Frontier vs. Spirit: The Battle of the Budget Airlines
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Frontier and Spirit are two of the major players in the budget airline game. And while the service and experience they provide can seem pretty similar, they have different routes, different loyalty programs and different fees.
So which airline should you fly? Here's what to consider when comparing Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines.
Winner for route availability: Frontier for domestic, Spirit for international
Frontier and Spirit both fly to cities all over the U.S. and beyond, including Mexico and the Caribbean. But Frontier flies to more destinations.
Frontier serves more than 140 North American destinations that cover most of the U.S. (from Maine to California, Texas to Montana), plus Mexico, the Caribbean and a few destinations in Canada. Its most popular hub cities with the most available direct flights are:
Spirit doesn’t have quite as extensive of a destination list as Frontier, flying to 70-plus locations throughout the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. Depending on the season, you can also find Spirit flights to South and Central America.
Spirit operates out of a few more hubs:
» Learn more: Plan your next redemption with our airline points tool
Airline rewards programs
Winner for ease of using miles: Frontier
As we continue our deep dive into Frontier versus Spirit, we want to take into account their respective rewards programs and who they're right for.
Frontier loyalty program
The Frontier Miles frequent traveler program has its pros and cons. Earning miles is straightforward: one mile flown in physical distance equals one mile earned (which is a perk for points collectors — see more below). Plus, you can earn more miles with a handful of travel and shopping partners.
Elite status is achievable by flying 20,000 miles or 25 segments, earning you access to perks like family pooling, waived redemption fees and free seat assignment. At higher statuses, you can even enjoy a discounted or free Discount Den membership and free checked bags. Though unless you fly with Frontier multiple times a month, even the lowest status can be difficult to reach without the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®, which boosts your chances by offering an additional 1 elite status qualifying mile for every dollar spent.
Even though Frontier Miles aren’t worth much — just 0.9 centa piece, according to NerdWallet valuations — you can still derive a lot of value from the program.
In fact, our latest analysis on airline reward program values determined that travelers can earn the most miles per dollar spent on Frontier compared to all other major domestic U.S. airlines (It surprised us too.)
Note that award flights start at 10,000 miles per way, which is higher than some other airlines.
» Learn more: Frontier Airlines reward optimization for beginners
Spirit loyalty program
When Spirit updated its loyalty program, most of the changes were for the better. Points however are only worth around 0.8 centper point, slightly less than Frontier’s. How many points you earn per flight is based not on distance but on the cost of your ticket, so more expensive fares mean more points. Free Spirit members will earn at least 6 points per dollar spent, plus additional points for some upgrades.
Reward redemptions start at just 2,500 points, and members also have the option of using Free Spirit Points plus Cash, which allows you to score a partial award ticket faster or put smaller point totals to use.
Members with a Free Spirit credit card or who have achieved Gold or Silver status can also utilize points pooling with up to eight friends and family members. As for status, it can be earned through a combination of flying and spending on either of the Spirit credit cards, and Silver is achieved at just 2,000 qualifying points.
» Learn more: Your guide to Spirit Airlines’ award flights
Winner for best airline credit card: Spirit
The airline offers more card options, including a $0-annual-fee option, plus the miles don't expire.
Airline credit cards can improve your overall flight experience, and you can collect miles strategically with either airline's loyalty program.
Frontier credit cards
Want extra perks and benefits for flying Frontier? Frontier offers one credit card.
Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. New cardmembers are lured with this sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus mile after spending $500 on purchases and paying the annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days. Earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 6 months with the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard With this card, you can unlock Family Pooling, earn elite status and score a $100 flight voucher on your account anniversary, all for a reasonable annual fee: $89.
As a cardmember, your miles are less likely to expire, and award redemption fees are waived.
» Learn more: Your guide to the Frontier Airlines award chart
Spirit Airlines credit cards
Spirit offers two credit cards for members of its loyalty program, Free Spirit, to earn extra rewards.
Free Spirit® Travel Mastercard®. The current new cardmember offer: Online Offer: Earn 10,000 Bonus Points after spending at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. You will also receive 5,000 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary after making at least $10,000 in purchases within the prior year. You will get access to points pooling, plus their annual fee is $0 and your points won’t expire as long as your account is open.
Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard®. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $79. With it, you'll get the following sign-up offer: Earn 50,000 Bonus Points + $100 Flight Voucher after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Then, receive a $100 companion flight voucher on every cardmember anniversary after making at least $5,000 in purchases during the prior year. You’ll also get access to points pooling, reach elite status faster and pay no award flight redemption fees, plus your points won’t expire as long as you have the card.
Winner for lowest fees: Spirit
In truth, it depends on the specific flight. But generally speaking, you can expect to pay an extra $2-$8 on Frontier per add-on fee than Spirit.
Frontier is a budget airline, after all, so expect extra fees beyond your ticket price for any comfort items or upgrades. You get to bring only a personal item for free; a carry-on will cost between $39 and $60 (depending on whether you book online or at the gate).
One checked bag costs between $38 and $60, and a second between $50 and $55. There are additional fees for checked bags exceeding 40 pounds. You'll pay $50 per bag, per direction for bags weighing 41-50 pounds and $100 per bag, per direction for bags weighing 51-100 pounds.
You’ll also pay if you want to choose your seat. Standard seats range from $17 to $55, while stretch seating runs you $35 to $70. And if you want the option to change your flight if something comes up, you’ll have to purchase Flight Flexibility coverage at the same time you book travel, which costs $29.99.
Alternatively, you have the option to book a bundle called The Works, which includes a personal item, carry-on, checked bag, seat selection, priority boarding, flight flexibility and refundability. The cost will depend on where you’re flying.
Just like on Frontier, be prepared to pay for the extras if you want them on Spirit, like luggage — anything more than a personal item will cost you.
Your baggage costs will depend on where you’re going, but expect to pay around $30 to $60 for a carry-on (depending on whether you prepaid or are paying at the gate), $26 to $56 for your first checked bag and $35 to $60 for a second. Spirit Saver$ Club members pay less.
Regular seats on Spirit range from $1 to $50, and Spirit’s Big Front Seats can be between $12 to $150. If you want flexibility to change your flight after booking, you’ll have to opt for Flight Flex, which costs $35 to $45.
There is a Bundle It Combo that offers Spirit’s most popular upgrades like a checked bag, carry-on, seat selection and Flight Flex at a discount, but the price will vary based on the route. You can purchase only at the time of booking, so plan ahead.
Winner of the sky: Spirit
We looked closely at the quality of onboard entertainment available across domestic airlines and found both budget airlines to offer roughly the same in-flight experience. Spirit gets a slight edge because it offers onboard Wi-Fi, whereas Frontier does not.
Don’t expect comfort or service when flying Frontier. The airline doesn’t offer complimentary drinks or snacks, though you can buy either if you like. Seats, at 28 to 31 inches, aren’t spacious — and they don’t recline. Stretch Seating offers 5 to 7 more inches, plus recline.
There’s no in-flight entertainment, either, so bring your own.
Much like with other budget airlines, there are no complimentary snacks or beverages on Spirit flights, but you can purchase them on board. As for seats, the Big Front Seats are 18.5 inches wide and have 36 inches of pitch. That's 6 inches more than the airline’s standard seats, which have 30 inches of pitch.
Spirit has installed Wi-Fi capabilities on most of its fleet, offering connectivity at varying prices depending on your flight. Browsing capabilities start at $2.99; you'll pay twice as much to be able to stream.
Is Frontier better than Spirit?
Though Spirit is attractive to more frequent international travelers, has Wi-Fi available and offers more credit card options, there's still a clear winner according to our 2023 airline-industry analysis: Frontier.
Frontier gets an edge because Frontier Miles earn the highest ROI of airline currencies of 2023 (compared to Spirit's last place). It's also one of the most-pet friendly airlines, largely due to its below average price of $99 per pet (industry-wide, the average is $113 per pet).
Neither airline is a standout in terms of operational reliability, general elite status benefits, low fees or overall in-flight experience.
In a comparison of Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, Frontier ekes out a minor victory. Frontier offers flights to more destinations within the U.S., so travel options will be in greater abundance, but Spirit flies to more international destinations. Both charge similar, if not varying, fees for extra luggage and seat selection.
But Frontier's points have more net value than Spirit's.
In short, the battle between Frontier Airlines and Spirit is a close one. If you have a choice from your home airport, choose Frontier.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card