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The Complete Guide to Flying Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines is a low-cost carrier that can cost you a lot if you don’t avoid the fees.  Read this guide to make sure you avoid paying more than you have to when flying Spirit Airlines, and make sure you know all your rights with these Spirit Airline tips and tricks.

Flight Cancellations and Bad Weather on Spirit Airlines

Some websites claim Spirit doesn’t or can’t move you to flights with other airlines if there’s a delay. Spirit Airlines has the same policies as any other carrier I’ve been on in the U.S. If your flight is canceled or delayed, they’ll accommodate you on another Spirit flight.  If there’s a mechanical issue, they may even book you on a different airline to make sure you get to your destination.  (This is very different from the policies of low-cost carrier, RyanAir).

spirit airlines guide

Even with severe weather issues, Spirit was very accommodating letting people change their flights and waiving the change fees and the price difference in flights.

Buy Your Tickets at the Airport (rather than online)

Buy your tickets at the airport. Spirit charges $17.99 per ticket each way for buying tickets online. So for one round-trip ticket that’s a $35.98 fee.  If you purchase tickets over the phone, the fee goes up to $25.

According to their terms and conditions, “a lower fee of $8.99 may apply to certain discount fares”.

Since we live (relatively) near the airport, we still save money when we buy a ticket at the airport, even when it’s just for one person.  Still, I try to plan out our upcoming flights so I can buy them all at once.

To make your visit to the airport faster and easier, write out the names and birthdays of everyone traveling ahead of time for them to reference.  That will save you a lot of time.

spirit airlines boarding pass spirit air

Know When to Buy Spirit Airlines Tickets

It is important to pay attention to when the ticket counters are open.  Don’t drive all the way to the airport, just to find it closed!

Airlines do not always operate their ticket counters throughout the day.  Usually, their hours are based on the airline’s flight schedule that day.

I live near Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW), which is one of Spirit’s hubs.  Because of that, their ticket counter is open for much longer hours than it is at other airports.

At DFW, the ticket counter is open around 22 hours a day, every day.  It shuts down for about two hours between 1:30-3:30am every day.

If an airport has less frequent flights, usually ticket counters are open 2 1/2 hours before the first flight of the day until the last flight of the day.  If the flights are spread out during the day, the ticket counter might shut down midday.

Luckily, there’s a list of Spirit’s ticket counters and their hours right here.  Since flight schedules change, I would check it each time before going to the airport each time–just in case.

spirit airlines ticket counter spirit air
Make sure the ticket counter will be open before you make the journey to the airport!

Know Where to Buy Spirit Airlines Tickets

There are two different lines for the ticket counters–a Fast Bag Drop line and a Full Service line.  In order to buy the tickets, you’ll have to wait on the Full Service line.  And yes, it does feel a bit like the scene in Airplane! where Ted Striker buys his ticket (but hopefully, it won’t be on fire).

Spirit’s $9 Fare Club

An alternative to going to the airport is joining Spirit’s $9 fare club.  I personally prefer going to the airport myself, but this is a better option for those who can’t get to the airport as easily.

The $9 fare club offers cheaper tickets than usual (but not usually $9, untrue to its name!)  They tend to be $10-$20 cheaper each way than normal ticket types.  These types of fare aren’t always available, but when they are, they are close to airport savings.

So why do I prefer booking at the airport?  Besides not always being able to find these fares, it costs $59.95 to sign-up for Spirit’s $9 fare club.  Renewals are $69.95–which happens automatically.

You don’t have to sign-up ahead of time.  You could wait until you see a fare you want and buy the membership then.  One membership applies up to eight people, as long as they are on the same itinerary as you.  (So you won’t need to sign up for one membership per family).

If you sign-up for a $9 fare club membership intending to cancel before renewal, I suggest putting something on a calendar (either digital or physical) to remind yourself to cancel.

Spirit Airline Carry-on Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines charges for carry-on bags in addition to checked baggage.  And if you don’t know this ahead of time, Spirit may hit you with high fees at the gate.

Each time I fly, I see someone shocked at needing to pay for their carry-on bags.

Luckily, you can avoid the fees entirely by paying attention to the size of your bag.  (And you can avoid excessive fees by paying ahead).

Spirit Airlines allows one personal item for free of charge.  Unlike other airlines, has a very strictly enforced definition of what a “personal item” is.

 

For Travel April 4, 2017 & Beyond: The personal item cannot be more than 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches (45 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm).

You cannot have two items, so I put my purse inside my bag while traveling.  I suggest taking a backpack or a duffel bag (with no wheels or handles) as your personal item.  The wheels and handles seem to be red flags that attract the attention of gate agents.

There’s also no weight limit on the personal item, as long as it fits the dimensions above.  I tend to travel with a very heavy backpack to keep my checked bag under the strict 40lb limit Spirit Airlines has.

spirit airlines carryon spirit air
Packing in backpacks can save you a lot of money on Spirit Airlines.

Checked Bag Costs

Unlike other carriers, it is cheaper to check your bags than it is to carry them on.  The cheapest time to purchase your checked bags is when you purchase your tickets online.  It is $5 more per bag per way if you purchase your tickets at the airport and then purchase checked bags later on.

Also, they tend to increase the cost of the checked bag the closer it gets to your flight!  So the earlier you can decide, the better.

If you are a $9 fare club member, you can get a discount on your bags–both carry-on and checked bag.  This is where being a $9 fare club member has come in the most handy.

Once you check in to your flight, the checked bag cost will go up by $10 a bag and if you wait until the ticket counter, it will go up another $5.

At the Gate

If you wait to pay at the gate, it will cost you $100 a bag.

This is where a lot of people get upset.  Sometimes people are cutting it very close with their “personal item” and it actually counts as a “carry-on” item.  This would be a $100 mistake, so it’s best to err on the side of making sure your bag is definitely a personal item, or paying ahead of time to have a carry-on bag.

The bag fees can sometimes be dynamic, so to get the exact pricing of baggage for your flight (checked and carry-on), go to this link.

Car Seats

First of all, you will not be charged for checking your car seat or booster seat on any airline.  They are free of charge, but you still have to go through the usual process (waiting on line) to check them.  You can also bring them on the plane if you purchased a seat for your child.

In addition, Spirit Airlines will let you “gate check” car seats or strollers free of charge.

From the website:

You’re welcome to bring an FAA-approved child safety seat onboard as long as a separate seat has been purchased for the child. We will do our best to reseat you to an open seat (not including our Big Front Seats) if the car seat is too large for a regular seat. We will happily check one stroller and one car seat per child for no extra cost at the ticket counter. You may also check these items at the gate. We’ll have them waiting for you in your arrival city when you get off the aircraft.

 

Paying for Assigned Seats

You have to pay for assigned seats.  All assigned seats.  Otherwise, you will be randomly assigned seats, and there’s a chance you will be split up.

There’s an exception if you are traveling with kids. You will be assigned seats next to your children but you will probably be sitting in the very back of the airplane.

The price of paying for assigned seats depends on your flight length and what type of seat you are looking for.

What if I get involuntarily bumped from my Spirit flight?

Spirit selects people to be “involuntarily bumped” based on who was the last to check in on the flight. They will give you a check worth four times the amount of your ticket (currently the industry policy is up to $1350). They will move you to the next Spirit flight, though you can try to get moved to a flight on another airline.

If the next Spirit flight doesn’t work for you, I would recommend being proactive and searching other airline’s flights that are better for you to see if there’s anything available.  Then ask Spirit if they can put you on that flight.

No Complimentary Drinks in Flight

You will not find any free food or drinks in a Spirit Airlines flight.  This includes water and soda.

Their snacks and alcohol seem to be roughly the same prices as other airlines with one difference.  The mixer for your cocktail is not free; however, it is only $1 extra (as compared to its $3 cost).

If you purchase two liquors at once, then the mixer is free through one of their “bundle” deals.

You can see all the prices of their food and beverage here, plus the ways you can save with their bundles.

Print Your Boarding Passes Ahead of Time

You must print your boarding pass ahead of time or go to a kiosk. Otherwise, you will be paying an additional fee per ticket.

There’s often a line at the kiosks, so for me, it’s a lot easier to print them at home.  Plus, it’s one less thing to worry about at the airport.

Military Discounts

Military members get one free carry-on and two free checked bags. The military member must be traveling (the family can’t take advantage of it without them) but the military member does not need to be on orders to take advantage of it. All you need is to show your military ID. Make sure they put your bags on your flight out and your return trip to save time.

Spirit Airlines military spirit air
Military families can save money on baggage on Spirit Airlines.

Why Fly Spirit with All These Rules?

Because even with all these rules/fees, Spirit can save you money.

I still look at the prices for all airlines. (Google Flights is a good resource for looking across every airline).  But when pricing out the Spirit flight, make sure you have a cheat sheet of the fees you know you will need to incur.  Make sure you follow the steps in this guide to avoid paying any additional fees.

Now that other airlines have been “unbundling” (aka, charging fees), you may have to pay to check a bag anyway.  Flying Spirit has allowed my family to travel more than we would have otherwise.

It will continue to be our first choice for flights within the US, and it would take a significant change in the price of Sprit’s flight (or another low-cost carrier coming along) for this to change.

About Tiff

Tiff's first big vacation was a Caribbean cruise when she was six. She first started getting interested in deals when her husband showed her the tricks to getting bought off your flights back in the late 90s. She started flying nonrev when they got married; the first unusual nonrev she did was in '05 when her family flew through San Juan to get to Dallas from Philly. They have two boys, ages 10 and 6, who she usually drags along on their travels and hopes they will grow up to love traveling as much as she does.

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5 comments

  1. I enjoyed the thoroughness of your Spirit guide. I only flew them in the amount of times I can count on one hand, but both times have been pretty well except for rude passengers which is not their fault.

  2. We are a family of 5 and fly Spirit all the time. We love them but like you said, I see people who don’t read or understand the rules getting burned all the time. A couple other tips I would add to this very comprehensive post. If you are buying multiple seats on one itinerary, and there are less cheap seats available than your group size, you will be charged the higher ticket price for every ticket in the group. You can avoid this by splitting the group into two itineraries, with the first group getting all the seats left at the cheaper price. I have done this multiple times. For example, for a recent purchase when I searched for 1 ticket, it showed a price of $60/ticket. When I input 5 tickets, it showed a ticket price of $90/ticket. I then successively increased the ticket quantity until I discovered that there were 4 tickets left at the $60/ticket price. So when I went to the airport to buy them, I bought four tickets on one itinerary for $60/ticket and bought 1 ticket on a separate itinerary for $90/ticket. We have always had good luck getting other passengers to rearrange to we can sit together, but even if we couldn’t it’s not a big deal. Another tip is just to think outside the box. We recently needed to book a trip to Boston from Houston. We found cheap tickets on United for the return trip, but nothing cheap to get there. What we did find cheap was a Spirit flight to Atlanta and then another cheap flight from Atlanta to Boston the next day. The combined Spirit ticket price was still much cheaper than any other option. Spirit doesn’t automatically consider this a route because it requires an overnight stay to make it work, so you wont be offered this automatically, but have to “roll your own.” The bonus is we’ll get to do something fun in Atlanta and visit a friend there also. Happy Travels!

  3. Spirit doesn’t fly exactly from my aireport to where I need to go. Can you buy a ticket to oe place then buy another to where you need to go or would it not even save enough to go to the effort?

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      In most cases, it would probably not save you money at that point. If there’s an airport you can drive to with cheap parking nearby, that might be worth it. Hope this helps!

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