A Spirit Airlines Airbus A-321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA - Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

I paid a mere $16.11 for a one-way Spirit Airlines Bare Fare flight from Kansas City to Dallas. Crazy, right? It gets crazier… $14.24 of that ticket went to the “Government’s Cut,” (Spirit’s words, not mine) that is, various government-imposed fees and taxes. Of the remainder, a single penny went towards the base fare, with the final $1.86 going to what Spirit refers to as “Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations.” Depending on where you sit on the regulatory fence, the actual revenue from my Bare Fare was either a penny or $1.87.

Spirit Airlines Bare Fare cost structure breakdown - Photo: SpiritAirlines.com

Spirit Airlines Bare Fare cost structure breakdown – Image: Spirit.com

Either way, the airline was bound to make money off of me from their various fees, right? After all, that’s what Spirit is known for: evil fees. But, what if I went totally bare and instead just paid only for “ass plus gas” (again, Spirit’s words, not mine). Do people actually do that? I did… for science.

A Spirit plane seen in the prior "Blue and White" livery - Photo: Jacob Erlick

A Spirit plane seen in the prior “Blue and White” livery – Photo: Jacob Erlick

SPIRIT AIRLINES: How I Scored a $16.11 Bare Fare

This fare wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t an award, and I didn’t have a coupon. The fare in question was readily available on Spirit.com for five different days in November, but at $34.10. You see, Spirit has a secret. They charge a $17.99 “convenience fee” each way for online purchases. How do you ditch the fee and save the cash? Drive to the airport, stand in line and bother an agent at the ticketing desk. Like the old days!

Most people are lazy, and many folks don’t like the airport, so it is a smart sort of loophole. I’m an AvGeek and I have a four-year-old who loves to go plane spotting, so we are always looking for an excuse. Challenge accepted!

Spirit Fare Calendar - Photo: SpiritAirlines.com

Spirit Fare Calendar – Image: Spirit.com

SPIRIT AIRLINES: Flying fee-free is possible, but not easy

I had flown Spirit before, so I knew what fees to expect. My first Spirit flight happened to be when they began service in my market in 2014. Back then, and on each flight with them since, I have paid for the “Big Front Seat” (BFS). The BFS is essentially a first class seat, minus, in true Spirit Airlines style, all of the extras. It’s a seriously comfy, wide leather seat with plenty of legroom which Spirit offers at a very reasonable price. The BFS fee varies by city pair, but in my opinion, it’s totally worth the upgrade.

BONUS: Is a Merger Between Spirit and Frontier Inevitable?

When I booked my flight I had to turn down the $50 BFS option to keep my fare… bare. I assumed that the worst was behind me. To my dismay, I received a last-minute offer when checking in: “Upgrade to the BFS for just $25.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t think long and hard about the purchase. Some of my friends and peers have teased me for what they call cheating. The only way to truly experience Spirit is in the back with everyone else, they claim. I’ll give them that. I knew avoiding the BFS and seat selection in general would be the one add-on I would most struggle with. However, I was committed to the flight being totally bare, and declined. My heart broke a little, part disappointment, part preemptive sympathy for my knee caps.

An increasingly rare site, the Spirit Pixel livery - Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

An increasingly rare site, the Spirit pixel livery – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Spirit Airlines Explains Their a-la-carte Pricing Model

I now had to make sure to print my own boarding pass, pack a tiny suitcase/personal item (not to exceed 12″x14″x16″), and bring my own drink and snack. But wait, drink?

TSA Hack: While you cannot transport liquids (over 3.4 oz) through the TSA checkpoints, you can bring ice. Partially fill a bottle and freeze it the night before. Before going through security drink off the melt and you’re good to go. Once past the checkpoint, find a water fountain and you’ve just saved a few bucks. Take that, overpriced airport drinks and buy-on-board!

SPIRIT AIRLINES: The true Bare Fare experience

All three of the ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) at Kansas City International Airport are confined to a relatively small gate area. It’s crowded, there are almost no amenities, and there is nowhere near enough seating. While the experience at my home airport is universally bad, the ULCC area is the worst.

I anxiously awaited my check-in time. I was eager to see if my roll of the dice, by not paying for seat assignment, would yield something other than a middle seat. Thankfully, the “seat gods” granted me an aisle — 20D, almost all the way in back. It wasn’t my preferred window, but I didn’t get stuck in a middle. I was ecstatic.

A Spirit plane on a wet day - Photo: Jay Haapala

A Spirit plane on a wet day – Photo: Jay Haapala

Spirit boards in just four groups (United has… seven?) and I found myself in zone three. I was surprised that the gate agent didn’t seem interested in sizing bags. This is something I have seen strictly enforced on other flights. Perhaps she too was impressed with the overwhelming number of Spirit-savvy passengers on this full flight to Dallas — I had observed many had only small carry-ons. I was in good company.

Once on board I made my way to the back and shoved my personal item under the seat in front of me. The seat pitch, on Spirit’s planes, is the least of any US carrier, so I was wishing I did the BFS upgrade. Oh well. I remember how much I paid and somehow my knees felt happier.

Spirit's Version of In-Flight Entertainment

Spirit’s Version of In-Flight Entertainment

Spirit doesn’t have in-flight entertainment or connectivity, so I brought my own. No harm there; I had a backlog of podcasts to catch up on. Less than two episodes in, we landed. Our scheduled touchdown was at 6:52 PM, yet I was walking off the plane at 6:40.

Spirit, as a whole, seems to suffer from poor on-time performance. Thankfully I haven’t experienced this in the few times I’ve flown with them. I guess that goes to show that even though behind the competition, most flights arrive on time.

SPIRIT AIRLINES: Bare Fare Conclusion

The flight and experience were fine. Just like with my recent Allegiant review, it’s important to go into these situations with realistic expectations. I wasn’t comfortable, but I flew 460 miles for less than $20. That’s the real headline here. And, I should note my discomfort isn’t all Spirit’s fault. At 6’1″ and far beyond target weight, I’m not a right-sized traveler. Shorter and skinnier passengers are more likely to find better comfort than I did when wedged between the tightest seats in the U.S.

Spirit is all about un-bundling and letting consumers choose what add-ons they want. There’s something refreshing about being in total control over what you pay for. Some people call it being nickeled and dimed, but Spirit calls it “frill control.” I call it paying for exactly what I want, and nothing more. Would I fly a completely Bare Fare again in the future? Likely not. I need a few frills, and Spirit’s shareholders demand the ancillary revenue (and based on our story earlier this week, it looks like they need it).

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A-321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA. Photo- JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

Living out of a stupidly-small personal item just isn’t for me. But that’s not to say it doesn’t work for others. That’s what’s great about Spirit. Experiences will vary widely based on passenger preference. This airline is not one-size-fits-all, and that’s a good thing.

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SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – LEE’S SUMMIT, MO. JL is a self described “medium shot” 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. Email: jl@airlinereporter.com

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53 Comments
ORD Flyer

I often fly Spirit on totally bare fares. This past summer I was flying MSP-ORD almost every weekend in July for a mere $45rt. I’ve done ORD-LAS for about $60rt.

Like you mention, almost none of the money goes directly to Spirit (the base fare). I have to wonder when will the bubble burst? How can they sustain this?

jl johnson

Dave, thanks for reading, and for the comment. I believe you and I are in the minority. Savvy, and perhaps a little crazy 😉 . Most folks likely pour on the add-ons, or, worse– Don’t know how Spirit works and end up paying rather painful last minute fees. I don’t have details but I suspect that convenience fee that most end up paying is a break-even barrier more than anything. JL | AirlineReporter

We are getting our own ULCC up here in Canada and i am sorta curious to see how they do. They won’t be flying to my home airport (Ottawa) yet but the concept intrigues me. My only ULCC experience is Ryanair which was fine, the plane didn’t crash and I got to my destination relatively on time and for cheap so you can’t ask for too much more!

Interesting, Tom. I wasn’t aware of this. Here in the states Canada has a reputation for being protectionist of Air Canada so this is a real surprise. I too am excited to follow along. I should add I’m not sure if the reputation is deserved. Lots of love for our friends up north. Cheers! JL | AirlineReporter

They are called NewLeaf and will be based in Winnipeg. They will have 3 737-400’s and will fly to secondary airports such as Hamilton and Abbotsford as well as smaller cities like Halifax and Saskatoon. Not directly competing on any routes with AC, plus there is very much an appetite for competition up here in a variety of industries that are dominated by a few larger players so it could be a good time for them. The whole protectionist thing is a bit antiquated in terms of government regulations regarding Canadian owned carriers. There are regulations preventing foreign owned carriers from taking part in the domestic market (which is where a lot of the protectionist ideas come in) but there are no regulations preventing Canadians from opening airlines. That being said, AC does have a lot of influence over major airports, so although the government may not get in the way of these guys, the management of airports like Pearson or Trudeau may contribute to blocking them.

NewLeaf, a great use of some Flair Air 737-400s, will probably never get airborne. It’s not about protectionism, it’s about Michael Leblanc. Look him up! Remember Jetsgo?

Didn’t realize Leblanc was involved, in that case this airline is doomed to fail. I am pretty sure they will get off the ground, but I would be shocked if they see out 2016. Stranger things have happened but his record at not going bankrupt is terrible at best.

It gets worse, this is a Leblancian attempt at the remake of People Express. They have no AOC, they have no actual fleet, they are- at most- a charter broker using the 737-400 fleet from Flair.

This is going to be comedy gold.

Well, at least you’ll be able to get from Hamilton to Regina on the cheap, as long as you are OK with leaving at all hours and not being guaranteed a return flight. Their schedules are fairly random, and with 3 old planes the chance of getting stranded in a place you don’t want to be in (like Saskatoon in the winter) is pretty high. I’ll have to let my old coworker know about these guys, Jetsgo still owes him for flights that were cancelled when Jetsgo became Jetsgone, I’m sure he would love to know about yet another Leblanc airline….

To add to this, I do hope these guys succeed. Having a successful ULCC in the picture could help reduce domestic fares across the board up here, but given a) Leblanc’s involvement and b) the long history of low cost carriers that have failed in Canada, I am not going to be overly optimistic. At least Greyhound air had amusing television commercials.

Not sure where your information comes from Bernie, Michel LeBlanc has nothing to do with Newleaf. It’s being fronted by Jim Young, formerly with Frontier. They started selling tickets this week, flights start on Feb 12 th. I do concur they probably won’t make it through the summer.

with as much as the legacy charge for similar things, i’ve found getting the BFS on spirit and paying for a carry on lets me sit in a first class seat and still be under the legacies flying from CLE or CAK. and with frontier, i’d need to pay for the carry on/seat assignments anyway, and the seating in stretch is legroom extra only.

as long as you know what you are getting into, spirit can be great.

Well said, Dave. I’ve gone on the record to say I’d much rather fly the Spirit BFS than even mainline United. When you pay pennies, you expect a mediocre experience. When I give UA obscene amounts of cash to sit up front on a DreamLiner, I expect an excellent experience. Guess which one is closer to expectations? JL | AirlineReporter

Ekranoplan

No wonder the industry is going down the tubes. How much salary did the coltan 3407 first officer make? Less than the airport cleaner! Only the selfish want their Aircrew to pay to fly them – no wonder pilot standards are falling alongside their terms and conditions.

Colgan was a far cry from Spirit. Completely different business models. For what it’s worth, Spirit’s pilots are happy and make a fair wage. Their union has a current contract each side is happy with. Can’t say the same for other airlines, ULCC or otherwise… JL | AirlineReporter

Another great article. And of course we at SWA will forgive you this experiment. LOL

You know it is always hard for JL to fly any airline that is not Southwest. He actually gave some LUV to Southwest in the story, but the mean guy in charge (me) cut it.

David | AirlineReporter

jl johnson

Haha. You know my heart is always w/ the LUV airline. Sometimes you have to “rough it” to know how well you have it back home. Thanks for reading, Tony.

blair kooistra

For what it’s worth, I tried to book your flight a few minutes ago and am no longer presented with a Kansas City-DFW option. I doubt this is seasonal, however?

jl johnson

It turns out this route is one that was abandoned. Spirit seems to like to experiment quite a bit with routes in KC. Typically when one goes away, another comes online. We somewhat recently picked up LAX which is great. I’ll miss the DFW route, it kept pressure on Southwest.

About 18 months ago, I had to fly one way to MCO from FLL/MIA to bring a car back to South Florida. After searching for fares on ICA Matrix, I found Spirit was the cheapest and went to their website. I saw the same type of matrix shown in the story, but had a pop-up showing “left-over” fares. I saw by postponing my trip to the following Tuesday, I would pay $34.06 all in. However, I remember reading in another blog before that if you went to the airport and bought it in person, you would save even more. I decided to stop by the airport in FLL to buy the ticket, paid only $16.07 all in. I had no bags, checked in 24 hours before flight time, got a window seat, and printed my own boarding pass. My total cost stayed the same, the fare being $.01 and the rest government fees and taxes. My transportation to FLL and from MCO cost two to three times my flight each way.

As to seat size and pitch, I was comfortable as I am used to even smaller pitch on Asian airlines such as Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. I am 5’8″ and weigh 275 lbs, so not a small guy and didn’t have to use a seat belt extender like I do in Asia.

jl johnson

Thanks for reading, and for the comment. It’s good to hear others have had similar experiences.

JL | AirlineReporter

Barbara Ehrmann

I used to bring a regular back pack and put a small pocketbook in it what is the size of a small backoack

jl johnson

12x14x16 is the max size for the “free” carry on that has to be put under the seat in front. I have read that Spirit is looking to change the dimensions so check out their website before flying just to be sure.

Thanks for ‘taking one for the team,’ J.L, and writing such comprehensive details. I do not know that I’d actually do it, but you proved that it CAN be done. We do not know the reason for your trip – beyond Basic Science, but we do know that it was a short flight. We do not know your length of stay, but both may have a huge impact on the choices made. I have flown on Spirit a couple of times and on that other one as well. Even at my age, I can stand almost anything and without extras; for longer flights, I’m not so sure. IMO, excellent reporting. When all else fails, wear your jacket/coat and stuff the pockets.

jl johnson

Howdy, Cook. Thanks as always for reading and for the engagement. In this case the obscenely low fare was the only reason for traveling. That and seeing if I could actually do it. I think it’s good to get the “true” Spirit experience if I’m going to report on them. If anything it’s a feather in my cap. I don’t know that many have, or would consider the bare fare. I seem to have fallen into the LCC/ULCC niche here at AR, and I’m okay with that. As for my return, departed Dallas via the LUV airline the next afternoon.

Warm regards, as always.

JL | AirlineReporter

john wesson

I love to fly and often fly with a small shaving bag and buy what I need at the other end, I really love the ‘experiment’ and plan on looking in my area. I am retired so can fly anytime, anywhere so expect to see a ‘young’ 80 year old enjoying flying more because of your article.

JL Johnson

John, it’s comments like these that make my stories so rewarding. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment. Enjoy your upcoming Spirit experience!

JL | AirlineReporter

Thank you for having nice things to say about my airline. I have handed out pretzel peanuts or cookies at the expense of that carrier but here at Spirit we make money for our carrier. If you paid for overhead bin space there is going to be space, no gate checks. We have frequent flyers, and credit cards and celebrities oh and we fly international. I love my career here, come fly with me..

Hey Lisa,

Good to hear you enjoy working for Spirit! I hear from many of those that work at an ULCC that they are not happy. But then again, I hear the same thing from other airlines as well. If you like your gig, then keep on going!

David | AirlineReporter

John Merriwether

Thanks for the article. I am a recent transplant to KCMO (15 months ago) and I could be a fan of the ULCCs except for my concern about safety. My wife has flown Allegiant once to Florida, where we moved from (I know, I’m swimming against the tide), and all was fine, but in the last two weeks of December alone, Allegiant had 5 emergency landings due to equipment failures. I’ve been flying the better part of my adult life and I’ve NEVER had an emergency landing after 100’s of flights.

My wife has planned a trip to Florida in a week or so, and I couldn’t bring myself to save a hundred bucks by putting her on an Allegiant flight and risk never seeing her again.

Spirit may be different, but Allegiant scares the $h!t out of me. I don’t know how they are still allowed to fly.

Don Whyte

My thoughts exactly, Mr. Merriwether. How can an airline maintain a safe fleet on such absurdly low fares. Some of the money you pay for a ticket does go to maintenance and that is expensive. There have been too many examples of low cost unsafe operators in the past.

Hey Don,

ValueJet had some issues for sure, but there have been many more regulations to ensure that even ULCCs need to be safe. The key here is “past” and sure, there are some issues being raised about Allegiant, but I think it might have to do more with upset pilots (who have valid issues) than it does with actual safety.

David | AirlineReporter

Don Whyte

I would hope that Spirit operates differently than others in the past. And the FAA has a history of mandated continuous safety improvements. And yet… see this post: http://www.aviationgazette.com/allegiant-air-a-ticking-time-bomb/
Is there a culture of safety at an airline or a culture of shortcuts and avoidance.

Don Whyte

Sorry, I should have not added the link to aviationgazette, this being a story about Spirit.

Hey John,

There have been some issues publicized about Allegiant for sure. Although these sorts of things happen all the time, with every airline, around the world. Do they have more… probably. But… this is a story about Spirit, who might also be an ULCC, but operates very differently, with much newer aircraft.

David | AirlineReporter

John Merriwether

Thanks David, you are correct about it being a story about Spirit, sorry to hijack, (pun intended) 🙂

No worries… still good to talk about ULCCs and cool to talk about Allegiant, I just wanted to make clear, to me at least, that I see Spirit as quite a bit different than Allegiant!

Cheers,

David | AirlineReporter

jl johnson

Hey, John. Thanks for the comment. I hear you. I think people see these incidents and/or “close calls” (hyped up my old media, I might add) and start questioning safety. I’ll tell ya, and I know I’m in the minority, BUT until ULCCs start crashing planes, I’m not concerned. Spirit is my favorite ULCC partly because of a new fleet and few issues, but I have zero concerns for even Allegiant who tends to like the really old birds. Are they less safe? Maybe. But statistically still more safe by orders of magnitude than even driving to the airport. Don’t fall prey to new media hype in an effort to score eyeballs. When in doubt, look at the numbers, and you’re good to go.

Cheers!

JL | AirlineReporter

Mack Cyr

Maybe when planes start crashing into each other; need places to take-off and land; or maybe Spirit would like to pay for the cost this on their own, they will bother to tell their less educated customers that “government fees” make their business model possible.

Will never fly Spirit.

Andrew Webb

In Europe, we have LCC’s, but in my opinion, Ryanair is the gorilla ULCC.

On a trip a few years ago, I flew KLM from Liverpool to Amsterdam (€200), then a longer leg with easyjet from Amsterdam to Milan (€80), and finally the longest sector with Ryanair from Milan to Liverpool €1!

The answer with Ryanair unbundled years ago and different pricing, so there would have been travellers on that flight paying more “normal” fares. Is Ryanair a good airline – well, it’s a stock market achiever, Boeing are happy – all those 737s – so many airports in Europe now have inter connectivity, and they continue to recruit flight crew. You chose.

What you don’t realize that they made a profit on the 1.87. The seat would have flown empty otherwise and the extra fuel cost them 35 cents. Its illegal price discrimination in its most glorious incarnation. And they got to pitch you a half-dozen offers.

Liseth B.

JL You are hilarious. I’ve been curious of many of the things you’ve discussed. The half iced bottle thing is a great idea. I’m always looking to cut corners and save $$. I recently booked a round trip from LAX to Seattle for $100 on bare fare for the weekend. I’m packing a regular school size backpack, my own snacks, and half iced bottle. Let’s see how my first Spirit experience goes. Thank you for all your info.

jl johnson

Liseth, thanks for reading and for the comment. I just returned from a $41 roundtrip from KC to Las Vegas this Tuesday. This time I didn’t go totally bare, but all in it was still stupidly cheap. The most amusing part: It cost more for my carry-on bag to fly one way than it did for my 5-year old kiddo to fly both ways. Enjoy the BareFare. Let us know how it goes.

JL | AirlineReporter

Edgar

I am planning a flight from DFW to OAK but I see they also have a fuel cost. If we buy at the airport can we avoid that cost? I have flown them before on that route but I did the buying online but I would like to go the cheaper I can.

Buying at the airport will be roughly $17 less per person, each way.

—JLJ

Edgar

About $17 less each way for the fuel cost if bought at the airport?

Liseth B.

WTF?! So I’m still expected to pay more when I arrive at airport? Waaaaah!! I fly to Seattle from LAX on May 13th. Do you know if a school size backpack will be fine as “bare fate?” Thanks!

Edgar

It should, I used my school backpack when I flew them and there was no problem.

Liseth B.

Thanks Edgar, you’re the best! Let’s see how this goes…

Michelle

do you know if the $9 fare membership is even necessary for getting the bare bones standard fares? I know it helps with baggage cost- but I never buy bags, and I don’t want to renew my membership if I can still just get those bare bones standard fares – which I think I can.. ?? And buying tickets at the airport- I didn’t even know about that part! Good to know now!

I grew up Eastern Airlines familiars My Dad retired Capt Pilot A300. My brother, his wife , my wife and I never again shitty Spirit Airlines very poorest services!

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