Flying Spirit: Your Mind Says No, But Your Wallet Says Yes
When I told people my family was flying Spirit Airlines on our next vacation, this was their reaction:
"Seriously?!" "Are you insane?" "Don't do it." "I'm so sorry." "Are you a masochist?"
I had never experienced anything like it. The reaction was immediate and unanimous. And I understood it. Spirit's reputation, to put it nicely, is less than stellar. I had heard the horror stories: $100 for a carry on bag, $$$ for water and Facebook pages dedicated to boycotting the airline. Many people feel that Spirit is actually in the business of crushing spirits.
So, why did I even consider flying my family of four on Spirit? Two words: Steve Bertogli.
Steve is not just a Travelzoo Deal Expert, but a Spirit expert as well. Here's four things Steve thinks you should know about flying Spirit: (My no-holds-barred review continues after the video.)
After talking to Steve, I decided to give it a try. Here's what I learned:
Read the rules closer than you've read anything in your life
All the fees, charges, etc. are pretty clearly listed and disclosed. Showing up to the airport and realizing it's $10 to print your boarding pass or $100 for your carry-on at the gate won't be a surprise if you take the time to read everything listed in the booking process.
There's a fee for everything
And I mean E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.
- Carry-on bags: Like Steve said, a bag that fits under the seat, or his "Spirit bag" is free. Anything that must go overhead will cost you. But here's the kicker -- the closer you get to your flight, the more it will cost. Like $100 at the gate. So, if you think you're going to need a carry-on up above, pay for it when you buy your ticket.
- Checked bags: It's actually CHEAPER to check a bag than carry it on. For real. So, if you're really in it to save some money, and don't mind waiting for your bag on the other side, check it. This is how we did it. We also decided to check one larger bag for me and my two sons instead of two or three smaller bags. Just be sure you're not over the weight limit.
- Seats: Yes, you even get charged to choose your seats. After speaking with Steve, who told me his family has never paid for a seat assignment and always got seats next to each other, we did the same thing and were seated together, but it's a risk you have to be willing to take.
- Boarding pass: You have to print it. Just make sure you print it before you arrive at the airport because it costs $2 per boarding at an airport kiosk and $10 per boarding pass to be printed by an agent.
- All drinks, even water: It's been said that the only thing Spirit doesn't charge for is air, and it's pretty true. Water will even set you back on the flight. But, if you're traveling with two small children, like we were, the thought of having a drink that's not in a sippy cup within reach of those tiny little hands just isn't worth it. We always carry refillable water bottles and have been known to pull out a juice box mid-flight as a bribe.
Add all of the fees together before booking Don't just jump on the "bare fare" price. Make sure you add all the fees together before you book so you make sure it's actually a deal. We saved a solid $100+ per ticket, even with all the fees, compared with any other fare out there. That meant our "balcony wine" (for after the kids went to bed) was nicer and we were able to treat ourselves to poolside service for lunch a few times, among other things.
I'll be honest, Spirit check-in at O'Hare in Chicago, on a Wednesday morning, was pretty brutal. The line was the longest I've seen in years. It probably took over an hour, just to check-in. It was not a pleasant experience and we blew through too many of our emergency snacks. Plan to get to the airport earlier than you would for almost any other airline.
We were delayed roughly 15 minutes on the way out and about an hour for our return flight. Spirit's smaller fleet can mean a delay somewhere can cause a pretty significant trickle effect for subsequent flights.
The planes are cramped, but not unbearable
Yes, you notice there's less leg room. Yes, you notice the seats don't recline. But, when traveling with two small children (one of whom cried most of the flight), it was the least of our worries.
Parents should definitely take note that though Spirit says online that most of the seats are large enough to accommodate car seats, that's not always the case. I saw a family try, and then have to gate-check their toddler seat, because it wouldn't fit with their child in it. So, if you are planning on flying with a car seat, call ahead and confirm that the car seat will fit.
So, would I do it again? Yes.
But, for me, the maximum length of flight I'll fly on Spirit is 3.5 hours (and 2 hours or less is optimal). To be worth it, the price, including fees, has to be considerably less than an airline I'd prefer to fly.
But, like Steve, when my family of four was able to fly from Chicago to Myrtle Beach for $122 per person (roundtrip, including all taxes and baggage fees), it was worth it.
And, when I look back on what my 5 year old calls the best vacation ever, I don't think about the flight. I think about the "sand couch" we made on the beach (really just small hole on the beach), big enough for the whole family to sit in, and screaming in delight as the waves crashed up on us.