Is Spirit Airlines A Scam? How to Hack the Discount Airline

Have you heard the horror stories of budget conscious Spirit Airlines when making your travel plans? They are best known for their basic, no-frills method of domestic air transportation in the US.
So here’s the $64,000 question: is Spirit Airlines a STEAL or a SCAM?

First of all, when you’re planning your travel, you need to decide whether this trip is a budget, no-frills experience or a red carpet occasion. DO NOT pick Spirit if you are looking for the luxurious, fantasy, limo ride flight. You will save yourself a lot of disappointment.

Here are some tips to help you understand some of the popular criticism of this budget business:

“Spirit Airlines has A LOT of hidden fees, rules, and upcharges.”

If you’re looking into Spirit Airlines, it is usually because you are shocked by the cost of scheduled domestic flights in the US. I have paid $300-$400 for a flight where I sat on the tarmac for two hours, missed my connection, and had my checked baggage lost. I couldn’t afford to keep paying those kinds of prices, just to visit another city. And that’s how I found Spirit Airlines and their base fare pricing system.

To avoid feeling like Spirit was nickel-and-diming my wallet, I had to come to the understanding that everything they offer builds off the BASE FARE, which is basically what it costs to transport JUST ME from point A to point B. Spirit’s website says it best, “We believe in paying only for what you use, not what you don’t. Control your options and never pay for someone else’s ‘free’ bags.”

To avoid these up charges, here are my top three tips:

Image via Amazon

Don’t check any bags. Each passenger is allowed one personal item to bring with them on the flight. This item must not be larger than 16x14x12, which is about the size of my favorite Style & Co large tote bag or my small JanSport SuperBreak backpack. For my next trip, though, I am excited that I found the American Tourister Atmosphera rolling bag, which fits the personal item dimensions almost exactly. I have been practicing my tetris, and I am able to stuff about five to seven days worth of clothing and toiletries in this bag! (Stay tuned for my full review and packing video). If you DO need more room than these dimensions, skip the carry on bag because it costs more (yes, they will charge you for the traditional carry on bag), and go for one checked bag, shared by your entire traveling party. Our family of three was able to travel for ten days with all our clothes/items in one checked bag. But be sure to pay the bag fees prior to getting to the airport, because the price skyrockets once you get to the check-in counter. And speaking of check-in….

Check-in online and print your own boarding passes. Spirit charges $10 to print your boarding pass at the airport, so you can save a few bucks by printing yourself (at home or at work or the library or a friend’s house). Also, unless you’re choosing the Big Front Seat or the emergency exit row, don’t pay for a seat; check-in online AS SOON as it is available (usually 24 hours before your flight) and let Spirit choose your seat.

Image via IAmATravelNinja

Bring or buy your own snacks. If it wasn’t clear before, there will be no free snacks and drinks on this flight. No water, no peanuts, no pretzels, no orange juice. And that’s okay, because your flight was super cheap, right? I usually fall asleep as soon as my seat belt clicks into place, so I miss the snacks and drinks anyway, but for those who need something to hold their hunger until their final destination, save a little space in your personal item to bring your favorite snacks from home. Also, bring an empty water bottle with you, and fill it with water at a drinking fountain or terminal restaurant once you make it through security. And if you need something a little stronger than water, I’m not telling you to bring alcohol on an aircraft*, but most shooter bottles are less than 3oz (I’m just saying…)

“Spirit Airlines has the smallest seats ever that have no leg room and don’t recline.”

This criticism is pretty accurate, compared to other airlines I have traveled. I don’t usually feel too uncomfortable, though, because I am just barely 5’2, so leg room has never really been a problem for me. My husband, on the other hand, is just shy of 6 feet, and his legs looked a little squished in the middle and window seats, so he prefers the aisle seat. In this case, disregard my previous advice about not paying for a specific seat. Go ahead and purchase the $10 aisle seat to ensure a little comfort. Now, if you are taller than 6 feet, or you prefer to have a little extra room, I would suggest going for the emergency exit row, which usually sets you back about $25 each way. I DO NOT recommend purchasing more than one seat, just so you can all sit together, and I DEFINITELY do not recommend purchasing the Big Front Seat at $35 each way. If I was going to spend an extra $70 on a round trip flight, I would choose another airline.

Bottom Line?

It all comes back down to changing our mindsets about how we are choosing to fly. I can usually endure a 2-3 hour flight without peanuts or reclining seats because I know I will spend that extra money on excursions and good food while I am on vacation. And I make certain that I read all the fine print, hidden fees, surcharges, etc, so I am not surprised when something comes up. It seems the number one disappointment with unsatisfied Spirit customers comes from not knowing what to expect from the company.

So is Spirit Airlines a scam? Of course not! They have an interesting business model that some people are really attracted to, myself included. I don’t require much to be satisfied, and as long as I make it to my destination safely, I am not concerned about the fluffy extras. Frankly, I wasn’t using them in the other airlines in the first place.

Are you planning to travel with Spirit airlines? What would be your deal breaker for discount travel?

*Please note: While it is acceptable to travel through security with mini liquor bottles as long as they meet the TSA requirements for appropriate liquid size, and they fit securely in the quart size bag, Federal Aviation regulations require passengers to be served alcohol by flight attendants while on board the aircraft. There is no problem with consuming alcoholic beverages at the gate, while waiting for your flight to board, but if you consume alcohol while in flight, do so at your own risk. Just be safe (and inconspicuous) and don’t overdo it!

Is Spirit Airlines a Scam? Learn how to hack Spirit Airlines to make the most of your money.

About The Author


Stephanie is a working wife + mom, blogger, and owner of When she is not working or writing, she can usually be found leading book clubs, working out, organizing charity events, and taking hot, relaxing bubble baths. She lives in the Washington, DC Metro area with her husband and their amazing four year old son.

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