Review: Spirit Airlines Booking & Check-In Process

Review: Spirit Airlines Booking & Check-In Process
Review: Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat A319 Los Angeles To Seattle


Before I publish the actual review of my Spirit Airlines flights, I wanted to talk a bit about the booking process and check-in process. This is in addition to the following OMAAT posts that have been published recently about Spirit (as Travis also flew them):

Booking my Spirit Airlines flight

I booked my ticket through Spirit’s website just shortly before departure, and knew I wanted a Big Front Seat. These are basically first class seats with no extra service, and the premium for them is minimal.

The Spirit Airlines booking process was both transparent and repetitive/annoying. Spirit is known for their “Bare Fares,” so for my flight that was $119.

I knew I wanted a Big Front Seat, though it’s treated no differently than any other “premium” seat on the plane, so you just select it during the booking process. On the plus side, when you do your initial search there’s a button you can click to see how many are still available. In the case of my flight, there were seven available (though it doesn’t show the price until you get further into the booking process).

Spirit shows both the “flight price” and the “government’s cut,” as they call it. In my case it was $99 and $20 for the two, respectively.

Next you can pay for bags, and Spirit does a good job of explaining what’s included and what isn’t.

As crazy as it sounds, Spirit charges more for carry-ons than they do for checked bags. In the case of my flight it was $37 to carry-on and $32 to check. Why is this?

  • When you pay for a carry-on you get priority boarding included
  • Spirit makes the process of checking a bag so miserable that you’ll want to pay extra to carry-on, given that there’s typically a very long line to check a bag (Travis made this mistake when he flew Spirit)

Next you’ll be given the option of selecting a seat. If you don’t want to just be assigned a seat at check-in, you can pay $32 for a Big Front Seat, $28 for an exit row seat, and $20 for a seat towards the front of the cabin. The Big Front Seat is a phenomenal value, given that it’s basically a first class seat.

Then you’ll be given the option to purchase all kinds of extras, ranging from shortcut security to priority boarding (which was already included with my ticket because I paid for a carry-on).

You’re also given the option of how you want to check-in. This part is a bit deceiving. Spirit charges $10 if you choose to have an agent check you in at the airport, though you can check yourself in at an airport kiosk for no cost.

So, by the time I paid for a carry-on and a Big Front Seat, the total cost of my ticket was $188. That’s not looking so cheap anymore, eh?

As a point of comparison, American was charging $99 for tickets that day. In my case I wasn’t booking Spirit because it was a better deal, but because I was curious about the experience.

What I didn’t mention above is the number of repetitive screens during the boarding process, asking you to triple check you don’t want to pay for a certain bag, buy insurance, etc. Booking a Spirit ticket requires a lot of clicking.

On the plus side, I appreciate the transparency in the booking process. Unfortunately as I later learned out at the airport, many of Spirit’s customers choose not to read.

Checking in for my Spirit Airlines flight

Spirit Airlines departs out of LAX Terminal 5. I walked past the Allegiant, Frontier, and Sun Country check-in desks, and they were civilized and fairly quiet. Great, I figured Spirit would be the same.


Allegiant & Sun Country check-in LAX

NOPE. Instead there was a huge — some might even say YUGE — line to check-in.


Spirit Airlines check-in

As it turned out, Spirit actually has a two step check-in process. First you go up to a kiosk, where you can print your boarding pass if needed. Once you’re checked in for your flight, then you get in line to check your bag.


Spirit Airlines check-in kiosks

So you only have to line up to see an agent if you want to buy a ticket in person or check a bag.


Spirit Airlines check-in counter

I went up to a kiosk to print a boarding pass just to experience it. Go figure over half the kiosks were out of order.


Spirit Airlines kiosk

Once I found a kiosk it was easy enough to use.


Spirit Airlines kiosk

However, I guess they’re saving money on ink, because it was a really low quality print job.


Spirit Airlines boarding pass

Fortunately I could use CLEAR for security and had TSA Pre-Check, so that wasn’t too bad. My flight was scheduled to depart from gate 51A, though the monitor at that gate indicated a flight to Oakland. Several people approached the gate agent about this. He said he had no control over what the monitor said, but assured them the flight was going to Seattle.


Spirit Airlines departure gate

The most interesting thing about the gate area was how many people were complaining loudly about Spirit. If they were complaining about how long the check-in line was I’d totally sympathize, but it was more along the lines of “can you believe these a&*holes tried to charge me for a carry-on?” I have zero sympathy for anyone who books a flight and chooses not to read the terms at the time. That’s especially true of Spirit, given how repetitive the booking process is.

Boarding for my flight was scheduled to start at 5:32PM (45 minutes before departure), though that was delayed a bit because the inbound flight only arrived at 5:40PM. Nonetheless we started boarding by 6PM. Spirit Airlines has four boarding zones, and I was in group one. That’s not because I paid for a Big Front Seat, but rather because I paid for a carry-on bag, which comes with priority boarding.

Bottom line

I appreciate how transparent the Spirit Airlines booking process is. While the process of booking a ticket is really repetitive based on the number of times they ask whether you’re sure you don’t want to pay for something, etc., I guess that’s necessary, given that people were still confused. As far as the airport experience goes, it’s not half bad if you pay for a carry-on and don’t check a bag. You’ll get to board first and can skip the long check-in line.

Comments

  1. They also charge for carry-on more than for a check-in bag because it slows down the boarding process.
    The “not frequent” flyer may take a much longer time to settle in if he/she has a carry-on.
    That also explains why Spirit grants priority boarding if you pay for a carry-on.
    It’s a way for them to speed up the boarding (and make money of course)

  2. I have taken only two Spirit flights, and I went through the booking process as you described. Spirit is so transparent when it comes to bag fees. On the flights I went on, prior to the boarding the gate agent made multiple announcements saying that if you did not pay for a carry-on bag now, you would be paying more during the boarding process (it’s my understanding Spirit charges more for a carry-on bag once boarding has commenced). To my dismay people still wound up trying to board and getting charged. It was unbelievable.

  3. “That’s not because I paid for a Big Front Seat, but rather because I paid for a checked bag, which comes with priority boarding.”

    You didn’t, did you? Do you mean you paid for a carry-on?

  4. There is a slightly less cynical view of why carry-on bags are more expensive than checked bags:

    Bringing a carry on is simply more convenient to the passenger (don’t have to wait at baggage claim) and less convenient to the airline (causes more delays with people running around by the cabin looking for overhead space).

    I generally support ULCCs pricing their baggage fees this way.

  5. Curious if they really check the size of your personal item as your siting in the Big Front Seat and there’s no floor storage for the first row of those seats.

  6. I spent years flying Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz Air (by far the worst) as a poor student and this seems exactly the same, but with less complaining. I guess Europeans are just used to this treatment now. “You get what you pay for” is very true here.

  7. I understand your dismay with regard to people complaining about things such as bag fees which are clearly noted during the transparent purchasing process on the Spirit website. However, I wonder how transparent things are when booking online via various OTA’s or booking via a traditional travel agent.

  8. Ron, I was thinking the exact same thing. If i go to purchase off Expedia, it never takes me to Spirit’s website. I do not have to click that I accept like Ben did on the Spirit Website. The only mention is on the right hand side of the page within the jumble of other conditions.

  9. “Spirit Airlines has four boarding zones, and I was in group one. That’s not because I paid for a Big Front Seat, but rather because I paid for a checked bag, which comes with priority boarding.”
    “When you pay for a carry-on you get priority boarding included.”
    Had your wake-up cappuccino yet?

  10. It took you this long to review Spirit??? The ironic thing is Spirit is undertaking a MASSIVE transformation under their new CEO. The FAs are getting CS training from Disney and the delivered product is going to be changing soon to reflect a softer stance on the fee and service front. I think we’ll see a more ‘grown-up’ Spirit emerge soon.

  11. looks like a zoo–welcome to the failed empire. get watcha pay for and just say no to any american/us based airlines. They’re a bad joke.

  12. If you pay $119 for a big front seat, why do you need to pay extra to select a specific one? Or is $119 just for any “premium ” seat? Thanks

  13. I live in Chicago and was trying to book round trip from newyork to Chicago for my nephew.I was not able to book that ticket it was strange.did any one has that problem?

  14. @lucky minor correction:

    You say:
    “NOPE. Instead there was a huge — some might even same YUGE — line to check-in.”
    It should be “…even say YUGE…”

  15. My first Spirit flight was my granddaughter and I to Orlando. Less than $240/Dr for both of us. I read Spirit 101..paid for my big suitcase fire both of us (7 days) and we carried on our backpack. No problems!

    My second flight was to Chicago. No problems return flight was delayed. I received a we are sorry voucher from Spirit for a delayed flight out of Ohare for $50! My sister was flying American. Her flight was also delayed but she didn’t get anything from American. I was going a weekend, so I backpacked it. No, paying for carryon. Security was easy breezy.

    I just booked a weekend getaway r/t to LAX.. $80.00 r/t. I am backpacking again. LAX is horrible..AA all of them. So I might pay for fast security out of LAX. So far, I have no complaints about Spirit. Last LAX flight on AA.
    due to weather for flights out of other states…my flight was cancelled and I had to pay $150 for a hotel.

  16. I travel back and forth to NJ and only had a problem once in 20 times I’ve use them and that was because a flight was canceled. As far as check in usually just row my clothes and fit it into a personal size backpack and avoid the desk all together. When I do check a bag I’ve never yet have waited for more than 20 minutes. I always hear people complain about them but guess I’ve been lucky as no problems. I will knock on wood now.

  17. What happened to friendly sky. Cbeap, nothing cheap. Over booking. Some is not doing there job.

  18. omg ! I booked a ticket with spirit just a couple of days ago and I can totally relate with this article ! its a complete pain in the ass !

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