Five Unspoken Tips for Flying Spirit Airlines

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I recently completed my third round-trip itinerary on low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines and decided it was time to collate all of my observations on flying the discount carrier in one spot. This isn't a post describing the typical packing techniques or reminding you to read the Spirit website. Instead, we'll talk about a few things that, until now, have been relatively unspoken when it comes to maximizing your time and experience on the big yellow bus in the sky.

Five Unspoken Tips

1. Check The Scales — Spirit has strict rules about the size and weight of checked baggage. In order to speed up the check-in process at airports, self-service kiosks are located in the check-in area at airports where Spirit flies. These kiosks have scales next to them where you can weigh your checked bag and ensure it's not overweight. If it is too heavy, you can pay for overweight baggage right there at the kiosk.

On my first trip with Spirit, I thought it'd be interesting to check how the different scales compared at each kiosk. At the Atlanta airport, I found the Spirit kiosk scales varied by as much as nine pounds when weighing my same bag. This means you could potentially end up paying an overweight-baggage fee when you're really within the limits. I was pretty surprised since every state has a weights-and-measures authority that has the ability to fine companies that use inaccurate scales. If you think this is happening at your Spirit check-in area, you can also file a complaint with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Weights and Measures Division. Above all else, make sure your bag is within Spirit's standard 40 lbs. weight allowance.

2. Observe The Boarding Area — There are a few things you're looking for once you get to your assigned departure gate. First is evaluating the number of passengers to see how close to full the flight will be. This comes in handy for our next unspoken tip. The second thing to observe is the number of carry-on bags people have with them in order to judge the availability of overhead-bin space. On a legacy carrier, almost everyone has a rollaboard suitcase or large backpack to avoid checked-bag fees and hassles—meaning overhead bins fill up quickly.

I’ve found that with Spirit, overhead-bin space isn’t usually a concern. Spirit charges more for a carry-on bag than a checked bag, and their typical customers aren’t business road warriors, so far fewer people have rollaboard bags with them.

The last thing to observe may be obvious if you fly often, but less so to infrequent travelers: Look to ensure there's a gate agent, your plane is at the gate (more below on this) and your crew for your flight has arrived or is already onboard. You can almost always see the pilot and co-pilot on the flight deck before boarding starts. These are all good indications your flight will depart as scheduled.

3. Board Last — I almost always board flights last as I have no desire to sit on a plane for an extra thirty minutes in addition to taxi and flight time. With Spirit, boarding last is a great way to set yourself up for a comfortable flight. If your boarding-area observations have convinced you that your flight won’t be full—an occurrence more common on Spirit than with legacy carriers—you can board last and head straight to an empty row.

With no one behind you, you can spread out with confidence that you aren’t taking anyone’s assigned seat. Hopefully, boarding last will at least let you find a row with an empty middle seat. I usually head straight to the back of the plane, and on four out of my six flights, I've had an empty row to myself.

4. Flight Attendants and Buzzballz Are Your Friends — Because I travel often and witness a lot of fellow passengers and airport crowds, it's hard not to make a few generalizations about Spirit passengers compared to the run-of-the-mill, legacy-airline customer. Without getting too specific, I can say Spirit passengers are generally not regular flyers or travelers. There are very few business folks, mainly leisure travelers and a lot of families. I think it's great that Spirit allows almost anyone to fly because of their price point, but the passengers' inexperience with flying can sometimes create a lot of stress for the flight attendants and fellow travelers.

I've taken this as a lesson to be incredibly friendly and polite to my Spirit flight crew, and in return, I've had wonderful onboard experiences. A couple of times, a grateful crew member has shown their appreciation by offering me a free Buzzball—which is a fairly stiff, premade cocktail with plenty of sugar.  They are actually rather wretched things which I've only ever drunk on Spirit flights, but it is an experience you need to have at least once (or more). A friendly attitude and a sugary buzz certainly help make the flight a more enjoyable experience.

5. Track Your Inbound Flight —A common complaint about Spirit Airlines has been their poor on-time performance and inability to quickly rebook passengers when something goes wrong. Since some routes aren’t operated daily, travelers could end up being stranded for several days after a cancellation. The good news is that Spirit has made massive progress on this front. They recently lead all U.S. carriers in on-time performance at 89% after spending years at the back of the pack. Out of my six flights, only one has been delayed.

To keep ahead of the day’s flight situation, I always track my inbound aircraft, starting with its last segment the night before I travel and each segment throughout the day. That way, I’ll know if my plane runs into any trouble, and I can make other arrangements if a delay is imminent. I use an app called Flightaware to do this which conveniently has an option to quickly track your inbound aircraft with the push of a button.

The Standard Tips

Here's a quick recap of the standard tips for flying Spirit Airlines:

  1. Read The Rules — Spirit has a great guide to all of their rules and avoiding any surprise fees called Spirit 101 on their website. Read it so you know things like, if you don't check-in online and don't have a mobile or paper copy of your boarding pass, you're going to pay at the airport.
  2. Pack Carefully — Personal items, carry-on bags and checked bags each have dimensions and weight limits. Sometimes these are strictly enforced, other times you might get away with a minor violation. Play within the rules and pack smartly to save as much money as possible.
  3. Buy Your Ticket At The Airport — Buying your Spirit ticket at the airport counter can reduce the fees you pay online by as much as $20 per person, per leg. If you can get to an airport counter a few weeks before your intended flight date, your savings could be substantial.
  4. Bring Your Own Entertainment — No Wi-Fi, no tablets, no inflight entertainment. If you're getting on a Spirit flight, you need to bring something to entertain yourself and any traveling companions for the duration of the flight plus any potential tarmac delays. You also need to bring some snacks and fill up your water bottle after clearing security—especially if you have kid in tow.
  5. Roll With The Punches — Delays and cancellations happen every day with mainline and low-cost carriers. Stay on top of the weather situation and your travel day as much as possible, but if something happens, keep a positive attitude and roll with it. I book Spirit flights with my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers superb travel protections in case my trip is delayed or interrupted.

Bottom Line

I don't have any qualms about flying Spirit if the price is significantly better than the mainline carriers, and I have no hard deadline to arrive at a destination. However, I'm still hesitant to book business trips with Spirit due to the lack of backup flights in case of delays. With Atlanta (ATL) as my home airport, Spirit's route network continues to improve, providing an affordable alternative to Delta. Using the tips above, I have a pleasant enough domestic-flying experience when my goal is simply to get from A to B in the most efficient and affordable manner possible.

What unspoken tips do you have for flying Spirit?

Five Unspoken Tips for Flying Spirit Airlines
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Comments

  • Why can’t scales all weigh the same. I find this most annoying.

    I suspect that it is always in the airlines favor though!

  • I thought I’d combine two of your suggestions. Be friendly to Spirit staff around the scales as well. The result: once I had them actually point me to the best scale. 🙂

  • I have never flown Spirit and I probably never will. If a flight is cancelled do I really want to wait another two days to get home?

  • Amber Hanson says:

    I bought a handheld compact luggage scale from Amazon which has been very convenient to check luggage weight before travel. No more surprises at the airport!

  • Awesome tips!

  • It’s crazy that Spirit charges more to book online than in person at the airport. It seems like it should be the other way around. I guess it’s just another way to nickel & dime…

    • Yeah, online takes no human labor which means less cost. That puzzles me quite a bit. So from their perspective, why would they reward a customer for booking as last minute as it gets and punish them for planning particularly when the flights aren’t full. Should their customers stop booking in advance and just show up and buy their tickets the day of? This goes against all common sense and would hinder Spirit’s planning for food and fuel and other things.

  • I find that happy spirit air passengers are those that know what to expect, and the disgruntled ones, are those that don’t. So hopefully this article will create more happy flyers.

  • If it can go wrong it will when it comes to my luck with discount carriers

  • Your tips puts a whole new light on flying Spirit and also in general are good rules for all airlines!

  • I have found spirit to only be a pleasure! New planes and always on time! Very underrated as long as you are careful with luggage rules

  • “I found the Spirit kiosk scales varied by as much as nine pounds …”

    To me this a big red flag. If they can’t get something like this right, what else are they doing wrong?

  • Farid Kassam says:

    Great tips. Helps save time and money.

  • interesting and helpful tips

  • I flew Spirit one time and swore that was the last time. Not a good experience with delays and frustration.

  • Wear clothing with lots of pockets to carry-on more items.

  • Thanks for the information! It depends though. Different people would have different experiences.

  • Will have to remember these tips if I happen to fly Spirit. Thanks!

  • haha!! love the Buzz Balls!!!!

  • I’ve had friends fly Spirit. They have several times. Knowing these tips helps. I still don’t know if I’d take the plunge but knowing beforehand is always better. So many people don’t look at rules and don’t ask questions, therefore finding out at the last minute unhappy things and becoming disenfranchised with a company which could have been a good experience.

  • It actually sounds a bit like Ryanair. Fine until something goes wrong.

  • Yeah, I just don’t see myself flying this airline….

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    wear layers!

  • Spirit charges for everything so in the end it’s not that cheap

  • Good information but not for me. I will stick to the legacy carriers.

    • Their frequent flier miles expire after three months of inactivity too. Three months! That’s worthless.

  • Haha I just don’t fly on Spirit.
    Makes life a lot easier.

  • Good tips to remember the next time I fly Spirit. Thank you.

  • roll with the punches — always solid advice. Esp w/ travel!

  • I will pass on flying Spirit but thanks for the tips!

  • thanx for the info,
    i really dont like all the nickeling and diming though…..
    ill stick to airlines like southwest

  • I’ve never flown spirit I considered it but I appreciate the tips in case I actually go through with a trial run on their airline.

  • Stephen Wing says:

    Definitely useful tips here, irrespective of the airline being used.

  • It gets to a point when sometimes traveling becomes as comfortable as taking a ride on a stage coach, one only travels when it is only absolutely necessary.

  • Good advices to take in mind even though when the price is not too expensive I prefer a legacy company instead of a low cost airline.

  • I have inconsistent experiences with Spirit, but the negative ones are memorable. For example, I had a flight that Spirit announced was boarding in 5 minutes. Five minutes later they announced the flight was canceled because the crew timed out. Spirit knew the crew were close to timing out and didn’t let passengers know until it was too late to accommodate passengers on alternative flights, as it was the last flight of the night.

  • Haha this is an amazing compilation of information! Scales varying by as much as nine pounds is quite disturbing thou.

  • David Gardiner says:

    Being 6ft4 I always board last too minimise the time sitting in the cramped seats

  • Tip #1 – Don’t fly Spirit 😀

  • Dexter Ohama says:

    I fly Spirit Air frequently actually & I appreciate these tips. Some I will use for sure, like buying my tickets at the airport, that’s easy enough since I live so close. Thanks for the post!

  • The scales problem is an issue. Beyond that though, as long as you know what you are getting (or not) with Spirit, it can make plenty of sense.

  • Good tips, but not sold on Spirit Airlines yet.

  • Just cant bring myself to fly discount carriers any more they are just too inconsistent.

  • I flew with them once and was not impressed. Never again!

  • No thanks. Can’t take a chance of a cancelled flight.

  • I have flown Spirit several times and have had a good experience. That being said, I know how Spirit works! It has always amazed me that some people don’t seem to read the many warnings on their website and get angry about the price for bags etc. I always tell novice travelers to avoid them (as well as Frontier and Allegiant) because there are such limited options if something goes wrong. Great article.

  • The report only serves to convince me NOT to fly Spirit.

  • I had previously been tempted to fly Spirit, but this article has convinced me of the folly inherent in that temptation.

  • “At the Atlanta airport, I found the Spirit kiosk scales varied by as much as nine pounds when weighing my same bag. ”

    Whaaaaaaat?! I hope you reported that to the Georgian authorities. That is absolutely bonkers. Did you also have the correct weight? Was it always weighing as too heavy, too light, or both?

  • I also thank you for the tips but in my case the relatively little extra spent for higher rated carriers is worth it.

  • Up until now I have avoided Spirit thinking it wasn’t worth the hassle, but with your tips it might be worth a try. The fact that the scales can very so much is crazy, but really important to know ahead of time. Also being friendly and polite to flight attendants is always a good policy in my experience. It’s just general good advice whenever dealing with people in the service industry that would benefit us all to do more.

  • Spirit really isn’t as terrible as everyone thinks – as long as you know what to expect. But all bets are off for IRRops

  • If I ever have to fly Spirit, at least we have a proper guide!

  • I have heard of so man gotchas on these ultra discount airlines. I just stay away from them altogether. I suppose that I am going to have to start using them one of these days because I am probably overpaying on the legacy airlines.

  • This makes me want to try flying Spirit at least once, something I’ve been assiduously avoiding 🙂

  • Chris Ellwanger says:

    The number 6 tip for flying Sprit air…NEVER FLY SPIRIT AIR.

    ;O)

  • Bill from Maine says:

    The only curiosity I came away with from this article was what the ingredients of a Buzz Ballz were and if this was available without actually having to endure an actual Spirit Airline flight experience. Now I am strictly a beer drinker after swearing off anything hard liquor 45 years ago. But a buzz Ballz kind of reminds me of those exotic concoctions like Yago Sangria, Bali Hai and Ripple wines consumed back in my early days of adulthood. It might be the drink I have to put on my bucket list. It’s Vodka and fruit juices available in many flavors
    I discovered the company is a family owned entity, has an informative website and their products are available in almost all U.S. states, but alas, not in Maine. In order for me to try one I would have to travel to Massachusetts, but Redsox season is just around the corner and only 365 miles away, so I’m sure I’ll get to try a sip this summer.
    As far as Spirit is concerned, I never say never. I have good instructions from this article if I ever have to fly them (and the knowledge that Buzz Ballz might numb the entire experience).

  • Thanks for the insights!

  • The hand luggage limits on Spirit are draconian, but when I (occasionally) fly Spirit they didn’t seem to pay too much attention to the hand luggage. Of course we always try to travel light.

  • Thanks for the tips!

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    Carry earplugs.

  • Thank you for the tips. Also, I have noticed that complaints about Spirit have gone down.

    Do you think that Spirit will merge with another Airline?

  • I was warned the seats were basically bolted down folding chairs, but I was pleasantly surprised by them! Much better than expected

  • A problem for tall people is the reduced pitch in economy: only 28 inches.
    Maybe one of the worst.
    I don’t know if there are aeroplanes with pitch of 27 inches (it should be terrible in case)

  • Scales are prone to error and most airlines will not care if you are a few hundred grams or a kilo overweight. However, budget airlines like Spirit will always charge you for anything their machine reads as overweight. In such circumstances, it is always best to leave a little buffer in baggage.

  • Spirit is number one in on time flights, We all don’t like how they charge for everything, but all the big carriers are now doing the same thing. You get what you pay for, the bottom line is a safe on time flight. You have to give them credit for what they do and the price you pay for.

  • The fact that you need these tips at all to fly with an airline scares us off.

  • Thanks for the tip about Flightaware. I’m flying Spirit in a couple weeks, and I’ve been burned before getting to the airport promptly only to find out my flight was delayed by hours once I’m past security. Hopefully tracking the plane ahead of time will help with that one!

  • These are great tips. Could you do a blog post about Frontier airlines? I was looking in to them to get to Austin, TX.

    • Frontier left the worst taste in my mouth ever. My wife and I used them for our honeymoon and we splurged and paid for the expensive seats for priority boarding, ticketing, included bags, a drink etc. When we got to the airport, the priority line had about 6 people ahead of us and the regular line had maybe 25 to 30. Our line took FOREVER. The guy we would have been behind if we had gotten into the regular line stepped up to the counter before us in the priority line. Seriously. WTF.
      On the plane the stewardess asked if we would like a drink and then she said ok that’ll be X dollars. I told her that our tickets included a drink and she almost proudly proclaimed that is no longer offered and we would have to buy our drinks. I know it’s within Frontier’s rights to change the conditions but you’re seriously going to crap all over your customers over something that costs you a max of 40 cents for a can of Coke? Seriously?
      By the end of our trip there were 7 things that really irritated me or made me made including the two above), I wrote the CEO when I got home and I will never fly Frontier again. The makes me sad because Frontier was my favorite airline growing up as a kid in Colorado.

  • I’ve flown Spirit once, and I think if you realize their rules it is a very tolerable flight. There are always people at the gate that go off the deep end when they are told they would be charged for the overhead space. If you pack light or pay ahead of time for the check-in it is a good flight for the price.

  • These observations of yours are valid almost for any low-cost airline in the world, in Europe Ryanair being the closest match.

  • Are they essentially the American Ryanair? Hearing many similarities.

  • How much do you really save?

  • I suggest a showdown of the ULCCs. Spirit, Ryanair, AirAsia, etc. I’d be interested in a comparison.

  • Nice and helpful tips! Thanks!

  • Great article, I haven’t had to chance to fly them yet but now I want a BuzzBall! I didn’t realize that it would be cheaper to purchase in person, such a strange non intuitive rule? So many companies today punish for in person purchasing…and reward the online option.

  • I think these are great tips. Although, boarding last might not be ideal, as I’ve noticed people tend not to sit in occupied rows until there are no empty rows left. Also, always be friendly – this takes you far!

  • I’ve flown once on Sprint, and wish I had read this article before. It has important tips and advise, especially regarding the scales.

  • Lmao I really want to try the buzzballs now

  • William Cotton says:

    My wife and I recently traveled to New Orleans and back on Spirit and had to try the buzzballs. As long as you can stand the sugar, it’s not a bad way to sit back and enjoy the flight, though I would recommend having a bit of water to dilute the drink.

  • In my experience, the carry-on policy is enforced more strictly at some locations than others. Some are totally lax and don’t even catch baggage that won’t even fit into the overhead.

  • Patrick B. says:

    i didn’t know that “BuzzBallz” were a thing… do any other airlines have beverages like that?

  • The savings is decreased with all of the fees. Not flying Spirit unless I really need to for a certain destination. Otherwise no thanks

  • Miss Kitty says:

    Great article! Have actively avoided Spirit and Frontier but having this kind of info is helpful in setting expectations. My only discount air experience was with Norwegian, which I did not care for at all, but it was the lowest price ticket for a last minute booking.

  • We flew Spirit from MSP to PHX this last March and had no problems. I read all the travel tips ahead of the flight. Booked exit seats, so glad we did!! Very ample leg room!! Paid extra -so worth it. They honored military (active and retired) to board first. We will definitely use Spirit in the future.

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