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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.