I’m so excited! I finally had a chance to try out Spirit Airlines’ Hey-Buddy-Nothing-In-Life-Is-Free Class of service last week, and all I can say is… wow!
Everyone loves to rag on Spirit, so as the Devil’s Advocate, it falls to me to prove them wrong. I decided to bite the bullet and book myself on a Spirit flight just to show that it can’t be as bad as everyone thinks. Rest assured that I did not receive any compensation for this review. In fact, Spirit may have charged me an additional “smartass blogger fee” when I wasn’t looking, but I’ll have to double check my credit card statement on that.
With that out of the way, on to the trip report!
Purchasing the ticket and check in
The Spirit experience starts right when you buy the ticket, which you’ll definitely want to do on spirit.com as opposed to an online travel agency like Expedia. By using Spirit’s website, you’ll have a chance to plan ahead on how to avoid all the upcharges. But if you go the Expedia route, you’ll get no warning and will end up infuriated from the sudden onslaught of unexpected fees at the airport. This will result in you having a meltdown at the TSA checkpoint and we already have enough of those as it is. So please, everyone, don’t try and take on all the fees at once. We don’t need any heroes here. Use the Spirit website.
Right away you’ll notice that for some reason Spirit is obsessed with government taxes. Nearly every page mentions them.
I expect this is done to get their customers all worked up and angry in preparation for the Spirit flight experience. And it’s very effective. I was personally disappointed that when I got to the end of booking there wasn’t a petition for me to sign and an exhortation to contact my congressman.
As I proceeded with booking, I was offered a chance to pay a fee to check a bag, which I declined. I was also offered a chance to pay a fee to bring on a carry-on bag — anything bigger than a backpack in the cabin costs money. I decided I could carry everything in my backpack, so I declined. I was then offered a chance to pay a fee for Spirit to carry extra oxygen on the plane, so that in case of emergency I would not be left without my share of breathable air. I probably should have accepted that one, but I declined.
Then it was time to choose my seat, which you will not be surprised at this point to learn also comes with a fee. When I declined to pay that fee, Spirit’s website popped up with a loud in-my-face warning that by pursuing this reckless course of action, I was in danger of… getting random seats.
Finally, I was booked, making it through without paying a single fee! Disillusioned by my success, Spirit’s website delivered a parting shot by reminding me to check in and print my boarding pass at home, because if I did it at the airport, I would be charged… you guessed it… a fee.
The best part of declining to pay all these fees at home is that when I got to the airport, I would have the chance to decline them all over again. That’s the Spirit way.
Arriving at the airport
Upon my arrival at the semi-exclusive Spirit terminal in Las Vegas (in that they share it with only 7 other airlines), I was greeted by a Spirit associate who dispensed with the pleasantries of “hello” and “good afternoon” and instead immediately informed me that carry-on bags were $50 apiece.
Luckily my backpack successfully fit the bright yellow sizer for “personal items” which meant there was no additional charge. I was nervous about having to explain to the associate what “no additional charge” meant, but fortunately she had turned her attention to a nearby customer who was shouting at another bright yellow sign that is designed to surprise and delight patrons with an additional $25 fee for checked luggage over 40 pounds (not 50 pounds like most other airlines). Yes, of course this is in addition to the checked bag fee.
Having checked in and cleared security with almost an hour until my flight, I decided to visit the Spirit lounge.
The entryway to the lounge is stark with arching columns and a lot of neon. I found it to be somewhat garish, but bright and inviting, much like a carnival attraction.
Once inside the lounge, I perused the menu, which consisted mainly of meat products surrounded by bread and fried potatoes. I think it might have been German cuisine.
I chose a Four Cheese Whopper, which was slightly disappointing in that I could differentiate two cheeses at most. There might have been a surprise 3rd cheese towards the end, but I couldn’t swear to it. However, the presentation with the accompanying room-temperature onion rings was splendid.
To the right of the food area is the sitting area, where you can find a phenomenal view of Jetway B-1.
As I left the lounge and headed to the gate, I spotted the beautiful Spirit livery. As always, it took my breath away. There’s something about the radioactive yellow that makes me want to… wear protective gear.
Before we were allowed to board, those of us who had printed our boarding passes at home were informed that we would need to tear those sheets in half in order to hand one part to the gate agent. As I tore mine, I accidentally ripped a bit of the barcode and became fearful that I would be charged a “boarding pass repair fee.”
Luckily the agent didn’t notice as he was too busy dealing with another screaming customer who apparently was only just discovering the exclusive Spirit carry on fee. I was also impressed to note that in just the 90 minutes between when I had arrived at the airport and now, the carry on fee had risen from $50 to $100. That is Spirit technology at its finest.
The hard product
Spirit’s economy section contains what seems like about 1,000 seats in a 3-by-3 “shove everyone in” configuration.
The seat itself is upholstered with dark leather and a hard-metal finish on the armrests. It seemed to me to be a vintage look, evoking in my mind what the Apollo astronauts probably were sitting in during the 1960’s moon missions, though those astronauts were likely slightly more comfortable.
These Spirit economy class seats are unique in that they recline 0 degrees to a full 90 degree right angle. There is also just enough room between the seat and the seat in front of you so that you can touch it with your knees.
The armrests of the seats are intuitive in that they can be in either an “up” or a “down” position. You can also place them in a range of positions between up and down, but in my experience it was difficult to make them stay there, so I chose “down.”
We taxied out to runway something-or-other and from my seat in 17D I was able to capture this beautiful view of our takeoff.
In flight dining
About 15 minutes after takeoff I reviewed the menu choices.
I wasn’t sure which of these drink choices was most like Krug, so I asked the flight attendant. She wasn’t sure either, but suggested that perhaps it was the Friends® Moscato Strawberry drink. So I ordered one of those, along with the jumbo Combos.
The Moscato tasted similar to slightly chilled cough syrup. I don’t think Krug tastes like that, but I haven’t had Krug so I can’t say for sure. The Combos were pretty awesome and the jumbo bag of them was big enough to store in my bomb shelter for decades of later use.
Personal entertainment system
Spirit offered three choices for my in flight entertainment…
- I could watch the married couple in the row next to me argue with each other at high volume. This was a bilingual program, as the woman would holler at her husband in Spanish and he would yell back in English.
- I could listen to the woman sitting next to me talk incessantly about absolutely nothing, which she did for the entirety of the flight.
- I could observe the man in the row in front of us turn around and glare repeatedly at the woman next to me talking incessantly about absolutely nothing.
I sampled each of these choices and then decided to listen to my iPhone.
Approach and landing
After my meal I was able to get about 4 minutes of sleep before we started our descent. As we turned to the west for our final approach to runway I-have-no-idea-let’s-call-it-runway-6 and came in for a smooth landing at LAX, I was able to capture the moment from my seat in all its beauty.
And just in case you thought that Spirit charged for every last item, when I went to pack up my jumbo Combos to take with me, I discovered that they provide a complimentary “take-home” bag in the seat pocket of each and every seat.
The Devil’s Advocate believes Spirit’s “unbundling” is not an actual business model.
Okay, I’ve taken a bit of creative license with certain sections of this trip report. To be honest, the actual Spirit flight was fine. However, the excessive and endless fees really are as obscene as everyone says.
In my opinion, the “unbundling” business model of Spirit Airlines is taking an idea way beyond what’s reasonable. Is it honestly likely that most passengers will be able to travel for any length of time with only a personal item? I was able to pull it off because I was on a 1-day mileage run, but unless Spirit is assuming that everyone flying their airline is only doing it as a positioning flight to actually fly on other airlines (which I suppose could be the case), it doesn’t make any logical sense to “unbundle” all luggage in its entirety. And why does the carry on fee double between the terminal and the gate? Does it truly cost Spirit even one cent more to charge you that fee at the gate instead of at check in?
This is not a business model, this is a bait and switch.
Spirit has by far the worst customer service record and one of the highest complaint rates in the industry. They deserve it. As an educated consumer, I had to really work hard to avoid paying any of the upcharges. Most normal customers will be totally out of luck. So in this case, I’d have to say the Conventional Wisdom is right. Don’t fly Spirit unless you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to write a letter to my congressman about those taxes.
(P.S.: In doing this trip report, I gained a massive appreciation for folks who write these things on a regular basis. It’s a huge pain in the butt to take a million photos, trying to get them in focus, documenting every detail, and all while staying out of the way of other passengers. So many thanks to those who do trip reports for real on products we truly want to fly.)Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.