Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 Aircraft landing at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)


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Spirit Airlines’ reputation for crummy service remains unmatched. Just take a look at its review page, which is plastered with comments calling Spirit “the worst airline ever.” That said, there aren’t many carriers that offer $30 one-way tickets to major cities across the U.S. Frequent flyers are bound to wonder: Why are the flights so cheap? And are they skimping on safety? We set out to answer those questions so that budget-conscious travelers know what they’re getting into when they fly Spirit Airlines.

Spirit Airlines’ Business Model

If you’ve ever flown with Spirit, you know that a ticket only gets you on the plane. Everything else — seat selection, checked bags, carry on bags, water, and snacks — will cost you extra. And that’s where the budget airline makes its money. The carrier’s non-ticket revenue (fees) make up more than half of its total revenue per passenger, according to Spirit’s 2022 financial reports. In fact, a NerdWallet analysis found that Spirit Airlines is only second to Frontier when it comes to charging extra fees. In other words, the airline compensates for its low base fares by charging extra for perks that might be standard on other flights.

Spirit Airlines’ greatest asset — its low ticket prices and fee-based business model — also explains why it earns so many negative reviews. Angry consumers repeatedly complain of “deceptive pricing,” “false advertising,” and “unfair rules,” with most taking aim at the carrier’s surprise fees and poor customer service. The Department of Transportation has even fined Spirit multiple times for violating price advertising rules, among other deceptive practices.

Beyond surprise fees, other tactics that budget airlines use to save money include:

  • Streamlined fleet: Unlike large airlines, carriers like Spirit operate a single family of aircraft, meaning they can streamline training and reduce supply chain costs. Spirit planes are also newer and more fuel efficient, a Spirit representative told Cheapism.
  • Cheap headquarters: Spirit spent just $250 million on its corporate headquarters in Miramar, Florida. While that may sound like a lot of money, American Airlines spent $1 billion on a 300-acre corporate campus in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Fuel hedging: Since the price of fuel fluctuates, budget carriers try to lock in low fuel prices before they rise.

  • Lower landing fees: Budget airlines often fly into smaller airports at off-peak times to take advantage of lower landing fees. However, a Spirit representative explained that "Spirit’s model focuses more on large markets," including Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston.

  • Utilizing gates: According to the representative, the airline uses its gates more than major airlines, allowing the airline to service more flights per day.

  • Lower wages: Airlines like Spirit pay their pilots less. According to Glassdoor, the average pilot at Spirit makes $96,833 a year, while the average pilot at United and Delta makes upwards of $110,00 a year. That said, pilots at Spirit just approved a new two-year contract, raising pay by 34%.

Spirit Airlines in Fort LauderdalePhoto credit: Daxus/istockphoto

Spirit Airlines’ Safety Standards

If you fly with Spirit, you might have to deal with sub-par customer service ... or shell out money for a few nonsense fees. But the airline is safe, according to 2022 data from the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC). Ranking airlines by the number and severity of hull losses (a plane damaged beyond repair), JACDEC found that Spirit was among the top 25 safest airlines in the world, ranking above United, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air China. The data also show that the budget carrier has never experienced a fatal accident since its inception in the 1980s.

Spirit Airlines' Punctuality

Contrary to what you might read on forums and review sites, Spirit is the most punctual low-cost carrier in the U.S., according to OAG's 2023 punctuality report. In 2022, 73.18% of Spirit flights arrived or departed within 15 minutes of their scheduled times, ranking above competitors Southwest (71.61%) and Frontier (66.18%).

The Verdict

The key to flying with Spirit is to read the fine print and budget for all of the fees you have to pay. If you travel light — a small personal item is included with every ticket — then you could save big by foregoing frivolous comforts like complimentary drinks and snacks. Otherwise, don’t let rumors about Spirit dissuade you. The budget airline is just as safe and punctual as some of the biggest airlines in the world.

@jolly_jihane i didn't think it was as terrible as I've heard it being, but would I fly it again? no #traveltiktok ♬ original sound - Jihane Melissa

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Spirit Airlines so cheap?

Spirit Airlines offers fights for cheap, but the airline makes up for its low fares with high fees. For instance, a $30 ticket may become a $150 ticket once you account for baggage, food, and other extra costs.

Is Spirit Airlines safe?

Spirit Airlines has never experienced a fatal crash, and it ranks among the safest airlines in the world.

Is Spirit Airlines really that bad?

Although Spirit Airlines may be safe, that doesn’t mean flying with the budget carrier will be enjoyable — or cheap. Complaints online range from appalling customer service to deceptive pricing, and regulators have fined the airline for its predatory practices. Travelers should also keep in mind that Spirit's fees add up, meaning that it might be cheaper to go with Southwest or another airline that has more straightforward pricing.

Who owns Spirit Airlines?

Late last year, Spirit shareholders accepted a $3.8 billion buyout from competitor JetBlue after a bidding war with Frontier. Once the deal is solidified, the Associated Press reports that JetBlue is expected to absorb Spirit’s workforce and repaint its planes. However, the JetBlue and Spirit merger may face pushback from the Justice Department on antitrust grounds. 

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