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Even if you don’t fly much, you’ve probably heard or read that Spirit is a terrible airline. The idea has been repeated so often, in fact, that it’s become a stereotype for budget carriers everywhere. So, what I’m going to say next in this Spirit Airlines review may come as a bit of surprise: I flew one-way from Miami to Baltimore and it was a pleasant flight on a clean, comfortable aircraft. I’d do it again in a second.
Read on for a full review of Spirit’s service from MIA to BWI. You’ll also find a description of the booking process, including how to choose between different seating and baggage options. And for those looking for a seat upgrade, get tips on how to bid on, and win, a Big Front Seat, Spirit’s version of premium economy.
Booking the flight – seats, baggage, and other options
Base fares from Spirit Airlines include a randomly selected seat and one personal item, like a backpack or laptop bag. Anything else is considered extra and incurs an additional fee. This goes for everything from a carry-on bag to coffee on board the plane.
Spirit’s optional packages are much cheaper than purchasing the extras individually, and so are worth it if you will get some use out of them – especially if you plan to take a checked or carry-on bag. However, if you just plan to take a personal item and don’t care where you sit, there’s no need to pay extra for one of these bundles as it will add little to no value to your trip.
After entering passenger information, you’ll be offered one or more “Bundle It” package that include bags, seat selection, priority boarding, and other extras. These might be called “Just for You Bundle”, “Boost It”, or simply “Bundle It”.
One thing to note about Spirit’s “Bundle It” packages is that none of them include the option to select a Big Front Seat. These seats are wider than regular seats, and have more legroom and a bigger armrest. They’re generously padded and comfortable, and arranged 2×2 without a middle seat.
You can purchase a Big Front Seat during booking. If you don’t, you’ll receive an email inviting you to bid on one. I used the bidding process to snagged an upgrade to one of these seats for less than the cost shown online during booking. I’ll give you the details on that a bit later.
Flight and option prices
I booked my flight on Spirit Airlines one-way, from Miami to Baltimore, about 6 days prior to departure. At that time, only a few seats had been reserved. The price was $42.09 with a randomly assigned seat and one personal item like a backpack or laptop bag. The next cheapest flight was on American at $175, which included a carry-on bag as well as a personal item.
During the booking process I was offered a “Bundle It” combo including one checked or carry-on bag, seat selection, and priority boarding (Zone 2). The cost for the bundle was $61 and allowed me to choose any seat except a Big Front Seat, a wider seat with more legroom. To option to select a Big Front Seat was an additional $35, even with the bundle selected.
Without the bundle, a Big Front Seat upgrade was $40. Exit row seats could be selected for $37 each. All other seats were $33 – $35. The other option, of course, is to accept a randomly assigned seat, at no extra cost.
Since I planned to travel light, I didn’t need a carryon. I wanted a Big Front Seat and figured I could bid on one later, as the flight didn’t seem like it would fill. In lieu of trip insurance, I added an option for $7 to cancel the flight for any reason and receive an 80% refund. So, if I became ill or otherwise was unable to travel, I’d at least get some money back. Total cost so far: $49.09.
Bidding on a Big Front Seat (and winning it)
Within a few hours of booking, I received an email inviting me to bid on a seat upgrade (Big Front Seat or exit row seat). The recommended bid was $35; I bid $20. The next day, another email stated I had been outbid by another passenger.
These “you’ve been outbid” emails seem like a bit of a scam, to be honest. At the time I received it, there were still eight Big Front Seats showing as available. Many Spirit passengers report sticking with their original bid and winning, even after being “outbid”. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be sure.
Having flown Spirit in the past, I knew how much more comfortable Big Front Seats are compared to regular seats. I decided I wanted one, but for less than the upgrade price of $40 shown during booking. I increased my bid to $35. If cost was a bigger factor for me on this trip, I would have stuck with the original bid or placed a lower bid, say $25, then increased to $30 if “outbid” again.
Twenty-four hours before departure, my seat upgrade was accepted and I checked in. Total cost for the trip: $81.06. To make the deal even better, my Big Front Seat upgrade included Zone 2 priority boarding, allowing earlier access to overhead bins. I ended up need overhead bin space because my seat was in the first row, which meant my personal item would have to be stored during takeoff and landing, so this worked out perfectly.
The flight experience
As is often the case with early morning flights, the aircraft was only about 2/3 full and passengers were sleepy and subdued. Both gate staff and cabin crew were friendly and attentive.
Boarding was accomplished in smooth and efficient manner. Like many Spirit Airlines flights, the passengers on mine mostly had backpacks or other personal items instead of carry-on bags, reducing the competition for overhead bin space.
We flew on one of Spirit’s older Airbus 319s, so the Big Front Seats were more worn and dated than on the newer a320s. Still, the seat sports a comfortable 18.5″ width and 36″ pitch, with up to 11 inches of legroom – a full 6 inches more than a standard seat. While definitely showing some wear, the plane was as clean (dare I say cleaner?) as what you’d find on Delta, United, or American.
My Big Front Seat was well-padded and had ample leg and arm room. Spirit seats don’t recline (they are “pre-reclined”), but I was able to sleep comfortably for most of the flight without a neck pillow or other support.
There are reviews that liken Big Front Seats to first class, but overall they are more like premium economy – a more comfortable seat with priority boarding. Drinks not included, of course, but I only paid $81 for the flight, so no complaints here.
I purchased bottled water once I reached the gate area after the TSA checkpoint so I wouldn’t have to buy it on the plane. Snacks and drinks were available for purchase – standard variety, nothing special, and as you might have guessed, wildly overpriced.
We took off on time, and the flight was uneventful save for some mild turbulence. Thanks to a tailwind, we arrived in Baltimore about 20 minutes early. Once at the gate, we had to wait 5 minutes or so for the jetway to be attached – the only inconvenient thing to occur. The hardest part of the trip was the fact that it was 82 degrees when I left Miami and only 35 degrees when I got to Baltimore.
Why does Spirit Airlines have such a bad rep?
It certainly isn’t hard to find media coverage of how terrible an airline Spirit is or a forum with endless complaints. My experience, along with those of other Spirit passengers, suggests that Spirit’s bad reputation is somewhat overblown.
Sure, Spirit Airlines might lose your bag or cancel your flight, and its staff may be rude and uncommunicative at times. But guess what? The same thing happens with Delta, United, American, and the other “full-service” carriers in the US.
The question is, then, do these things happen more often with Spirit than with other airlines? To answer that, I looked at the most recent US Department of Transportation data. What I found was that Spirit Airlines is less likely to mishandle your bag than jetBlue, United, Hawaiian, American, or Alaska Airlines.
However, Spirit does rank near the bottom when it comes to flight delays and cancellations. The most recent data available (October 2022 – October 2023) shows that 31% of Spirit Airlines flights were delayed, and the carrier cancelled 2.2% of its total flights. Only jetBlue and Frontier has worse records during that period.
Still, those are low numbers when considering the thousands of Spirit flights that arrive on time annually. When you factor in Spirit’s low prices, the airline still represents a good value that is certainly worth it to book. I mean, $50 for a flight, even if delayed, beats a 16-hour drive on I-95 any day of the week.
Does Spirit’s bad reputation derive from a poor safety record? Not even close. Spirit is a very safe airline to fly, with only one non-fatal accident since 2000.
So why is Spirit’s reputation so bad? If, like me, you spend more than a few minutes reading airline reviews, you come to realize that many of the complaints made by Spirit Airlines passengers seem to stem from a lack of understanding about seat and baggage policies (and fees). A lot of the other issues raised, while valid, are no different than those encountered on other airlines (like weather delays or overbooked flights).
- Here are some tips to help make your experience on Spirit Airlines more enjoyable:
- Be aware of additional fees. The base fare only includes a randomly assigned seat and one personal item. Anything else, from carry-on bags to seat selection to water and snacks on board the plane, costs extra.
- Buy bags during booking. If you need a checked or carry-on bag allowance, purchasing it during booking is cheaper than adding it later. The same is true for other extras like seat selection and priority boarding.
- Fly early or late whenever possible. Avoid busy times when airline systems are stressed and tend to overload.
- Pack light and smart. By packing carefully, you can eliminate the need for a carry-on bag. Spirit is not overly strict about personal items – as long as it (mostly) fits in the bag sizer at the gate, you’re probably good.
- Buy water in the airport after you pass through security. Bring snacks or buy them in the airport.
- If you can swing it, an upgrade to a Big Front Seat makes the flight much better and more comfortable and includes priority boarding.
- Consider adding an option to cancel the flight. This is often cheaper and /or less hassle than trip insurance.
The sheer ubiquity of negative Spirit Airlines reviews is enough to make any traveler have second thoughts. However, many of these reviews focus on the fees the carrier charges for anything above and beyond a basic seat. In my opinion, these reviewers are ignoring the fact that even with additional fees, Spirit Airlines flights are much cheaper than United, American, Delta, Alaska, or jetBlue.
Another facet of Spirit’s poor reputation is due to negative reviews for issues that affect every airline, like delays or cancellations. These issues can be due to weather, logistical and operational reasons, or a combination thereof. While annoying and inconvenient, delays and cancellations are not specific to Spirit Airlines, and the carrier’s on-time record isn’t hugely different from its “full-service” competitors.
So was my Spirit Airlines flight worth it? For $81 including a seat upgrade and priority boarding, I got a comfortable flight and overall great experience. It was absolutely worth the price I paid and as a result I intend to fly Spirit more often in the future.
Another thing that really made it worth it for me was the seat upgrade. A few inches of extra space can make all the difference when you’re traveling, and additional seat padding is always a welcome bonus. The Big Front Seat delivered on both.