Are Spirit Miles Worth More Than Magazine Subscriptions? I’ll Help You Decide!

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This post has been born out of my most recent screw-up. A couple of months ago I canceled my Netflix subscription.

Why was that a screw-up, you might ask. Well, here is the timeline.

  1. I cancel my Netflix subscription starting June 1.
  2. It fell off my BoA Spirit credit card automatic payments.
  3. Since I totally forgot about it, I made no other purchases on that card in the month of June.
  4. If my calculations are correct, my Spirit miles will expire sometime in September. All 50,000 of them.

Why? Because Spirit miles expire after 3 months of inactivity, unless you’re a Spirit Mastercard holder, in which case miles will never expire as long as you make one purchase per month.

Is it an audacious rule? Yes, but I should’ve known better. Who am I going to blame?

I know–why don’t I book my future flights before the expiration? Well, I might try that, but there is a reason why I’ve been unable to spend 50,000 Spirit miles (and I’ll talk about it later on).

My screw-up, however, prompted me to take another look at Spirit and their FF program Free Spirit, since I haven’t flown Spirit for about 2 years. Has anything even changed, I thought? Why not celebrate this monumental lack of discipline on my part by making a mammoth post about the modern state of Free Spirit in 2019?

And, well, here we are.

Why should you even consider flying Spirit?

I first wrote about Spirit in 2014. 5 years is a lot of time in this fast-paced environment, so the revision has been long overdue. Spirit has become a semi-major airline, and if you keep avoiding it in this day and age, you might be making a mistake. Or you might not — I’ll show you how to decide one way or another.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know I’m not big about fillers. I don’t aim at producing a million posts a day. But I do aim at producing substantive posts. Free Spirit (the airline’s frequent flyer program) is one of those things that is not for everybody, but if it does work for you, it can work wonders!

Mark from Miles to Memories believes that buying magazine subscriptions is the best use of Spirit miles. I think that’s a bit harsh, although many people would share this sentiment. Everyone says that Spirit sucks. It’s the butt of numerous jokes; its lack of leg space is legendary (although not as legendary now after American tried to set the record of its own). They charge for absolutely everything. And they strand you if something goes wrong. 

First of all, not all of it is true. Second of all, the things that are still somewhat true are getting better.

If you are a miles/points traveler (see, I’m doing my best to avoid the words “travel hacker”) you shouldn’t be dogmatic. You should have an open mind. In the end, however many people say that near-free travel is impossible — you already know this is not true. Just keep questioning what you think you know.

It was Rene Descartes, a great “enlightener,” who taught us to doubt everything. Of course, it works both ways, so if you doubt anything you read in this blog, please, don’t hold back. 🙂

11 reasons why you might want to have Spirit miles in your arsenal.  

  • Spirit flies to 76 destinations in the Americas
  • Spirit’s on-time performance among U.S. airlines is second only to Delta (no, not kidding!)
  • It flies to many smaller cities neglected by large airlines
  • Spirit is installing WiFi (fleet-wide installation by 2020, supposedly)
  • Spirit now participates in Global Entry
  • It has the cheapest Saver levels (2,500 miles) in the U.S.
  • It has the cheapest First Class-like seats in the U.S. (and probably in the world)
  • It offers cheap upgrades to Exit Row Seats with 38″ pitch
  • Contrary to popular belief, it’s quite possible to find award tickets even on popular routes
  • Spirit has a well-thought-out and user-friendly award booking interface
  • 2 Bank of America 30,000-mile Spirit credit card offers can get you up to 12 flights each

8 reasons why you might not want to have anything to do with Spirit

To save you some reading time here are some baddies about Spirit.

  • It’s about where you live: Spirit favors nonstop flights and charges more for connections
  • If you don’t want to apply for a Spirit credit card (personal or business) you can stop reading now
  • Regular Spirit seats are designed for contortionists (27″ pitch, people!)
  • Everything costs money onboard including water and your carry-on
  • Spirit miles expiration terms are ludicrous (but easily avoidable with a credit card)
  • Spirit charges award redemption fees for booking less than 6 months ahead
  • Yet, the way they load flights is so weird that you can only book up to 7 months ahead (later about that)
  • Seats don’t recline (even BFS that used to recline)

The good news is, even though Free Spirit is very capacity-controlled, you must treat the following table as a rough guide of what to expect. In many cases you can still find off-peak redemption rates when you expect them the least, so keep checking.  

Spirit miles award redemption schedule

The Spirit Miles redemption schedule is not set in stone. Treat it as a guidance rather than a rule.

But before we proceed, let’s agree on one thing. If you do not want to get a BoA Spirit credit card, you should stop reading now.

BoA Spirit credit cards

Using a Bank of America Spirit credit card is the only way to take advantage of Spirit miles. If you’re unwilling, just forget Spirit altogether and save yourself future aggravation.

I will not waste your time and mine on reviewing this card in detail because it’s only good for 4 things.

  • Increased, limited-time 30,000 miles welcome bonus after spending $500 in the first 90 days
  • Waived annual fee for the first year
  • Access to off-peak redemption rates
  • Preventing your miles from expiration by using the card once a month

That’s it! I don’t value anything else about this card. Seriously, just as Free Spirit is probably the worst loyalty program in the U.S., the Spirit credit card is (again probably) the worst airline credit card you can get your hands on. You shouldn’t put any spend on this card beyond what’s necessary.

So what’s necessary? Put a small monthly recurring charge on this card and forget about it. Actually, don’t forget about it. Be smarter than me and use the card for 2 small recurring charges. This way, even if you cancel one service, you’ll still have another.

Moving on.

If you are on the fence, there are a few other important things to consider:

  • Does Spirit fly from your hub?
  • Does it fly NONSTOP to places you want to go?
  • Are you willing to COPAY for a better seat?
  • Will you be willing to fly connecting flights and pay more in miles and cash?

Busiest Spirit cities

Number 1 HUB: Fort Lauderdale (FLL)

If you live in and close to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you need to take a closer look at Spirit Air.

SPIRIT FLL PIC

Spirit flies nonstop to 60 destinations from Fort Lauderdale.

Here is what Spirit award flights are going to cost you.

2,500 miles (off-peak)

Aguadilla (Puerto Rico), Asheville, Austin, Aruba, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Baltimore, Boston, Cancún, Cartagena, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Greensboro, Guatemala City, Hartford, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Kingston (Jamaica), Latrobe/Pittsburgh, Managua, Montego Bay, Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, New York (LGA, EWR), Nashville (from 10.10.19), Niagara Falls, Orlando, Panama City, Philadelphia, Port-au-Prince, St. Raleigh/Durham, Richmond, St. Croix, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San José de Costa Rica, San Juan, San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Santiago (DR), Santo Domingo, Tampa, Punta Cana

5,000 miles (off-peak)

Armenia (Colombia), Bogotá, Cali, Denver, Medellin, Plattsburgh (NY), Minneapolis

7,500 miles

Guayaquil, Los Angeles, Las Vegas

12,500 miles 

Lima

Number 2 hub: Las Vegas (LAS)

Spirit flies nonstop to 30 destinations from Las Vegas.

2,500 miles (off-peak)

Austin, Burbank, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Los Cabos, Oakland, Portland (OR), Sacramento, San Diego, Seattle.

5,000 miles

Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville (from 10.10.19), New Orleans.

7,500 miles

Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, New York (EWR), Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,  Tampa.

Number 3 hub: Detroit (DTV)

Spirit flies nonstop to 28 destinations from Detroit.

2,500 miles (off-peak)

Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, New York (LGA), Orlando, Tampa, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham, West Palm Beach.

5,000 miles

Cancun, Montego Bay.

7,500 miles

Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Seattle.

Other busy Spirit operating bases  

  • Detroit: 27 destinations
  • Chicago: 23 destinations
  • Dallas: 22 destinations
  • Houston: 22 destinations
  • Atlanta: 19 destinations

Of course, you don’t necessarily need a choice of 20 or 30 destinations. If Spirit flies to just one city that you visit frequently, that’s a good enough reason to give another look to this airline.

Why is it important to fly Spirit nonstop?

Here is a bitter truth: I have 51,000 Spirit miles in my account, and I have been unable to use them for a couple of years.

I have booked about 20,000 miles’ worth of tickets with it, but using Spirit miles from New York isn’t easy, although now that it flies nonstop between New York and Las Vegas, it might get easier. 🙂 But the fact is even though Spirit uses both La Guardia and Newark airports, it only flies to a handful of cities, and I’m not interested in most of them.

That makes it necessary to use connecting flights, which I hate for 3 reasons.

First, you pay more cash for 2 segments than for one. If, like I almost always do, you book Front Big Seats (it’s hard to forgo this bargain), you will pay twice.

Second, I hate layovers in Fort Lauderdale. Seriously, I hate that airport, and these layovers can be long.

Third, I’ve gotten lazy and spoiled. For Mexico/Caribbean, JetBlue can usually get me where I need to go on a nonstop flight, and its regular seat is good enough that I don’t feel the need to splurge on an upgrade, although I do sometimes. 🙂

Spirit’s flight loading is weird

While most airlines are consistent in loading their flight calendars (for example, you can book Alaska 330 days ahead and American 331 days), Spirit operates differently. I haven’t figured exactly how, but if you look right now, on July 22, 2019, you’ll find that the flight schedule is only open until Feb 14. Last year when I checked the Spirit schedule in August, it was open until May.

All those factors have created an almost surreal situation wherein I’ve kept paying the annual fee year after year for the card I absolutely don’t need. I’m about to lose 50,000 miles in 3 months, and I can’t say I’m too heartbroken about it. At least, I’ll be able to cancel the card and get rid of one annual fee I’d rather not pay.

If, however, I had lived in a place like Miami or Fort Lauderdale, I would’ve gone through my 50,000 miles a long time ago. So if you don’t see Spirit flying to your favorite destination(s) nonstop from where you live, it may not be worth the trouble.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind a layover, there is nothing wrong with using Spirit for connecting flights. Just look at this network. This is not some small regional airline!

Use Spirit miles to fly in the U.S. the Caribbean, Central and South America

You can use Spirit miles to fly to Seattle, Lima and many places in between

Anatomy of a nonstop Spirit award between Fort Lauderdale and…

Let’s say you’re interested in a flight between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. Spirit flies nonstop between these 2 cities and it’s a 5.5-hour flight, and the award calendar is wide open in both directions (look for 7,500 miles dates).

7,500 miles is an off-peak rate you’re looking for

From LA to Fort Lauderdale

You have 6 off-peak flights in each direction per month, which is decent for a transcontinental journey. The reason I’ve shown you January travel is to point out the fees. If you book at least 6 months in advance there are no award redemption fees, otherwise here is the calendar for September. You’ll pay $15 per booking from 21 day to 6 months in advance if you book online or $25 if you book via their call center.

Let’s go all the way down to the payment page and see what this flight would actually cost you. Here is the return LAX-FLL calendar.

Then there is a bag page.

Remember, you don’t have to buy your bag during the booking, you can do it anytime before your flight

Let’s presume you don’t need one. The next page allows you to choose your seat.

Choose either Big Front Seat or Exit seat, but their regular seat is no-no!

Think of Big Front Seat (BFS) as a poor man’s First Class. You get a very comfortable recliner and absolutely nothing else. Not even a free glass of water.

From what I’ve been reading in other blogs, it seems that BFS is “prereclined.” That wasn’t the case when I flew in BFS. I was able to recline and I didn’t feel any difference whatsoever between BFS and any other domestic First Class Seat I’ve ever flown, be it Delta, American, or United. I’m talking about the hard product, of course.

So you decide, but do yourself a favor and buy at least an Exit seat. Spirit claims it affords up to 38″ pitch, although I don’t know if that’s possible (the BFS seat is 36″ if memory serves me).

We presume that you’ve decided to spurge on BFS, though. In our example, the prices are the same for the return flight, but this is not always the case.

Upsell continues.

Shortcut Security is a good add-on for $8, but you probably have Global Entry

The Shortcut Security for $8 is actually not so bad if you don’t have TSA Pre. We’re skipping that. The next screen is your check-in options. The only option you should choose is free.

And here comes the breakdown.

15,000 Spirit miles and $212 for an RT transcon in quasi-First Class

So, here you go: 15,000 miles and $218 for a roundtrip transcontinental flight in BFS. Too much? Then opt for an Exit seat with enormous leg space and pay only $90. Either option is a great deal, IMHO.

FLL has good-to-great availability almost anywhere except Lima, which is yet another reason why I believe that anyone close enough to fly from FLL should consider using Free Spirit. Here is the BFS cost to Guayaquil, the gateway to Galapagos (keep in mind, the price is not static and can vary even to the same destination). $61 for a 4.5 hour flight is not too shabby, I’d say.

$61 fo BFS is a bargain for a 4.5 hour flight

Slightly more on the way back.

Here is the total. In this case, the difference between the BFS and Exit seat cost is so small, it would almost be criminal to economize. 🙂

The total is almost the same as for the transcon above, but this flight has higher taxes

But what about connecting flights?

It’s more expensive and less convenient. Here is New York to Guayaquil, but it certainly a great way to save money, especially if there aren’t any other options.

Spirit miles can be used for connecting flights too, but you'll pay much more for them

The connecting flight from NYC to GYE costs twice as much in miles and 1/3 more in cash, but it’s still a great deal

25,000 miles and $297 is not too much for 4 legs in BFS. More troubling to me would be having to spend 4-6 hour layovers at FLL. But it’s totally doable, and you can shave another $100 off by choosing exit seats on all your flights instead of BFS.

Let’s recap

Location, location, location. Getting with the program (I mean Free Spirit) is worth it if you can fly nonstop to your favorite destinations. You’ll also need to hold the BoA Spirit credit card, not only because of the 30,000 miles welcome bonus, but also to get access to off-peak redemptions and avoid Spirit’s 3-month miles expiration policy.

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