Why I Won’t Fly Spirit Airlines

Yesterday Mommy Points told me that I should fly the new Spirit Airlines Los Angeles – Baltimore redeye flight that I called the most uncomfortable flight in America. I think she just wanted to torture me (although unquestionably it would be great source material for blog posts here).

  • They offer less legroom in economy than the major US airlines (even leaving out ‘extra legroom’ seats)
  • Their seats are said to be ‘pre-reclined’ (i.e. you can’t)

I don’t mind paying for carry on bags if the total trip cost is lower than airlines who don’t charge for that. I don’t mind paying for water onboard either, it’s unlikely to tip the value proposition one way or another.

And I actually like:

The best thing about Spirit and ‘the Big Front Seat’ is that you get exactly what they promise. You’re buying a big front seat, there’s no expedited security or free checked bags or free food. Your fee gets you a bigger seat at the front of the plane.

And Spirit’s website is really clear about what they offer and what they charge. That’s great. I don’t like the legroom, but the Big Front Seat can still be cheap, so we’ll put that aside.

There are two things I really don’t like about Spirit Airlines. The first is an annoyance that would make me not enjoy the start of the travel experience and the second actually keeps me away.

When flying Spirit you don’t get TSA PreCheck. Not only don’t they have a deal with TSA to grant it to passengers based on status and other date, they don’t even pass through a Global Entry Known Traveler number.

Spirit has not partnered with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to support TSA PreCheck. As we don’t support this, there’s no place when making your reservation to enter your Global Entry number.

Then again, maybe this is just part of their 13 year old boy marketing. Getting groped is the one thing that doesn’t cost extra.

The biggest issue is that they don’t have a big, redundant route network. That’s at the heart of their business model, it’s how they make money. But it also makes them less reliable.

  • Only 50% of their flights were on time in June. That’s last among US airlines.
  • When a flight cancels or faces a significant delay there aren’t a lot of alternate ways to get you to your destination.

During significant weather events in Dallas, I may miss a connecting flight. American puts me on their next one. Or they send me through Chicago. Delta could send a Detroit connecting passenger through Atlanta or Minneapolis. United might connect in Houston or Denver instead of Chicago, to name just a few.

Large network carriers have redundancies that give you a better chance of getting where you’re going within a reasonable period of time after your originally scheduled arrival time when things go wrong. Spirit offers far fewer such options. And that’s the major reason I don’t want to fly Spirit. When I travel, it’s because I need to get where I’m going, and I have a better chance of doing that with one of the US legacy carriers.

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. All I hear from friends and all I read are horror stories about Spirit, but somehow they are wildly successful. Hefty profit margins compared to most other airlines and a big order for new planes. When I pass their check in area at DFW, its jammed with people.

  2. Spirit Airlines lost my bags on a short flight from DEN to LAS. It has been a horrible experience trying to receive compensation. They only allowed about 20 percent payment of the replacement cost. I would never fly them again.

  3. I’ve flown Spirit several times. The two weak points are no Pre Check/Premium lines and no route/aircraft redundancy. They target leisure travelers rather than the likes of you or me, and most leisure travelers don’t care . . . much . . . about those two items. I guess.

    Every time I fly them my heart is in my mouth on account of the redundancy point. Do I feel lucky? Do I?

    For what they charge? Sure I do!

  4. But your miles on other carriers create your own redundancy network in the event of serious IRROPS, so you are your own insurance in that case. As for Pre-Check, yeah that stinks, but makes you appreciate all the other times you fly with it! Or something like that…I’m still in favor!

  5. Gary, your article is correct – these are reasons why YOU wouldn’t fly Spirit. And why other high-value, expense-paid business travelers wouldn’t either. That’s not Spirit’s business, though. They’re catering to the 99% of flyers who just travel a couple times a year. And how different is their experience on Spirit than on legacies? Not at all, really. Long security lines, crowded concourses (lounge access isn’t even in the discussion), baggage gets lost. And yes, while American protects YOU on flights through DFW, you think they do anything for these folks? Haha, that’s a good one, they’d be sleeping on the floor at DFW for 3 nights while things untangle.

    I guess I just don’t get the point of the article. Different business for different customers. It’s like someone on a Porsche forum writing an article called “Why I wouldn’t drive a Honda”.

  6. “When flying Spirit you don’t get TSA PreCheck” Waaaaahhhhhhh. Would you like some cheese with your whine.

  7. @CW actually you DO get the point of the article, understand what you’re getting and then I explain why that’s not what I’m looking for. The title wasn’t “why YOU shouldn’t fly spirit” it was why *I* don’t!

  8. @Mommy Points fair enough, I’ll rephrase — “if things you wrong you have to buy a walkup ticket on another carrier to get where you’re going” — and if that works for you, great!

  9. Delays is a major reason I refuse to fly them too…that, and the fact that their planes look like they’re on their last wings, they’re so old and look/feel like they’re about to fall apart. I don’t want to be in the first Spirit crash.

  10. This flight should be called the ghetto express. There are large populations of price sensitive customers in both cities, which makes it viable. Actually paying half upfront and the second half in fees when you fly makes sense for some, because it’s 50% less cash you need in hand.

  11. i know this make me sound pompous – but the general public is bad enough on the main airlines – how much worse are the rif raff on spirit? Lol

  12. The issue of status is a big one as well. As a UA 1K and AA EP I forget how poorly those airlines often treat leisure travellers. When you stand in the regular lines, sit in row 38 and board with group 7 (earning you a free gate checked carry on) the major airlines probably don’t seem much better than spirit.

  13. Maybe you could do a post on which carriers are willing to put you on OTHER carriers to get you wehre you’re trying to go in the event of IRROPS. I know American/Delta/United would, but what about the others?

  14. I’ve flown on Spirit for 4 trips and (knock on wood) have never had any major delays. Tickets are DIRT CHEAP even when paying for baggage and the big front seat. I’ve flown Spirit between Dallas and Denver and Dallas and Orlando. However…I won’t fly Spirit before an important, major event (like I won’t fly them to Orlando before going on a Disney Cruise) because I don’t want to risk not getting there on time to depart for the cruise.

  15. Summer and I have had some “”spirited” discussions on this topic. Bottom line: For me, life is too short to fly Spirit (partly because I travel with WAY too much baggage). But Summer (and the rest of us who know how to “play the game”) can usually find an economical way to spend our miles as a backup plan, instead of paying walk-up revenue fares, in case of IRROPS.

  16. Deal killer for me is how many flights are cancelled, often when planes aren’t full.

    I’d put up with their disgusting planes if their fares were really cheaper after baggage and “gotcha” fees. Really, u have to drive to the airport to buy a ticket without a fee?

    The best thing I like about Spirit is it’s lowering fares on competing airlines on matching routes, especially Southwest.

  17. According to an interview with a flight attendant, there are a lot of people who say “I’ll never fly this airline again!” but then they show up again and again. I guess the airline is easy to hate, but the prices are hard to ignore!

  18. On Saturday I flew Southwest from Midway to MHT. It was like flying on the old Air India. Dogs, cats, kids, etc. The only thing missing was the pig!

  19. Gary, I happen to be a Spirit fan and I applaud you for the balance and fairness of this post!

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