It used to be that Spirit Airlines was the airline to avoid in the US, as they’re known for charging fees for just about everything. However, as legacy airlines have continued to cut services and add fees, flying Spirit Airlines makes more and more sense.
Perhaps the best kept secret of Spirit Airlines is their “Big Front Seat.” It’s essentially a domestic first class seat that you can upgrade to for a very reasonable price. It doesn’t come with any extra service, but you’ll actually sit in comfort for the whole flight, unlike the rest of the cabin, which features as little as 28″ of pitch.
I reviewed Spirit Airlines’ Big Front Seat last year, and had a pleasant flight. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.
As I’m sure is the case for many of us, I’m responsible for making travel arrangements for my family, and my dad needs to fly from Tampa to Los Angeles next month. Up until now Delta is the only airline to operate the route nonstop, though Spirit Airlines is also starting nonstop service.
I always want my parents to be as comfortable as possible when flying, even if it ends up costing me a few bucks more. When flying between Tampa and Los Angeles, my dad usually flies Delta so he can get the nonstop, and I usually pay to upgrade him to Comfort+. However, with Spirit adding service, I was thinking of booking him on Spirit Airlines. Unfortunately the only thing he knows about Spirit Airlines is that a lot of fights break out on their flights, so when I suggested this, he looked at me shocked that I’d even suggest he fly Spirit.
However, when I explained to him their Big Front Seat concept, he seemed more receptive.
So let’s do a quick comparison, because I’m curious what you guys would do.
Option #1: Delta exit row seat or Comfort+ seat
Delta’s roundtrip basic economy fare is $316, and their roundtrip regular economy fare is $376. I’d pay to have him not fly basic economy, since I want to make sure he can get a good seat.
In order to do that, not only would I have to avoid the non-basic economy fare, but I’d either pay $39 per direction to upgrade him to an exit row, which seems like a reasonable upgrade cost on a transcon flight, or I’d book him Comfort+, which has a roundtrip fare of $544, which is an upgrade cost of $84 in each direction.
Up until now Delta has been able to charge a huge premium for this route since they’re the only airline flying nonstop, so that fare actually isn’t horrible, as I’ve seen basic economy fares of $500+ roundtrip in the past.
Option #2: Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat
Spirit Airlines’ roundtrip fare from Tampa to Los Angeles is $119. Of course never judge Spirit by their base fare, because it includes nothing. Presumably I could knock down that fare by $38 by booking at the airport, but let’s assume I don’t plan on doing that, since I’m in Orlando at the moment, and you’d have to pay me more than $38 to wait in a Spirit Airlines check-in line at Orlando Airport over spring break.
Let’s add in all the things I’d realistically want for my dad. He’d need a carry-on, which would cost him $35 in each direction (paying for a carry-on also comes with priority boarding, which is a nice additional perk).
Then I absolutely think it’s worth paying $76 in each direction for a Big Front Seat, so he essentially has a first class seat for 5-6 hours.
When all is said and done, the roundtrip ticket with a carry-on and a comfortable seat would be $340.58, which is less than Delta’s standard economy fare without paying for an exit row or Comfort+.
To me it seems like a no brainer to book Spirit Airlines, since you’re getting a first class seat with no service for less than a normal economy seat on Delta. There are a few things working in the favor of Delta, though:
- While my dad doesn’t have Delta status, he’d earn five miles per dollar spent, so we’ll say that’s the equivalent of a ~7% discount, based on my valuation of SkyMiles; he’s also really close to million miler status with Delta, but I won’t put a value to that
- My dad has The Platinum Card® from American Express, so if flying Delta he’d get access to SkyClubs in both Tampa and Los Angeles
- Delta has personal televisions at every seat, while Spirit’s only entertainment is the potential brawl that breaks out between fellow passengers
- Delta has wifi while Spirit doesn’t; personally this is something I’d really care about on a daytime flight, though my dad doesn’t
In many ways the US legacy carriers have taken passengers for granted. When they’ve added basic economy fares, they’ve done so without calculating the cost of the passengers they’d lose. Basic economy was introduced in order to compete with ultra low cost carriers, yet Spirit’s fare is $119, while Delta’s basic economy fare is $316, meaning that Delta is charging ~2.7x as much.
Since I always want the best for my dad I almost feel bad booking him on Spirit, but I just can’t bring myself not to, if that makes sense.
Which flight would you book in the above situation? Would you pay $376 for Delta (with an additional $78-168 for better seating), or $340 for Spirit (including a carry-on, priority boarding, and Big Front Seat)?