrual to redeem their miles, otherwise it's bye-bye, miles. Card-carrying members, who pay an annual rate of $59 for a Spirit Airlines World MasterCard, are exempt from the three-month expiration rule.

    Related: The Sneaky Way Airlines Are Raising Fares

    Drinks and Snacks Will Cost You, Too

    Spirit is proud of its "ultra-low Bare Fares that get you from A to B" concept. They're not exaggerating about bare fares, either—expect no cup of water, no pretzels, no peanuts with your flight. At least the use of the lavatory is still free. For now.   

    Related: 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Flight Attendant

    No In-Flight Entertainment

    There's nothing. No seatback monitor, nothing. Good thing we're in an age where all the entertainment you need fits in a bag.

    Related: 9 Things Not to Wear on a Plane

    Read the original story: What You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines by Patricia Magaña, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.