Spirit Airlines Review – NK #126 Myrtle Beach-Boston
ABOUT SPIRIT AIR
Ahh yes, Spirit Air: the self-proclaimed “America’s Only ULCC-Ultra Low Cost Carrier.” The champions of nickel-and-diming, Spirit charges the customer only for what he uses. If you want to carry on a bag, you’re welcomed to for a fee, but they don’t add it to the ticket cost because they don’t charge those who don’t want the service. No matter what your opinion is on the big change in the airline industry, you can’t deny that Spirit Air has some damn cheap fares on their routes.
I don’t necessarily expect the same level of service on a $40 flight as I do on the $8,000 trans-Atlantic First Class ticket, but we all expect a minimum level of service and Spirit Air has generally gone above and beyond that level. We’ve flown them a few times and have been all-in-all pleased with the value of the service. In an effort to keep their costs low, they tend to fly somewhat obscure routes and into underutilized airports. Instead of flying into Toronto, you’ll fly into the Niagara Falls, NY airport, about two hours (and one country) south. The same goes with Montreal: they’ll bring you close to your destination (ever heard of Plattsburgh, NY?), but you’re on your own for the last remaining miles.
We booked about 30 days in advance and our one-way from Myrtle Beach to Boston, MA was appx $130 each, with the cheapest fares available being around $68.
It’s best if you can travel light because the only thing you can bring on for free (apart from the clothes on your back) is a small “personal item” (backpack, purse, briefcase, etc…). The carry-ons will cost you $25 ahead of time for domestic flights (or $100! at the gate—so, to avoid being pissed off for the rest of the day, be sure your personal item is small enough). I had to break down and pay $25 for a carry-on (again, costs more at the counter, so plan ahead and pay online).
Another way to save money on fees – and the flights – is to join Spirit’s $9 Fare Club. For just $59.95 a year, you can purchase discount tickets (some as low as $9, hence the club’s name–although I haven’t spotted a $9 fare in years) and save on baggage fees. My checked bag would have cost $10 more for a non-member, and $15 more during on-line check-in than what I paid. Only one of us is a member, purchasing both tickets through one account. It’s saved us much more than the yearly fee on just one trip. But, if you’re just not sure yet, you can try a 60-day trial membership for $19.95.
Myrtle Beach’s airport has just received a facelift and I’ll say that it’s probably the nicest facility in the whole town–a nice new, bright and expansive terminal.
Check-in was a breeze mainly because we printed boarding passes online and weren’t checking a bag. The new terminal has a few brand new self check-in touch screens and plenty of lanes–although it was rather backed up because most passengers looked to be large families with lots of kids, bags and strollers.
Oh, and don’t expect to pick your seat for free. Unlike Southwest, every passenger will have a seat assignment before boarding the plane. If you want to pick your seat ahead of time and ensure your proximity to those traveling with you, it’ll cost you up to $50 ahead of time. In the past, we’ve skipped that and often found ourselves in middle seats on different rows, making that $35 price tag for the “First Class” seat all the more appealing.
BOARDING AND SEATS
Because it’s the southern US in the summer, you can count on delay-inducing thunderstorms nearly everyday, and our travel day was no exception. Spirit Air’s Ft. Lauderdale-FLL hub was getting hammered and produced take-off and departure delays of a few hours. As a result, our 10:30pm departure was pushed back by about 2 hours to 12:20am.
Our aircraft arrived carrying passengers from FLL about 2 hours past schedule at 11:46 pm and, as people rushed off the plane, Spirit began the quickest turn-around I’ve ever seen. I mean, as the final passenger was still walking off, they were already announcing that pre-boarding had begun. I had purchased a carry-on and was able to board with Zone 1–one of the very few to do this.
One of the perks of being charged for carry-ons, especially on a carrier which caters to the more cost-conscious leisure traveler, is that bringing carry-ons are discouraged (did I mention they’ll hit you up for $100 to add a carry-on at the gate! How’s that for behavior discouragement?) This behavior is actually promoted by Spirit as they charge less for a checked bag than a carry-on. I approached the boarding door, was greeted by 2 smiling and quite energetic FAs and made my way down the single-aisle A320. I passed right by the 4 “Big Ass Seats”–Spirit’s equivalent to a first class–with a fleeting burst of anxiety as I watched people attempting to squeeze into the extremely narrow rows of regular economy. Two things that struck me immediately: how new and clean the leather seats looked and how dirty and old the carpet looked.
I made my way back to row 26 and, with much internal strife, scooted into the window seat. McCown (who was a Zone 3) joined me quickly in the middle seat. Were I not already claustrophobic enough, the slow trickle of passengers to the back of the plane and addition of a 3rd person on our row nearly did me in.
And, within about 20 minutes from the start of the boarding process, we had a full plane and an announcement came across to turn off our electronics as the boarding door closed. They had turned that sucker around in no time! Appx 20 mins from empty to fully boarded and door closed. Well done Spirit, well done.
Given the quickness of the turn-around, a normal question is: “What is Spirit Air’s secret for cleaning the aircraft that fast?” Well, they just skip that step. Seat belts were rather strewn about, napkins and cups still in seat backs and–as already mentioned–plenty of trash embedded in the carpet.
Just like nearly every domestic flight these days, you’ll be paying à la carte for food and drink aboard, as well. Refreshingly, Spirit Air is priced reasonably and they don’t try to price gouge you too badly. They’ve got a few combos/deals and some are geared for those that are drinking for a purpose, like the ole 3 beers for $16 combo — a perfect way to start your ritzy vacation to Myrtle Beach. Just know in advance the lowest-brow beer on their menu is Budweiser, so, if you’re more of an Icehouse type (which, if Myrtle is your destination, I suspect you are), you’ll be nothing but disappointed. Since I’m trying to help bolster the economy one beer at a time, I went the Budweiser route — because what else would reinforce my American #spirit on Spirit?
We also made sure to sample the in-flight dining menu. $6 for the finest cheeses and beef, all without the burden of being refrigerated. Pesky perishable items get in the way of my #American diet. This might explain why the “cheese spread” had the same flavor and consistency as cheese wiz. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t eat every last bite.
When ordering, the FAs were extremely polite and energetic for it being such a late flight. They insisted that whatever we ordered would be automatically calculated at the lowest possible price taking their “combo” pricing into account.
Spirit (like John Daly (now sponsored by a truck stop) and starving C-list celebrities) will do anything for a buck: last year, it was all about the unclassy things you can do in Vegas that would make your wife proud (link to other post). This time, the ULCC is pushing the 5 Hour Energy pretty hard — screaming both class and respect for one’s health/body. If there’s one thing, just one thing I’ve always wished I had while seated in the window seat on a flight with no leg room is a legalized form of amphetamines–thanks Spirit. Now, let’s mix that up with a little whiskey and see if things don’t get weird.
On past flights, we’ve noticed that they have crammed a few extra rows in the plane (4 rows to be exact on this A320), robbing normal-height people of precious legroom. The pitch/legroom on Spirit Air is manageable on short flights but would be absolutely horrible on anything 2+ hours. For a nominal up-charge of $35 each (price varies depending on length of flight), you can upgrade to the Big Front Seats – which would have been worth every single penny. The Big Front Seat is what was once considered First Class in whatever airline operated this Airbus A320 before passing it along to Spirit.
Although our particular aircraft looked as if it has been newly refurbished (the leather seats were all in good shape), the carpet was still oddly dirty and stained. Maybe they just refurbished the plane by replacing the seats? Another clue for this was the seat design: it was a newer design with a very slim profile that was angled at the top to help allow for closer spacing. Also, I believe Spirit was the first (the only) in the industry to start using seats that don’t recline–that’s right, no recline. But really, it suits me just fine because the last thing I had to spare was extra legroom. Another interesting quirk on these A320–it’s just 1 bench seat per row and independent seat backs.
You can disagree with the airline’s baggage policies, legroom and “nickel and dime-ing” all you want but I will say that they must be doing something right since there wasn’t a single empty seat on our flight.
BOTTOM LINE: Spirit Air continues to find creative ways to monetize the airline industry, they’re no strangers to quirky sponsorships and unconventional ways to make a buck. Their seats are a bit tight on legroom but their excellent personnel gets the planes turned around quickly to help get you to your destination, and much cheaper (if you plan ahead).