Is Spirit Airlines Good?

There are trade-offs you might need to make when traveling on a budget with Spirit Airlines.
Aaron Hurd
By Aaron Hurd 
Published

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Spirit Airlines is a budget airline based in the United States that offers service to more than 90 destinations across the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean. The airline features barebones airfares that will get you to your destination but won’t include the niceties that many legacy airlines offer for free. You’ll pay extra for almost everything with Spirit Airlines — from printing a boarding pass at the airport to selecting a seat, to in-flight beverage service.

But is Spirit Airlines good? If the airline offers flights to the destination you want at the best price, should you hesitate to book? In this article, we’ll look at some of the quirks of Spirit Airlines to help you decide if you should book them for your next trip.

Spirit Airlines reputation

If you look at online reviews from customers of Spirit Airlines, you’ll see a pattern of scathing criticism. And this is reflected in the ratings that many sites publish for an airline based on these reviews.

But when you look closer, you’ll notice a pattern — while many of the criticisms of the airline are based on substantive grievances, those grievances are usually rooted in a misunderstanding of two things:

  • Spirit Airlines charges a fee for almost everything beyond a seat from point A to point B.

  • Spirit Airlines has a limited schedule and does not have interline agreements.

What fees will I pay?

Like other airlines, Spirit Airlines charges fees for things you might expect, like checked bags. But unlike full-service carriers, Spirit will charge you $4 for a Diet Coke, $25 to print a boarding pass, or even an additional fee to book your ticket online.

If you’re going to fly Spirit, you’ll need to understand the fees you’ll pay. Here are some of the fees you should keep in mind.

Checked and carry on bags

Unlike many full-service airlines, Spirit Airlines charges additional fees for checked and carry-on bags. If you want to take more than a personal item, such as a purse or laptop, you’ll need to pay. A baggage allowance can be purchased when booking your trip or can be added later.

You’ll want to be sure that you purchase your baggage allowance before arriving at the airport — once you arrive at the reservation counter or gate, fees for both carry-on and checked bags increase substantially.

While the airline no longer publishes a set schedule for baggage fees, you can find current baggage prices on Spirit’s optional fees page.

Using a standard ticket on Spirit Airlines flight from from Austin to Atlanta as an example, for your first checked bag you would have to pay:

  • $36 during a Spirit.com booking.

  • $38 before online check-in.

  • $44 during online check-in.

  • $89 during airport check-in.

  • $99 at the gate.

Table showing the various costs of baggage on a Spirit flight.

The longer you wait, the more you pay.

Seat selection

Most legacy airlines allow customers, even those with no frequent flyer status, to select seats in advance when traveling on non-basic economy fares. With Spirit, you’ll need to pay if you want to select your seat either before or after check-in. If you don’t want to get stuck in a middle seat, it’s probably best to expect to pony up the $1 to $200 that Spirit will charge for a regular seat assignment.

Like luggage prices, seat selection prices can vary by itinerary and tend to be less expensive if you select your seats when you book your flight.

Boarding passes

You might not think that you’d need to pay to get your boarding pass from an airport kiosk. After all, most airlines no longer print boarding passes on pre-printed ticket stock — many boarding passes are printed on cheap thermal paper. But with Spirit Airlines, you’ll have to pay $25 for the privilege of getting your boarding pass at the airport.

Drinks onboard the aircraft

Want a glass of water or a soda onboard the aircraft? You’ll need to pay. Spirit Airlines offers no complimentary beverage service onboard, so you’ll end up paying $7 if you just need a drink of water and a small snack. If you want more substantial food or alcoholic beverages, you could end up paying $38 or more.

On-time performance

One metric you can use to determine if an airline is good is its ability to complete its scheduled flights on time. Unfortunately, Spirit Airlines doesn’t look great when you start to dig into its operational performance.

Spirit Airlines had an on-time arrival rate of only 60.7% and a flight cancellation rate of 3.6% according to the June 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report. This puts the airline at the bottom among major airlines in the United States for both delays and cancellations. As a comparison, Delta Air Lines, which ranked No.1 for on-time performance had a 79.8% rate of on-time flight operations and only a 2.3% cancellation rate.

Spirit’s dismal on-time performance and higher than average cancellation rate means that you should expect some measure of schedule disruption when flying on the airline. Unfortunately, because of Spirit’s schedule and lack of interline agreements, the airline is less than well-prepared to handle irregular operations.

Limited schedule

Spirit Airlines offers a much more limited schedule than many legacy airlines. While you might expect a legacy airline like Delta Air Lines or United Airlines to be able to get you to your destination any day of the week, that is not the case with Spirit.

For example, if you look for flights from Kansas City to Nashville, you will find that the airline can’t get you between those two cities on Tuesday or Wednesday. If your Monday flight to Nashville cancels, you’ll most likely be waiting until Thursday to be rebooked, if space is available at all.

The lack of schedules means that there are limited options to rebook on Spirit when your flight gets canceled.

No interline agreements

Another tool that many airlines have to handle flight disruptions is interline agreements. An interline agreement is an agreement between airlines that allows one airline to sell tickets on another airline. Interline agreements also define how the airlines interface together to provide service to customers. These agreements are the reason you can fly domestically within the U.S. on one carrier and connect to an international flight on another.

Spirit Airlines does not have interline agreements with other carriers, meaning that the airline can only book you on its own planes if things go wrong. While United Airlines or American Airlines might be able to put you on Delta Air Lines or Alaska Airlines if they don’t have the capacity to get you to your destination, Spirit Airlines simply can’t do this. The airline must either rebook you on its own flight or cancel and refund your ticket.

Bottom line: Is Spirit Airlines a good airline and should you fly them?

If Spirit Airlines offers a substantially lower price than the alternatives on a schedule that works for you, be sure that you include all of the fees you might pay — carry-on and checked baggage, seat selection, boarding pass printing fees, and in-flight food and beverage — into your value calculation.

Often, when you add in all of the necessary “extras” flying the airline may not be substantially cheaper than flying on a legacy airline.

If the bottom-line cost of flying Spirit is your least-expensive option, then you must weigh the risk of irregular operations. With one of the highest rates of delayed flights and cancellations in the U.S. airline industry, there’s a good chance your Spirit flight will be delayed or canceled.

If this happens, be aware that your rebooking options may be limited, and your best option to get home might be to purchase an expensive last-minute ticket on another carrier.


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