Often, people try to avoid the ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC), but I have been wanting to try Spirit Airlines for quite a few years now. During a recent trip from Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) with my girlfriend, I ended up having that chance… kind of.
There is quite a bit of competition between SEA and LAX. I hold most of my miles with Alaska Airlines and also have their credit card. That means I get extra miles when booking their tickets and I also get a free checked bag. When I compare prices, it is not just the sticker price, but also all the extras and the miles that factor into my decisions. Going down to LAX, Alaska was the obvious winner. But coming home, even with paying for a checked bag, two seat assignments, and loss of miles, Spirit was much cheaper (about $175 for both of us). To be honest, I was hoping that was the case, since I wanted to give them a shot (always been jealous of our JL doing the legit bare fare… for science).
I will say that getting to the final price on Spirit, to compare to other airlines, is not the easiest. There are so many different steps, a log-in, and up-sells before you finally get to the payment screen to see the total price. It was a pain. However, I cannot understand how someone could go through that entire process and not understand that they were being (or will be) charged more for the extras. Annoying, but also annoyingly clear.
The flight down to LA on Alaska was great. Then we went to a friend’s wedding, got almost hit by about a dozen crazy LA drivers, saw the Queen Mary, and then we were walking along the ocean in Long Beach when I received an email from Spirit letting me know that my flight was cancelled. Damn it!
I knew it had been snowing lightly in Seattle previously, but had no idea it could get bad enough for flights to be canceled… six hours before take off. My email said I could log in to my account and pick another flight, or I could call their help line. Thinking online would be my best bet, we hurried back to our rental car where I busted out my laptop, and tethered to my cell phone.
I was hoping to get this all done ASAP, since there are only two flights to Seattle per day and I wanted to get the next one, in the morning. I logged in and the instructions on the page said for me to click “change flight,” but there was no such option. I tried it on two browsers and no go. I figured I would get myself on the holding queue on the phone, so I dialed up.
An automated message said they were sorry for my flight issues and asked for my flight number. Then someone picked up. No joke. From me hitting send to talking to a person, was like 10 seconds… on a ULCC. I was in shock, but a good shock.
Holy crap! I called @SpiritAirlines customer car line and someone picked up right away!!! Impressed.— David Parker Brown (@ARdpb) November 5, 2017
She confirmed my information and let me know I could take the next open flight on Tuesday, get a refund for this portion of my trip, or get credit for a future Spirit trip. Oh… by the way, this was all happening on a Sunday. Leaving on Tuesday wasn’t going to work for me.
I was pretty sure I knew what my answer was going to be, but I needed to run some numbers and talk to the girlfriend. It didn’t take long before we realized we would ask for the refund, and end up paying about $250 more for new tickets, and $125 on a hotel for one night. My goal was to get on Alaska, since they have so many daily flights, in case there were issues the next day. The closest I could do was Virgin America (Alaska Air Group is their parent company now), so I still get the miles, free bag, AND I get to fly on Virgin America, which I had not done in a long while.
As I dialed Spirit up again, I was wondering if the first one was a fluke. Nope. Just as quickly someone was on the phone and after I explained we wanted to take the refund, she explained how it would be processed and I was off the phone in only a few minutes. I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was with the quick phone customer support that Spirit provided.
I often see people blaming airlines for canceling flights to save money (or even to anger customers just for fun?!). I wanted to think that was not the case, but I had friends on an Alaska flight, at about the same time, arrive with no issues. Hmm. So, I reached out to Stephen Schuler, Director of Communications at Spirit, to learn a bit more about why my flight was canceled.
“The delay for flight 253 was extended to 1:45 as a result of the SEA Ground Delay program that was in effect due to low ceilings in SEA” Stephen explained to me via email. “In addition, our other flights to SEA were equally delayed and causing carry-over delays into the next day. We solicited the FAA for relief, but were unable to gain any reductions. Additionally, at the time we decided to cancel, the info being shared on the ATC calls was pointing towards delays becoming worse. In order to keep the rest of our operation on time, we elected to use an ATC cancellation to improve our overall SEA delays and prevent the delays from carrying over into other flights that day and the following day.”
There were a total of 38 flights cancelled into SEA the day of my flight, 25 of which were from Alaska flights. This was at least painting a better picture.
Was I happy? No. I do not like Los Angeles. Neither of us do. The money we had to spend (to pretty much be stressed and sit at an airport hotel) had to come out of a future trip budget. It sucked, but this is life, right? We both were frustrated, but took it as an adventure as much as we could.
My first flight on Spirit was sort of an interesting failure. I lost money and time. And it wasn’t fun. Up front, Spirit looked to be the right deal, but it is a risk. If you have an airline with a few number of daily flights, when things go wrong, you get screwed. If Spirit had more flights to Seattle, I would have easily been put on a flight the next day (or later that day) for free. Instead, I had the option to wait two days or put out additional money. Although I lost the gamble this time, thousands win on a daily basis.
Would I choose to fly Spirit from Seattle to Los Angeles again? Probably should ask me that after a bit more time passes (although I know I will fall into the five steps of flying an ultra-low-cost carrier). I really want to have the entire flight experience, and I love trying airlines I haven’t flown before. I will probably need to wait until the snow season in Seattle is over (Editor’s note: I lived in Seattle for four years – it snowed once). Until then, I will stick to my (high frequency) hometown airline.