While I would consider myself well traveled (at least within the US), I had never lived anywhere other than the Midwest. And here I was, leaving everything I knew behind for a grand adventure. I was beyond excited.
I was wrapped up in the newness of married life and never considered what the cost might be to travel home to see my family. Flying in general can get expensive, and a trip from Florida to Minnesota can be exorbitant. That’s when I began seriously considering Spirit as my go-to not only for short jaunts, but also for longer three- to four-hour flights.
With the tagline “Less Money. More Go.” Spirit Airlines claims to be a step above the rest when it comes to affordable flights with their “bare fare” mantra. But you’ve probably heard flying Spirit is more hassle than it’s worth, and that added fees could make the cost skyrocket.
It’s true that costs can mount quickly if you are not careful. However, flying with Spirit can be an effective way to travel on a tight budget.
The following is my step-by-step guide to navigating Spirit hassle-free without getting hit with costly upgrade fees.
Allow a little flexibility in your travel itinerary to score the lowest flight prices.
While you may prefer to travel out on a Friday evening or Sunday morning, consider flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Flight prices tend to be considerably lower on low-demand travel days. While this is true for most carriers, the discounts for less popular days can be significant with Spirit.
The airline is currently offering a one-way flight from Tampa, FL to Minneapolis, MN on Tuesday Feb. 14 for $44.19.
Spirit allows one carry-on bag per person for $35 USD. This means your best cost-saving option is to bring only a “personal item,” which Spirit allows for free.
Spirit gives you the EXACT dimensions of what is allowed for a personal item on a flight: 16” x 14” x 12” (including wheels & handles). This is the size of a large purse, small backpack, or briefcase. So, if you want to avoid the upcharge of your personal item suddenly becoming a carry-on, measure your bag.
I tested this out on a short weekend trip to Chicago, and glided onto the plane hassle-free. The benefit of packing small bags? I didn’t have to lug heavy luggage around the streets of Chicago.
You may not think so, but it is possible to pack only the essentials. Here’s BoardingBlue’s handy guide:
Spirit also has fun videos on their website demonstrating how to pack personal items effectively with separate — and quite hilarious — videos for men and women. You could also choose to wear a few more layers than normal to sneak through extra clothing.
If you know you’ll need to pack a little more, the best cost-saving option is to check your bag for $30 USD when you book your flight. When you check in for your flight, you get a second chance to check your bag for $40 USD, and again at the airport reservation center for $50 USD.
If you fail to measure the size of your bags (which are clearly listed when booking your flight) you could get hit with a $100 USD upgrade fee if they have to check your bag at the gate.
Note: Spirit prefers to keep their planes as light as possible — the more bags you check, the higher the cost per bag. Two bags are $70 USD, and three bags are $155 USD total. This is a common practice with most airlines, but Spirit tends to charge $5-10 USD more per extra bag than other carriers.
Plan to be a little uncomfortable.
If you’re flying Spirit, you have to pay to choose a seat. And with the smallest seat pitch out of any other major airline in the United States, the seats don’t offer much space to begin with.
If you’re traveling alone and don’t care about an aisle, middle, window, or more legroom, you’re good to go. You get an assigned seat at the gate and are on your merry way with no extra fees.
Choosing your seat costs on average around $9 USD per person for the back of the plane, $15-20 USD for the front, or $25 USD for an exit row (exact parameters listed here).
You can also choose one of the “Big Front Seat” options in the first row. These offer more legroom, a wider seat, and no middle seat next to you. This upgrade can cost anywhere from $12 USD up to $199 USD per flight. I’m a fairly average-sized woman and I find that the seats are just fine for a few hours. If you prefer a little more wiggle room, definitely consider the upgrades.
Print your boarding pass at home.
Use your own ink and avoid the $2 fee to print at a kiosk (per ticket) or the $10 USD fee Spirit charges to print your boarding pass with an agent. Spirit does not offer an option to text or email your boarding pass, nor do they have a mobile app. So you must print your own boarding pass to avoid the fees.
Pack your own snacks.
For short flights, not having the delight of salted peanuts or a cute little bag of pretzels isn’t a big deal (at least to me). For the longer ones, pack a few small snacks and you’re good to go. I like to pack something sweet and something salty to satisfy whatever I’m craving in the moment.
Alternatively, Spirit offers a limited selection of snacks and drinks, but at an inflated cost. For example, a King Size bag of Peanut M&Ms is approximately $1.50 USD retail, but Spirit charges around $3.50 USD.
Sign up for the free rewards program, and receive emails notifying you of sales.
Give Spirit your email and pertinent info to earn points every time you fly, redeemable for future flights. I love seeing emails from Spirit in my inbox. Not only do they have cheeky taglines (“Get out while you can!”) but every email notifies you of a great deal.
Sometimes Spirit offers discount codes for $10 USD off a flight, or even $60 USD for round trips.
My favorite? Seeing the email that says “99% off.”
That’s right, sometimes Spirit offers 99% off flights to certain destinations. If you’re located in Tampa, for example, 99% off flights are typically offered to Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and Dallas with some outliers such as Baltimore and even Minneapolis. From Minneapolis, you can get deals on flights to Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and even Houston.
Sign up for the $9 Fare Club.
If you plan on flying Spirit consistently, look into this membership. I love it.
For $59.95 USD per year, you get discounted rates on flights as well as an average savings of $9 USD off bag costs. The Minneapolis flight mentioned above is currently just $23.10 USD for Fare Club members. Score! The closest comparable flight on Delta is $103.20 USD one-way.
Is the $80 USD in your pocket for a “bare” flight worth it? I think so! You could purchase 3 more flights on Spirit with that extra money, just sayin’.
While I’ve covered the basics, Spirit does a wonderful job of listing every possible upgrade fee or extra charges on their website.
So read up and be prepared. The discount airline may have a negative reputation for causing hassles, but if you follow my advice, you can navigate Spirit’s fares and fees like an expert.
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