Guess Who Doesn’t Care About Spirit Airlines?

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Gary Leff has written quite a few posts about Spirit suckiness, so it’s almost like deja vu every time. Of course, all of them are about how terrible Spirit Airline is and how no one in their sound mind should ever board this terrible, terrible airline.

I know, shocking! Who could’ve thought, right?

No, seriously—Spirit Airlines is a terrible airline. This is not a subject for discussion. This is a fact!

It’s just that Spirit Airlines is too freaking awesome in terms of gameability to be ignored. Anyone who refuses to accept this simple fact—or is too stubborn to admit it—must hand back their travel hacking license.  

I left a couple of comments on Gary’s blog a while ago about why I thought he was wrong about some of his assertions. He never replied. No biggie, he is a busy man.

In the last couple of days, Gary has written two more posts about Spirit (here and here). The first, about the new Spirit Baltimore-LA route and why he wouldn’t fly it even if his life depended on it. The second was today, explaining why he wouldn’t be caught dead flying Spirit in general. There are two major gripes Gary Leff has about Spirit.

His major gripe with Spirit is this:

  • 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)

No arguing about that. I’ve had the honor misery  of flying in a regular Spirit economy seat once, and I rue the day. Never made the same mistake ever again!

Gary continues:

Think about that: 2300 miles flown in an aircraft with 3 less inches of legroom than United, Delta, and American. One thing, perhaps, on a flight from the East Coast to Florida. But this is a true Spirit Airlinestranscon.

Yes, that would be totally inhumane. But the thing is, no one makes you fly in a regular Spirit economy seat. That’s stupid, especially if you know better.

Gary Leff does know better. He is a bona fide expert, not a fluke, and he knows more shit about aviation and loyalty programs that I will ever know (or want to know anyway). So Gary is aware about the Big Front Seats and how ridiculously cheap they can be had. It’s just that what he thinks he knows about them is wrong.

  • Their ‘big front seat’ concept. It’s often a cheap buy up, from $12 to $199 extra. (At 36 inches though it’s not much more legroom than other airlines’ economy plus).

Well, there is one problem with this statement. It’s even cheaper than that.

It’s not up “to $199 extra”, it’s more like up to $75. Yes, I know Spirit says “up to $199” on their website, but that’s probably to cover their asses. The pic below represents the longest flight in their network, and you will receive an offer to upgrade when you are finalizing your booking. Please note, I’ve never booked revenue Spirit flights, but I presume it works the same way.

When you book your award flight you will see this upgrade option. Take it!

Gary also doesn’t like the 36″ pitch. Well, I don’t know, but an AA domestic first class pitch on A319 is 38″, just a couple of inches more. I am a big guy, and I guess, I could’ve reached the wall in front of me with my foot, but does it matter? And just for the record, my BFSs have reclined on all my Spirit flights so far. It’s a comfortable seat—every bit as comfortable as a domestic first class seat on Delta, United, or American. 

Here is a simple formula.

BFS = Domestic F – Free Food/Booze. 

It’s that easy!

Gary’s second gripe with Spirit is this:

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.

Well, that’s true. You don’t. In all honesty, I don’t see this shortcoming as something crucial that would prevent me from flying on a particular airline on an award ticket, but if you feel so strongly about it, that’s a valid concern.

Gary’s main gripe with Spirit is this:

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.

It sounds terrible. Sure—no redundant network. Sure, only 54% of their flights were on time. But can it be that it’s not as terrible as it sounds?

Here is the June comparison chart. Spirit is the 13th. Average delay is 79 minutes. United is the 11th. Average delay is 70 minutes. Now what? Stop flying United too?

The delay difference between the bronze runner up Delta and the worst in the show Spirit is 14 minutes! So once again, can it be that the numbers taken out of context might sometimes be slightly misleading?

You tell me. 

Spirit Airlines Delays: June 2014

Spirit Airlines Delays: June 2014

But there is another, more serious issue. No redundant network. When something goes wrong, Spirit simply doesn’t  have more planes to pick you up, sometimes until the next day.

That sounds awful, but there is a solution. Can you guess what it is?

Avoid Spirit when you need a connection.

Surely, you don’t always need a connection, do you?

There are things you already know You know that in order to be successful in this game you must diversify. You also know that one size never fits all!

  • You won’t use Avios to fly to Australia from New York.
  • You won’t use American or Delta miles to fly from NYC to Boston.
  • You won’t use United miles to fly to Asia on a partner in first. 

So why take one example when flying Spirit might not be optimal and state it as the main reason not to fly the airline at all? There are plenty of examples when Spirit is no good. Connecting Spirit flights on award tickets mostly (not always, but in most cases) suck anyway mile-wise. Speaking of which, here is the list of airports and destinations from best to worst (the number of flights might be slightly outdated). 

Airports and the number of Spirit nonstop destinations

  • Fort Lauderdale: 45
  • Dallas/Fort Worth: 24
  • Chicago: 19
  • Detroit: 15
  • Las Vegas: 14
  • Minneapolis/Saint Paul: 13
  • Myrtle Beach: 12
  • Houston: 12
  • Atlantic City: 10
  • Boston: 9
  • Denver: 9
  • Orlando: 9
  • Tampa: 7
  • Fort Myers: 7
  • Los Angeles: 7
  • Baltimore/Washington-BWI: 7
  • Kansas City: 5
  • New York LGA: 5
  • Latrobe/Pittsburgh 5
  • San Diego: 5
  • Atlanta: 4
  • Phoenix: 4
  • Portland: 4
  • New Orleans: 3
  • Oakland: 3
  • Philadelphia: 3
  • Plattsburg: 2
  • Niagara Falls: 2
  • West Palm Beach: 2

Notice how I said “when flying Spirit might be no good”!

Why? Because I honestly don’t think that Spirit will kick you to the curb if you’re late for your connection.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to be the one to test this theory. So when last year I took my Spirit flight to Cancun with a short connection at FLL, I had the plan B in mind. I made sure that there was an available AA flight to Cancun from MIA that I could quickly book on Avios should things have gone wrong. I didn’t sweat it because—I don’t know—I’d had good experience with Spirit, as it had never been terribly  late for me.

But my precautions might’ve been unnecessary anyway, as there is at least one account from Hills First Travel that Spirit will actually rebook you on another flight if you are to lose a connection, at least due to a mechanical problem.

There was a man in front panicking because he would not make his connection because of the delay… The flight attendant calmly explained to him that since it was a mechanical issue Spirit was responsible for putting him on another flight (on any other airline available) to get him to his destination when he needed to be there. So he went, talked to the gate agent, then came back, got all his stuff and left our flight.

And this is a story from the same blogger about Spirit accommodating people during the storm for which, understandably, they were not responsible at all.

Having said that, I will admit I would rather be traveling on a legacy carrier in case of IRROPs. However, give me a choice of flying in BFS for 2,500 miles (and a little cash) vs. coach on legacy for 25,000 miles, I will choose Spirit in a New York minute. At least when I can afford to be a little late.

The Value of Free Spirit Miles 

What can I say? It can be garbage. Or it can be a fantastic deal, just like with most programs. If I find Spirit useful in this town that only has 5 nonstop connections, then I don’t know about all of you guys living in a city on the top of the above list.

Just today, Miles to Memory wrote a post about the better BofA Free Spirit miles offer and how to get it.

Ok so today I was searching for an upcoming trip and made it to the final confirmation screen for a booking. I’m not sure if I want to fly Spirit, but that isn’t the point of this post. On the final confirmation screen I saw an offer for the Spirit Mastercard. It normally comes with 15,000 miles after first purchase, but this offer throws in a $100 statement credit after $500 in spending during the first 3 months.

The Offer:

  • 15,000 miles after first purchase.
  • $100 statement credit after $500 in purchases during the first 3 months.
  • $59 annual fee waived the first year.

Is it worth it? Of course, it is! You’re making money. It saves you $159 compared to the regular offer (which, btw, is worth it too). And 15,000 miles means 6 one-way flights IF you are flexible and live in one of those hubs that have your name on it.

That’s not all, however. You can also get 9,500 more Spirit miles after completing these two 2-minute fun tasks. That will get you 25,000 miles. Which, in Spirit terms, means a fortune if you spend it right!

My four-part series dissecting Spirit Airlines and the Free Spirit loyalty program:

The Definitive Guide to Gaming Spirit. Part 1

The Definitive Guide to Gaming Spirit: In Depth. Part 2

Anatomy of Booking a Spirit Award Flight 

The Definitive Guide to Gaming Spirit: Tips and Tricks. Part 3

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3 Responses to Guess Who Doesn’t Care About Spirit Airlines?

  1. mintcilantro says:

    your point is well taken.. use a program for it’s sweet spots.. and ignore the problem spots. There are enough programs that I’m covered for all my needs

    southwest- direct short domestic flights
    avios – hawaii, mexico or alaska flights
    united – economy flights
    aa – premium flights to middle east/ south asia
    alaska- premium flights to asia
    delta – australia and air france/klm
    luftahnsa – south america
    singapore – economy to europe on UA
    flexperks/arrival – mistake fares or sales
    spg – 5 night stays in peak season OR low cat hotels
    hyatt – luxury hotels
    hilton – luxury hotels with free night certs, axon awards
    marriott — the rare occasional low cat airport hotel
    ihg – once in a while nice hotel
    carlson — hmm.. still figuring it out under new plan

    I don’t know what program is good for flying premium cabin to europe.

    let us know what else..

  2. Andy Shuman says:

    Wow, it looks like you’ve cornered the market. I would add ANA, though. Great biz levels (85-95) to Asia (Europe is OK, too, for 88K), very decent availability, fantastic RTW option if you’re into this.

    Although Malaysia (a TY partner) is better for Europe. Only 70 in Biz from the East Coast.

  3. mintcilantro says:

    good suggestions. how could i forget ana. I’m definitely doing an april cherry blossom trip in off season!

    I’ll look into malaysian. Not too many OW europe flights from west coast thought.

    another one i forgot to mention is norwegian for direct coach flights paid with arrival or one of those travel cashback cards

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