It’s true, people vehemently despise Spirit Airlines. Just the mention of the company elicits emotion-filled horror stories. Indeed they have a solid 1 out of 5 star rating on TripAdvisor, and they are frequently found at, or near, the top of various “worst airline” rankings. In direct contrast to these ratings and frequent “I’ll never fly Spirit again” claims, the airline continues to grow and increase market share. This begs the question – is the experience really THAT bad? Or, is there something else at play here?
In their own defense, Spirit argues that the mass dissatisfaction with them is in large part due to consumers not understanding their progressive, totally unbundled Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) business model. That assertion seems to hold water. The vast majority of complaints I hear and see are indeed related to “unexpected fees” and being “nickel and dimed” to death. As the well-known cliche goes: “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” Thankfully, Spirit recognizes there is a problem. To that end they recently hired Barkley, a KC-based marketing firm to assist with better educating consumers and promoting what they refer to as a “bare fare.”
A few months ago, Kansas City International airport announced that ours would be a new market served by Spirit. Shortly after an unexplained crop circle appeared prompting a lot of curiosity. It turned out the image seen above is the logo for Spirit’s Bare Fare.
I was excited to finally have the opportunity to give them a shot, contrary to the advice of everyone who I’d informed of my intentions. I booked a seat on the first flight out, and this is my honest, unbiased review…
First and foremost, I have to admit I was surprised, and the experience overall was positive. In fact, those I interacted with were pleasant, cheerful, and in the case of the flight attendant, even funny – to a level I’ve only experienced on Southwest. Perhaps everyone was on their best behavior due to this being an inaugural flight, but as a pro-airline sort of guy, I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.
So, what’s a bare fare?
According to a Spirit video entitled “Ode to Hate” which speaks to their business model, “it’s a cheap seat, for a cheap ass.” That’s it; a seat, and a personal item not to exceed 12x14x16. No seat assignment, carry-on, checked bag or in-flight snack.
That said, those are all available for a fee. Speaking of fees, I have often heard that Spirit isn’t transparent about them. I haven’t seen any evidence of this; in fact, what I witnessed was quite the contrary. While booking on Spirit.com it was very clear what fees I would be facing, including an incredible line-by-line breakdown of the price, which details what they refer to as the “government’s cut” containing various government-imposed taxes and fees. I intentionally didn’t pay for a carry-on bag, hoping they would send a reminder ahead of time. To my satisfaction, they did.
Having done my research ahead of time, I wasn’t caught off guard by any fees. When I booked, I forked over a mere $63.99 for my one-way MCI-ORD “bare fare”. Knowing that Spirit’s seating offers a knee-crushing (dollar saving?) 28-inch pitch (the least of all US carriers) I later chickened out and paid $50 for an assigned “big front” seat; 1A, to be specific. Spirit’s big front seats occupy the first few rows of their planes in a comfy 2×2 configuration with ample legroom, even for this 6’1 guy.
Optional Services/”Frill Control”:
“Frill Control” is Spirit’s trademarked verbiage for placing the consumer in control of buying the optional services they want and/or need. For my “frill” I bought a carry on bag for $35 and an inflight snack & drink combo for $5.
The selection of items available for purchase during service is pretty diverse, and most include a “combo” allowing one to combine a beverage (soft or adult) with one or more of the various snacks for a discount. I settled on the mixed nuts and soft drink combo. It was more than enough for me to split with a pal one row behind me. Also of note, the receipt for my combo included the flight number, routing, and tail number. Getting the tail number included was an unexpected AvGeek delight.
John, the forward cabin flight attendant was attentive, funny, and also quite dapper in his suit. I suspect this will get me a lot of flack, but the service provided by John was equal to what I’ve experienced in first class with full-service carriers. Given the reputation Spirit has for “bad service” it seems prudent to note this highlight.
Even with all of the various fees tacked onto my “bare fare” all-in I spent less than I would have on any other economy flight to O’Hare out of Kansas City on a late Thursday afternoon. Spirit managed to be cheaper than the other guys, even with the added cost of a super comfortable “big front” seat. Amazingly at the moment of writing this, the bare fare to Chicago is even lower than what I paid for the inaugural.
Here’s my final breakdown:
$51.87 bare fare
$12.12 “government’s cut”
$50.00 big front upgrade
$35.00 carry-on bag
$5.00 in flight snack combo
I like what Spirit has to offer and my experience was positive. While my LUV belongs to another airline, I would definitely consider flying Spirit again for personal, family, or last minute travel.
Oh, and did I mention how much I loved the big front seat?
| JL Johnson – Senior Correspondent
JL is a Business Analysis Advisor at a non-aviation industry Fortune-500. He's a semi-frequent traveler, social media addict and avid planespotter. A proud Midwesterner, he's based in Lee's Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. He attributes his love for all things aviation to his grandfather, a USAF Colonel who had him in "AvGeek training" before he could walk.
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